If you’ve ever lost an hour to snickerdoodles that taste like pencil erasers, you’ll appreciate the exhaustive testing behind each recipe in “The Cookie That Changed My Life,” Nancy Silverton’s 11th cookbook.
“I don’t think I made any of the recipes less than a dozen times,” Silverton said in a phone interview. “When you make one of them, I wanted you to say, This is the best version.” She added, “By nature I’m obsessive. I don’t give up.”
Silverton — who co-owns Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, among many other restaurants — had sworn off further publishing efforts. That is, until she ate a massive peanut butter cookie from Friends & Family Bakery (also in Los Angeles) and her competitive instinct kicked in. Determined to improve on that chewy confection, Silverton embarked on the pandemic baking spree that led to her first best seller.
“There’s too many cookbooks out there that have pretty pictures and nice ideas but the recipes don’t work,” she said. “You have to find an author who has taken the time to iron out those kinks. Hopefully this is the book you’re going to look for when you’re going to make your next corn muffin.”
Speaking of muffins, Silverton does not endorse the supersize version we’ve come to expect: “What used to be a six-bite morning item turned into a 12-bite, all-day food. Muffins are not cupcakes.”
But she’s bullish on sprinkles — underrepresented in previous collections, now brightening animal cookies and chocolate-frosted yellow layer cake in this one. “I thought they were very whimsical,” she said. However, with the exception of wedding cookies and spice cake, the confections in “The Cookie That Changed My Life” weren’t staples in Silverton’s childhood home. It was more of a whole grain bread kind of place, she explained; Sara Lee spice cake was a rare treat. Silverton recalled sneaking a slice in the middle of the night.
“We didn’t have cookies and potato chips and a lot of snack food,” she said, laughing about her untradeable, wax-paper-clad school lunches. (One never recovers.) “My mother didn’t buy plastic wrap. There were a lot of things I resented her for and now I think, Wow. She really knew what she was talking about.”
Silverton’s mother was a writer — for “General Hospital,” McCall’s and The Saturday Evening Post — who instilled a healthy respect for the elbow grease behind sentences on a page. Perhaps this explains Silverton’s commitment to naming co-authors on book covers; indeed, there is Carolynn Carreño, front and center, on hers.
“I have too much respect for what it takes to be a writer to not want to share that,” Silverton said. “Someone else can be the writer! Let me be the cook.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”