Cookies to savor with drinks
Seattle's cookie|box| creations are all about unique flavors, aromas and textures. Sweet versions nod to, but subtly modernize, traditional cookie flavors. Savory flavors get even more interesting, designed for pairing with wine, beer and cocktails.
JUST ABOUT any good home cook can whip up a credible batch of cookies. But how do you make something truly special?
That challenge faced forty-something business partners Anne Nisbet and Marcia Sisley-Berger when they started cookie|box| 20 months ago.
The two Seattle women already enjoyed strong track records in the food-and-wine world. Nisbet, an accomplished wine writer and former director of catering at Ray's Boathouse, is culinary director of the International Pinot Noir Celebration.
Sisley-Berger switched careers from accounting to baking 13 years ago, worked at the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel and then twice at Ray's, ending up as executive pastry chef.
Their paths had crossed socially, but a mutual friend brought them together for business.
In June 2010, the two met at their favorite local bakery (Cafe Besalu in Ballard) over croissants and coffee. Jotting down ideas on napkins, Sisley-Berger came up with the clever name. They chose the company's childlike colors (chocolate, tayberry and lime), and a local design firm crafted the company's strong graphic identity.
Three months after their first meeting, cookie|box| debuted at the Pike Place Market Artisan Food Festival.
I met up with them that day and discovered their small-batch, handcrafted cookies much like what you'd bake at home — if you were a really talented pastry chef.
What's so special? For starters, the cookies are made with only the finest ingredients — local butter; nuts toasted just before baking; garden-fresh herbs.
But more than that, cookie|box| creations are all about unique flavors, aromas and textures. Sweet versions nod to, but subtly modernize, traditional cookie flavors (a Guittard chocolate-chip cookie, for instance, is sprinkled with sea salt). Savory flavors get even more interesting. Designed for pairing with wine, beer and cocktails, the cookies are small enough that you can sample several without feeling guilty.
Each variety has been assigned a droll name and "personality." Just reading about him on the website, I fell in love with "Alejandro," who's "made with aromatic single-origin, fair-trade coffee and crunchy cocoa nibs and has an earthy vibe . . . " Suggested beverage pairings besides coffee include syrah, cabernet franc or stout.
"Olivia" has a savory shortbread base that's studded with lemon zest and black olives and pairs well with "cheese, an icy-cold martini or a festive glass of bubbly."
"Jim," named after Northwest culinary icon James Beard, "was created specifically to go with Oregon pinot noir and features sour cherry, black pepper and sage."
Last year, in honor of Valentine's Day, the cookie ladies made chocolate shortbread cutout "X" and "O" cookies and filled them with homemade marshmallow.
"They were cute, but a bit labor-intensive," Sisley-Berger admits.
This year, their offerings include Poppy, Reece (peanut-butter cookies filled with ganache) and Lavonne (chocolate shortbread with peppermint ganache). They're also focusing on their wine-pairing boxes.
And each baker's favorite among all the cookies they've created?
Nisbet picked the Melanie, a lemon-pecan shortbread named after the character in "Gone With the Wind."
Sisley-Berger plays the field.
"Whatever I'm currently craving is my favorite," she says. "Each new cookie we create, we fall in love."
Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food and wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.WithBraiden.com. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Makes 30 filled cookies
These cookies can be filled with the traditional raspberry jam or Meyer lemon marmalade.
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
2 teaspoons black poppy seeds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar, for garnish
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) raspberry jam
1. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, confectioners sugar and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beaters with a rubber spatula.
2. Add the lemon zest and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.
3. Add the egg and the poppy seeds. Mix on medium-low speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beaters.
4. Add the lemon juice and flour. Mix on low to combine, then medium-low speed until the dough comes together and becomes stiff. Scrape down the bowl and beaters.
5. Place the cookie dough on a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Shape and roll each half into an 8-inch log, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until firm, and up to 1 week. Well-wrapped and frozen, the dough keeps for up to three months.
6. Ten minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap. Using a sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/4-inch slices. Each log will yield approximately 30 cookies.
7. Place the slices 1/2 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with the granulated sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are firm when touched lightly in the center. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.
8. To fill the cookies, place 1 teaspoon of raspberry jam or lemon marmalade in the center of one cookie and place another cookie on top. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Baker's hint: Unfilled cookies will last for up to one week; filled cookies will stay fresh for up to three days (if they last that long).