Segal discusses why cookies are special to her, her reasoning for becoming a pastry chef, and the special techniques she uses to make her extraordinary cookies.
New Times: What is it about cookies that makes them different than any other dessert?
Mindy Segal: Well, for one, they are cookies. They are not a dessert. They are a treat just like a donut would be a treat or a cupcake or ice cream or a milkshake. But what makes cookies so interesting and a subject of a cookbook is that there are so many different types of cookies, and there's a cookie for everyone. I've tried to make it my life's work to try and prove that.
What’s your fondest memory of baking or eating cookies while you were growing up?
Well, I have multiple memories. Some of them are not good. My mother, like all mothers, used to bake her way. I used to help her in the kitchen and I remember baking cookies with her. But most importantly, I remember when I was a little girl and one of my best friends at the time — I think I was in third or fourth grade — decided to make chocolate chip cookies for the first time on our own with her little sister. We made the mistake of putting salt in the recipe instead of using sugar. I remember making that big mistake and it sort of stuck in my head. From then on, I always wanted to prove to myself that I can actually make cookies.
Why did you specifically choose to become a pastry chef?
Even though I went to culinary school a long time ago, it is still considered a trade. I applied to culinary school because I always liked to bake and cook as a little girl. So, I went to college for a few years and decided to drop out and go to culinary school. They told me I needed to get experience so I had to work for a year before they would even accept me, and I worked for a catering company in the town that I grew up in. The kitchen manager would always make me do pastries and I never wanted to do pastries. I always wanted to do cooking, like the sautéing and the making of chicken liver mousse and the filleting of fish. I would go to her all the time and she would say, "You know, I'm going to make a pastry chef out of you," and I guess the rest is sort of history. I did my internship at a hotel and was able to go through all the different departments, but the pastry department is the one that excited me the most. I cook in my restaurant because I also need to take a break from pastries and focus on the savory menu. I always end up going back to pastries, though.
How is this cookbook different from other single subject cookbooks?
I wrote the book, and it is for people that love to cook and bake. I did not write this for professional pastry chefs, although I am in hopes that my peers will buy my books and be inspired by my techniques. For the past two to three years, I have been focusing on the craft of cookies and I really worked on it. Actually, for the ten years I have been open I have been working at it. I have created and developed some really cool techniques that make regular cookies really extraordinary. I don't want to dis regular cookies, because I think they are awesome and they are a foundation for making people see outside that box. In a nutshell, I think what makes this different is that they are my cookies and they are inspired by me and my life and my past experiences. I put all of that into cookies. There's techniques and stories and anecdotes and suggestions. Anybody that is interested in baking or cooking would really love this book.
Can you share a technique with me?
There's multiple ones. This isn't really different but sort of interesting. I have a couple of recipes in the book that use goat butter, and I don't think you see a lot of goat butter cookie recipes. It was really exciting, and I love rugelach and kolaczki. There's an entire chapter dedicated to these cookies in the book and it gives you a different perspective about how you can approach cookies using cream cheese as a vehicle for flavors, as well as fresh fruit and hot fudge. I make hot fudge rugelach and it's funny because sometimes really great things happen from mistakes. One time I used too much hot fudge and spread it on the dough. When I rolled and baked the cookies all of the fudge oozed out of the cookie dough, so I put them on the sheet pan and let them sit there and cool, and then I forgot about them! I went back to them later to clean the sheet pan, and I picked up one of the cookies and the rugelach had a caramelized flower of hot fudge. It was super ugly and adorable at the same time. So I ate it! It was awesome. That started the whole idea of putting hot fudge into streusel or caramel into streusel or butterscotch into streusel so I could let it flower out and caramelize. It's a really awesome technique and is something I am very proud of.
Strawberry Rhubarb Rugelach with Oatmeal Streusel
makes 48 rugelach
- 2 cups finely diced rhubarb (approximately 2 large stalks)
- 1 pound washed, hulled, and dried strawberries, finely diced
- 3?4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 recipe Classic Cream Cheese Dough (see below), divided in half and chilled
- 2 cups Oatmeal Streusel (see below)
- 1 extra-large egg white, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup vanilla sugar (see below) or granulated sugar
When spring arrives (eventually) in Chicago, I am first in line for rhubarb. I use rhubarb to make fruit consommés and sorbets. But it is nearly always at its best with strawberries—its soul mate, which come into season later. This recipe is a fruit crisp disguised as rugelach. I slather cream cheese dough with the strawberry rhubarb preserves and then dust it with streusel for crunch. The results are crisp, gooey, sweet, and tart, tasting purely of spring.
