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Cookie Monsters

When some of L.A.'s top pastry chefs throw a baby shower, watch out.

May 19, 1999|MICHELLE HUNEVEN | Special to The Times

The invitation to Christine Moore's baby shower looked like any other--a little umbrella on the outside; place, date and time on the inside--except for the insert, a poem by her friend Teri Gelber. It began:

There's one kind request to all of Chrissy's guests:

Shower her with cookies to get her through the rest.

This request to bring a platter of cookies and their recipes seemed appropriate. Moore is the pastry chef at Les Deux Cafes--or was until her recent confinement. Before that, she'd worked in various pastry kitchens around town, including Nicola, Campanile and Europane. Many of the invited guests were friends and colleagues from those and other kitchens: pastry chefs, assistant pastry chefs, professional cookie makers.

The party was held at Les Deux Cafes on a warm Sunday afternoon. In fact, it was too warm to enjoy the lovely patio at this restaurant hidden away on Las Palmas in Hollywood, so we moved inside, into the cool, wood-paneled dining room of the Craftsman-style house.

Cynthia Hier, one of the shower's organizers, and the chief cook and owner of her own custom cookie company, 'Cyns Cookies,' had made two kinds of thin butter cookies iced with colored royal icing: one cookie was an adorable pink baby-face with an endearing squirmy grin; the other a daisy white petals, yellow center. The daisies were displayed in a see-through gallon-sized salt shaker. The cookies were based on a basic recipe, but their charm lay in their decoration. They were so intimidatingly perfect only a true pro could have made them.

There were also some sizable florentines topped with a thin layer of chopped dried fruit and dipped in chocolate, making them a cross between a classic Florentine and a fruit cake. These and a buttery panettone were the work of Brian Cincotta, who works in the kitchen at Les Deux.

Leslie Cotterman, formerly in the pastry kitchen at Spago and now "doing pastry" at the Ritz-Carlton at Laguna Niguel, had set out two kinds of little sandwich cookies: tiny chocolate macaroons, each with a layer of ganache between, and linzer hazelnut cookies with raspberry jam filling. Cotterman credited the recipes to Sherry Yard, Spago's executive pastry chef.

Kim Sklar, the pastry chef at Campanile, displayed her own version of a cookie called nuns' breasts. These were the shape of flying saucers (and, presumably, nuns' breasts). Made of semolina, these hefty, unusual cookies had a gritty crunchiness and a rich, creamy filling of pastry cream.

It was after each of us ate an entire nun's breast that we realized that, at the rate we were going, we'd never have the appetite to try even one each of the various other cookies that were arriving by the multiple dozens with each new guest.

How many cookies can one person eat? We'd already tried five (counting a cube of panettone) and needed to start pacing ourselves. So we found cookie-sampling partners, other guests who would agree to eat half or a third of a cookie.

But why so many cookies in the first place?

The shower was thrown for Moore by David Wynn, the chef at Les Deux Cafes until his recent removal to Paris. The inspiration for the shower, he said, was the cookie parties thrown by his mother's tennis group when he was a child.

The rules are simple, Wynn explained. Everyone brings a plate of cookies. So from the get-go (as we'd already observed), there will always be far more cookies than the guests can eat. The host provides bags or paper plates so that guests can take an assortment of cookies and recipes home. Wynn used charming Chinese food to-go containers.

"Those parties added to our family's cookie repertoire," Wynn said. "Some of my still-favorite cookie recipes came from them."

Of course, this was not your average cookie party, because many of Los Angeles' best pastry chefs were marching in with boxes, sacks and platters full of their favorite cookies. It was not the familiar parade of Toll House and oatmeal cookies, either. Some cookies were devised just for the shower; others were creative takes on old family recipes; some were just great old classics.

Nancy Silverton, the founding pastry chef and co-owner of Campanile and mastermind of the La Brea Bakery, created her own Iced Raisin Squares for the shower.

"When I was a little girl, the only kind of cookies I was allowed to eat were those healthy raisin cookies that came in long thin sheets, and you had to break them off in sections."

Her present offerings were thicker. She'd broken them into slightly uneven pieces and wrapped them in wax paper, just as she might have found them in her lunch box way back in the dark ages before plastic wrap took over.

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