Editor’s note: We’ve reached the final day of our week of Gourmet Cookie Book stories and giveaways. Please welcome Anne Woodard, the mastermind behind the event, who really knocks it out of the park with her Almond Bolas (Portuguese Almond Cookies) from her own birth year, 1975. Find the recipe on page 76 of the book. And don’t forget: between now and December 31st, read and comment on all five posts (find Day 1 here, Day 2 here, Day 3 here and Day 4 here) and join the Umami Girl facebook page for six (six!) chances to win a copy of the book. Anne, thanks for inviting me to be part of this inspiring event. Go get ’em, girlfriend.
It was December 2009, two months after the nearly 70-year-old Gourmet magazine closed, six years after I joined its staff. I was meeting a client to convince him the Gourmet brand could live without the magazine. For this occasion, I baked a fresh batch of Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Coconut Cookies from the newly released Gourmet Today cookbook.
A cookie for your conviction?
It is one year later, and I’m now the only remaining staff member from the magazine. I have this grand idea of having Gourmet Cookie Book spokesperson and adored chef, Sara Moulton, along with her mother and daughter, bake the cookies from their birth years for a broadcast news segment. Not only will it bring to life the depth, diversity, and deliciousness of this book, but it will spotlight the unique historical context of each cookie. The book will certainly fly off the shelves!
A cookie for your commitment?
When I realized I don’t work in PR for a reason, I took matters into my own hands. After distributing a first-bound copy to each of my closest and dearest Gourmet cookie fans, I requested they each (1) bake the cookie from their birth year, (2) write an essay about their experience, and (3) photograph the outcome (or, in one case, have her twins doodle a drawing, since all cookies were consumed before the camera was found). And I then called dear friend and favorite food blogger Umami Girl.
A cookie for your time?
The very first thing anyone does when they hold this book in their hands is flip to their birth year cookie recipe. What beautiful concoction represents me? Does it spotlight a spice, a nut, or an ingredient that I most adore? Does it remind me of my childhood, or of who I am today? Is it particularly unique like me?
Well, 1975 here I come … Almond Bolas, a Portuguese almond cookie. Hmmmm. I do love almonds, although I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten what the recipe calls for—blanched almonds. And what’s with the bread crumbs and no butter? Not to mention the fact that my cookie requires the use of a food processor, since ‘75 was the year that particular gadget was first introduced. I love my Cuisinart; in fact, it was a gift from Gourmet in 2007. But I have to admit, when baking, I try to avoid all mechanical intervention—I still make my chocolate chip cookies with a wooden spoon and a bowl. Not sure I have what it takes to make this cookie.
A cookie for your bravery?
When I first started grinding the nuts, I nearly fell backwards. How could this be right? It seemed like I was grinding a handful of stones. I first Googled “blanched almonds.” Did my husband buy the wrong kind of nuts? I then Googled “food processor.” Is this machine supposed to grind whole nuts? When it appeared all was in standard food-processing order, I stood back as far as I could from the machine and let it maniacally crunch through a pound of nuts (silently swearing to myself that I’d wear earplugs the next time, all the while reassuring myself that the ears on the baby in my belly were protected by many layers of flesh).
Now, on to the eggs. Whipping the egg whites brought me straight back to my mother’s kitchen, where she used to make lemon meringue pie for our neighbor. What a beautiful and instant evolution—and to think my husband had never seen “stiff peaks” before! It wasn’t, however, until I started making indentations in each dough ball to “fill them with beaten egg yolk” that my husband got out the camera. It was then that we realized I was definitely in uncharted waters, and I officially thanked Gourmet, once again, for teaching me new and exciting ways to cook.
After worrying about the bake time—opening and closing the oven door at least ten times for each batch of cookies—we took our first bite … a bite that instantly reminded my husband of his Aunt Mary’s pignoli nut cookies … a bite that made me proud.
A cookie for your reflections?
What is it about baking cookies that touches us? Is it the process or the outcome? Is it the drive down memory lane? Is it the sense of accomplishment after mixing, rolling, grinding, baking, cooling, and packaging? Is it the simple fact that with less than $20 and a little bit of elbow grease, you can give someone an incredibly delightful, personal gift?
As I packaged up the cookies for my grandma’s Christmas gift this year, I was reminded that despite the many years between us, the unique taste of each special creation transcends our generations. And despite the many miles between us, she will feel my love—my warm hug—the moment she opens the tin.
A cookie for your love?
I was determined to finish this project before my third child was born. Thankfully, I’m due one week from today, and no such introduction has been made. Whew! I also thought this project might help me bid farewell to Gourmet as a staff member. Another example of perfect timing — last week ended my seven-year stint. And as I hold this cookbook in my hands, I am certain that Gourmet will live forever as I continue to grow in my cooking and baking explorations. What I didn’t realize though was that this project would ignite a heartfelt sharing of stories about childhood memories … about our mothers, or being mothers … about community … about the trials and tribulations of being outside our comfort zone.
After reading the essays from my friend and family, I was so deeply touched. It was one beautiful story after another. Most of us boastful about the outcome; one of us not! Nonetheless, I couldn’t believe how unique each experience was, and yet, how connected they all were … Connected through conviction, commitment, time, bravery, reflections, and love!
What is your cookie for?