Different Strokes for Different Folks: Cranberry Cookies

A few months ago, Tom and I had the opportunity to meet up with our friends Perry and Rachel, who I met years ago when Perry was a summer intern in my office at DOJ. After graduating from law school, Perry prompted joined his wife Rachel in the foreign service. Since they have spent the last few years living overseas, we don't get the chance to see them very often. We were fortunately able to catch them on a brief stay in D.C. after they had wrapped up work in Beijing and were preparing to head to their next post in Tokyo.

I baked Perry and Rachel some buttercrunch melt-a-ways. Soonafter, Perry sent me an email asking me for the recipe. In addition, he provided me with a recipe for cranberry cookies, which he said was his and Rachel's favorite cookie. Now with fall upon us, and pumpkins and cranberries on the brain, I finally got around to trying the recipe earlier this week.

I have no idea where this recipe originated from. The ingredients are:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (I used dried, Perry says he uses frozen)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
In addition, the cookies are covered with a glaze, made from:
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2-4 tablespoons hot water
To make the cookie batter, you cream together the butter and sugars, mix in the milk, orange juice and egg, and incorporate the dry ingredients. The cookies are baked in a 375 degree oven, cooled, and spread with a glaze which is made from a mixture of melted butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla, thinned out with hot water until it reaches spreading consistency.

Before I started making the batter, I read over the recipe and thought that the proportions looked a little strange. There seemed to be not enough butter and too much flour, fruit, and nuts. However, there is a significant amount of liquid in the batter, and the final consistency of the batter was completely manageable. But the low concentration of butter meant that the dough barely spread at all in the oven, and I had to flatten my scoops of dough before baking to get an attractive finished shape. I used a #24 scoop to portion out the dough, and I got 30 cookies per batch, which finished baking in 15 minutes.

The frosting turned out to be ecru-colored (due to the vanilla), and it set hard. I thought the finished cookie was pretty attractive. I wasn't in love with the taste. It was mostly cranberries and pecans, and the unfrosted cookie had an earthy, almost healthy taste to it. The frosting improved the flavor profile of this cookie by leaps and bounds. I wasn't all that impressed with the cookie and was trying to figure out why Perry and Rachel could like it so much (or, alternatively, how I had screwed it up and failed to achieve the tasty product that Perry and Rachel vouch for).

When I took the cookies into the office the next day, I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastically they was received. Several people asked me for the recipe, and one of my co-workers -- whose baked goods opinion I completely trust -- declared the cookie "one of your all time best!" I have been baking for my office every week for just shy of six years, and my co-workers have sampled hundreds of my creations -- so labeling something as an all time best is a pretty strong statement.

But I suppose the fact the other people might love something that I find to be merely average is one of the fun and sometimes frustrating aspects of baking; even though certain aspects of taste are objective (I mean really, does anyone like dry cake?), everyone's likes and dislikes are intensely personal. There are actually people out there who don't like chocolate! But it takes different strokes for different folks to move the world, right? And one of the reasons I'm always looking for and trying out new recipes is that every once in a while, I'm able to achieve that magical moment of total fulfillment -- when someone takes a bite of something I've made and finds a new favorite!