Photo Credit: Ellen Silverman
Tracey Zabar is best known for her jewelry designs (she was the jewelry stylist for Sex and the City), but those close to her know her true passion – cookies. A self-proclaimed cookie addict, Zabar asked her friends to participate in a cookie swap. When they turned her down (citing busy schedules and a fear of calories), an even better idea occurred to her — why not create a virtual cookie swap in cookbook form?
Calling upon many of the world’s greatest chefs (many of whom are her friends), she created One Sweet Cookie, a beautifully photographed and diverse collection of recipes from chefs and pastry chefs including Karen DeMasco, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali and Thomas Keller. Zabar spoke with us about her love of cookies, the wonderful stories behind some of these recipes and the baking tricks she learned from these culinary heavyweights. Even better, she shared the recipe for pastry chef Jennifer McCoy's adorable Banana Chocolate Chip Sandwiches (pictured above).
Everyone (well, almost everyone) loves cookies, but why do you prefer them to other desserts? What is it about cookies that you love so much?
Cookies are adorable, portable and oh-so-delicious. They are perfect for a lunchbox, bake sale, fancy dinner party, or cookie swap. They are easy to share — there are no worries about cutting a crumbly cake or a messy pie. Although I do love a yummy pie or cake.
Did you find that the chefs leaned more toward simple or fancy cookies?
I asked each chef, “What is your favorite cookie?” The responses ranged from the simplest sugar cookies to palmiers, which includes Alain Sailhac’s recipe for making your own puff pastry, a task I found absolutely terrifying in culinary school. Now I bravely make it often, but you can cheat and buy it ready-made.
Many of these cookies have interesting backstories. What’s one of your favorites?
I loved when chefs shared the stories of learning to bake the recipe with his or her grandmother, mother, father or child. There are so many charming backstories, I couldn’t pick just one. Daniel Boulud spoke of his mother making her bugnes de Lyon with a wooden spoon. Jean-Georges Vongerichten recalled waking up in his room, which was above the kitchen, to the smell of his mother and grandmother making Christmas cookies. He would run downstairs to steal a few warm ones. Other stories that touch my heart are the ones that brought back memories of people I knew: Eli Zabar contributed his mother’s sugar cookie recipe. She, who was also my husband’s grandmother, was, um, not known for being such a baker, but her cookies were great. Dale Colantropo Fitzgerald shared her ricotta cookie recipe. As children, she always shared her two sweet Sicilian grandmothers with me, and this amazing cookie was theirs.
Were there any recipes you wanted that were particularly hard to get?
Amazingly, no. These chefs, many of whom are rock stars in the food world, were all so happy to share with me. It was so, so generous. Jerry Thornton moved from a New York restaurant to one in Hong Kong, and still found the time to help me with the book. His ribbon cookies are astounding. A number of chefs invited me to bake with them at their restaurants, and others came to my house. Chefs and restaurateurs like Charlie Palmer, Danny Meyer and Eric Ripert introduced me to their pastry chefs. It was a happy, happy year.
What is your favorite recipe from the book and why?
Choosing would be impossible. I love: Sarabeth Levine’s Macaroons, Lidia Bastianich’s Orange Cookies, Fortunato Nicotra’s pistachio cookies, François Payard’s Chocolate Cookies, Jonathan Waxman’s macadamia milk chocolate peppermint cookies and Marcus Samuelsson’s ginger citrus cookies. And Thomas Keller’s ice-cream sandwiches. Why? Because they are filled with sugar and so good.
What special baking tips did you glean from these chefs?
Many of the recipes were originally written in metric, and some were in Italian or French. I standardized them, although I tried to keep each chef’s voice. You can learn so much from observing how the chefs bake.
For example, Jenny McCoy rolls out her dough, scores it with a cookie cutter and freezes the whole sheet for an hour. Mark Tasker refrigerates his dough (although his grannie left it outdoors in the cold climate of Scotland) overnight. I use both methods, especially in the summer, when my dough is too soft and difficult to handle. Pichet Ong adds toasted coconut to his chocolate chip cookies, which elevates them and makes them so good I cannot even stand it. Nicole Kaplan and Nick Malgieri taught me to be fearless in the kitchen. Alex Grunert encouraged me to use unusual heirloom ingredients like red fife and graham flours. Amar Santana and Terrance Brennan made cookies with carrot and pumpkin. Seth Greenberg taught me to think like a baker and Maury Rubin and Michael Hartnell taught me to bake like an artist.
Do you have any advice for people who say they can’t bake?
I say, be brave! Baking is easier than cooking for me because there is no improvising. If you have the ingredients and equipment, just take a deep breath, dive in and do it. Choose a simple recipe — maybe a classic chocolate chip — read the directions twice and follow them exactly. Your house will smell so good, your sister will faint with envy and everyone will love you a little more.
For those of us who are still convinced we don't have the baking gene, what are some of your favorite store-bought cookies?
I am an aficionado of biscotti, anginetti and cucidatti from any Italian bakery that still uses butter. Oh, and my kids love those black-and-white cookies from Zabar’s.
If you were trapped on an island and could only have one type of cookie, what would you choose?
My mother’s pizzelles.