Cookie Tier List

Last updated 2024-07-05 13:58:35 SGT

Cookies are delicious delicacies.

In an effort to secure myself literal brownie points with the grad students here in Hawaiʻi, I’ve taken to bringing baked goods to group meetings and morning coffee on a roughly monthly basis. Naturally, some recipes have worked better than others. These ratings should be taken with a pinch of salt since I’m a novice baker.

Year 1 (2022/2023)

I made two quiches (seaweed & feta, and leftover buttermilk prawn) for the Institute’s Halloween party, and a chorizo-and-potato quiche (essentially a Spanish tortilla but in quiche format) for a Thanksgiving potluck. These were basically fritatas encased in store-bought frozen pie shells, so I approached them more as cooking than baking projects, giving them constant attention rather than leaving them to cook for preset times, and did not follow any recipes.

I made pineapple jam from scratch based on the prescription of Rasa Malaysia's recipe for pineapple tarts, but used a shortbread recipe from King Arthur Flour to encase the jam. Overall mixed success. This was the first time I used the oven at my new apartment (gas rather than convection, with no built-in thermostat) for recipes with preset bake times, and the bottoms came out somewhat burnt, leading me to suspect that my oven ran hot. I received an oven thermometer as a Christmas gift (thanks, Chris!) and subsequent testing confirmed this suspicion — at the nominal 350°F setting, my oven runs at 450°F. Unfortunately this systematic calibration error is not linear; I’ve found that to produce an actual oven temperature of 350°F, the rotary dial must read about 300°F.

I followed a NYTimes recipe that I stumbled upon during a YouTube baking video binge. Overall, very well-received by the grad students. I also fed this to some older friends at a Chinese New Year gathering. Unfortunately, this recipe does not scale down well. Compared to those of the nominal size recommended by the recipe, the smaller, thinner cookies of a second batch that I made tended to be far less tender, with almost the consistency of (admittedly very tasty) ear biscuits/耳朵饼; this might however just be my fault in making them too thin. Many of the comments on the NYTimes page suggest alterations using more salt, black pepper, cheese, etc. to produce a savoury product for pairing with cheese boards, which might be worth exploring. Final product was far less rich than the King Arthur shortbread recipe above. Would make again, perhaps for some kind of holiday potluck.

Another NYTimes recipe; remarkably, this is one of the very few I have seen with a unanimous 5-star rating on that site. Recipe was simple to follow, although (lacking the recommended ice-cream scoop) I had some difficulty portioning out cookies consistently. My final products ranged from smaller-than-average snickerdoodles to thin blobby cakes covering my entire small sheet pan. Fortunately, I got better at eyeballing an appropriate portion size by the third batch, although at this point I had already used up more than half of the available dough. Quality of final product also fortunately did not suffer from absence of vanilla extract (which I did not have on hand, and for which I substituted a small amount of flavoured soju). This was very well-received by the grad students, albeit with some confusion about, and difficulty in identifying, the “mystery” spicy ingredient. Would absolutely make again for social gatherings.

I made an asparagus, mushroom, and cotija quiche, for the occasion of the visit of prospective graduate students1 to the Institute, since I was informed that there was no budget to pay for any breakfast for any of their visit days (besides snacky things like granola bars). Unfortunately, about half of the quiche got eaten by the grad students and faculty…

I also made an open-faced blueberry pie for π day! While I like blueberries, and I like pie, and I was certain that I would therefore like a blueberry pie, I ended up being largely disappointed by my own creation. I imagine that a covered pie would have worked better.

I plopped a bunch of canned pineapple into the bottom of my skillet, poured pineapple-juice cake batter over it, baked it off for 40 minutes, and sprinkled li hing mui powder over the top after liberating it from the skillet when cooled (with the assistance of an offset spatula). Not as low-effort as I had initially hoped, and the ratios were a bit off (7 slices of pineapple is a bit too scanty for 3 eggs' worth of batter; could have been more aggressive with the li hing mui). However, was pretty well-received by the few grads who had not packed up and gone to Protostars and Planets VII, as well as the one emerita who showed up for morning coffee. Would make again for festive occasions.

I adapted this lemongrass cookie recipe to use the dough from the rosemary & olive shortbread that I had made in January, since that had turned out well the last time. I also added the juice of some calamansi limes that I had lying around to the sugar icing glaze. This was extremely well received by the grads, who felt it had a very sophisticated flavour, and by taste alone I think I would consider it S-tier.

