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Issue Date: December 2005 Issue


Cookies in the Court

Public defender Ken Mullin can mix it up in the courtroom or the kitchen -- and the results are pretty sweet.


Laura Taaxel

Lawyer by day. Baker at night — and weekends too.

That’s G. Kenneth Mullin, known around the Justice Center as “the cookie guy,” because he regularly brings in samples of his efforts to share. Mullin, an attorney, has been with the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office for 21 years. It was his first job out of law school, the only one he’s ever had, and he loves it. He’s been baking for a decade and pursues this avocation with equal zeal.

Mullin began playing around with dessert recipes shortly after he and Karen Ohlrich, now his wife, started dating.

“She liked to cook and didn’t want my help,” he explains, while pushing a plate of freshly baked cookies under my nose. “Said I got in her way. So I decided to claim my own culinary turf.”

Blonde, boyish-looking and disconcertingly trim for someone who spends a lot of time around chocolate and sugar, Mullin, 44, started simply, with cookies and pies. Gradually he advanced to more complicated things. Now he thinks nothing of whipping up a four-layer lemon torte or a dense flourless Grand Marnier cake decorated with edible gold leaf. He made all the desserts for his and Karen’s wedding reception — enough to satisfy 120 guests.

Baking helps him relax.

“At work, I’m constantly dealing with people in crisis, and it can be very stressful,” says Mullin, who estimates that about 90 percent of people charged in Cuyahoga County are indigent and assigned a public defender.

“Our office gets about one-third of all those cases,” he adds. “The atmosphere is highly charged and no two days are ever exactly the same. Baking is just the opposite. It’s orderly, predictable and methodical.”

He follows recipes precisely and is almost always rewarded.

“Occasionally I’ll get a little creative but I don’t stray too far from the instructions,” he says. “I guess you could say I’m a by-the-book kind of a guy.”

Luckily the couple’s quirky Chester Township home has a kitchen on each of its two levels. Mullin likes to come home after a long day and head straight for the one he’s claimed — which is slightly smaller, but on the first floor.

“I walk in, take off my jacket and tie, put on some music — maybe classical, maybe hard-core rock, depending on my mood — and start creaming butter while Karen’s fixing dinner,” he says. “I have an apron and I even bought a chef’s hat, but I never wear them.”

He makes far more than the two of them can possibly eat. Karen regularly brings goodies with her to John Carroll University, where she’s director of creative services in the Office of Public Affairs. Mullin loads up paper plates and Tupperware containers every other week with treats such as oatmeal cookies, ginger thins, carrot cake or a fruit pie to bring downtown for co-workers.

An equal-opportunity giver, he also distributes his sweet bounty among prosecutors, bailiffs, judges and anyone else who’s lucky enough to be around. He admits that the stuff tends to disappear quickly.

Mullin continues to talk, but my attention keeps drifting to the plate of cookies on the table between us. I resolve to focus on my job and do my tasting later. It isn’t easy.

Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo has often been what she describes as “a very appreciative recipient of his generosity.”

“Ken could be a professional,” she enthuses. “Well, he is a professional, sort of, because he has a little side business making cakes to order. I always volunteer as a taste-tester when he’s trying out a new recipe.”

Russo gets positively passionate when talking about Mullin’s maple pumpkin cheesecake.

“It’s as good or better than anything I’ve had in a restaurant,” she says. “Everything he makes is wonderful, but this is simply unbelievable. Divine. I eat it and then send him notes that say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ ”

She is equally positive about his performance in the courtroom. “I have the utmost respect for Ken as an attorney,” she says. “But I won’t be surprised if he turns up in front of me one day with flour on the front of his suit.”

As I get up to leave, our interview concluded, Mullin insists I take the cookies home with me. Unable to resist, I accept his offer and make it all the way to the car before I rip off the plastic wrap and start munching something he calls Ken’s Sneakers — he “sneaks” a little cayenne pepper into the mix. I’m proud to report that there were still a few left when I pulled into my driveway.

(Ken Mullin’s creations are available by special order from GQ Desserts, GQMullin@Yahoo.com)

Ken’s Sneakers

(Yields 12 to 15 large cookies)

These are chocolate chip cookies with a few twists. The recipe won Ken first place in last year’s Plain Dealer cookie competition.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

 

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups chocolate-covered raisins

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

1. Cream the butter with sugars until light and fluffy

2. Beat in egg and vanilla

3. Sift dry ingredients together and then beat into the butter mixture

4. Stir in raisins, chips and nuts

5. Form in 1-1/2 inch balls and place on greased cookie sheet

6. Bake nine to 11 minutes

Maple Pumpkin Cheesecake

(Serves 18 to 20)

Mullin found this in a book called “125 Best Cheesecake Recipes,” by George Geary (Robert Rose Inc., Canada, 2002). He likes to decorate finished cakes with non-edible fake leaves or cranberries and top with homemade whipped cream.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Use a 10-inch cheesecake pan, ungreased, or a springform pan with 3-inch sides, greased.

 

Crust

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

 

Filling

5 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

6 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup pumpkin puree (do not use pie filling.)

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

 

For Crust:

In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, ginger and butter. Press into bottom of cheesecake pan and freeze.

 

For Filling:

In a large mixer bowl, beat cream cheese, sour cream and sugar on medium-high speed for five minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

Mix in flour, pumpkin, vanilla, lemon juice, maple syrup and spices.

Pour batter over frozen crust.

Bake in preheated oven, 65 to 75 minutes or until the top is light brown and the center has a only slight jiggle to it.

Cool on rack for two hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least eight hours before serving.

Swedish Ginger Thins

(Makes about 150 cookies)

This recipe originally appeared in a 1998 issue of Gourmet Magazine. It’s a favorite of Mullin’s, who’s half Swedish, because the cookies taste exactly like the ones he ate as a kid. He always makes extra at Christmastime for some Swedish friends and personally delivers them. Mullin prefers a slightly more zippy version and increases the amount of ginger called for to a scant 2 teaspoons.

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

 

3 cups all-purpose flour1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened1 cup sugar1/2 cup dark corn syrup

sliced almonds to garnish

Into a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and spices. In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat cream until it just holds stiff peaks. In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy. On low speed, beat in corn syrup and whipped cream to butter mixture, beating until cream is just combined. Add flour mixture and beat until combined well. Form dough into a disk. Chill disk, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least two hours and up to two days.

Cut dough into quarters and work with one quarter at a time, keeping remaining dough covered and chilled. Using a rolling pin with cover dusted with flour, roll out dough into a round on a floured pastry cloth, rolling dough as thin as possible (less than 1/8 inch thick and about 14 inches in diameter) and with assorted 2- to 3-inch cutters cut out cookies. Carefully transfer cookies as cut to ungreased baking sheets with a metal spatula, arranging them about 1/2 inch apart, and top each with an almond slice. Reroll scraps and cut out more cookies in same manner.

Bake cookies in batches in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies puff and then collapse slightly, about six minutes. Cool cookies on sheets one minute and transfer with metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough in same manner. Cookies keep in airtight containers at room temperature one week.


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