In the beginning there were six types of cookies, four flights of stairs and one girl: Dawn Casale, an accessories manager at Barney’s who ditched a career peddling glittery baubles and silk stockings to launch a business born of butter and a longtime dream.
Raised in Westchester in a Sicilian family by a mother who turned even the most humble meal into a magnificent feast, Casale had an almost genetic predisposition for cooking and entertaining, which she yearned to turn into her life’s work. “My mother and my grandmother, Nana, were both truly incredible cooks and hostesses,” said Casale. “I am not lying when I tell you that my lunchbox contained courses, and my afternoon snack was often lemon madeleines straight from the oven. All my life I witnessed the joys that food brings both the cook and the eater. I felt like I was destined to make a living in the world of food.”
In 2000, when she was 30, with a blossoming career ahead of her, she made the leap. She left the glitter and glamour of Barney’s to bake cookies out of her fourth-floor walk-up on Bank Street from a kitchen roughly the size of an office cubicle. Casale, who had no formal pastry training, began experimenting with recipes, baking her now-signature jewel-size cookies—mixing, stirring, rolling and folding, until her arms were numb, putting everything she had—both spiritually and financially—into a business she had been nurturing in her heart for years. “At Barney’s I worked all day with pretty things, and my idea was to do the same for cookies,” she said.
She began her line of “One Girl Cookies” with six gem-size treats. There was a spiced ginger oatmeal drop, an apricot almond thumbprint and a hazelnut sandwich cookie filled with chocolate cinnamon ganache, among others—and each was given a proper name. The Lucia, for instance, named in honor of her great-grandmother, is a layered cube of buttery shortbread and espresso-spiked homemade caramel glossed with bittersweet and white swirls of chocolate, while the Lana—a bittersweet chocolate sandwich filled with raspberry preserves—was named for her favorite high school teacher, who was a little bitter but mostly sweet.
With six cookies to her name, she began to show and sell her “collection” to a cast of clients made up of some of the most influential names in fashion. “I was very fortunate to have developed wonderful relationships with colleagues from Barney’s,” she said. “My going-away present from my staff of 35 was a stack of orders for cookies, and my first real order was for a Giorgio Armani trunk show.”
Casale’s little apartment, which she shared with her roommate, Tom, quickly became a cookie production studio, with friends and family enlisted to paste the vintage photos of her family that adorned the cookie boxes, then wrap, ribbon and deliver them around the city. (Not surprisingly, given her Barney’s background, her cookies look as good as they taste.)
As her second holiday season hit, with orders coming in from Dean & Deluca and many large corporate clients, Casale realized that her team of friendly elves were no match for demand, and that her apartment might actually buckle under the weight of flour and butter. So that November, she rented kitchen space from a local caterer and started to search for a pastry chef with formal training in production. A friend recommended that she meet Dave Crofton, a bread baker who was studying to be a pastry chef at the Institute for Culinary Education. The two hit it off immediately. “I was very attracted to working with a small bakery,” said Crofton, “and I thought Dawn was doing something really interesting. She wasn’t just baking chocolate-chip cookies. She was being innovative and creative and developing recipes like nothing I had seen before, which was very appealing. Not to mention, I was also attracted to Dawn!”
Aside from a two-week departure to try his hand as a pastry chef at a New York City restaurant (he helped develop the now renowned gelato for the opening menu at Otto), the two have been together ever since, first as colleagues and then as something more. By 2003 they had moved into a Cobble Hill apartment.
Whether baking or brainstorming, they were growing their business and planting the seeds for a life together. A year later, Dawn was about to step into a post-workout shower when Dave asked her to check on something in the oven. “Now, when I am wrapped in a towel?” she recalled asking him. “It seemed kind of strange, but when I opened the door, there on a baking sheet, were sugar cookies that spelled out: “Will You Marry Me?” The answer was a bout of laughter followed by a big fat “Yes!”
As they began planning their wedding at Clinton Vineyards in the Hudson Valley, the two were also searching for a location to open a retail shop in their Cobble Hill neighborhood. They wanted something special and intimate, and finally found their space on Craig’s List: a ground floor of a house off of Smith on Dean, on a leafy stretch lined with brownstones and clapboard houses from the early 1800s. It’s the sort of spot that makes you feel as though a horse and buggy might clip-clop down the street at any moment, carrying a young family home for a warm supper by the hearth.
They opened One Girl Cookies in 2005, hanging an old fashioned bell on the door and a simple oval sign above the shop’s bay window that reads: COOKIES. The shop is both an homage to family and a reflection of Dawn’s refined aesthetic; a space that is elegant and pretty, yet deeply rooted in family comfort and a sense of community. A hand-painted mural of Dawn and Dave’s family trees adorns the wall of the café, while robin’s egg blue walls are hung with sepia-toned heirloom family photographs: Dawn’s grandmother peering out the window of her Brooklyn apartment, Dave’s grandparents on their honeymoon in Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. At the U-shaped coffee bar, where neighbors sit elbow-to-elbow drinking steaming lattes, conversations are shared and old friends meet new ones. The café has served as matchmaker to several couples who have since married, and has even reunited two old friends who went to high school together in Ireland. “We wanted the bar to be the hub of the store, where people would come together and get to know one another,” said Crofton. “People meet and strike up friendships, and sometimes more. The bar is really the beating heart of the shop.”