Wipe the rhubarb clean before dicing, especially if using field rhubarb, which I prefer. Field rhubarb has a grassier, earthier flavor than hothouse rhubarb. It is pinkish green (not red) in color. When working with strawberries, wash them and let them dry out on a towel-lined pan before cooking them. The quantity used in the recipe is 1 pound of hulled strawberries. Start with 18 ounces of strawberries to ensure you have 1 pound after you hull them. For the preserves, dice the rhubarb and strawberries into small cubes (approximately 1/4 inch) so they cook down evenly and spread smoothly onto the cream cheese dough.
To make the preserves:
Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, and orange juice in a bowl and let macerate for at least?4 hours at room temperature or cover and refrigerate overnight.
In a high-sided, heavy pot, heat the fruit mixture over medium-high heat until the juices start to boil and foam. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb has broken down completely, approximately 30 minutes. You will have close to 2 cups. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least two hours.
To make the cookies:
Put a sheet of parchment paper the same dimensions as a half sheet (13 by 18-inch) pan on the work surface and dust lightly with flour. Unwrap one dough half and place on top.
Using a rolling pin and a pastry roller, roll the dough half into a rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border from the edge of the parchment paper. The dough should be just shy of 1/4 inch thick. If the edges become uneven, push a bench scraper against the sides to straighten them out. To keep the dough from sticking to the parchment paper, periodically dust the top lightly with flour, cover with another piece of parchment paper, and, sand- wiching the dough between both sheets of parchment paper, flip the dough and paper over. Peel off the top layer of parchment paper and continue to roll. Repeat with the second dough half. Stack both sheets of dough on top of each other and refrigerate until chilled, approximately 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a few half sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.
Invert the sheets of dough onto the work surface and peel off the top sheet?of parchment paper. For each sheet of dough, spread 3?4 cup of strawberry rhubarb preserves in a thin, even layer across the surface. Sprinkle approximately 1/2 cup of streusel per sheet over the preserves. Trim the edges. Using a dough cutter or a pizza cutter, divide the sheet in half lengthwise into two long strips. Working with one strip at a time and moving crosswise, cut out triangles with flat tips, with each base approximately 1 1/2 inches wide and each tip approximately 1/4 inch wide. Shoot for 12 triangles per strip.
Using an offset spatula, separate a triangle away from the rest of the dough. Starting from the base, roll the dough?up like a crescent roll. Place tip-side down on the prepared sheet pan and repeat with the remaining triangles, spacing them on the pans 1 inch apart. Brush the tops with the egg white and sprinkle with the vanilla sugar. Sprinkle the tops generously with the remaining 1 cup streusel.
Bake one pan at a time for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the streusel is golden brown. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for 1 to 2 minutes (do not wait too long or the preserves will stick to the parchment paper). Using an offset spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Rugelach can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Rolled, unbaked rugelach can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Classic Cream Cheese Dough
makes 2 (13 by 18-inch) sheets of dough
- 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and mix on medium speed to combine, 10 to 15 seconds. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until aerated, approximately 3 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together.
On medium speed, add the vanilla, mixing briefly until incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour and salts.
Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together but still looks shaggy, approximately 30 seconds. Do not overmix. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. With a plastic bench scraper, bring the dough completely together by hand.
Stretch two sheets of plastic wrap on a work surface. Divide the dough in half (each half will weigh around 14 1?2 ounces) and place a half on each piece of plastic. Pat the dough into rectangles, wrap tightly, and refrigerate until chilled throughout, at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.
makes 4 cups
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
- 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds only
In a food processor, pulse together the butter, sugar, flour, oats, salt, and vanilla bean seeds until it forms a fine meal, and the butter is evenly incorporated.
Do not overprocess. Transfer to a storage container and chill completely, approximately 1 hour. Or freeze and use within 1 month.
Scrape the seeds out of a vanilla pod and rub them into 1 cup granulated sugar. Let the pod dry out overnight. The next day, grind the seeds, pod, and sugar together. Sift before using.
Reprinted with permission from Cookie Love by Mindy Segal with Kate Leahy, © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House Inc. Photography © 2015 by Dan Goldberg