Cookies, Beer and Dunking: A Q&A With Author Jonathan Bender
Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy, by Jonathan Bender
Sure, you can dunk your cookies in a glass of cold milk, but come on, real adults steep their sweets in a frothy pint of beer. Of course, it helps to have an idea about what beer goes with what cookies, lest either be wasted. That's where Kansas City writer Jonathan Bender (author of LEGO: A Love Story and founder of Recommended Daily, an website focused on local food news) comes in; after eight months of joyfully researching the nuances of these pairings, he has come out with the tome Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy. The book contains recipes you can try at home (like the below recipe for Chef Amy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies), bakeries where you can buy said cookies, plus some pre-packaged options like Oreos and Girl Scout cookies for those of you in hurry to try one of the matches.
You can see Bender speak about his book and get a signed copy at the Great American Beer Festival on Saturday, September 26, from 1 to 1:30 p.m. in the Beer and Food Pavilion. He will also be signing books Friday, September 25, from 9 to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 7 to 8 p.m. in Beer Geek Bookstore. But in the meantime, learn a little bit about how he came up with this brilliant concept.
Rich Butter Cookies
Linnea Covington: Was there an aha moment when you figured out cookies and beer paired well together?
Jonathan Bender: It was shortly after breakfast and I was trying out potential pairings with John Couture, the owner of Bier Station, a bottle shop and bar in Kansas City, for the first ever Cookies & Beer event held by The Recommended Daily. We had a box of cookies and a host of beer glasses in front of us, but nothing had clicked just yet. Then came the snickerdoodle and hefeweizen. There was bright citrus in the beer and this great rush of sugar and cinnamon [from the cookie] that ebbed like a gentle wave. A co-worker of my wife came in to pick up a limited-release bottle and we called her over to the table. She had a sip and a bite and her face lit up like she was seeing snow for the first time. It was when she took the second and third bite that I knew we were on to something.
What made you decide this should be a book?
I was approached by Andrews McMeel, a publishing house in Kansas City, about the idea. We talked about how we might be able to help bring bakers and drinkers together around the table and bar. And over the course of a few discussions last summer, I realized that this could not only be a fun personal journey, but it's something that a lot of folks would enjoy doing.
How many pairings did you try before coming up with the 40 found in your book?
I relied on the talents of bakers, pastry chefs and breweries around the country to give me some outstanding cookie recipes. After that, it was just a question of finding the right match. For each cookie, I probably tried three or four beers. In the past year, I bought more mixed six-packs and variety packs than I'd care to admit.
Did any Colorado beers or bakeries make the cut?
Not surprisingly, there are a fair share of Colorado breweries in the book. New Belgium's 1554 Black Lager paired perfectly with a chocolate-oatmeal ale cookie with caramel icing. Avery Brewing Company's The Reverend is lovely with chocolate-almond-coconut macaroons. Victory Love + Cookies shared their recipe for chai spice cookies, which are great with a nut brown ale, and the Odell Brewing Company pairs Russian tea cakes with their 90 Shilling Ale.
White Chocolate Chunk Cookies With Apricot
What is one of your favorite pairings?
Just as with sandwiches, I'm a sucker for a two-hander of a cookie. Natasha's Mulberry & Mott has a recipe for almond-apricot white chocolate chunk cookies. The massive cookies have a satisfying chew and sweet pockets of apricot and white chocolate. It's paired in the book with Avery's Ellie's Brown Ale, which adds notes of vanilla and brown sugar to the mix. The two together are what I've loved about the whole process of writing the book, they bring out something extra in each other.
Was there a beer and cookie pairing that really surprised you?
The most surprising were bacon shortbread cookies that paired with Stiegl Radler. It was like a big old Sunday breakfast. There was this big, rich, fatty bacon flavor that was well met by the grapefruit in the Stiegl. The carbonation in the beer combined with the saltiness of the bacon also had the same satisfying elements as a really cold Coca-Cola and french fries.
How long did it take you to research?
The book came together over the course of about eight months. I often snuck in a Tupperware full of cookies to bars. But there's a bar on the East Coast called the Boston Sail Loft that has a giant snifter full of free Oreos right next to the taps. I wish more bars embraced this idea.
I noticed you mention porter a lot, was there a type of beer that really seemed to go best with cookies?
Porters and stouts are a bit more malleable. They also can have some wonderful latent notes that are brought out by the right cookie pairing. You can find caramel and chocolate and beautiful flavors that are just waiting in the brews to be unlocked. I think cookies show how complex porters and stouts can be in the right pairing.
Let's be honest, do you dunk?
Doesn't everyone dunk? I have dunked with mixed results. That said, I will continue to dunk. Milk stout or any beer with a big head on it just looks so inviting.
Any other beer and food or dessert pairings you are looking to explore?
I've paired a barrel-aged rye with donuts and it was definitely worth a return visit. I've been thinking a lot about how different french fries; frites, steak fries, tater tots; and how they might be paired with beer. I think I just want to eat a lot of fries.
While in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, any beer and cookie samples you are excited to try?
At GABF, I'll be serving gingersnap cookies with Odell's Isolation Ale. I'm excited to have a few of those myself. I'm also a fan of the Yeti series from Great Divide and I'm hoping to make it to Victory Love + Cookies for some shortbread.
Amy's Chocolate Chip Cookies and Left Hand's Milk Stout
Chef Amy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the book, Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy
MAKES: 24 cookies
PAIRING: Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout. Milk stouts are sweet and creamy. With the right chocolate chip cookie, they’re the missing link between milk and beer.
The browned butter in this recipe is the reason these chocolate chip cookies are special. It makes them taste like caramel and lets the chocolate hover on your tongue. The salt on top hypes up the vanilla and plays off that caramel character. The sweetness and creaminess of the milk stout wraps around the cookie—it’s all the comfort of milk in a beer. The cookie, in turn, brings out the latent chocolate notes of the beer. Start with two of each, even if you’re eating by yourself.
2 ¼ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar plus 2 tablespoons
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 ounce 2% milk (skim milk will work, too)
6 ounces milk chocolate candy bar, chopped into ½-inch chunks
6 ounces dark chocolate candy bar, chopped into ½-inch chunks
Vanilla fleur de sel, for sprinkling (see Note)
NOTE: Split a vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into a small bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, combine ¼ 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.
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. 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 the 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.
3. 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.
4. Add the egg, then the egg yolk and mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
5. 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 1 hour.
6. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.