Category Archives: Cookies

Wine and Unwind: Cracked Top Chocolate Ginger Cookies

Crack2James hosted his first Wine and Unwind for the production of Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” that he’s rehearsing at BAM.  (Details here.)  He tells me that this week’s cookies were inspired by a passage in which Halvard Solness is talking about his start as The Master Builder:

SOLNESS. It’s about a small crack in a chimney flue.

HILDE. Just a crack.

SOLNESS. Yes, at the beginning.

HILDE. A small crack in a chimney flue.

It was late in the day, and everyone’s brains were fried.  As James tells it, “The director [Andrei Belgrader] started making “crack” jokes. One thing lead to another, and we were all laughing hysterically. He would say ‘James, you have to “Crack the whip!’   Someone else chimed in with ‘You crack me up,’ and it went from there to a point that you knew rehearsal was over.”  Anyone who’s ever been in rehearsal knows those sorts of days . . .

So, in honor of the crack jokes, James offered Cracked Top Chocolate Ginger Cookies for last week’s Wine and Unwind, pairing it with a nice Chianti Riserva.


Cracked Top Chocolate Ginger Cookies


1/2 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 stick (4 ounces) margarine
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup candied ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips
1 cup confectioners sugar


1.Melt the butter, margarine and unsweetened chocolate in a stainless steel bowl placed over a pot of boiling water, stirring until smooth; let cool for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350; line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk the eggs into the butter mixture, then stir into the dry ingredients until incorporated; stir in the ginger and chocolate chips.

3.  Place the confectioners’ sugar in a wide bowl. Shape half of the dough into 1-inch balls, then coat with the confectioners’ sugar. Place the cookies about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake, switching and rotating the pans after about 10 minutes, until the cookies puff and crack, 14 to 17 minutes total. Let cool for a minute before transferring to racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies

GF Choco chip cookiesJames has just returned from spending a week with the woman who taught him all he knows about baking — his Mom.  (You remember her, the lady who smuggled margarine across the Wisconsin border because she felt it was better than butter for baking?)  I’m hoping to be able to share some recipes of the yummy goodies they baked together.

In the meantime, though, here’s another palate cleansing gluten-free recipe amidst all the decadent cheesecake recipes.

Now, usually I take a recipe and adapt it — it’s as if I’m constitutionally incapable of following a recipe to a T.  With gluten-free baking, however, I’m much more careful and follow the recipe closely (at least the first time I make it!)  But there’s always something to improve or tweak.

Not so with this recipe.  I found this one on my new favorite baking website, the Gluten-free Goddess.  It’s a wonderful resource for recipes and advice.  And the Goddess (I guess that’s what she’s called) is funny and wry and, best of all, creates fantastic recipes.  Do give her a visit.

One of the things I’m already tired of in gluten-free baking is the incessant use of rice flour.  First, I find that it imparts kind of a gritty consistency to baked goods.   Then, there’s the arsenic factor.  (You do know about the arsenic in rice?  No?  Well, read this Consumer Reports article on it.  Yeah, it’s a real thing.)  So, I’ve started looking for alternatives.  It’s tricky, though, because you have to know the weights of your flours in order to successfully substitute one for the other.  Just like you wouldn’t substitute whole wheat flour for white flour cup for cup, neither can you swap out rice flour for amaranth or tapioca or millet flours.

This recipe delightfully uses NO rice flour at all. Now, these cookies have a completely different consistency from the Toll House cookies I used to bake in my dirty gluten-filled days, but they have a lightness to them, an almost meringue-like texture.  And they are just as “moreish” as the traditional kind of cookies, as my mother would say.

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies 


1 cup sorghum flour
3/4 cup potato starch (not potato flour)
1/2 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 large organic free-range eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (the best quality you can afford)
1 cup chocolate chips


1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans


Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper.

1.  In large mixing bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, potato starch, almond flour, xanthan gum, sea salt, baking soda, and brown sugar.

