Hi, everyone! I’m Vaughn, a supervising video producer for New York Times Cooking. And today, we’re talking all about cookies. Specifically, what separates the humdrum from the ho-ho-ho, the blasé from the trailblazing, the “just fine” from the “those were the best I’ve ever had.”

For the past four years, I, along with my colleagues at NYT Cooking, have put together our favorite holiday cookies for a tradition we call “Cookie Week.” It started as a sort of YouTube cookie swap amid the pandemic — the brainchild of a small but mighty video team, featuring seven Cooking personalities baking up magic over the course of seven days, all shot by the talent themselves, in their homes. It’s now become a full-on multiverse, complete with a stunning spread in the paper of record, daily videos, a newsletter, live events and the most delightful and dazzling cookies the New York Times Cooking team could muster.

(We tried to get Mariah but she was too expensive.)

Over these four years, I’ve learned a lot about what types of treats folks find outstanding during the holidays. They love twists on nostalgic classics, unexpected flavor combinations and eye-catching decoration. This year, we sought cookies that hit all those marks and beautifully balance each other in a box: electric colors alongside warm, rich tones; citrusy, chocolaty and earthy flavors; a variety of textures, shapes and sizes. With chewy gingerbread blondies, buttery lemon swoops and spicy hot chocolate crinkles (to name a few), I firmly believe there’s something for everyone in this batch.

Above are the seven developers (including myself!) behind all the magic. Eric, whose holiday cookies are as nostalgic as they are evocative; Melissa, whom many consider to be the GOAT (her gingerbread blondies do not disprove that); Sue, whose precise technique and gorgeous flavors always shine; Samantha, who not only developed her own showstopper but also styled all of the cookies for the photo shoot; me, who [insert something nice about Vaughn here]; Yewande, whose cookies are always as stylish as they are brimming with flavor; and Sohla, who has more fun in the kitchen than anyone I’ve ever met and is a baking genius.

Though I supervise the video team, I also develop recipes and appear on camera, so I’m in on Cookie Week from the ground floor up. I get asked a lot of questions about the process behind it all: When do we start? What is the brainstorming process like? How do you come up with the ideas?

Here are some demystifying facts and figures: Every July we start throwing around ideas (begrudgingly, because it’s still summer and we don’t want to think about the holidays yet). We then approach our Cookie Week squad with a request for four or five ideas each, and from there our editors narrow the list to one that exhibits every cookie quality we look for. It takes weeks of working and reworking, going back for more pitches, and helping the developers to get their cookies just right. I have fond memories of testing out different icing techniques one day in our cooking studio with my pal Samantha, until finally landing on one that felt glamorous and vibrant, yet completely doable for home bakers.

To me, that’s the best part about Cookie Week: the rewarding feeling I get when I see people making them all over the world, reaching out to ask me a question or tell me how much their family loved my cookies, or simply commenting on the YouTube video that they can’t wait to try them. Cookie Week is first and foremost about joy — about getting in the kitchen and expressing your love through food.

Labor of love: A self-taught artist-cartographer spent three years drawing a map of the earth and its animal inhabitants.

The bonus round: What’s the best “Wheel of Fortune” strategy? Play our game and find out.

Fossilized food: Scientists found a 75-million-year-old tyrannosaur fossil with its last meal still in its stomach.

Vows: As a single mother for 11 years, she wasn’t sure he would ever find true love. Enter a hockey coach who said he had been waiting his whole life for her.

Lives Lived: Maria Emilia Martin founded “Latino USA,” the longest-running public radio show in the country covering Latino communities, and mentored hundreds of journalists in Central and South America. She died at 72.

I spoke with the ever-restless, ever-inquisitive musician David Byrne about curiosity and enchantment.

Do you think curiosity can be cultivated? Or are some people just more curious than others?

I think you can develop a willingness to try new things, but curiosity is kind of self-motivated. I sense that for many people, they love the feeling of the familiar and the secure and a place where the answers are. Whether the answers are through religion or their political affiliation or family, there’s a security that comes with that, and that would imply maybe a lack of willingness to be curious and go outside that zone. I’ve been reading about the pre-Enlightenment.

Oh!

Which showed a similar kind of thing in some ways. Religion and other things provided all the answers. Then science comes along, and you maintain the how, but the why is now left behind. Max Weber talks about the great disenchantment. That’s when everything in the world seems enchanted, and it’s filled with a kind of spiritual power and then as science and everything starts to take over, things don’t have that magical aura anymore.

Do you feel enchantment about the world?

I feel that. I think a lot of people in the sciences feel that, too. They feel that the way things work in physics or biology or whatever it might be is still kind of marvelous. Even though they’re not just saying God or the gods made it this way, it’s still moving and amazing. And this idea of ecology, our awareness of the network or web of connections in physics and nature and biology, there’s a sense of wonder in that connection. It’s not quite religious, but it is amazing.

In this week’s Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter, Emily Weinstein suggests Hanukkah dishes including potato latkes (she tops hers with sour cream and smoked salmon), sheet-pan paprika chicken and sugared doughnuts for a glorious finale.



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