Anatomy of a Perfect Chocolate Cookie

So I was asked to make ‘chocolate chocolate cookies’ and quickly found that there are as many variations on that as there are on chocolate chip cookies, including with and without flour (both good). I finally found one I loved at the website Crispy Waffle (love that name). Making it a few times consecutively I found that the author’s conclusion that milk chocolate was resulting in a cookie that was too sweet was not my experience. The dutch cocoa and bittersweet chocolate did result in a dark cookie that I liked, but using semi-sweet chocolate chips made them edgy and almost bitter. So I went back to milk chocolate chips, and being a vanilla addict, I was compelled to make it a triple-chocolate/triple-vanilla cookie, by adding more vanilla extract (tablespoon instead of a teaspoon) as well as two other kinds of vanilla (vanilla powder and the seeds of a vanilla bean). To retain and amplify my chocolate flavor, I added a teaspoon of Dave’s Coffee Syrup, which is a favorite addition to nearly any chocolate thing I make. Now in danger of being too smooth, I found a final topping of sea salt kept the cookie well-balanced.

Also, perhaps due to the addition of more liquid (coffee syrup, vanilla)  I found I needed 15 minutes to get the right soft, chewy texture at 325 degrees. At 13 minutes the cookies barely set up and were living in the dangerous limbo between cookie dough and cookie. I’m not saying my oven is properly calibrated, so you’ll have to experiment for yourself if you want something more akin to a brownie-lava like thing or soft and chewy cookie.

Cookie Name Still Under Development: Cookie Cube, Triple-Triple? makes about 20 cookies using a 1 and 1/3 scoop

Ingredients

  • 4-5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I have a big block so this is at best an estimate).
  • 1 stick sweetened (unsalted) butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp of Dave’s Coffee Syrup (or you can substitute actual coffee)
  • 1 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla powder
  • Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • heavy 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pinch of flaky sea salt for the top

 

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, cocoa powder, vanilla powder, baking soda, chocolate chips and salt. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter and 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate together. I did this in a microwave, so yes, I’m a hack.
  4. Mix the chocolate and butter until it combines—from a greasy wet mess to something dark, brown and satin-y.
  5. When cool, add the vanilla and coffee (or coffee syrup). Whisk thoroughly.
  6. In your stand mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  
  7. Add the chocolate/coffee/vanilla mixture until well combined.
  8. Add the flour and stir by hand.  Maybe one or two “pulse” mixes to ensure everything is well mixed. Don’t OVERMIX!
  9. I used the 1 1/3 scoops which I found gave me about 20 cookies. If you use a smaller scoop you’ll likely need to adjust the time in the oven, too. 
  10. Bake for 15 minutes.   Cookies are best ‘underbaked’ so they are chewy.  When you take them out of your oven, depending on their condition, yo might want them to cool on the cookie sheet (more cooking) or remove them.  Again, it’s a personal choice. Everyone in my house wants to eat them as soon as they can be picked up (about five minutes). 

Gluten-free Oatmeal Craisin Cookies

GF Oatmeal Craisin CookiesI am continually challenged to bake things so that I may serve a constituency that may be have issues with meat products and/or wheat products, so I am always looking to solve the ‘this is good but not as good as the meat/wheat version.”  If we are going to bake something, it’s going to have to be the best version of whatever it is.  So it is with Oatmeal cookies, that I have been working on for two years already.  I use the King Arthur measure-for-measure gluten free flour, which I think is a revelation for baking, if you are baking for someone who is simply looking to live gluten-free.  For someone with a serious gluten allergy (etc.) special care needs to be taken with all of your tools, ingredients and even you.   That’s challenging, so take this recipe with a grain of gluten.