2.  Beat in the oil, eggs and vanilla extract.  Beat dough until it is sticky and smooth (or until the motor of your 50 year old mixer can’t mix anymore!)

3.  Add in chocolate chips and walnuts (if using).   Stir by hand to combine.

4.  Using a small cookie scoop, place a dozen on each baking sheet.  Press down flat with wet fingers.  (If you don’t have a little scoop, roll the dough into balls, but be warned, this is VERY sticky!)

5.  Bake for 14 minutes. The cookies will look golden- but still feel slightly soft to the touch. They crisp a bit as they cool.

6.  Allow to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before removing.  Then cool cookies on a wire rack.

NOTE:  These cookies puff up in a way that is quite different from the gluten-full Toll House recipe I’m used to using off the back of the chocolate chip package.  It’s okay, though.  They still taste divine!

Gluten-free Good Friday Cookies

James gave me this recipe a while ago, and then they were titled “Black Friday Cookies” to be whipped up and enjoyed the day after Thanksgiving.  No idea why!  But since I’m interspersing our cheesecake recipes with gluten-free ones (for health!), and since Good Friday is coming up, I thought I’d just change the name slightly to be timely.  (Yeah, I know, that’s a bit of a stretch.)GF Chocolate Cookies

Now, the more I experiment with gluten-free baking, the more I understand the importance of reading labels and ingredient quality.  Take this recipe for example — there’s no flour at all in it, but lots of confectioners’ sugar. That should be gluten-free, but I’ve learned that since corn is increasingly being used for bio-fuels, and since we had such a bad corn growing summer last year, corn prices have gone up.  Therefore, some companies are substituting wheat starch for corn starch in their confectioners’ sugar.  Obviously, this would not be gluten-free then. The only solution, then, is to read your labels religiously.  Who knew that ingredients changed?  (I’m sure that this is second nature to those of you who suffer from food allergies, or have been gluten-free for a while, but it is an epiphany for me.)

That said, do not be afraid — this recipe only has six ingredients.  You can afford to take the time (and spend the money!) to make sure each one is of superior quality.  Spend a little extra on good vanilla, high quality cocoa powder and chocolate chips.  You’ll taste the difference!

Gluten-free Good Friday Cookies


3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (make sure they’re gluten-free!)


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (or silpat mats). If you use parchment paper, give it a light swoosh of nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together powdered sugar with cocoa powder and salt. Whisk in egg whites (start with just two) and vanilla extract, then beat just until the batter is moistened. You’re looking for a brownie-like, thick and fudgy consistency. If it seems too thick, add another egg white — then a 4th one if it still seems too thick. Gently stir in chocolate chips.

3. Spoon batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds per cookie sheet. I like to use a small spring-release cookie scoop. Bake about 14 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto wire racks. Let cookies cool completely before you attempt to remove them from the mat or the parchment. They’re delicate, so gently peeling the paper away from the cookie works best.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Get Ready for James’ Annual Cheesecake Bakeoff!

Those of you that know James know that every year, no matter where he is, he hosts a decadent Cheesecake Bakeoff.  This year, the Bake-off returns to New York and has a charitable twist — all proceeds will go to Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS.

Here’s the invitation:

Cheesecake Bake-Off 2013 Returns to New York

A Benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

Monday Night March 4, 2013
1560 Broadway, 14th Floor
(Seventh Avenue between West 46th Street and West 47th Street,
Entrance in the Times Square Visitors Center.)

Baker’s registration between 7:00 – 7:30pm Doors open 7:30pm
Tasting and judging to follow

The rules are simple:  either BAKE a cheesecake or make a $20 donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Wine and soda will be provided. Everyone tastes and votes for their favorites and the cake with the most votes gets the crown. Judging will be in 10 categories: CREAMIEST, CHEESIEST, BEST TOPPING, BEST HOMEMADE CRUST,BEST PRESENTATION, MOST SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE, MOST ORIGINAL FLAVOR, MOST DECADENT, BEST CLASSIC CHEESECAKE AND THE VIRGIN PRIZE FOR BEST FIRST EFFORT.

