By the Book: Grandma's Cookies, Updated by Milk & Cookies

By: Kirsten Vala

About a month ago, a ho-hum company meeting took a riveting turn when I bit into a cookie from a large tray making its way around the conference room. It tasted of pure comfort and nostalgia. . . I tried another, and another, sampling each kind, breaking off pieces here and there – they were all really, unbelievably irresistible.

Like that Progresso soup commercial (where the customer calls the company looking for her grandma), it felt like my Grandma Hazel was hanging out in a New York City bakery, surprising me with amazing cookies even (dare I say?) better than I remembered. The source of these comforting cookies was Milk & Cookies, a bakery not far from our office, tucked into a tiny storefront on a narrow Greenwich Village street. It seemed like fate when I realized the new cookbook I was eyeing on Amazon.com, Milk & Cookies, was from the same bakery where my grandma just might be baking me cookies.

A Culinary Institute of America (CIA) alum and the director of pastry and baking arts at the French Culinary Institute, Milk & Cookies owner Tina Casaceli embraces the comfort and nostalgia of well-loved cookies, giving old classics a subtle professional touch. One unique, signature item on the menu at Milk & Cookies is the option to order custom cookies, choosing your own mix-ins for base doughs. This translates to the cookbook wonderfully, with the first five chapters focused on basic doughs and mix-in ideas: Vanilla Cookies, Double Chocolate Cookies, Oatmeal Cookies, Peanut Butter Cookies and Sugar Cookies. The following chapters are “Special Cookies” that don’t use any of the bases, “Family Favorites,” some of which nod to Tina’s Italian heritage, and classic “Brownies and Bars.”

The best-seller at Milk & Cookies bakery, Milk & Cookies’ Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies use the Vanilla Cookie base dough with chocolate chunks and curls mixed in. The surprise ingredient is a little bit of oatmeal in the vanilla base, adding some heft to the cookie’s texture.

Chocolate chip cookies may be the crowd favorite at Milk & Cookies, but the bakery’s Peanut Butter Cookies could be the best I’ve ever eaten. They’re moist and ultra peanut-y, possibly due to the no-sugar-added, natural-style peanut butter used. For a fun twist, trade normal Peanut Butter Cookies for these cute Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookie Sandwiches.

Rolling cinnamon-spiced Snickerdoodle dough into balls and giving them a spin in cinnamon-sugar before baking, I was transported back to my childhood, when cookie-dough rolling was my favorite kitchen duty. These bake up extra soft and chewy thanks to a little vegetable shortening standing in for half the butter.

Ah, so many great cookies, so little time . . . A few words of advice after baking a couple batches: 1) Check on the cookies frequently while baking, since any number of factors could affect how long they'll need to cook and you don't want to over-bake them and 2) Try not to over-mix the mix-ins, planning ahead so you don’t over-work the dough.

Looking forward to summer cookouts and get-togethers, this is going to be my go-to cookie recipe source for take-along treats. I can’t wait to bake some of these cookies for my Grandma Hazel!

Start baking from Milk & Cookies with these recipes:

More cookbooks to try:
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