INGREDIENTS

  • 18 tablespoons softened butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2-1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1.5 cups craisins, soaked in vanilla-water*
  • 3 cups quaker oats, ground in the cuisinart
  • vanilla powder/vanilla paste to taste (optional)
  • maple syrup for basting

 

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat oven to 375°F.
  • In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla; beat well; until no longer gritty
  • Combine all dry ingredients: gluten-free flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt oats and craisins; mix briefly by hand to combine (and maybe one or two seconds using your stand mixer)
  • Use a 1.5 scoop and make big cookies.
  • Bake at 375 for 10 minutes and finish at 350 for 5-10 minutes.  (Depends on if you want really soft or crispy cookies, and the size you scooped them at)
  • Remove from oven, and after about two minutes, baste with maple syrup.

 

 

Go To Meringues!

I love meringues because once you get the hang of it, they’re pretty easy to get right, and they can literally be whipped up pretty quickly (even though they take a while to finish).  For a dessert, they’re relatively low-calorie, they’re naturally gluten-free and people can eat lots of them.  You can’t say that about too many cookies, and definitely not for any desserts I make.    There is nothing wrong with a plain meringue but I find I like to add more vanilla than is traditional (1 tablespoon vs. 1-2 teaspoons) and other stuff, usually coffee flavor or syrup. For syrup I use Dave’s Coffee syrup, which is fantastic.  Again, you can flavor them however you like but remember; add the flavor after you have gotten some foaming in your mixer.  Don’t try without electric beaters or a stand mixer, your wrists will never be the same.   Lastly don’t forget to add the salt!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 4-5  large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Optional (not all together)
    • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
    • 1 tablespoon of Dave’s Coffee Syrup
    • 1/8 tsp Butterscotch extract
    • Sprinkles/sanding sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. Separate your egg whites from yolks and set aside.  Legend has it if you get any yolk in your whites they will not become stiff peaks.
  3. Using a stand mixer, beat egg whites for about 60 seconds, then add your cream of tartar.  Continue to mix and slowly add your sugar and salt.  When you have added all the sugar, continue to mix and slowly add other ingredients like vanilla, coffee syrup or butterscotch extract.
  4. Keep beating until soft peaks form and continue to beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy.
  5. Use a piping bag (this picture is of a straight tube, but Pipe the meringues onto the pans using a pastry bag and star tip. Alternatively, drop meringues by large teaspoonfuls onto the pans.
  6. Bake the meringues for 1 hour, then turn off the oven /heat and allow the meringues another hour in the stove.  Tase for desired crispiness.

 

Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes

On a recent trip to the West Coast I was advised to order Swedish pancakes from a local restaurant near San Francisco. Being an intrepid, but skeptical pancake eater, I did.  They were amazing not just for the taste but the unusual texture.  A bumpy consistency that reminded me of those kambucha drinks or bubble tea.  It was unusual but not unpleasant.  I determined the magic ingredient was oatmeal and the secret is letting the ingredients sit for a period of time (some recipes claim overnight is best, but I found 30-45 minutes did the trick).    I found a few great recipes online and on especially here that called for a quart of buttermilk.   Now I’m no diet fanatic but that did seem excessive.  Fortunately, I was down on all ingredients, but in my estimation they came out perfectly.  So my modified version is below.
Ingredients
  • 1 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions

  • Mix dry ingredients together.
  • Add wet ingredients.
  • Let settle for 45 minutes
  • Use a 3/4 cookie scoop to make pancakes on a hot buttered grill or pan.
  • Serve with maple syrup AND BACON.

Vegan Carrot Cake (with Vegan “Cream Cheese” Frosting)

The amazing thing about this cake is that it was probably as good as any non-vegan dish I’ve ever made. It’s a modified version of the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Simple Carrot Cake.  When trying to determine the best way to make the carrot cake vegan, I saw many recipes that used lots of ingredients that I had never cooked with, and so I eschewed them all for a recipe that used oil instead of butter. The CI recipe had both a food processor version and a stand-mixer version.  Having lost my food processor’s shredding blade, I opted for the stand mixer, which meant I was committed to shredding six large carrots.