Because space is limited you must RSVP by March 1st.

Please indicate if you are baking or just tasting.
Phone RSVP- 917.716.8005
Email RSVP- or
Facebook events

And now on to today’s recipe:  “Bottom’s Dream” Cupcakes!  These were James’ offering for last week’s Wine and Unwind at “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”  (By the way, last chance for tickets, because the show closes this Sunday, March 3!)


James first made these cupcakes for a production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in Central Park at the Delacorte. Jay O. Sanders played Bottom. James called these “Bottom’s Dream” because the cupcakes have a rich, chocolate bottom and a light, dream-like cheesecake topping.


James’ delightful Sunday evening spread!

“Bottom’s Dream” Cupcakes


Cupcake Mixture:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Cheesecake Mixture:
1- 8 oz. pkg Cream Cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup mini-chocolate chips

Chopped nuts
Granulated sugar


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.  Mix up cupcake and cheesecake ingredients in separate bowls.   Fill each cup 1/3 full of cupcake batter. Drop one heaping teaspoon of cheesecake mixture into each cup and sprinkle the tops with chopped nuts and granulated sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30- 35 minutes.

Makes 18 – 22 cupcakes

Lace Cookies — Uta Hagen’s Favorite!

In keeping with the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” theme running through this blog, (thanks to James’ current connection with it,) I thought it would be fun to offer a cookie recipe enjoyed by the first Martha, the late, great Uta Hagen.  She won her second Tony award for the role (her first having been for her performance in “Country Girl.”)

Ms. Hagen was one of the legends of the American stage, playing roles diverse as St. Joan, Desdemona and Blanche duBois.  She taught acting with her husband Herbert Berghof at the HB Studios for years and wrote the classic “Respect for Acting” that still is required reading for all actors.

She also had quite the sweet tooth!

This recipe comes to us from our friend Lloyd Davis, Jr. who stage managed one of Ms. Hagen’s last shows:

“I first made these for Uta Hagen when we were doing “Mrs. Klein” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.  Uta went crazy for them, so I found myself making a batch almost every week!”

These are wonderfully delicate and crispy, perfect for an afternoon tea or a pre-show snack!Lace Cookies



2 1/4 cups oatmeal
2 cups light brown sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 egg (beaten)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter (2 sticks)  melted


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

1.            Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. 
2.            Combine beaten egg with vanilla and add to dry mix
3.            Add melted butter and mix thoroughly
4.            Drop small spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet (I use a Silpat, parchment paper or aluminum foil to discourage burning and to make these easier to remove.)  IMPORTANT NOTE:  Leave at least 2″ between cookies as these cookies spread a lot!  Frankly, you’ll be hard pressed to bake more than about six cookies at a time
5.            Bake for 7 – 8 minutes.  Watch carefully because they can burn quickly.
6.            Let cool for 5 – 10 minutes and gently lift off of cookie sheet w/ thin knife.  

Valentine’s Cookies

So how did the cast and crew of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” celebrate Valentine’s Day?   With a tin of chocolate heart cookies baked by James, of course!

vday cookies

There’s really not much else to do here but offer up the recipe which is so very simple and divine.

Please to enjoy . . .


1 cup butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 cup vanilla chips
2 Tablespoons shortening
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


1.            Cream butter and sugar, beat in vanilla.  Combine flour and cocoa in a separate bowl and gradually add to creamed mixture.

2.            On lightly floured surface roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with heart cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

3.            For icing, melt vanilla chips and 1 tablespoon of shortening.  (I do this in the microwave in short, 10 second bursts, stirring between each zap.)  Dip both end of cookies into melted mixture. Heat semi-sweet chips and remaining shortening and drizzle over dipped cookies.  (I find the best way to drizzle is to scrape the slightly cooled, melted chocolate into a zip top bag, seal it, snip off a tiny corner and squeeze.)