However, the making of these cookies was surprisingly stressful, largely because I made some ingredient substitutions that seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be fairly ill-advised2. In particular, I had neither heavy cream (called for by the shortbread recipe) nor milk (for the icing glaze) on hand. I attempted to dilute Greek yoghurt as a substitute for both. While this worked reasonably well in the dough (albeit producing a texture that was more chewy than crumbly compared to the first time I had made a shortbread with this recipe), it failed miserably when I had to heat up the “milk” for the glaze, since the only thing this accomplished was to cook and clump up the yoghurt. This was in fact the whole reason for me trying a lime-juice glaze in the first place. Fortunately, that turned out to work well, and in any case I imagine lime juice and milk would not have played well.

Overall, would make again, but actually using heavy cream in the batter, and would perhaps steep the minced lemongrass in some hot water to spread out the flavour in the dough more evenly. I might also consider taking up Colby's offer of some fresh-grown lemongrass if I were to make this again, since the stuff I bought from Safeway was kind of gnarly.

I made this cookie for a potluck party held in honour of our summer REU students. For this, I adapted the rosemary & olive shortbread recipe again, substituting chopped sour plums for the olives, and omitting the rosemary. I also prepared a pineapple jam with a spare can of pineapple slices that I had lying around. Unfortunately I started the jam going only at 8PM the night before, and didn't want to leave it going overnight, so it turned out a whole lot thinner than I would usually make it. Fortunately, this meant it was more easily spreadable on the cookies. I made two batches, with the first batch turning out not so well (I had cut the shortbread too thin); the second batch with 1cm slices turned out very much better. I served these with a generous dollop of pineapple jam on top of all of them.

On the whole, the response to these cookies was very bipolar. People who don't like li hing mui powder in the first place really didn't like this very much, and people who did found this a very sophisticated flavour combination. I really enjoyed them but would probably use less than a whole cup of chopped sour plum in future. I might also consider adding e.g. a little bit of chili flakes or other spice to the pineapple jam, which for this iteration I had served neat with no additives other than sugar and a little lime juice for pectin.

Same recipe as in February, but I got better at portioning out the cookie batter. I tried out a suggestion from one of the NYTimes comments: I patted out the batter, left it to refrigerate, spread out the gochujang caramel, rolled it up, and cut the dough as if it were a shortbread. This produced an uncannily regular swirl, but also left holes in the cookies if there was too much caramel locally.

I made this as a morale booster for the Sunday morning before TASC VII, which the LOC spent assembling swag bags. Some of this made its way to an astronomer party the evening before, as a thank-you to our gracious hosts, Ben and Jen.

I am travelling for essentially the whole month of August and won't be able to deliver food to the grads. Sorry guys!

Year 2 (2023/2024)

Thai green curry (kaeng khiao wan) is literally “sweet green curry”, and while the sweetness here refers to the colour, its preparation does indeed require substantial sweetening. I thought that this would also lend it to work well in cookie format, as with the other partially savoury cookies described above.

For my first test batch, I tried recycling the Rosemary and Olive Shortbread recipe from the NYT, except hydrating the dough using some leftover green curry that I had made instead of using heavy cream, substituting Thai basil instead of rosemary, omitting the olives, using lime instead of lemon zest, and using brown instead of granulated sugar. This was tasty, but did not come of as reading very strongly of green curry, primarily because the actual amount of curry in it was minuscule.

For my second test batch, I did the same, except that I used straight coconut cream to hydrate the dough, and also added extra green curry paste rather than omitting the olives altogether. I was happy with the improved flavour of this version. However, I didn't get a chance to present this improved recipe to the grads — I had by this point exhausted the batch of Thai basil that I had been using, and Foodland had itself run out of it by my next grocery order3.

I made a Spanish tortilla quiche (potato, spanish chorizo, onion, olive oil), and a ham and cheese quiche (with leek greens and chives) for Morning Coffee on two different days. I had to get these out of the way before the faculty candidates started arriving.

Finally, a faculty candidate who I have no personal connection to!

I made these black sesame shortbread cookies. This recipe stood out to me as being particularly compelling because it promised to be executable with only a single vessel (a food processor). Unfortunately, several mishaps occurred:

Despite these issues, the cookies turned out quite well! The recipe appears incredibly robust to have turned out as tasty as it did given my deviations from it. The cookies disappeared before morning coffee ended (I was not even able to save one for my officemate, who normally shows up later in the day). Would absolutely make again.

Fell ill and didn't have time to bake.

I like Peruvian food before visiting Peru — the usual hits like ceviche, chaufa, lomo saltado, papas a la huancaina — but my opinion of it was not overwhelmingly positive. Having tried it in situ, I think I owe the Peruvians an apology. I also very much liked potatoes before this trip4, but every potato dish I've eaten since coming back has proven a disappointing shadow of its still-living Peruvian ancestors.

