I’ve spent most of my adult life as a bake-by-photos kind of girl. No, I don’t mean that I ignore textual instructions and base my cooking exclusively on what I see (though that could be a mighty fun and/or terrible idea), but when it comes to wooing my culinary curiosity with winning recipes, delicious photos are definitely the way to my heart. I love seeing images of the finished product and then doing my best to imitate the recipe-writer’s results. Photos calm my kitchen fears by showing me what to expect, which sits rather nicely with my plan-ahead personality, so for years I rarely tried a recipe that I couldn’t see in finished form first. But then I fell in love with a beautiful monster of a cookbook, better known as the New York Times Essential Cookbook, which contains 932 pages, thousands of recipes and remarkably few photographs. And guess what? I think I’m becoming a better cook because of it.
The NYT Cookbook is teaching me that, in the absence of photos, there are other equally wonderful ways to be wooed toward a recipe. Titles, descriptions, ingredients: The writer in me should rejoice! Without an abundance of images to use as a crutch, I’m learning to truly read the recipes, read about the recipes and understand what flavors are blending together and why they work the way they do. I feel like I’m learning to understand food in a completely new way, refining my knowledge of kitchen wordsmithery in lieu of the food-chasing shutterbug, so to speak. Sure, I’ll always be drawn toward the beautiful images of fresh baked goods and steaming bowls of soup, but I’m developing new senses in the process.
These spice krinkles were born from my developing appreciation for a recipe’s text. I had been planning to make a batch of the ginger spice cookies we’re so crazy about but decided instead to search for something a little warmer, a little chewier and with a little more depth of flavor. To be completely honest, the cookie’s title was the first thing that caught my eye. Krinkles? Adorable. But after scoping the ingredients, I thought this might be just what I was looking for: brown sugar (instead of granulated, which the ginger spice cookies call for) would make a richer, chewier cookie for sure, and the even, generous blend of cinnamon and ginger would leave no shortage of flavor. After reading the recipe’s description of the krinkles’ wrinkly tops adding wonderful texture, I was officially wooed.
From the New York Times Essential Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 688)
• 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• ¼ cup molasses (plus a smidge of extra, for extra chewiness)
• 2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 3 teaspoons cinnamon (original calls for 2)
• 3 teaspoons ginger (original calls for 2)
• ¾ teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
In a standing mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt another bowl, then stir into dough. Wrap dough in wax paper, and chill for at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pull or cut off pieces of dough and form into balls the size of walnuts (I used a small 1-inch cookie scoop). Dip the tops in granulated sugar, and set 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake until set but not hard, about 8 to 10 minutes. [Note: The original recipe says that you can press the baked-but-still-warm cookies with a wooden butter print mold, the bottom of an etched tumbler or patterned dish or the tines of fork. I tried this but ended up with a few squished cookies before deciding to forgo the imprinted tops. It would look pretty adorable, though, if the pressing were successful.]
As much as I love our trusty ginger spice cookies, these spice krinkles might take the cake. They are unbelievably soft and chewy on the inside, with just enough crispiness around the edges to keep them interesting. And the wrinkles on top make them standouts among the cookie crowd. Every wrinkle tells a story, you know.
How do you go about choosing new recipes to try? Do photos sway you? Certain ingredients? Certain cooks? Any helpful tips for how to break out of a cooking rut and try something new?