Friday, October 23, 2009

The Proof Is In The Pudding

Last week I told you that as part of BloggerAid's group View and Review, I had been chosen to receive a copy of Mary Audet's The Everything Cookies & Brownies Cookbook. Still trying to get back my mojo after being sick for so long, I had plenty of time to look through this book and to put it mildly — I was delighted!

I have to admit that when I first discovered the book was cookies and brownies, I was a little disappointed. I love to bake and I have more than enough recipes for these wonderful morsels…or so I thought. Many of you know that I've been trying to streamline my collection of cookbooks and individual recipes. I have sold many of my cookbooks on and kept only my absolute favorites, those that are my "go to" books for inspiration and recipes I have made numerous times. Well, all I can say is I now have a "go to" cookbook for cookies and brownies.

The Everything Cookies & Brownies Cookbook contains, all in one volume, the essentials for successful baking of some of America's favorite treats. In Marye's introduction, she points out what most of us know — "baking with your children is an excellent way to create memories and build relationships." Don't most of us have fond memories of baking with our mothers and grandmothers? Didn't we then turnaround and bake with our children and our grandchildren? As a mother of eight, Marye fully understands that this is one of the best ways to share quality time with those we love and she has shared old favorites and new ones with us.

Have you ever attended one those holiday cookie exchanges at your place of employment or with a group you belong to? For those who haven't, at a cookie exchange, everyone who attends brings in homemade baked goods. The goodies are placed on a central table and then each baker goes around with their container and takes a little of this and a little of that. You end up with a very nice assortment of goodies for your holiday table.

What I've discovered at many of these I've attended, is that not everyone is a great baker. They've given it their best shot, but fell flat. There is an art to baking and you need to know the basics to ensure success and have your co-workers/family/friends raving about your contribution. We all want to be praised for our efforts and if you fall into that category of bakers whose treats are left on the table, you need this book!

Chapter One of this book starts with Cookie Baking BasicsIngredients for Success, The Zen of Measuring and Mixing and Equipment and Pans. This isn't rocket science, but if your cookies are never quite what you wanted them to be, this chapter is for you. Knowing how to properly sift and measure flour is probably the biggest mistake I come across at bake sales and cookie exchanges. Interspersed throughout the text are Alerts, Facts, Questions, and Essentials, all you need to know to become a Cookie Master and make your family proud. Don't be afraid, all of this is really very simple, you just need to know how to do it properly. Thoughtfully, Marye has also included how to properly store and ship your homemade delights to those you love. In Chapter Seven, she even gives recipes for the best cookies to ship.

The book is 294 pages and contains 300 recipes. Broken down into sixteen chapters, we have cookies with chips (of course!), drop cookies, shaped cookies, rolled cookies, no-bake cookies, refrigerator cookies, exotic favorites, cookies to bake with kids, holiday cookies, cookies for special needs, meringues, rolled cookies, brownies and bars, and a whole chapter devoted to glazes, fillings and frostings. Whew, makes me dizzy just to think of everything included in this book!

You'll even find recipes for Cookie Mix in a Jar and Brownies in a Jar. Included in the appendix are instructions to copy and print out to attach to the jars. Wouldn't this make a much better gift for your co-workers, children's teachers, neighbors and others, rather than the standard coffee cup or scented candle?

Don't have a lot of time for baking and we'd usually find you in the "slice and bake" section of the supermarket? Have an upcoming bake sale or family reunion and you need a lot of cookies? Just take an afternoon and open up to the chapter on refrigerator cookies. There you'll find a whopping seventeen cookie recipes, such as, Orange Pistachio, Peanut Butter Whirligigs, Lemon and Black Pepper, and Chocolate Swirls. Mix, roll into logs, and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. They'll be ready when you are! Slice and bake as many or as few as you need. Trust me, these will taste better than anything you can find at the market. AND, you made them all from scratch. Also, refrigerator cookies are great to have on hand for last minute guests, when the kids come home from school or when your neighbor shows up unannounced for coffee.

There are recipes here for everyone, from novice to seasoned baker. Some on my list to make first are Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, Pecan Pie Bars, Lemon Bon Bons, Buttermilk Butterflies, Mudslides, Chipotle Brownies, in fact, I ended up having so many stickies as I went through the book it was ridiculous. Oh, I don't want to forget the Molten-Middle Truffle Cookies, the name itself had me drooling all over myself!

What did I decided to try first you ask? I decided to go for something that is an essential ingredient in one of my favorite desserts and something I've always wanted to try making myself, Nilla Wafers. I love baking and cooking from scratch, but when it comes to Banana Pudding, I've always picked up a box of these at the local market. So, not only did I bake these cookies, I used them in my pudding. Here's Marye's recipe, followed by my directions for a Southern favorite dessert:

Nilla Wafers

• ½ cup unsalted butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
• 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
• ¾ teaspoon baking soda
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350℉.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla.
3. Mix dry ingredients; blend into butter mixture.
4. Drop by teaspoon-sized cookie scoop onto ungreased baking sheets.
5. Bake 12–15 minutes, or until edges are brown.

