Sorry, milk: Cookies and beer make for a sweet pairing

Santa should probably stick to milk and cookies, but it might be time for the rest of us to admit that milk is a fairly one-note beverage.

Cookies really deserve a better pairing. One in particular: beer.

At least that’s what author and journalist Jonathan Bender believes. He’s written a whole cookbook, “Cookies and Beer” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99), to explore this little-known idea and get more of us on board.

Beer lovers and bakers have always stood by their respective culinary passions — but far fewer of us have put the two of them together. It’s a magical combination, Bender writes.

“Here is the secret to this book: The right beer and cookie pairing is outstanding because it allows you to enjoy more of both elements,” he writes. “Milk washes away or rounds off the edges of a cookie, but beer, the perfect beer, brings out something unexpected from the cookie or has its own lip-smacking revelation.”

The same goes for cookies’ influence on beer, awakening flavors “that you may have barely noticed before.”

Of course, the magic only exists if we pair correctly, and that’s where Bender comes in. He’s supplied readers with 40 cookie recipes and the accompanying beer — or beer style, in case the one he recommends isn’t available where you are — to enjoy them with. Since he’s written about beer for the past four years, he knows what he’s talking about with each suggestion.

Although chocolate — an obvious choice for a beer pairing — is one of the first sections in the book, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Try your hand at savory cookies, cookies with fruit in them, even cookies with beer in them. The beer is subtle, Bender notes; you won’t taste any booze in your cookies.

Beer pairings similarly run the gamut. The rich, dark beer styles of porters and stouts are, as expected, dominant companions to many of their edible compatriots. But saisons, pale ales and ESBs (extra special bitter) also make their mark. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, for instance, has a brightness “that matches the depth and warmth of the (molasses) cookie and a smooth, round finish.”

I didn’t take Bender’s tasting notes seriously until I tried my hand at making a batch of one of the cookie recipes. In the holiday section — it is December, after all — I found Zimtsterne, or “winter star,” cookies featuring cinnamon, lemon and lots of sugary icing and tried my amateur baker’s hand at making them.

With the Zimtsterne, Bender recommends drinking a milk stout that we don’t get in Texas, so I turned to Left Hand Brewing’s reliable milk stout instead. And it’s true: The irresistible alchemy of cookies and beer together is a beautiful thing — especially this time of year.

Left Hand’s milk stout balanced out the sweetness of the cookies that I found I couldn’t stomach without the beer; the cookies, for their part, made the milk stout extra creamy, like “a cool drink of hot chocolate.”

Call me a convert. Sorry, milk.

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