The Mindy Project: JBF Award Winner Mindy Segal Riffs on PB&JTasting Table
September 02, 2015
Irwin Segal was a jazz guy back in the day. He played the upright bass and the accordion, and he hung out at Rick's American Cafe in Chicago, sipping vodka on the rocks and soaking in Tito Puente's hip-swinging tunes. And he often brought along his daughter, James Beard Award–winning pastry chef and chef/owner of beloved Mindy's HotChocolate in Chicago, Mindy Segal. "With their riffs and scatting, these Latin jazz stars were the kings of improvisation," Segal recollects in her new cookbook, Cookie Love. "Their brains seemed to be wired the same way as mine." Take, for example, her twist on the classic sandwich straight out of your elementary school lunch box memories—the simple, squishy peanut butter and jelly we all know, and still love. "I start there, with something people really like and can identify with," Segal says. "Then I take that idea to the next degree by making my own strawberry preserve and adding lambic [a slightly sweet Belgian beer]. I'm taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary."
Turning old favorites into something new is Segal's mantra in her first cookbook focused on the flour-speckled, butter-greased world of cookies, from simple drop to chocolaty Black Sabbath sandwich cookies. But today she's showing us how to make said PB&J–inspired sweets, her ingenious peanut butter thumbprint cookies with strawberry lambic preserves. "I've been baking cookies since I was a little girl. It was my place to go when the world was getting me down," Segal remembers. "I think I have that in common with a lot of people. I think people bake to feel good."
Cookies are Segal's first love, though baking didn't necessarily come naturally. "I have an interesting little story in that I'm dyslexic, so it's really hard for me to read recipes and to follow directions, even though I tell you that in my book," Segal says. "I taught myself early on to look at pictures and try to figure out how to get where I want to be with my hands and my brain. Deductive reasoning." It's that constant tinkering and reasoning that led Segal to a newfound trick she's teaching us today: the secret to making ultra-smooth thumbprints, not a deep crackled rupture in sight, which lies in the rolling technique and dough temperature.
Once she's stirred together her peanut butter batter, she cools it like a pie crust for about three hours in the fridge. And instead of scooping balls of batter to form the cookies, Segal cuts the brick of dough into strips and rolls them gently into crushed beer nuts. She then slices the strips into inch-long nubs and presses any small cap she can find to make the signature dimple for a spoonful of jam. "The outside of a thumbprint should be crispy, but the inside needs to be more gooey and rich," Segal says. "Here, you get everything you want—the sweet, the salty, the sort of austere flavor from the beer—and it all complements each other." Like one great jazz jam session, Segal's creations are one riotous riff after another.