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COOKIES: THE SWEET THAT CAN'T BE BEAT\ NICK MALGIERI SWEETENS HIS NEW BOOK WITH HUNDREDS OF RECIPES FOR COOKIES, THE COMFORT FOOD OF ALL COMFORT FOODS.

COOKIES: THE SWEET THAT CAN'T BE BEAT\ NICK MALGIERI SWEETENS HIS NEW BOOK WITH HUNDREDS OF RECIPES FOR COOKIES, THE COMFORT FOOD OF ALL COMFORT FOODS.

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Pastry chef extraordinaire Nick Malgieri has a confession to make in his latest book, ``Cookies Unlimited.'

``I was genetically programmed with a passion for cookies,' writes Malgieri, regarded as one of the country's best bakers.It seems that when Malgieri's mother was growing up in Italy, she loved sweets so much that the other kids nicknamed her ``cookies and candy.'

``I never had a chance,' writes Malgieri, who will teach two baking classes in Greensboro next week. ``I have always loved cookies.'

Most people share Malgieri's passion for those moist, crumbly, chewy, sweet, yummy treats. Think of the cookie as the comfort food of all comfort foods. Some would even call the cookie America's favorite sweet.

``I think people are much more likely to have a box of cookies in their house than they are a cake or pie,' Malgieri, 53, says in a telephone interview from his home in Manhattan. ``The thing that is good about cookies - if you have some willpower - you can eat one cookie and have that be it.'

But that's the problem: Malgieri has no willpower. (When it comes to cookies, who does?)

``I can't even have them in the house,' says the stocky, 5-foot-6-inch chef. ``I am always concerned about my weight. That's where the willpower comes in. I know I would come home and open the box and eat them all.'

But don't be mislead.

Nick Malgieri would never eat a cookie out of a box. He's simply making a point. He knows the best cookies are made at home.

Malgieri learned that from his maternal grandmother, Clotilda Lo Conte, who lived with his family in Newark, N.J. She loved to bake. He still remembers her old-fashioned molasses cookies.

The first chocolate chip cookie he ever tasted came from the oven of another family member, his aunt Rachel.

Despite those influences, it wasn't until college that Malgieri decided to become a baker. He was studying French and linguistics when he realized that the only career open to him would be in academics.

``I really didn't relish a career where I would be teaching all the time and have the pressure to publish,' says Malgieri, who went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America. ``It all came back to haunt me. Now all I do is teach and publish.'

Before Malgieri's career branched into a more academic direction, he worked at some of the great hotels and restaurants in Europe and the United States, including the Waldorf-Astoria and Windows on the World in New York. He now directs the baking program at Peter Kump's Cooking School, also in the Big Apple.

His recipes have been published in the New York Times, Cuisine, Restaurant Business, Family Circle, McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal and other publications.

His monthly column, ``Ask the Baker' is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times.

His television credits include ``Chef du Jour,' ``Cook's Choice,' ``Bakers Dozen' and ``Cooking Live' on the Food Network and appearances with Julia Child and Martha Stewart.

``Cookies Unlimited' is his fifth book. Published last fall, it contains more than 350 recipes, about half of which Malgieri created.

His book takes nothing for granted. It gives readers detailed information about the ingredients, techniques and equipment they will need to complete the recipes.

``You almost feel that Nick is standing there beside you,' says Mary James Lawrence, co-owner of Roosters Gourmet Market & Gifts, where Malgieri will teach Sunday and Monday. ``Not all chefs can teach. Nick has a passion for what he does. He wants people to understand and learn.'

He even throws in some cookie history.

Cookies - or something like them - date back to the days of antiquity. The Greeks made small cookie-like cakes made from flour and honey. The Romans celebrated weddings, fertility rites and other important events with cakes made with honey, rye flour and studded with nuts and dried fruit.

Dutch settlers brought the ``koekje' to America. The word means little cake, and by the 18th century it began to appear in print as cookie.

Beyond history, Malgieri's book covers just about every kind of cookie you could imagine. It has recipes for bar cookies, drop cookies, refrigerator cookies, rolled cookies, piped cookies, macaroons, molded cookies, biscotti, fried cookies, sandwich cookies and savory - or unsweetened - cookies.

Malgieri's favorite?

That's tough for a man who says, ``I probably have a thousand favorites.'

Pressed, he calls the first one in the book ``one of my favorites.'

He calls it Mother B's, a nutmeg-scented bar cookie. The recipe came from an old friend who got it from a neighbor in suburban Detroit back in the '60s. It's a variation of an old-fashioned Southern cookie called a pound cake cookie.

``It has ... great texture, richness, homey flavor and a little bit of spice,' he says. ``It has a lot of the characteristics that I think are important in something.'

Mother B's are an example of bar cookies. Perhaps the easiest of all cookies to prepare, bar cookies are really a large cake divided into sections. The batter is poured into a large pan and spread flat. Then the baked cake is cut into bars or squares.

Another Malgieri favorite has to be Apricot Almond Ruglach, which he describes as ``one of the world's best cookies.' Ruglach is made of a rich cream cheese wrapped around sugar, nuts and jam.

Malgieri says the cookies caramelize while they are baking, creating a combination of sweet, buttery flavors that he hasn't found duplicated in another cookie. He says he could make - and eat - them once a week.

These little morsels are classified as rolled cookies. They are made from dough that is usually chilled after mixing, then flattened on a floured surface with a rolling pin, cut into shapes and baked.

Malgieri also raves about Portland Fig Cookies, so named for the city where he found the recipe. The cookies are made of a thin, flaky, brown sugar dough wrapped around a thick, fig filling and brushed with an egg wash.

He calls them ``one of the best cookies I have ever tasted.'

For obvious reasons - the filling wrapped in dough - these are called filled cookies.

When Malgieri comes to Roosters next week, he will prepare several of the cookies from his book.

These will include Honey Pecan Squares, a sweet pastry topped with pecans; Cantuccini, a classic Tuscan biscotti made to be dunked in sweet wine or coffee; Linzer Hearts, a sandwich cookie made from hazelnut, almond or pecan dough and filled with raspberry or apricot jam; Cherry Rosette Butter Cookies, a cherry-centered morsel made with a cookie press; and Gruyere and Almond Rosettes, a cheesy, hors d'oeuvre cookie topped with a whole blanched almond.

And watch out for the Cheesecake Brownies, which Malgieri describes as ``over-the-top rich.'

While at Roosters, Malgieri also will teach a class called ``Sweet and Savory Tastes of the Mediterranean.' That one will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday. ``Cookies Unlimited' will follow at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

After the teaching and the mixing and the baking comes the best part.

``Then you get to eat everything,' Lawrence says.

Contact Donald W. Patterson at 373-7027 or donpatterson@news-record.com

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