Replacing the eggs is easy; everything else is vegan-friendly, until we get to the frosting.  Frosting is usually made of lots of dairy ingredients.  The CI recipe calls for cream cheese and sour cream.  I reviewed a few recipes that required white-flesh sweet potatoes, which i nearly made until I realized the tofutti and earth balance mix was easier to fail first at.   Many recipes that used this cautioned that with earth balance to use the baking sticks (quasi-butter shaped) instead of the tub. Also, that you should use only half a stick, which is what I did.   A number of recipes also suggested adding lemon to approximate the ‘sour’ cream cheese taste and I thought the maple would be a good touch, and I was right.  I use a lot of vanilla and always a pinch of salt, but the flavor is always up to the baker.  Make the frosting, and the put it in the fridge to cohese.   Frost the cake when both have had time to cool down.

CARROT CAKE INGREDIENTS 

  • 2 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
  • teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg*
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon table salt (heaping)
  • 3 cups shredded carrots (about six carrots)
  • 1 ½ cups canola oil
  • 1 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
  • 1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • Egg Replacer (substitute for 4 large eggs)**
  • 1 Cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans***

    *Don’t ever used pre-ground nutmeg, what are you, an animal?
    **I use 2 tablespoons of warm liquid for each sifted tablespoon of egg replacer. I also add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract.   After you mix thoroughly, allow mixture to become cohesive before you add it to the other ingredients.
    ***CI recommends adding 10 minutes of extra baking time if you add raisins and pecans. Basically, check your cake and if a wooden stick comes out clean, it’s ready.

CREAM CHEESE INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz Tofutti “Better than Cream Cheese” spread
  • 2 oz Earth’s Balance Bar
  • Three Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Vanilla
  • ~ 1 tsp/tablespoon of Lemon Juice
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (or one tsp maple syrup extract)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

INSTRUCTIONS

For the cake

  • Grease a 9×13 pan, place parchment paper in the bottom, set aside.  Turn your oven to 350.
  • Sift and mix your flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
  • Peel and shred your carrots.
  • Mix the oil with the two sugars for about two minutes, taking note of an unbearable lightness of being and also of the ingredients.
  • Add the egg replacer and mix for 30-60 seconds.
  • Add the shredded carrots and dry ingredients.  Mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula; finish with a few turns of the stand mixer.
  • Pour into 9×13 pan.  Hit the pan on your counter to remove air bubbles.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

For the frosting

  • Whip the tofutti and earth balance together.
  • Add the powdered sugar, mix.
  • Add the maple syrup and vanilla.
  • Add the lemon and salt, keep mixing.
  • When completely mixed and tasting great (and you’ll know), transfer to a air-tight bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  • Frost the cake.

New England’s Only, Insanely Great Bagel

Exodus Bagels of JP, Boston's Best Bagel, Best of Boston Bagel, NY Style Bagels

BOSTON’S BEST AND ONLY REAL BAGELS ARE AT EXODUS BAGELS IN JAMAICA PLAIN MA.

After writing and rewriting this post about fifty times I have concluded that I must keep this about how incredible Exodus Bagels are and not anything about the despair in New England that preceded their arrival, and made “Exodus” the perfect name for the end of the bagel drought.  

THE BAGELS AT EXODUS are a revolution and a revelation. They are nothing short of perfect.  They are what bagels are supposed to be, and have honestly, not been for years. And yes, that’s my opinion, but it’s the opinion of a baker, a New Yorker and someone with at least forty years of experience in bagel shopping, toasting and eating.

WHAT MAKES THEM SO GREAT
The bagel itself fulfills the bagel’s original and highest purpose: to be a workout for your mouth and mouth muscles. THE BITE of an Exodus Bagel, toasted or straight, in all its regal crispy-ness is a delight: Crunchy, but not hard; chewy, but no pushover.  Satisfyingly made of the best ingredients.

