In defense of Alton’s pinwheels

December 22, 2009 · 1 comment

pinwheelcookies

(I promise, this is the last post featuring my current obsession with things chocolate and peppermint.)

I went to a link last week, for a recipe I’d used before: Alton Brown’s pinwheel cookies. I made them last year, and remembered their being a bit labor-intensive for a cookie; but, in my humble opinion, well-worth the effort. Out of five possible stars of success, this recipe had a success-rate of four. Which is still pretty high, in the online-rating world. Remembering some of the hitches from last year’s cookie-making adventure, I wasn’t surprised to read some of the bad reviews (typos are the responsibility of the disappointed comment-leavers):

Yuck. I had planned to package these up and mail them to grandparents for Christmas, but I tossed them all in the trash instead. What a huge waste of time

I saw these on the TV show & they looked really great! However, I agree with the other reviewers, the flavor is lacking, and they take alot of effort (aren’t easy to make at all). Overall a big disappointment !!!

And my personal favorite:

I never dropped the F-bomb so many times in my life.

But there were plenty of good reviews, too — ones I agree with. The cookies are, unquestionably, not slice-and-bake easy. You basically make a simple sugar cookie dough (I increased the salt in the original recipe to 1/2 tsp), and then divide the dough into two batches which you then flavor: one half with chocolate and one with peppermint. Then you roll out the doughs separately, and stack them on top of each other, and roll them up jelly-roll-like. Chill, then slice the log into cookies. Sounds straight-forward, but in reality the doughs can get finicky.

The primary criticism comes from people who have trouble with the chocolate (the bottom and outer layer of the roll) dough breaking up as you roll it. I had more trouble with this when I made them last week than I did a year ago: and I’m almost certain I used different brands of chocolate. Last year, I used Baker’s, but this year I splurged on Ghirardelli. It could be that the fat contents of the chocolates are different, so that the Baker’s is more malleable once mixed into the dough. I did find that the more I handled the chilled dough, the less the chocolate broke apart. So, kneading the chocolate dough briefly before rolling might help. Also, roll it out on waxed paper, and use that to help form the jelly roll.

The second criticism came from people who said they were bland. This, I think, comes down to preference and expectations. What these cookies are not is peppermint bark. They are not that chocolaty, not that pepperminty, not that sweet. What they are is more like a chocolate-peppermint shortbread. With the subtle crunch of candy in each bite. I find them to be a delightful holiday afternoon cookie, being an almost perfect accompaniment to a cup of black tea with milk.

And they really are beautiful. Even if, like me, you struggle with your roll and some bits of chocolate fall off. You can easily piece them back together on the cookie sheet and they bake up nicely. The last tip, should you choose to tackle these vortexes of holiday flavors, is to most definitely bake them on parchment paper — the peppermint candy can cause them to stick to a naked cookie sheet, leaving you in the same position as the poor exclamatory soul from comment #3 above.

Since I don’t really want to get a letter from Food Network’s attorney for Christmas, I won’t re-write the recipe. But you can easily get it here, without joining anything. Let me know if you end up in your kitchen having murderous thoughts about Mr. Brown (or, like me, love the cookies so much that if someday you went missing, the first place your husband would check was the current location of Mr. Good Eats himself).

In other holiday news, we’re hosting a brunch tomorrow, a small gathering of friends who are still in town. If time and flavors allow, I’ll share details. The menu is off to a good start: I made my first loaf of challah yesterday, and it baked up beautifully. More to come.

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