Recipe Review

Dorie Greenspan on Why the Only Way to Bake Is from the Heart

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Dorie Greenspan)

Dorie Greenspan is the internet’s baking hero. She made the rare jump from a traditional start as a cookbook goddess — having co-authored books in the pre-digital age with Daniel Boulud, Julia Child, and Pierre Hermé, as well as writing her own — to a hero of the online community, inspiring bake-a-longs like Tuesdays with Dorie and her own considerable following.

In her latest book, Dorie’s Cookies, which comes hot on the heels of two other incredible baking bibles, Greenspan tackles the sweet treat that may be nearest and dearest to her heart. Cookies are so special to Greenspan that she and her son, Josh, even had their own biscuit-baking business for a time in New York City, called Beurre & Sel. And with her #cookiesandkindness campaign, she’s trying to help make the world a better place, one cookie at a time.

Kitchn catches up with Dorie Greenspan on the infinite nature of the cookieverse, what it means to push the boundaries of what a cookie can be, and why muffin tins have changed the game. She also shares insight into the source of her inspiration (dreams! And hard work), and why the only way to bake is from the heart.

(Image credit: Davide Luciano)

You just published a 500-page book on cookies, in which you write that “the cookieverse infinite.” Can you explain that?

I was afraid that working on a single-subject book would really constrain me, that I would be boxed in by the idea of cookies. Instead I discovered that a cookie is just a template, a format, and something to build on. And that’s when the possibilities became infinite.

Was that an aha moment or more of a gradual realization?

I kept wanting to stretch — what else can I do and still be within the realm of deliciousness? There’s a point at which we always have to come back to something we’re going to want to eat and make again. You know, for instance, the savory meringue.

That sounds really unusual.

Well, I wasn’t sure I could even make a savory meringue. Chefs do stuff like this all the time, but for me a meringue is egg whites and a lot of sugar. I’m not a science person, so I can’t figure out, like, oh, this much sugar is how much you need to stabilize it. I had this idea of “wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had the texture and look and fun of the meringue with the surprise of it not being sweet?”

That ended up being the hot and spicy togarashi meringue in Dorie’s Cookies. You tweaked blondies, too. What made you decide to bake them in a muffin tin?

The whole muffin-tin thing, you have to back up to Beurre & Sel, which is the cookie business that [my son] Joshua and I had. We baked most of our cookies in rings. It became our signature look to have cookies that were all the same size that had beautifully tailored sides. But it happened because of panic. I was baking cookies right before we had our first pop-up and nothing was fitting in the boxes because I couldn’t get them all to be the same size. This is when I practiced baking the dough in a tart ring, and I loved the way it looked. When I wanted people to make these at home, a friend of mine in Chicago who has the blog Lottie & Doof said, “Oh, I can bake your cookies. I don’t have rings, but I can bake them in a muffin tin.” That changed everything for me.

How is a muffin-tin cookie different from a regular cookie?

A friend of mine gave me a recipe for a ginger cookie recipe. It was a regular gingersnap; you make a little ball of dough and roll it in sugar, and when it bakes it flattens out. It was perfect like that. I wanted more. I wanted the flavor to last longer. And I thought, if it was fatter, you’d have to chew it more and the flavor would last longer. And so I made the dough in a muffin tin and made it into a puff or cakelet. It’s not a thin gingersnap, but like a gingerbread cookie. Changing the technique changed the texture.

Speaking of cookie-spiration, you wrote that the recipe for Jammers came to you in a dream?

I dreamed it in Paris, which seems right somehow. [My husband] Michael says I woke him in the middle of the night and told him that I had dreamed this cookie, and he just kind of rolled over like it was nothing new. But this was different, because it was fully formed. I woke up and knew that I could bake it that morning, and did. It’s based on the French vanilla sablé, which is a really good cookie, and became a building block for me. It has streusel, which I would put on a hamburger — that’s how much I love streusel! It’s so beautiful; I baked it and stood back and looked at it and smiled.

You offer a lot of guidelines in your book to make it hard for home bakers to screw up. Can you offer any tips on safe improvisation in baking?

If you’re new to baking, but irrepressible and have to make changes to things, the easiest changes to make are flavor changes or adding changes. You can swap spices, you can add or leave out chopped nuts, you can change the dried fruit or leave it out, you can change the size of something (you’d have to change the baking time). What you don’t want to do is fool around with the basic formula, the amount of flour and leavening, the amount of liquid to ingredients — you want to leave that stable. I would like people to make the recipe first just as it’s written and get a feel for what it is, then dream, and then change.

I want to talk about the idea of baking from the heart. For a lot of people, baking is intimidating, which is too bad, because I love to bake and find it very relaxing. What does it mean to you to bake from the heart?

There is something soothing about baking — very relaxing and extraordinarily rewarding. You have something that you’ve created. I never feel that way with a steak. What is the line from The Fantasticks, “Plant a carrot, get a carrot”? Buy a steak, cook a steak, eat a steak. But buy butter, flour, sugar, eggs, and use your hands to combine them and there’s just a million possibilities; there’s a magic and there’s wonder in baking.

But it’s also that we bake to share. I bake just about every day, and even I don’t bake for myself alone. We bake to give to other people, we bake to give pleasure, we bake to spread joy, and we bake to say to someone”You’re special to me; here, I made this for you.” You can do that with food, we do it every time we have people around our table. But I feel that with baking, it’s different. It’s more, it’s extra — we take time to do something we don’t have to do. No one has to bake.