Marye suggests using a pastry bag to pipe cookie dough onto baking sheets. Make them the size of a quarter for best results. Be sure to leave two inches between cookies to allow for expansion. I used a 12-inch bag with a #2 tip and it worked great.

As Marye explains in her book, to properly measure all-purpose flour, you want to sift and then lightly spoon the flour into your measuring cups, leveling the top off with a butter knife. Do not pack down. (Didn't I tell you this was easy?)

This recipe says it yields 24 cookies, but I had double that, enough for my pudding and plenty for munching with my morning coffee.

I gathered my ingredients

Freshly grated nutmeg is so easy
and the taste is sensational

This recipe couldn't be any simpler. You'll notice that my cookies came out a little flater than your typical wafer, but that was my fault. I was so busy setting up and taking photos, that the butter in my cookies became a little melty. Ideally, you want to whip up these cookies and get them in the oven while everything is still room temperature. Well, you know I live in Florida and "our" room temperature is not what it is in other areas. The day was already warm and my oven was really heating things up. The taste was, in a word, heavenly! I can't tell you how rich the vanilla was and the hint of nutmeg was divine. My rating on a scale from one to ten was a 10. Honestly, I was more than pleasantly surprised and delighted with the outcome.

But, remember the old adage, the proof is in the pudding? Well, in this case I mean that literally. I pulled out a box of vanilla pudding, do not use banana pudding as some recipes instruct you to do. The best thing about Southern banana pudding is the way the flavors play on your palette, you taste the vanilla and then the banana and honey, you're in heaven. Banana-flavored pudding only defeats the purpose. Imitation banana flavoring only covers up the true taste of the fresh bananas. Yuck. Anyway, I layered my homemade Nilla Wafers with bananas and pudding, starting with wafers and ending with pudding. Be sure to make at least several layers of each. I like to add miniature chocolate chips to my pudding sometimes and I was having a chocolate craving, so this time I did. You can top your pudding with freshly whipped cream, Cool Whip, or meringue. I like mine plain and usually serve such toppings on the side when I have guests.

So how did my homemade Nilla Wafers measure up? I can honestly tell you that I will never use store-bought again! When you make Southern banana pudding, the secret is to let it set in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, so that the cookies become all soft from soaking up the moisture of the pudding. The vanilla flavor of homemade vs. store-bought wafers cannot be compared. I've eaten banana pudding my whole life, my mom's, my grandmother's and that made by countless other friends and family members and this was the best I've ever had! My taste-buds were dancing with joy and this recipe alone is worth proudly adding The Everything Cookies & Brownies Cookbook to my library. I can't wait to pull out my baking pans and see what else Marye has in store for me.

Yes, I do highly recommend The Everything Cookies & Brownies Cookbook, for yourself, as gifts to your friends whose cookies are on the dull side, brides, new mothers, your grown children and anyone else on your gift list.

You can also find more recipes from Marye at her blog, Baking Delights. I didn't want to visit her blog until after I had written my review and now that I have I can tell you to do the same. In a recent post she explained how the Bon Appetit blog asked her to participate in their Blog Envy contest this year. She shares her recipe for Pumpkin Tiramisu with her readers and that now includes me.

The Envelope, Please

Now, if you remember, Marye was also kind enough to send a second book for a giveaway here at The Hut and the lucky winner is Sierra @ Ocean Dreams. Sierra, I know you're going to love this book as much as I do and Big Kiddo is in for a lot of taste testing.

Congratulations Sierra!

Thank you to all who entered for a chance to win, but the good news is this book is available and affordable!

I want to share this cookbook review with all my foodie friends, so I'm linking this to Foodie Friday over at Michael's at Designs By Gollum, be sure to stop by and click on all the other fabulous foodie links and you just have to see her acorn containers, they are just so darn cute.

Ready for another giveaway? I love giveaways and if you do too you need to check out Quincy Cottage. She's having her first giveaway and the items going to the lucky winner are adorable! Here's a sneak peek:

I've spent most of this week relaxing, rejuvenating and trying to get back into the blogging groove. I'm just about 100% now and if it wasn't for an external hard drive failure, I would be one happy camper. Oh well, one day at a time. Love y'all!

32 Thoughtful Comments:

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Glad you're feeling better! :-)

Sue said...

That was a great review on the book. I love to bake, but it never even entered my mind to make vanilla wafers. What a simple recipe with ingredients I always have at home. I will be making these. I love old fashioned banana pudding...this was a wonderful post. Thanks!


Mary Bergfeld said...

What a wonderful book review! I also love the recipe for the vanilla wafers and will be trying it real soon.

Unknown said...

THANKS!!! for the recipe. I love vanilla wafers to make banana pudding. Banana pudding is one of those comfort foods in my book.

Marye said...

Could you be any nicer? I dont think I can breathe again...Glad you liked the nilla wafers. The only reason I can think of that you got so many MORE than the recipe :::Hangs head in shame::: I am addicted to raw cookie dough.
Thank you for your kind words. :)

The Fajdich Times said...

