During a college study-abroad year at the Università di Bologna, William Teresa of Minneapolis, Minnesota, dated a fellow student. The couple would frequently visit her family in Cesena, a small city in Emilia– Romagna, where Teresa became immersed in the cooking lives of his girlfriend’s parents and grandparents. “They were so lovely,” he said. “It was wonderful to be in a place where food is so rooted in tradition and place, and to encounter something that has always been made by the same people, with little variation.” One of the grandmothers baked a chewy-crispy and outrageously rich almond cookie, which the family enjoyed with espresso. Teresa was instantly smitten and perfected the formula when he returned home. “They’re not like any other American cookie,” he said. “Maybe that’s why so many people ask me for the recipe.”
When he’s not working, Scott Rohr of St. Paul, Minnesota, is baking. “It’s sort of a joke with my friends,” he said. “I don’t remember a time when I haven’t baked. I grew up in one of those houses where everything was homemade. Some people come home from work and boil water for dinner. I take out eggs and butter.” For his winning recipe, Rohr started with his tattered recipe card for a cream-of-tartar-based sugar cookie, which is a copy of a similarly well-worn card from his grandmother’s kitchen. The filling and the pistachios, however, were all his idea. “I just started messing around,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to follow a recipe. These cookies aren’t complicated, and they come together fast. They look like something substantial, but they’re not hard to make. If you’ve ever baked a cookie, then you can bake these, for heaven’s sake.”
Michelle Clark’s minor obsession with a dark chocolate–chipotle truffle got her thinking: could it translate into a cookie? The St. Paul, Minnesota, resident kicked the idea around for a few weeks before formulating an unforgettable cookie. “It has fun with your tongue,” she said. “You take a bite and you get one flavor; then you chew and you get another flavor. It’s not just, ‘Here, have a sugar cookie.’” To those who may say that Clark’s unconventional entry doesn’t overtly shout “Happy Holidays,” she has a response. “Sure, it’s not your basic Santa cutout cookie,” she said. “But it has both chocolate and cinnamon, and those are both Christmas flavors to me. Besides, to have the scent of chocolate and cinnamon in the oven, well, what’s more Christmas than that?”
A last-minute need to fill out a holiday cookie tray found Kay Lieberherr of St. Paul, Minnesota, turning to the palmiers at Surdyk’s in Minneapolis. “It turned out that everyone asked for the recipe for the palmiers, and not for the cookies that I had baked,” she said with a laugh. That response sent her on a mission to develop her own palmier recipe. Using commercially prepared puff pastry makes this recipe a snap to prepare. “I love it when you don’t spend a lot of time on something, yet people think, ‘Wow, that must have taken days,’” said Lieberherr.
Recipe by Agatha Kulaga & Erin Patinkin of Ovenly | Introduction by Food52's Kristen Miglore
Recipe introduction from Food52's Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore:
Espelette pepper’s mild heat and subtle fruitiness make it an excellent companion to chocolate. Chefs in the Basque region of France tend to use it in chocolate mousse or layer cakes, but here I add it to an easy cocoa drop cookie, based on a recipe by Sally Sampson of Chop Chop magazine. Note that the butter and the eggs both need to be at room temperature, so don’t forget to set them out at least half an hour before you want to start mixing.
Most recipes call for using a stand mixer, but we found this counterproductive to our goal of chewy, dense cookies because the mixer beats air into the dough. Instead we make our dough by hand, melting the butter for easier mixing.
Rich and decadent, the recipe for these luxurious cookies was the result of a visit to Café Ilio, an artisan chocolatier in northern Tehran, run by husband and wife team Sahar Hossein-Najari and Mehrdad Aghameeri. The pair spent six years travelling around Belgium, France and Italy, honing their craft, before introducing Iranians to the wonders of fine chocolate, incorporating traditional ingredients – like saffron, pistachio and cardamom – into a whole new world of truffles, macaroons, jams and cakes. Thanks to their winning combination of dark chocolate and sour cherries, these cookies are loved by adults and children alike.