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Learn to make 'The Cookie That Changed' Nancy Silverton's life and more in her new book

An assortment of slice and bake butter cookies. (Anne Fishbein)
An assortment of slice and bake butter cookies. (Anne Fishbein)

Can a cookie change your life? Well, according to award-winning chef and restaurateur Nancy Silverton, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

So much so that the question became the title of her newest cookbook, “The Cookie That Changed My Life” — which is an ode to perfection. Inspired during the pandemic by a peanut butter cookie that was ‘nearly’ perfect (she went on to tweak it until she declared it ‘perfect’), she decided to do the same with other recipes, from simple yellow cake with chocolate frosting to lemon squares, to olive and sage focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil.

Silverton, co-owner of LA’s Pizza Mozza and Osteria, and founder of the world-renowned LaBrea Bakery, joins host Robin Young to talk about her book, her inspirations, and cooking.

The cover of “The Cookie That Changed My Life” by Nancy Silverton. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

Book excerpt: ‘The Cookie That Changed My Life’

By Nancy Silverton

Having been baking professionally now for fifty years (fifty years! I can hardly believe it myself), I have seen and done my share of innovating, inventing, and envelope pushing. In fact, I would say that innovating has defined American baking during this time. In the last ten years, as both baking and cooking have reached competitive levels, with ingredients from around the globe available at the touch of a button and the influences of Instagram sending ideas soaring, innovation in baking has exploded. We’ve innovated in every way conceivable— and even some ways that are still hard to conceive. Maybe it is my age setting in, but more and more I find myself asking: Do we really need matcha in our pound cake? Lavender in shortbread? Pie on a stick? Cake in a jar? Or bacon in any dessert? The answer, for me, is a definite “No.”

Creative, yes. But for me, these creations aren’t craveable, and that was the ultimate criterion for a recipe to make it into this book. It needs to be something you crave. Or can’t get enough of. The way for me to judge what is craveable is to start with what I crave. If you want to thrill me, give me a perfect brownie, dense, fudgy, and packed with quality chocolate; a tender, lightly browned shortbread cookie made with French butter; or a strawberry- rhubarb pie that tastes like the essence of springtime. Nothing excites me more than when I bite into one of these familiar treats only to discover that it has been done to perfection. This book is a collection of those superb recipes.

Maple pecan slice-and-bake butter cookies

Of all the butter cookies in this book, this is my favorite. They’re delicious made with any pure maple syrup, but using an artisanal variety, aged in oak, takes them to yet another level.

Makes about 30 cookies

For the dough:

  • 210 grams (heaping 2 cups) pecan halves
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk
  • 37.5 grams (2 tablespoons) artisanal maple syrup (preferably barrel-aged)
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 226 grams (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 100 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 298 grams (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour

For coating:

  • 1 extra-large egg white
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast them on the center rack of the oven until they’re lightly browned and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the baking sheet and rotating it front to back halfway through the toasting time so the pecans brown evenly. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside until the pecans cool enough to touch. (If you think the nuts are on the verge of being overtoasted, transfer them to a plate so they don’t continue to cook from the residual heat of the pan.)
  3. Turn off the oven.
  4. Weigh out 131 grams (or measure 1¼ cups) of the pecan halves and set them aside to add to the dough. Finely chop the remaining pecans and set them aside to coat the cookie dough in.
  5. Whisk the egg yolk, maple syrup, and vanilla together in a small bowl.
  6. Put the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on medium speed until the butter is soft but still cold, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula whenever butter is accumulating. Add the granulated sugar and salt and beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg yolk mixture and beat until it is incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. Add the flour and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, until almost no flour is visible. Add the pecan halves and mix on low speed to distribute the pecans and fully incorporate the flour. Stop the mixer, remove the bowl and paddle from the stand, and clean them with the spatula, scraping the bowl from the bottom up to release any ingredients that may be stuck there.
  7. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface. Divide the dough in half. Place one portion of dough on the plastic wrap and shape it into a log 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in the plastic, twisting the ends like a candy wrapper. Repeat, shaping and wrapping the remaining dough into a second log. Place the logs in the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
  8. Adjust the oven racks so one is in the top third and the other is in the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  9. To coat the cookies, put the egg white in a small bowl. Spread half of the finely chopped pecans on a sheet of parchment paper or a baking sheet.
  10. Brush the egg white on the log to coat it. (Don’t coat the ends.) Roll the log in the pecans, pressing gently so they stick to the dough and coat it evenly.
  11. Place the log on a cutting board and use a long sharp knife to slice it into 3/8- inch- thick rounds. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between them. (If the cookies become misshapen in this process, one at a time, gently turn the cookies in your hand to reshape them.)
  12. Place one baking sheet on each oven rack and bake the cookies until they are golden brown around the edges, 20 to 26 minutes, switching racks and rotating the baking sheets front to back halfway through the baking time so the cookies bake evenly. Remove the cookies from the oven.
  13. Repeat, coating, slicing, and baking the second log as you did the first.

Credit line: From ‘The Cookie That Changed My Life’ by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreño © 2023 by Nancy Silverton. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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