Anyway, potatoes aside, I also bought a vacuum-sealed pack of what the Cajamarcans call "mantecoso" cheese during a tour of a cheese factory (which, to my regret, I now realise that I can't really buy outside of Peru — I really should have gotten more), which I expended in two quiches for the grads. I made the first to celebrate the return of Fede from Italy: this was a vegetarian quiche with kimchi, green onions, olives and mushrooms. I made the second — an egg white quiche with homemade vegetable stock, potatoes, portuguese sausage, chives, and cilantro — as a treat for the second-year grads when they were giving practice talks for their research class (699-2).

Since Eric Kim's NYT Gochujang Caramel Cookies worked out so well, I decided to try out another one of his NYT recipes, for Matcha Latte Cookies, although I guess without the boiled-milk frosting they're just Matcha Cookies. Hawaiʻi being Hawaiʻi, I wasn't able to get vanilla paste, but I was able to get my hands on the last tin of Ito En Culinary Matcha at Don Quijote. I also substituted the peanut butter with (in my opinion) a far surperior toasted macademia-nut butter. I think this might be the most expensive baking project I've undertaken so far: the mac-nut butter by itself cost $16 for a small bottle, and the matcha cost another $16 for a [100\ \mathrm{g}] tin.

I really liked how the cookies turned out texturally, but I think the stated proportions are both a little too sweet for me, and don't have enough matcha flavour for my tastes — or this might be a problem with the Ito En stuff I am using. I think the sugar plays a structural role here, so I can't really cut down on it, but if I were to make this again for personal consumption, I would perhaps double the amount of matcha (although see further notes below). Logistically, this recipe was quite pleasing to execute: there were no surprises, and the batter yielded exactly 20 cookies as advertised. I might make a note when mixing the wet ingredients to add the butter last — creaming it by hand was a bit of a workout even at room temperature. Not having a #40 cookie-dough scoop myself, the NYT video tutorial was quite helpful in figuring out how large a ball to portion out with two spoons for each cookie.

I made these cookies as a sweet treat for the second-year grads for their actual 699-2 talks. These were overwhelmingly well-received — at least among the grads who liked matcha enough to want a cookie5. Also surprisingly, some of these matcha-consuming grads still found the matcha flavour a little overwhelming. Maybe there's something wrong with my tastebuds instead. Anyway, all 20 cookies went quickly even despite there being a hiatus on Morning Coffee — I wasn't even able to save any for Fede and Dhvanil. Would absolutely make again.

Update in June: I actually absolutely did make again, twice! These were both after I discovered a mystery bottle of vanilla extract in the IRTF kitchen, which I promptly borrowed to put to use for the public good. The second batch I made was in honour of the arrival of this summer's REU students, and the last was for a potluck for Singaporeans in Hawaiʻi. Both were extremely well-received! It turns out than one jar of macadamia-nut butter is good for roughly three batches of these cookies (with some left over for other culinary experiments), but I have a huge amount of matcha left over.

In a bid to diversify from bringing only baked treats for the grads (sweet or otherwise), I decided to purchase an ice-cream maker. In the two weeks in which I have owned it I have already made four batches of desserts:

  1. Strawberry gochujang ice cream, after a Tom Scott Plus video. Learning lessons from the original video, I decided to omit the really spicy components (i.e. using only strawberry jam and gochujang). For the ice cream base, I used what seemed to be a fairly reliable NYT recipe. The grads mostly liked this, but some of them got a little weirded out.
  2. I turned Martinelli's apple cider into a sorbet/granita (straight up poured it directly into the freezer bowl), to bring to the IfA in honour of the grads' pride celebration. It turned out excellent! My lack of forward planning (only making it the same morning) worked in my favour; the sorbet was still fizzy when I served it at lunchtime. Easily one of my favourites in terms of reward-to-effort ratio.
  3. I flavoured one batch with lime zest and juice (3 limes), li hing mui powder, the flesh of half a kiwi, and some freshly grated nutmeg; I brought this one to group meeting, and shared the leftovers with random passers-by. This one went down really well!
  4. I made one last batch with a pureed mixture of 2 kiwis, 1 mango, a handful of grapes, and some li hing mui powder6. It's freezing as I speak; results TBD.

I am on travel. Sorry guys!

  1. delightfully, by IfA tradition, the prospective graduate students are called “protograds”! I suspect this might be too much of an astronomy in-joke for general consumption, though. 

  2. story of my life 

  3. a recurring Hawaiʻi problem… 

  4. boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew 

  5. Apparently matcha is a polarising enough flavour that some other grads refused a cookie outright. I think is the first time this has happened for any cookies I've made. 

  6. I am amused that the ingredients spell out KPMG (P for plum) and I'm calling it that when describing it to the grads. 

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