AMAZINGLY they have something that no other Boston bagel has: flavor.  From the humble plain to the remarkable “Everywhere” bagel (seeds ‘n’ stuff inside) you can actually taste the bagel while you’re chewing it (which could be a while).   

THEIR BOUQUET (especially after adding Exodus’ Scallion Cream Cheese) is intoxicatingly salty; garlicky; oniony.  As is common at brunches in New York, one could swoon from the aroma of too many in one place; waiting on line in Exodus’ JP Store has made me weak in the knees several times.  

The bagels themselves are not just conceived correctly; they are deployed with the utmost care and excellence to create an “insanely great” bagel that is actually BETTER than any bagel from New York that I have had in recent memory.  YES I SAID BETTER.   Their pedigree announces itself: from their hand-made shapes; their size; their color(s); their seed to bagel ratio; and their sheen.  These bagels have been created by a dedicated staff of talented artisans.

I’m sorry to say that if you enter Exodus bagels, your commitment to abstinence from carbs will likely have to come to an end. Forever, as mine has as long as Adam Hirsch is producing bagels.

My Magnolia Lemon Bars

Lemon Bar, Lemon Bar Recipe
Delicious lemon filling reminiscent of a Hostess Lemon Pie. 

It is no exaggeration to say that my father shaped me culinarily. My love of spicy, International foods comes from him, as does my insatiable curiosity for anything in a bottle with a foreign language on it.  (This has led to an unsustainable refrigerator door problem, but more on that later).

Many a morning there was a demonstration of this hot sauce, that salami, France’s most popular caper, and and perhaps the breakfast of champions.   He had an artisan’s palate but also a taste for the common thing,  like a taco, slice of pizza or a Hostess lemon pie.

As a family, we obsessed for decades over the Hostess Lemon Pie.  Why? Probably because of its inside, which contained a near-perfect lemon meringue filling, its flavor straddling the razor’s edge between the sweet and sour line and its outside: a sugar-glazed crunchy and soft pie crust that never crumbled.  (That was 35 years ago– I make no claims for today’s product).   Trying to recreate that taste and mouth-feel of the lemon filling (less so the crust) has been a goal of mine for quite a while.

This recipe makes lemon bars that come pretty close, although it’s up to you whether you want to take some sugar out or add some lemon for extra tartness.  In my last attempt, I used a combination of bottled organic lemon juice and fresh squeezed.  You must have a lemon squeezer to even attempt this. I recommend this one because years of fishing out bitter lemon pits has taught me it’s a best practice.

After looking through about two dozen recipes, many in really old cookbooks, I stopped at the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. Since I have daughter named Magnolia and she is my junior sous chef, it seemed appropriate to appropriate their recipe. I misread the recipe though and made the crust they envisioned for a jelly roll pan in my 9 x 13 pan.  So, too much crust (as the photo above reveals).  I want more lemon filling than crust, so I have conveniently halved their recipe here.  (For pop-tart like crusts, you can try the hand pie recipe)

Also, I found that I needed not only more lemon but some vanilla and salt to add depth of flavor to the bars; I want the filling to delight, not just amuse you.

Crust

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4  tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ~6 teaspoons lemon zest

Directions

It’s simple: make the crust and cook it.  Make the filling while the crust is cooling and add it.  Then bake everything together.  Then try not to eat it while you’re waiting for it to cool.  You can’t do it.

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
  • Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper; spray with PAM.
  • Combine crust ingredients and when combined, press down with wax paper/cling wrap or a sprayed-with-pam spatula to form crust of consistent height.
  • Bake for about 13 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and begin working on filling.
  • Beat all “Lemon” ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  When fully incorporated, pour over baked crust.  (There is another lemon filling like pudding that involves stovetop hijinks but this isn’t it).
  • Bake new combined crust and lemon filling at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set.
  • Let cool in pan, and then if there’s any left, chill for 30 minutes.
  • Sift powdered sugar over remains before serving.

