Though some may call Maida Heatter "The Queen of Cake,"and her revamped Maida Heatter's Cakes is certainly at the top of our weekend baking list, after flipping through her companion cookbook, Maida Heatter's Cookies, we would argue that royal title is best bestowed on the octogenarian (or older, even her publisher isn't certain of her age) for cookies.
The book is an updated compilation of what she considers her most interesting 225 classic cookies spanning a baker's lifetime. And so you can expect to find every kind of classic drop, bar, icebox, rolled, layered and sandwiched cookie one could possibly need (many were originally published in Heatter's classic 1977 Book of Great Cookies or later editions). Sure, there are little twists here and there to those ginger cookies (they are dotted with currants), but this is a cookbook celebrating the classics that have personal resonance with Heatter, as it well should be. Turn the page for more, including Ladybird Johnson's Moonrocks cookie recipe.
You'll find Craig Claiborne's chocolate macaroons ("hip-hip-hooray and three cheers for Craig for creating these sensational macaroons"), Charleston cheesecake bars (an oatmeal crust with lemon-cream cheese filling that Heatter says she saw in the local paper on a recent visit), and World War II raisin squares, what many of us know as Depression Cake ("we made it during the war, when butter and eggs were rationed... it is soft, spicy, moist, cake-like and easy to make").
That the recipes are introduced with little history bites about that German lebkuchen speckled with candied fruit, or personal stories about the cooking class student who saved the crust day with Heatter's classic pecan squares (the filling was leaking through the crust; the student suggested Heatter the pan with foil as she does with other recipes), makes this book feel even more personal than some her earlier baking books.
Many recipe intros are still followed up with Heatter's signature firm-yet-motherly advice. That those old fashioned "jumbo" lemon wafers should not be chosen for mailing or "to package as a gift" (one of her favorite phrases in the book) as they will break. Instead, go with those chocolate hermit cookies, which are also "great for a lunch box or a picnic." Today, said by anyone other than Heatter, we would be cringing at these sorts of Hallmark channel made-for-television baking moments. But here, Heatter comes across as genuine -- and genuinely charming -- simply because she always has been exactly that.
Maida Heatter's Cookies also happens to be conveniently sized, which is to say compact enough to fit in your glove box. Well, at least if you ditch the car manual, which seems logical enough, as we all know it's far more useful to have recipes like oatmeal snickerdoodles (p. 92) and orange-scented raisin pillows (p. 66) to flip through than descriptions of engine parts when waiting for that roadside assistance. You might even be so kind yourself, and offer to pack up a box of these giant coconut-walnut-date-spice cookies to send as a tire-changing thank you when you get home. But we suggest you check with Heatter on whether she deems these Ladybrid Johnson-inspired cookies USPS appropriate first.
Mrs. LBJ's Moonrocks
From: Maida Heatter's Cookies; originally published in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies.
Makes: 8 large cookies
Note: Per Heatter: "These are large and thick spice cookies with a crisp, chewy edges and semi-soft centers -- real old-fashioned "down home" cookie-jar fillers. In our home, and surrounding territory, everyone loves them. While they are baking, they perfume the house with an irresistible sweet-and-spicy aroma."
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup dark corn syrup
3½ ounces (1 cup, packed) shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
5 ounces (1 cup) raisins (dark, light, or half of each)
8 ounces (1 cup, packed) dates (each date cut into about 4 pieces)
7 ounces (2 cups) walnuts, broken into large pieces
1. Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, and set aside.
3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is soft. Beat in the sugar. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Beat in the corn syrup. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.
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4. Remove from the mixer and with a large, heavy wooden spoon or rubber spatula stir in the coconut, raisins, dates, and nuts.
5. Use a well-rounded tablespoon of the dough for each cookie. Place the mounds of dough 2 inches apart on the sheets.
6. Bake two sheets at a time, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are golden all over.
7. With a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to racks to cool.