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.
Chef Amy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Pairing: Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Milk Stout. Milk stouts are sweet and creamy, “the missing link between milk and beer.”
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, plus 2 Tbsp.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 oz. 2 percent milk
6 oz. milk chocolate candy bar, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
6 oz. dark chocolate candy bar, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
Vanilla fleur de sel, for sprinkling (see below)
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt, then cook, swirling occasionally, until the milk solids turn golden brown and butter foams and begins to smell nutty. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla bean pod and seeds. Set aside until cooled to room temperature, then remove the vanilla bean pod and save it for another use.
Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and cream together on low speed until pale and fluffy.
Add the egg, then egg yolk, and mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Turn off the mixer and add the flour mixture. Mix on very low speed just until the dough begins to come together. Drizzle in the milk, then add the chocolate and mix just until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Scoop 2-ounce portions of the dough and roll them between your hands to form smooth balls. Set the dough balls at least 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the tops of each cookie lightly with fleur de sel (see below). Return the cookies to the oven and bake until they are lightly golden around the edges but still soft to the touch, 5 to 6 minutes more. Remove from the oven and place the baking sheets on wire racks to cool briefly before transferring the cookies to the racks.
Serve the cookies warm, but they will keep at an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.
Vanilla Fleur de Sel
Split a vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into a small bowl. Combine 1/4 cup sea salt and the vanilla seeds. Mix the salt and seeds gently together with your hands. Use a small, resealable glass jar for the mixture and store in a cool, dry place.
— From Amy Lemon, pastry chef at Emeril’s Delmonico Restaurant in New Orleans, as featured in “Cookies and Beer”