Salted Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Last week’s Wine and Unwind cookies came to be because of a challenge. Last year, James was working at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC (winner of the 2012 Tony Award for Regional Theater!) stage managing a production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Across the street from the loading dock in the back is a wonderful tea emporium and restaurant called Teaism.  Serving a variety of teas as well as bento boxes, udon noodles and an amazing salted chocolate oatmeal cookie, it was a favorite lunch stop for the cast and crew.   The actress Natalie Mitchell, who played Silvia, challenged James to make his own version of the cookie.  It took a couple of tries, but James thinks this recipe is closest to theirs.

Salted Oatmeal Cookies

Salted Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup margarine
2 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 cup  cocoa powder (in the 1/4 cup I like to include 1 Tablespoon of Black Cocoa to intensify the chocolate. It can be found at baking shops or online at King Arthur flour but it is optional)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup  flaked coconut toasted LIGHTLY.
3/4 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate.

1.            Boil water in a pot, and in a stainless steel bowl combine butter and bittersweet chocolate. When water boils, turn off the heat and rest bowl on the pot of boiling water. It will calmly melt the chocolate and butter together. Add sugars and combine. When cool enough, add in both eggs and vanilla.

2.            Meanwhile, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a  large bowl — add to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Add the rolled oats and coconut and mix, then finally add the chopped chocolate. Chill dough for at least a half hour — while oven preheats to 375 degrees F.

3.            Place golf-ball sized chunks of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and flatten slightly (dough balls should still be quite thick). Sprinkle tops with more kosher salt or if you have, flaked sea salt. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes. Make sure that they do not brown too much or they will become dry and tough. Let stand on cookie sheet 2 minutes and then remove them to cooling racks.

2009 Cotes du Ventoux

The wine being served was a 2009 Cotes Du Ventoux. It is a very good wine under $12.00. James first served this wine at a Wine and Unwind during a production of KING LEAR at The Public Theatre. It soon became Sam Waterston’s favorite.

Natalie Mitchell says:

These cookies are divine! I made them this year and brought them to my husband’s family’s house in Costa Rica.   Since there was oatmeal in them, they thought they would taste healthy but they loved them!! In fact they said I can cook healthy whenever I want. It’s the perfect cookie for a health conscious person or just for someone who loves chocolate! I sometimes eat them for breakfast because there’s oatmeal in them! Yum …”

Meringue, meringue!!

The Skriker, March 1996

The first show James and I worked on together was a crazy complicated piece by Caryl Churchill called “The Skriker.”  To this day I’m not really sure if it was a play or a musical or even what it was all about.   But it was memorably dramatic and edgy and out there. It started with the unforgettable entrance of Jayne Atkinson (the Skriker) breaking through the stage floor, encased in a rubber cocoon and sitting on an armchair covered in real live grass.  She sat on top of the 12’ scissor lift and recited a 4 ½ page monologue that started with:  “Heard her boast beef a roast beef eater, daughter could spin span spick and spun the lowest form of wheat straw into gold, raw into roar, golden lion and lyonesse under the sea, her in dungeonesse under the castle, spindling swindling dwindling Gwendolyn wheedling.”   WTF??

Directed by the intrepid Mark Wing-Davey, and presented in the Public Theater’s Newman Theater, it was a wild and woolly evening of theater.  Nothing was out of bounds. Mark set the tone immediately and our rehearsals began with a leisurely game of koosh ball and ended up including field trips to the Bronx Zoo and Bellevue.  James’ rehearsal reports (which for some reason I still have) are full of delightful little oddities:

 “Does anyone have a newborn baby we could use in rehearsal for a few hours?  We’ll take good care of it, but the child shouldn’t be sensitive to being called a slitty-eyed changeling.”


“In the bar scene, the Skriker wants a scotch and soda (don’t we all.)  We’ll need an appropriate glass, ice and spoon.”


“The Fair Fairy will only vomit vegetable soup.  (Actor is vegetarian.)”

As I recall, there was a lot of food (and mud and water and slime!) used throughout the show.  One rehearsal report noted that: “For the Glamour Banquet Scene, Mark wants to use brains (from British cows, of course!), eyeballs (real or fake – you decide), edible ladyfingers and edible meringues.”

