American Thanksgiving is a week away, and I’ve been thinking about our menu. Rather, I’ve been making gigantic, multi-page lists of recipes I want to make and then realizing that since I’m NOT having 150 people over for dinner, that I’d better whittle it down. Seems as though this year, I’m wanting to go heavy on the vegetable offerings, and I like the idea of a sophisticated appetizer or two, but there’s been one aspect of the meal I’ve given nary a thought to: dessert.
Is it me, or does Thanksgiving just seem like The Required Pie Holiday? Pie everywhere, all the time. Does anyone make cake or cookies for Thanksgiving? We never have. Certainly pie is wonderful, and probably steeped in tradition, but who’s to say we can’t veer off that path a little bit? And I mean more than just turning a pie into a tart, friends: I mean actual un-pie-like desserts.
Take, for instance, these. Technically, they ARE a “pie” in name, but obviously are a big departure from the fruit or custard-filled crusts I’m talking about. I won’t call them a whoopie pie, even though they are found in the whoopie pie chapter of A Piece of Cake, but even the authors will admit that they’re nothing like any of their other whoopies. These fall into more of the soft, huge cookie category, and indeed, they’d make an excellent cookie without the frosting. However, the frosting inside these? Truly you’d be missing out if you didn’t taste it.
It’s a lumpy, bumpy filling, completely inappropriate for frosting cakes, due to all the goodness inside. Filling cakes would be a different story: I’m thinking about making a spice cake someday and throwing this inside the layers, with a little apricot jam spread over top, which would be reminiscent of one of my wedding cake flavors (the other was the traditional white almond cake/raspberry filling.)
If you’re worried about it overtaking the cookies, please do not: it’s a cream cheese/mascarpone frosting, so it’s nothing too sweet, but it balances the soft spice of the cookies perfect. There’s so many flavors in it, too: candied ginger, a little unsweetened coconut chip action, and vanilla. I like these 1-2 days out, so the frosting really has a chance to work itself through the inner layers of the cookie and meld the entire thing together in flavor and texture.
I’ve tried to indicate how large these things are; they are enormous. You know that game you play with very small babies where you hold out your arms and say “SOOOOOOO big!” to them? I resisted the urge to do that with these; that’s how large they are. And they require a great deal of frosting: an entire ice cream scoop per cream pie, to be exact. Which is nice, because it makes it very easy to assemble them: simply use the same ice cream scoop your portion your cookies with to portion the filling, and you’re set.
Let’s talk: you know I love this book, right? So do some of the rest of you, but some potential minor issues have come to light with it, and I feel I should mention them. Faygie recently made these glorious cranberry cupcakes with orange buttercream from the book, but she mentioned on Facebook that although the book states the yield as 12, it actually yields over double that: 24 plus a few mini-cupcakes. Excusing the minis, that’s still double what the book says, which – although extra cupcakes are rarely a problem – would cause you to make way more than maybe you needed or wanted. I researched the difference in book yield/my yield for the chocolate chip cupcakes, and it was 12 versus 16, respectively: a difference which I consider acceptable, as I could have distributed the batter from those 4 extras into the 12 originals without issue. So watch for that, people: sometimes a good preliminary read of ingredient quantities can tell you if a yield is mislabeled.
Another issue to watch out for: the premature preheat. This book had it, and I’ve seen it a few times throughout. It’s when a recipe tells you at the very beginning to preheat your oven and then proceeds to tell you to make and chill your cookies for at least 2 hours before baking them. No one needs to preheat their oven for several hours (hopefully), so this is just wasting your energy. It’s always important to read through the entire recipe, but be aware of that, because it’ll save some heat in your kitchen.
Last issue, I promise: mix + match baked goods and frostings. Although I love formats like this which let you pick from several frostings/fillings rather than assigning one to each recipe, it’s not always clear how much frosting you’ll need for the recipe you’re making. For instance, this recipe suggests the ginger pecan cream cheese, which I made with some adjustments. If you look at the yield, it only says “enough to fill and frost one 3-layer cake or frost 36 cupcakes.” Fine, but what about filling whoopies? Because in making these, I found that I could easily make 1/3 of the original recipe and have it exactly fill my whoopies: if you didn’t know that ahead of time, that’s quite a bit of extra frosting (not to mention added expense) to deal with. So watch for that as well, especially in books where the baked good and frosting sections are separated.
