Cookie Cookbook (Country Kitchen Collection, 1985)

Cookie Cookbook is another entry in The Country Kitchen Collection; Jean Childress’ large library of very small cookbooks. As one might imagine this volume focuses exclusively on cookies: twenty-eight recipes in all, hand-lettered and simply illustrated in keeping with the rest of the series.

I frankly find it hard to get excited about cookies. We have fresh chocolate chip cookies several times a month. My spouse has worked out a recipe that makes them exactly the way I like them – medium rare in the middle but not too greasy. This, and the occasional Oreo, are more than enough to satisfy my usual cookie quota. I do enjoy a good Christmas cookie exchange, where I get to sample other homemade cookies, but learning to make those cookies myself doesn’t exactly spark joy.

Which is why I appreciate the Cookie Cookbook. Consistent with the series’ ethic the recipes are simple, and one can whip up a batch of cookies in a half hour or so. Childress knows her way around the kitchen so I don’t have to waste time refining recipes, and the collection is well-balanced. There’s a roughly equal mix of traditional cookies, eclectic takes on the traditional, and a satisfying collection of brightly flavored treats built around fresh fruit and toasted nuts.

These fruit cookies are really the reason to hunt this one down. The Fresh Apple Cookies taste like breakfast in the mountains – a nutty mix of walnuts, apples, and dried fruit. (The original recipe calls for raisins, but I’ll usually use dried apricots or even dried apples) The raspberry meringue bars are elegant and fun, and endlessly adjustable to work with whatever jam you have on hand.

Lemon-Basil-Blueberry Bars are simple bar cookies that sum up everything I like about the Country Kitchen Collection’s Cookie Cookbook.  The recipe is elegant in its simplicity and not overly complicated.  And while it focuses primarily on highlighting bright flavors from fresh ingredients, it’s not too proud to use an instant pudding mix as its base.   It illustrates perfectly Ms. Childress’ penchant for livening up old Good Housekeeping standards with fresh, bright flavors.  It’s also stupid simple to make.

Be forewarned that this is not the standard gooey translucent lemon bar that most Americans are accustomed to.  It starts with a similar shortbread crust, but the filling has a consistency more like a fudge brownie.  And as much as a love a good mouth-puckering lemon bar, Lemon-Basil-Blueberry Bars are mellow and balanced.  Where traditional lemon bars are gleefully one note, the blueberries give these cookies a fresh-from-the-garden vibe.  Think lemon drops versus blueberry pancakes.

In adapting this recipe I have to take credit for adding the basil – the original is a simple Lemon Blueberry Bar.   There’s nothing really that needed fixing in the original, but I can’t resist pairing blueberries with fresh basil.  There was a local donut shop a few years back that sold blueberry-basil donuts and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Blueberries accentuate the floral qualities in the basil, and the final product seems to fit the garden fresh vibe of the original.  I think Ms. Childress would approve.

This recipe is best made in the summer, when both blueberries and basil are fresh and in season.   Frozen blueberries will work in a pinch but tend to be sweeter and more intense.  I find them perfectly satisfying on their own, but feel free to top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream or a pat of ice cream.  Enjoy!

Lemon-Blueberry-Basil Bars

Lemon-Basil-Blueberry Bars (adapted from Cookie Cookbook, 1985)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 40 min
  • Ready in: 55 min
  • For: 12 bars

Ingredients

For the crust:

For the filling:

Instructions

For the crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt (if desired) in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until mixture is uniform and resembles small pea-sized crumbs. Press into the bottom of a small glass baking dish (mine is 7 x 11) and cook 15 minutes.

For the filling:

  1. Whisk together eggs, sugar, lemon rind, and butter. Pour in the dry pudding mix and basil and stir, then fold in blueberries.
  2. When the crust is cooked, spread the filling evenly across the top. It will form a very thin layer, about the thickness of a single blueberry. Return to the oven and bake 20 - 30 minutes until edges are browned and center is cooked through (it will look a little bit bubbly).
  3. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

 

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