Their menu at One Girl Cookies, which has a Slow Food Snail of Approval (awarded in recognition of their contributions to the quality, authenticity and sustainability of the food supply in New York City), has grown from its early days to include layer cakes, cupcakes and decadent whoopie pies, which are all perched on a stunning collection of fluted porcelain cake stands and cut-glass platters, while the bauble-size cookie collection (which now numbers 14) is displayed on fluted silver trays in a glass case. (The Barney’s pedigree is evident.)
In 2009, the couple welcomed two changes to their lives. The first was the arrival of their son, Nate, who was born in June, and has since become the shop’s most ardent supporter of daily whoopee pie consumption. The second, which also involved waking up early, was adding breakfast service. The morning meal gave Crofton the chance to return to one of his longtime passions—bread baking. His hyper-local menu includes everything from
scones and muffins to homemade yogurt and granola, frittatas featuring upstate eggs and fresh sourdough made from Crofton’s natural yeast starter.
Their morning meal has become quite popular, turning the shop into a sort of breakfast nook for the neighborhood, where kids are often found skipping around between spoonfuls of yogurt, while parents catch up over rich cups of Stumptown coffee and butter-slathered biscuits. During these hours, the shop feels like home, or more accurately like what home might feel like in some fantasy world where picture-perfect scones and muffins are baked fresh daily, and butter is churned by hand.
About three years ago, Casale and Crofton added a wine list to their sweets menu. The modest list of two reds and two whites by the glass or the bottle offers the moms and dads who frequent their shop something to help them unwind while their kids storm the cookie counter. They often offer wine-and-cookie specials on weekends, a time when the combination is a medical necessity.
To satisfy their many regulars who beg for recipes, Casale and Crofton have just written their first cookbook, One Girl Cookies—Recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Whoopie Pies and Cookies from Brooklyn’s Beloved Bakery (Clarkson Potter, 2012), which is due out in January. The couple is also in the process of opening a One Girl Cookies in Dumbo (33 Main Street), which should open by February (they will be neighbors with Colonie folks who are opening their No Name Hunt Club next door).
A vibrant part of the community, they are also very involved in Brooklyn-based events. A few years ago, Casale joined forces with Adam Shepard, the chef and owner of Lunetta, the rustic Italian restaurant around the corner from the cookie shop, to host “Nana’s Table,” a collaborative Sicilian dinner party based on Casale’s family recipes. Teaming up with longtime friends Patrick Watson and Michelle Pravda (owners of Stinky, Smith & Vine and Brooklyn Wine Exchange), Casale and Crofton also do occasional dessert tastings paired with wines at Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and when the Fort Greene CSA announced that it would feature a local food vendor, One Girl offered seasonal fruit tarts and quick breads. To keep the neighborhood baking, they also host popular monthly cooking classes on topics like summer tarts, fall pies and winter cobblers.
Looking back on where it all began—lugging sacks of flour up four flights of stairs—Casale and Crofton feel grateful for how their business—and their lives—have changed. “We feel especially lucky that the shop has become such an integral part of the neighborhood,” said Casale. “We’ll be walking around and people will be like ‘Hey, there’s the cookie guy and the cookie girl!’ It’s pretty funny, but it’s home.”
Spiced Ginger Oatmeal Drops
Recipe from the One Girl Cookies Cookbook
Makes about 30 cookies
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup candied ginger, finely chopped
2 1⁄2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt. Stir in the candied ginger and the oats.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and mix for 30 seconds.
3. Take the mixing bowl off the mixer and finish mixing the dough with a rubber spatula, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, or overnight if possible.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Using a small cookie scoop or a spoon, scoop out a small round of dough, about 1 ½ tablespoons in size. Roll the scoop into a ball between the palms of your hands, and place it on a paper parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently press the ball onto the baking sheet. Repeat, leaving 1 inch between cookies.
6. Bake the cookies for 14 to 16 minutes, until they have darkened slightly. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let them cool.
Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Salty Roasted Pepitas
Makes one 9-inch pie
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons ice water
1 large egg yolk
1⁄2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
1⁄4 teaspoon canola oil
1 1⁄2 cups half-and-half
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of ground cloves
1. To make the crust, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse 4 or 5 times, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the ice water and egg yolk. Add the egg mixture to the food processor, and pulse until the crumbs begin to climb the side of the bowl and hold their shape when pressed together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands—and a little muscle—form the dough into a 5-inch-diameter disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before rolling.
3. Unwrap the dough, and using a rolling pin, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface to form an 11-inch circle. Working quickly and carefully, line a 9-inch pie dish with the dough. With your fingertips, make sure that the edge of the pie is smooth and even. Refrigerate it for 20 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Remove the pie dish from the refrigerator. Line the crust with tin foil, making sure to cover the sides and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the dish and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the sides are somewhat firm and hold their shape. Remove the foil and bake for 6 minutes, until the bottom of the crust looks dry and the shell is a very pale golden color. Remove the dish from the oven and let the crust cool. Leave the oven on.
6. To make the pepitas, stir together the pumpkin seeds, salt, and oil in a small bowl. Scatter the seeds onto a small baking sheet and toast in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the seeds are slightly toasted. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the pepitas cool.
7. To make the filling, mix together the half-and-half and eggs in a medium bowl. Add the pumpkin puree and mix well. Then add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves, and mix well. The filling will be very runny. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Sprinkle the pepitas on the filling.
8. Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the dish and bake for 20 more minutes, or until the center of the pie jiggles just a bit when you touch the oven rack. Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the pie cool completely.