Timing is everything, right?
On the day when a colleague showered my cubicle with a few boxes of my personal dietary Kryptonite -- Girl Scouts Thin Mints cookies -- a cookbook landed in my mailbox.
Wouldn't you know it? "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook," by bakers Cheryl Day and Griffith Day of Savannah, Ga., contains a recipe for a soft, buttery and deeply chocolatey homage to my beloved Thin Mints. "Just like the Girl Scouts bake," promised the recipe. (The book will be available next week.)
I needed to find out. The recipe was a little putzy (in the annals of cookie-baking jargon, that's one of my favorite words) but worth the effort. The critical reception among my cookie-loving co-workers fell almost uniformly along the lines of "better than Thin Mints." I don't know that I'd go that far -- sacrilege! -- but the recipe is a keeper.
As is the book. It's beautifully photographed and charmingly conversational, and full of recipes I'm dying to try: ham and cheese pastry puffs, buttermilk-cornmeal pancakes, plum tartlets, bacon-jam empanadas and rosemary-pecorino crackers, for starters.
But first, chocolate. The Days' recipe calls for Dutch process cocoa, a darker, more fragrant variant of its unsweetened counterpart. Dutch process cocoa has been altered with alkali, which assists in neutralizing cocoa's natural acidity. It's not widely available, but most major supermarkets stock at least one brand; I found the Van Cortlandt label at my neighborhood Lunds.
I tweaked the recipe in a few places. After sampling both pre- and post-chocolate-coating versions, I preferred the former. The latter, while closer in spirit to the Thin Mints ideal, becomes the very definition of overkill, although the coating's semisweet chocolate is a nice foil to the cookie's sharper cocoa bite. The coating was also taking forever to set, so I transferred the coated cookies to the refrigerator, and that did the trick. It also reminded me: Aren't Thin Mints better when swiped from the freezer?
Also, when preparing the filling, the recipe requires four cups of powdered sugar. But as I was making it, the mixture became almost too thick to spread after the addition of just three cups, so this recipe reflects that; even after that third cup, I added a teaspoon of cream to coax the filling into a more spreadable consistency. I skipped the suggested green food coloring; too Keebler.
Another discovery: It's important to roll the dough as thinly as possible. Once refrigerated, the dough holds its shape and cuts easily and cleanly. The recipe calls for a 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, but I went smaller, 1 1/2 inches.
Because this is an extremely rich cookie -- it requires, yes, four sticks of butter -- less is definitely more. Even at that reduced size, I could barely finish one without hitting the butter-sugar wall.
Well, emphasis on the word barely.
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757