Oh that Glamour Banquet!  I remember it vividly.  The banquet table was laid directly on a large section of the stage deck that lowered so we could quickly we dress it in the trap with the above-mentioned brains, etc., and then raise it up to table height.    The number itself was deafening, full of subwoofer and strobe, and the lyrics went something like this:

Meringue meringue!  
Meringue meringue!  
Meringue utang!  
Welcome homesick
drink drank drunk
avocado and prawn cockfight cockup cocksuck
red wine or white wash
champagne the pain is a sham pain the pain is a sham
fillet steak fill it up stakes in your heart
meringue  utang
black coffee fe fi fo fum

Again, not to sound like a complete Philistine, but WTF does any of this mean??  I still haven’t a clue.

But, I think you can see where this is going – a recipe for meringues!  Meringues were, in fact, my first introduction to the Backstage Baker.  James made them all the time for the Skriker cast and crew, and took the mystery out of meringue for me.  He taught me that meringues are not scary at all, and actually quite simple to make.  Just make sure your beaters are scrupulously clean and don’t try to make these on a humid rainy day.

The recipe below got a lot of use over the recent Christmas holidays.   But you can easily enjoy these year round.   Sometimes I’ll switch out the candy canes and substitute mini-chocolate chips.  But these are also perfectly good without any additions at all.   Even better, they’re eminently suitable for the gluten-free!  (Soon we’ll post a recipe that uses all those egg yolks you’ll be left with.)

Peppermint Meringues


2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 peppermint candy canes, crushed


1.    Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with foil or parchment paper. In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until whites form stiff peaks. Drop by spoonfuls 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  (I like to use a pastry bag or just a zip-top bag with a corner cut out to squeeze the mixture through.)  Sprinkle crushed peppermint candy (if using) over the cookies.  If using mini-chocolate chips, gently fold them into the mixture before spooning onto cookie sheet.
2.    Bake for 1 1/2 hours in preheated oven. Meringues should be completely dry on the inside.   (You’ll just have to eat one to test this.)  Do not allow them to brown. When they seem done, turn off oven. Keeping oven door ajar, let meringues sit in the oven until completely cool. Loosen from foil with metal spatula. Store loosely covered in cool dry place for up to 2 months.

Peanut Butter Fudge Sandwich Cookies

One of James’ delightful traditions is a Sunday night “Wine and Unwind” gathering in the stage manager’s office.  He’ll bake some decadent treat and pair it with a sturdy red wine to send everyone into the day off.  He’s currently working on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — on a show as fraught with drama as that one (onstage, not off!) everyone definitely needs a way to unwind.

Last week’s invitation went something like this:


Here’s the recipe for the Peanut Butter Fudge Sandwich Cookies (oh, my teeth hurt just reading through it1):

Peanut Butter Fudge Sandwich Cookies

1 1/2 cups Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 cup softened butter*
1/2 cup softened margarine*
2 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

*Backstage Baker’s note:
For cookies that are softer use 1 cup of shortening instead of the butter and margarine.

1 (14 ounce) can  Sweetened Condensed Milk
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
For Cookies: Beat peanut butter, butter, margarine, brown sugar, milk and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs. Beat just until blended.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Add to creamed mixture and mix with wooden spoon until blended. Drop by level tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Press down with bottom of a glass or the traditional way of making a cross hatch with a fork.

Bake 6 to 7 minutes or until set and just beginning to brown. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

For Filling: Microwave sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips in medium microwave-safe bowl on high for 1 1/2 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in vanilla. Let cool 15 minutes. Spread generously on flat side of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat side down, to form sandwich cookies.

(Pictures for the above are on the home page of this blog!)

The wine was a La Pilar Malbec courtesy of an anonymous fan who insisted on giving Amy Morton (who plays Martha) $40 to buy drinks for the company.  I hope she reads this and knows that her contribution was thoroughly enjoyed.