Please don’t take this to mean this book is issue-ridden: these are all minor things, in my opinion, and lots of cookbooks have them. The book is wonderful, and I’d still recommend it heartily, but it does underscore my forever point about how reading a recipe thoroughly is always a good idea.
So maybe in the midst of all your normal Thanksgiving pie offerings, you’ll consider these as an addition to your celebration. Maybe for later, after everyone has stuffed their faces with way too much food and they just want a little snack that isn’t a bowl of mashed potatoes.
Adapted from A Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by Davids Muniz and Lesniack. A fantastic book, no matter the tiny errors.
Oatmeal Cookie Pies + Coconut Ginger Filling
Makes 8 cream pies (so 16 cookies total)
for the cookies:
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch or two ground cloves
- 2 cups quick (instant) oats
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup boiling water
for the filling:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chips (measured before pulverizing)
- 1/4 cup crystallized (candied) ginger
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 6 ounces mascarpone, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- pinch ground nutmeg
- 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
I’m going to say this 10 more times, but I do want to stress how much better these are when made ahead of time. Obviously they can be eaten the minute you assemble them, but some of that whole retro oatmeal cookie pie softness only comes from an overnight hang-out in the fridge.
Make the cookies:
Line a lipped quarter sheet pan with parchment or wax paper, enough to overhang the sides by several inches.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. Add the oats and stir until evenly distributed. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and brown sugar. Beat on high for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the bowl again and crank up the mixer to high; beat for 3-4 minutes until everything is homogenous and very fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and beat for a few more seconds to incorporate any straggler ingredients.
With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in two parts, stirring each addition until just incorporated, no more than 10-15 seconds per addition. Add the boiling water and turn the mixer on low for another 10 seconds, then scrape the bowl down a final time, mixing for a few more seconds as needed. If there is any loose moisture at this point, remove the bowl from the stand and hand-stir with your spatula until everything is evenly combined.
Using an ice cream scoop, portion your cookie dough out onto the prepared baking sheet, being sure to flatten out the bottoms against the bowl as you scoop; these are sandwich cookies, which means they need to be as uniform as possible. Fold the overhanging paper over the top of the dough balls, wrap with plastic wrap, and place them in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours to chill.
Make the frosting/filling:
Add the sugar and coconut chips to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse the mixture together until the coconut chips are pulverized into very small pieces. Remove the mixture to a small bowl. Add the candied ginger to the food processor and pulse to pulverize as much as you can. Remove the ginger and run a sharp knife through it to catch any larger pieces: the end result is a very finely chopped ginger.
In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and mascarpone until combined and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the vanilla, ground ginger, and nutmeg, and beat to combine, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the coconut/sugar mixture and the candied ginger to the bowl, beating for a few seconds, until everything is evenly distributed. Scrape down the bowl and check the thickness of the frosting. Add the heavy cream as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, until your frosting has reached desired consistency. Place in the fridge while you bake off the cookies.
What is “desired consistency” here, you ask? It’s the point in which the frosting is soft, pliable, and not pasty, but not so thin that it destabilizes the cookie sandwiches. The frosting should be able hold the shape you want it to hold under the weight of the top cookie.
Bake the cookies:
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper (but you’ll only bake one at a time.)
When the oven is ready, take out 4 of the dough balls, set them 4 inches apart on the sheets, and place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 15-17 minutes, checking at the 13-minute mark for doneness. A dry oatmeal cookie is a sad one, so really keep your eye on these: they’re done when the insides still look just a slight bit doughy. Take them out of the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet until stable. In the meantime, fill up the other baking sheet with 4 more dough balls and repeat the process: the first sheet should be cool enough to transfer by the time the second one comes out of the oven. Transfer the cooled-down cookies to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.
Assemble those cookie pies:
Easy: just get out that ice cream scoop you used for portioning your cookie dough and use it to fill your sandwiches. Stir the frosting a few times if it’s been in the refrigerator for a while to warm it up a bit. Scoop out even balls of frosting, leveling the bottom. Place in the middle of an upside-down cookie, then place a right-side up cookie on top (I doubt I needed to tell you that.) Push down gently in the center so the filling spreads out evenly and hits the edges all at the same time. Repeat with the rest of the cookies.
Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I suggest making these a day ahead of when you’re planning to enjoy them, because the flavors need time to meld together.