Blueberry Muffins…et tu?

Blueberry muffins with a sugar top

Summer in Massachusetts means berries (it means other things but this is a baking blog). Because strawberries aren’t great for casual baking (except for Strawberry Rhubarb pie, which is how all of this got started) it’s all about Blueberries.  Blueberry Muffins are so common that I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t excited about them.  Your standard blueberry muffin at a Starbucks, Panera, etc. is basically a mechanism for the delivery of sugar.   Even if the muffin (read: cake) is good, the blueberries themselves whether fresh or frozen, have all the taste profile of a winter tomato.   Which is to say they are nothing but blue in color, gel in texture and zip in flavor.   Some bakers avoid this by using frozen blueberries (picked at peak season) or wild Maine blueberries but it rarely makes an appreciable difference.   For this reason if I have to eat a muffin I usually go for the corn or coffee cake.

But it’s July and there are incredible blueberries around and blueberry pie isn’t my favorite and blueberry pancakes are great but labor-intensive and a caloric car-crash (especially when you add the bacon and maple syrup) so it’s blueberry muffins.  It’s a regional obligation.   But how to avoid the problems of blueberry muffins of the past?  Especially perhaps the New England legend of Jordan Marsh?  The answer was found in another recipe, by Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Starting with King Arthur’s Department Store recipe, I found ways to shore up its shortcomings with Sally’s.    Neither of them in my opinion, used enough sugar (it’s more than a cup, but I’ll leave that to you– probably 1 and 1/4 cups) and each suggested milk where I think buttermilk is better.  Of course I always use a tablespoon of vanilla where they call for a teaspoon and you can probably always go north on the salt.  Lastly, I felt that lemon zest is a great addition to anything that might be ‘cloyingly’ sweet and a little bit of nutmeg should nearly always accompany cinnamon.

Three last things:

  1. CRISPY TOPS ARE AWESOME. Sally’s Baking Addiction had the world-rocking suggestion to bake the muffins at a higher temperature for a short period of time— this has a ‘searing’ effect, like in cooking meat.  That plus the course sugar result in a crispy top– not the soft top that years of sprinkling a sugar-cinnamon topping have resulted in.
  2. TOSS YOUR BERRIES. I also made note that in an interview with Jordan Marsh’s muffin man WCVB anchor Maria Stephanos reported that you must toss the blueberries in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom.  Her piece here.
  3. DON’T OVERMIX. Don’t overmix ever but especially after you’ve combined wet and dry ingredients and then you go to fold in the blueberries.  Don’t overmix!

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2-3 cups blueberries (washed, dried and tossed thoroughly in flour)
  • Sparkling sugar for topping  (sparkling sugar is coarse and different from other sugars you might use in cooking– it looks like kosher salt.  I have a rock-vanilla sugar and several colors that I picked up on sale but most commonly King Arthur and other fine baking supply companies have white coarse sugar that is excellent).

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and line the tin with papers.
  2. Beat together the oil and sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.  
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients; fold in the blueberries. DON’T OVERMIX.
  7. Scoop the batter into the tins; knock the muffin pan to eliminate air pockets.
  8. Sprinkle sparkling sugar on top.  Use a lot, it’s worth it.
  9. Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425; then for 25 minutes at at 375, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean (of batter, it almost certainly will be blue).
  10. Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for five minutes in the tin.
  11. Yield: 12 muffins.

2017 The Year in Food December – Family

I love making frittatas since they feel like baking more than cooking even though they really are a traditional breakfast cooked-dish.   I love bacon, cheese and sautéed onions (and if I have them, scallions, shallots, red peppers or yesterday’s asparagus or broccoli).  When people are staying at my house, I always make a 10-egg frittata that can basically stay warm on the stove until people wake up.

January   |  February  | March  |  April  |  May  |  June

July  |  August  | September  |  October  |  NovemberDecember

%d bloggers like this: