Pain d’Épice Cookies for 18 Reasons Holiday Cookie Swap!

by Irvin on December 24, 2010 · 6 comments

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I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I attended a couple of cookie swaps during the holiday season. In truth, I not only attended one, but also help volunteer/host another one at 18 Reasons, a community space run by the Bi-Rite Market earlier this month. It was their DIY Dessert night, a monthly event held on the second Thursday of the month. And, of course, for the month of December the theme of the evening was Holiday Cookies Exchange! Everyone was instructed to bring three dozen of their favorite holiday cookies and exchange it with other DIY dessert makers to create a cookie assortment. Since I was helping run the night with my fabulous co-host Melanie (who showed me the ropes on how to be the hostest with the mostest), I figured I better bring a decent looking cookie. So I made a variant of these Pain d’Épice Cookies that I saw over Leite’s Culinaria. I mean really, once you see these, how could NOT want to make them?

Of course, being the ridiculous person that I am, I decided to play around with them and see if I couldn’t shift the flavor profile to something a little more my liking. I’ve never been a huge fan of rye flour, thought I know that the rye flour is pretty important to the flavor of regular Pain d’Épice (it’s a holiday bread made in France with rye and honey). So I couldn’t just take out all the rye flour. But I could temper it a little with some other flours that I had around the house. Because, you know, I have WAY too many flours here in the house.

It’s funny though, that I was recently corresponding with Dianne Jacobs about flours and baking (well corresponding is sort of loose term, as it was really me just rambling on and on in an email to her because she mentioned something about baking, and you don’t want to get me started on baking…well you know, you read this blog). I told her that one thing I learned by baking gluten free, or vegan, or anything that forces you out of your comfort zone in the kitchen, is that you start to understand that each ingredient adds something to the final end result.

Think of savory food. Alice Water really brought into the forefront the concept that each individual ingredient should add to a dish. If you start with great tasting ingredients in the beginning you will have a great tasting dish in the end. There’s no reason why that can’t translate to baked goods too. You want ALL the ingredients to be there for a reason. Too often the flour is used to just be a vehicle for other flavorings (like chocolate, lemon, sugar, butter). But there’s no reason that the flour itself can’t be a vehicle for flavor as well. Sometimes you want the flavor to be more pronounced, so you use something like rye or buckwheat or amaranth, and sometimes you want it to fade into the background, in which case you use white flour, rice flour or potato starch. Flours have flavors and they can totally change your end result, and for the better if you know how to work with them!

So I tinkered with the initial recipe. And I hoped that it would turn out, because I did it about three or four hours before I showed up to the event. Which, in the end, probably wasn’t the smartest as I still had to frost them and let them dry. Something I didn’t quite take into account in my humid damp kitchen (turning on a fan pointed at them helped).

Co-hosting the event with Melanie was a breeze though. It was the most popular one that I’ve attended since the Ice Cream Social! I think we had over 20 different types of cookies there, and we ended up running out of serving platters and had to double up cookies on them. The table was PACKED with amazing gorgeous delights and the small 18 Reasons event was just filled with people socializing, eating cookies and talking about their cookies.

The cookie ranged from the basic (but much beloved) chocolate chip cookie and peanut butter cookie to things like matcha green tea brownies, to Ranger cookies (a popular mid-century cookie made with the secret ingredient of…lard!) to coconut macaroons covered in caramel toffee and banana whoopie pies!


Some of the classic holiday cookies were there with a twist, like chocolate fudge cookies with almond and irish cream (I called the Chocolate Crackles, but I’ve heard them called Chocolate Crinkles as well), festive yuletide toffee bars, and the chewy molasses ginger cookies.

Chocolate was definitely present with a number of chocolate cookies like the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies as well as the double chocolate shortbread with sea salt, brownies with mint frosting and a mint chocolate “grasshopper” bar. There were a few oatmeal cookies as well as some lovely melt in your mouth shortbreads.

And, of course, there were some great “healthier” cookies like the sand cookies made from the book Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce (anyone interested in baking with different flours than just all purpose white flour should check out that book. It’s awesome). My pal Nimisha of Club Dine In totally brought a healthy cookie too, a pistacchio chocolate cookie which was totally not healthy tasting! Ha! She said that she hadn’t baked a cookie in about 10 years, so I was pretty impressed with the outcome!

I met some pretty awesome people there and some of them even helped us clean up the space after everyone left (Thanks Barbara Koh! You rock!). All in all it was a super successful cookie swap and everyone left with some amazing cookies to take home and enjoy! The gift that keeps on giving I guess!

My cookies were totally gone halfway through the event. I thought about making a new batch for AJ and my annual holiday party (another post for another time) but in the end I never got to them again. But there totally going in my arsenal of cookie recipes, because not only do they look fantastic, but they taste pretty darn good too!

As for the next 18 Reasons DIY Dessert event, it will be held on the evening of Thursday, January 13th between 7 and 9 pm. The theme is Something New! Since it’s the New Year, we want everyone to bake something they haven’t baked before! Everyone’s scared to bake a new recipe for the first time. Now you can use that night as safe place to share your new concoction (good or bad!) and get advice and friendly feedback from others about your results!

If you have any questions about baking a new dish, or need hints or tips, feel free to post a comment or email me and I’ll respond back as soon as I can. Hope to see you guys there!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ophir December 25, 2010 at 1:58 am

Hi Jackhony – it was fun meeting with you and we loved your cookies, glad you like ours (the irish cream…)

Waiting to see what you bring to the next event.

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Serene December 27, 2010 at 4:52 am

Looks like such a great gathering! Wish I could reliably get myself to the city for things like this. I have been meaning to learn to make pavlova, and I'd love to inflict it on y'all.

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Justin December 29, 2010 at 10:43 pm

looks like a cool event. i would have swiped all of the banana whoopie pies though.

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Mr. Jackhonky January 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm

@Ophir. I LOVED your cookies. I think the irish cream was a great addition! Looking forward to seeing you at the next event!

@Serene. Oohhh. I made pavlova once for a daring baker's challenge. It was fun! I should totally make it again, to use up some of my frozen egg whites… If you figure out a way to make it to the city for the event, let me know! I'd love to see you there! 18 Reasons isn't too far away from the 16th and Mission BART station.

@Justin. Oh there were PLENTY of things to swipe. I had to restrain myself. The banana whoopie pies were pretty great though.

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Rita January 5, 2011 at 1:05 am

Looks wonderful, delicious, social. I wish I was there! Especially after seeing the end photo of the woman's assortment of cookies to take home.

And the NEXT event–where everyone bakes something new and exchanges feedback–sounds like the best, most fun thing ever. Just like what we writers do, except with baked goods . . .

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Priyanka January 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Wow…..beautiful….

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