This cookie is based on a recipe that’s been saved on my computer for more than a year. It’s from Merrill Stubbs at Food52, and I remember saving it simply because I think Merrill is the cat’s pajamas. If she says it’s a hit, I believe her. Allow me to explain.
For the first 16 or so years of my life, I thought Katie Couric was the coolest. I wanted to be a broadcast reporter, and the years Couric spent on the Today Show mixed with her noticeable morning perkiness — which I still very much relate to and appreciate, by the way — pretty much solidified her awesomeness to me. Once I hit college, however, my ambitions to be on camera fell behind my ambitions to be a writer. That, and I learned quickly that it was totally uncool to say you wanted to be like Katie Couric at journalism school. Oh, college.
Truth be told, my unabashed love of Katie Couric has subsided a little, but I’d still probably spout off all those embarrassing “You were my favorite growing up, you’re so awesome, please sign my trusty reporter’s notebook” lines if I saw her on the street today. But my interests have changed, and my aspirations have evolved, which gives opportunity to celebritize a whole new slew of cool cats. In the past few years, I’ve become engrossed in the food blog culture, not just because I write a food blog of my own but also because I love reading those stories, trying the recipes and being part of that community. When I came across Food52 a few years ago (concurrent with my attainment of Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook), I felt as if I’d found my ultimate Web-based happy place.
So I started reading all the stories and dabbling with some of the recommended picks. Perhaps no surprise, my favorites were — and still are — almost always those from the site’s founders, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. I started seeking out more of their writing, other cookbooks, columns and the like. I’d click with admiration through photos of the Food52 test kitchen and imagine how great it must be to go to work there every day. And I’d say unrealistic and irresponsible things to Jared like, “Let’s move to New York! We can be waiters, and I’ll moonlight at Food52. Huzzah!”
So there’s some backstory. Jared knows all of this. And he knew this when he emailed Merrill Stubbs (yes, emailed her!) last December to ask about a watch of hers with a turquoise strap that I had admired in a video on the Food52 site. He said he figured it was a long shot, but he was in search of the perfect Christmas present for his wife and wondered if Merrill (I’ll say Merrill here because my sweet husband was totally on a first-name basis with her via email) would be willing to share a bit about her lovely timepiece. Although he found out that the watch was no longer available (not to mention a bit out of his graduate student budget), he was happy that he asked. And when Christmas morning rolled around, though Jared did give me a new watch that I love, even better was when he showed me the secret correspondence that had transpired between him and Merrill. They had a nice little chat back and forth about the watch, their respective baby daughters and wishes for a happy holiday season. I was amazed. And it was awesome.
So now we’ve come full circle, back to the cookies. When I saved this recipe, I mentally noted that I’d pull it out on a rainy day, when I was out of impressive berry-filled breads and mile-high cakes to share. It seemed so simple that I was in no hurry to try it, but I should have known that it was worth an immediate trip to the kitchen. After all, if you can trust a person’s taste in watches, then you can certainly trust her taste in cookies. And if ever there was a perfect cookie, this might be it. They’re crisp around the edges, impossibly chewy in the center, perfectly sweet and wonderfully simple. Try them with the lemon or without. My guess is you’ll love them either way.
Lemon Cream Cheese Cookies
Adapted slightly from Merrill Stubbs, Food52.com
• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 3 ounces plain cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest from 1 lemon
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and vanilla, and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour and salt until just incorporated, then give the bowl a good scrape and the mixture a quick stir to make sure everything is mixed in.
Drop the dough into rounded tablespoons (I used a 1-inch cookie scoop) about 1 ½ inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the edges turn a nice golden brown (Be careful not to over-bake!). Cool the cookies for a minute or so on the cookie sheet, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
So that’s the story of my shameless admiration of a news anchor and a food writer. But really, I’m happy to tell the tale. I think everyone needs a Katie Couric in his or her life. Or a Merrill Stubbs or Amanda Hesser. We all need someone we look up to and whose work we admire. And we most certainly need someone who can recommend the best cookies.