Glad to hear you are feeling better. You wrote a wonderful book review and the vanilla wafers sound tempting. The books sound really good and I think you were the perfect person to write a review:)

Kat said...

So glad you're feeling better! First off, you had me at brownies lol. This sounds like a great book. Banana pudding is one of my all time favorite desserts. I always make it from scratch, but never thought of making my own nilla wafers. This sounds pretty easy, so it may go on the agenda this weekend. Have a great day. Kathy

Joyce said...

Wow what a wonderful review. I love reading new cookbooks. I learn something new all the time. I read you want to make whoopie pies. I posted today a recipe that I made for pumpkin ones that will totally know your socks off or in your case your flip flops off! Glad you are feeling better once again. Enjoy the weekend.

Allison Shops said...

Enjoyed reading your review. I love Nilla Wafers. I'm going to try these homemade versions soon. Thanks for sharing.

jeanne said...

Hi Rhonda, your Nilla wafers look fab. i would be very tempted to make them for my son for his Birthday. He is a Nilla wafer fan without a doubt. I have made homemade banana pudding using the cornstarch method. Very good, but I am always up for a new idea. Happy baking.

Hugs, Jeanne

Lillian Robinson said...

Yum! Now that's really homemade! Banana pudding's always a favorite.

Lori (All That Splatters) said...

I nearly always have bananas in the house, but not always vanilla wafers. So banana pudding has to be planned in advance (which I'm not good at doing!) Thanks for the recipes for the homemade vanilla wafers. I'll be making Banana Pudding very soon!!

Jamie said...

What a great cookbook review. I love to bake and will definitely give these cookies a try. And then if there are any leftovers, will have to make banana pudding. I love the Southern Style banana pudding you mentioned. That's how I make it. Thanks for sharing.

Deeba PAB said...

Congrats Sierra. Sorry I missed such a wonderful giveaway. Love the review you did & the nilla wafers you made. Fabulous!
PS I think the link at the forum is wrong. It takes you to the giveaway post

Ruth Daniels said...

Excellent review. Like you, this book is now my "go to" cookies & brownies book and the chipotle brownie are fantastic. My family gobbled them up so quickly, I didn't even have much time to get a great photo!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

It sounds as though this book is a treasure Rhonda with a lot to offer experienced as well as novice bakers. Great review and lucky you:D

Sierra said...

OH YAY thanks so much Shelle, I can't wait to receive the book. I will search on the site to e-mail you my addy...or do I need to get in touch with someone else? Glad you are feeling better and cooking is inspiring you, this books looks so exciting and will encourage me to bake more often!

Sierra said...

Oops, I meant to call you Rhonda but half of your blog name came out...Miss Shellbelle! He he.

Unknown said...

Great review. Thanks so much.

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

WOW - what an engaging review. I went into my cupboard, pulled out my pans, and went clang-clang in celebration! Now I am motivated to invite my grand children over for a bake-a-thon! Cooking and baking topped with lots and lots of love.

Enjoyed my overdue visit.

Sunshinemom said...

First time here. I just got back from the land of beaches sun and sand (Goa-India) and now you are making me want to go back again!! Love your layout and of course the review! The book sounds great:)

Maya@Completely Coastal said...

Hope your hard drive is recovering! I think the next time my computer is down I just get a second one on reserve.

Bunny, The Paris House said...

Hi Shellbelle ( I'm so happy you don't mind me calling you 'Shellbelle' , I love it , its just the most adorable name!!!)...I'm checking in on you to see if you are ok and feeling better??? I know when you posted this you were doing much better, but I just want to make sure you are ok!!
I hope all is well and that you have a very Happy Halloween.

sealaura said...

hola! hope you are having a happy monday. I was wondeirng if you knew of any simple quicl chili recipes to enjoy on a cool day by the beach :)

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

Thanks for such a lovely review. After reading through this, I might just add this to my growing collection of cookbooks. (I'm trying to keep my collection small!) :)

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

Just checking in to make sure you're still feeling better! Hope you're back up on your feet and feeling like a million bucks. Or at least several thousand. :-)

Neabear said...

The Nilla Wafers sound wonderful! I am glad to hear that you are feeling better. Read back a few posts to find out about your illness. So happy that you are better!

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

Stopped by to see what was now cooking. You are missed. Do visit.


Rose Marie

Sierra said...

Shellebelle - I received the cookbook, thanks so much for your thoughtful note that came with it! You are so sweet, I loved everything immensely and can't wait to start cooking. I hope you are feeling better, miss you on our blog world!

Maya @ Completely Coastal said...

Dear Rhonda..., hope you are well!

sealaura said...


Just checking in again! I hope you haven't gotten the flu again. Miss ya!

Kat said...

Hi Rhonda! Just checking in to make sure you're ok. Hope that you're just inundated with work and aren't having a ick relapse. Kathy

I love the beach and everything that goes with it! I love the waves lapping at my feet. I love the feel of the sand between my toes. I love the roar of the Pacific and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Let's talk about beaches around the world, bonfires, building sandcastles, swaying palm trees, flamingos, clambakes, sunrises and sunsets. If it's tropical, it fits this blog!


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