Dawn Casale started One Girl Cookies from a simple idea: cookies could be presented as beautifully as chocolates, instead of just tossed in a tin. Ten years later, the concept has grown from one girl churning out cookies in a tiny West Village apartment to a staff of 16 in a thriving Brooklyn storefront.
Dawn's story has a fairytale quality to it. After several enjoyable years in high-end retail, she decided to make a career of cooking, a talent nourished in her food-loving Sicilian family. Quitting her job at Barney's, Dawn started baking cookies out of her apartment, relying mainly on word of mouth for sales.
Then came the big break: a mention and photo in Vogue… but the story never ran. Dawn was crushed, until the feature's photographer happened to mention her cookies to Giorgio DeLuca, founder of Dean & Deluca. With a national distributor, sales went through the roof, and Dawn's roommate came home daily to mountains of baking trays and boxes of cookies stashed under his bed.
In search of more help, Dawn met Dave, a baker finishing up pastry school, and they quickly became an excellent baking and business team. Then one Christmas, Dave announced he was leaving to open Otto with Mario Batali… only to return three weeks later, this time for good. In 2005, the duo celebrated the opening of their Brooklyn storefront and their own wedding.
The sense of style that sets Dawn's cookies apart is evident in her Brooklyn kitchen, an airy space with tasteful touches like vintage flower bottles and a chalk board shopping list. A host of frequent dinner parties, Dawn makes food that "makes people happy," like the Rhubarb Crostata with Jasmine Whipped Cream she prepared for The Kitchn. A rustic, no-fuss version of pie, the crostata was flaky, slightly tart and utterly delicious.
The Kitchn Questionnaire
1. What's your cooking style?
I try to be as seasonal as possible, with some Mediterranean influences tucked in here and there. My mom was born in Sicily, so that is pretty apparent in my cooking.
2. What inspires your kitchen?
We really love to entertain. I think my philosophy for my home kitchen is the same as my business philosophy, which is make food that makes people happy. I don't think that's too hard.
3. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
I am definitely not a gadget person, so I tend to use the basics. A great couple of knives, good quality fry pans, a mandolin and a food processor.
4. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
On a practical level, in a Ziploc bag, freeze all vegetable matter that would be thrown away (i.e., carrot peels, onion skins, asparagus ends) and make vegetable stock from it. On a more philosophical level, always make food that will make guests look forward to the next invitation.
5. Biggest challenge in your kitchen:
The way that it is situated makes it difficult for Dave & I to be cooking at the same time. So, instead, we take turns. Better for marital bliss!
6. Biggest indulgence:
Limestone counters. They are tricky to maintain, but so natural and pretty.
7. What are you cooking this week?
Supporting my statement in Question #2, we are entertaining three times this week. On Sunday, we made a brunch for nine, including strawberry mascarpone crepes, baked eggs & biscuits, shrimp rolls (riff on lobster rolls), shaved asparagus and fennel salad. Last night for a friend visiting from LA, we made cedar plan grilled salmon, farro with peas, roasted asparagus and a traditional Caesar salad. Oh, and collards (sort of a misfit for this menu, but they looked great at the market!). Tomorrow, I'll be making lots of appetizers for a group of seven girlfriends.
8. What cookbook has inspired you the most?
Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin and Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver. Both have beautiful photography and both respect the sources for our food (farmers, animals, Earth, etc.) Not to mention, the headnotes are inspiring and the recipes well written.
9. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
Last year for New Year's Eve we hosted a really great sit down meal for eight. As with any meal, it was much more than the food that made it memorable, but also the cast of characters, the jovial spirit of the evening and the New Year's Eve confetti!
Rhubarb Crostata with Jasmine Whipped Cream
Crostatas are one of my favorite desserts because they are easy, rustic and great in a pinch when you don't have a tart pan handy. Traditionally, rhubarb plays a supporting role to strawberries. I think it is so great, it should have the opportunity to stand alone. The orange is a perfect complement, as is the jasmine whipped cream.
1/2 ccup (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter
3 tablespoons ice water
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut butter into 1/2" cubes & keep cold. Mix the ice water and yolk to blend. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar & salt. Add chilled butter and mix it into dry ingredients using your fingertips. Add the yolk mixture gradually until the crust has a crumbly, crumb like texture. Turn out onto work surface. Shape into disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour. In the meantime, prepare the filling.
5 cups (about 5 medium stalks) rhubarb, diced into 1" cubes
zest of 1/2 an orange
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
approximately 3 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
small handful of flour for work surface
2 tablespoons cream
1/4 cups turbino sugar
Jasmine Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Combine rhubarb and zest in large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add dry to rhubarb mixture and mix. Add orange juice and mix well. The dry ingredients should be slightly wet. If they are still very dry, add more juice, 1 tbsp at a time, mixing after each addition. Set aside.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Remove the dough from refrigerator and let rest on counter for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle a small handful of flour on the work surface, unwrap the dough and place on flour. Using a rolling pin, pound the dough to flatten slightly. Start rolling the disk out, starting at the center, rotating the disk so that your pin is always straight (this will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface). Be sure to reshape the dough into a circle whenever necessary and to repair any cracks. Once the dough is about 1/2" thick, roll it onto the rolling pin and transfer it to the prepared sheet.
Mix the rhubarb filling once again. It should be quite moist at this point. Pile the filling in the center of the dough and spread out, leaving a 2" border. Fold the sides of the crostata up over the filling. Repair any small tears. Mix the yolk and cream and brush it into the crostata crust (not the filling) using a pastry brush. Sprinkle the turbino sugar on top of the wash.
Bake for about 45 min or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden. Serve with jasmine whipped cream.
Jasmine Whipped Cream
I like this cream slightly sweetened in order to offset the tartness of the rhubarb.
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon jasmine tea leaves
3 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
Combine the cream and tea in an airtight container or jar and refrigerate overnight. Strain the tea from the cream and place in a mixing bowl along with confectioner's sugar. Discard the tea leaves. Beat the cream at a high speed until soft peaks form.
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(Images: Liz Vidyarthi)