Month: January 2015

Oatmeal Cookie Perfection

Oatmeal cookies, perfect cookies, butterscotch chips, butterscotch extract, robert deutsch

Oatmeal cookies need butterscotch. Who knew?

Before we start, let me tell me you I know about the recipe under the Quaker oats cap.  I’ve made it.  It’s good.  It makes great cookies and you’re looking for super simple, go ahead and make that one.

And I was fine with that cookie until I had a life changing event: eating an oatmeal cranberry cookie from Petsi Pies in Cambridge, MA.   So head-exploding was the sensation of this cookie that I was driven to the Interwebz to find a recipe that would create a cookie just like it.  Of course, the problem with trying to create a copycat recipe is knowing, at a basic level, what goes into it.  So I set out to find out if anyone had already tried to do it, or do something close. Sadly, I came up empty but you have to start somewhere.   After several batches, I found a good starting place at Frances & Ian.   Their recipe was very good, so naturally I started changing it immediately.

For starters, I was going to have cranberries instead of raisins.  But after eating Petsi cookies, I realized these were no ordinary Ocean Spray bag o’cranberries. I experimented with soaking them in vanilla for 30 minutes but no, that wasn’t it.  I tried unsweetened and non-sulfated cranberries. Still no. Then, I found apple-juice infused cranberries from Whole Foods and those seemed to be good enough– juicy, sweet, but not of sugar.

I needed nuts.  Frances & Ian didn’t have nuts, and walnuts are usually the go-to nut for oatmeal cookies.  I prefer pecans, but I was trying to create a copycat, so walnuts it was.

Cinnamon- the recipe originally called for 2 teaspoons but that seemed like too much, so I cut it in half.

If you know me, then you know of course I increased the vanilla and salt.

That elusive ingredient.   After months of trying to figure out what’s in these incredible cookies I had a revelation: butterscotch.   But in what form?  Extra brown sugar and butter?  Chips?  I tried it both ways.  First, I melted and 1/8 of a cup of butterscotch chips in a tablespoon of butter and added it to the creamed butter and sugar, and that’s what the picture is  of.    They were good. But I still wasn’t satisfied.  I don’t like the artificial flavored chips—so I found a butterscotch extract from Frontier that was all natural.  I added and 1/4 tsp but I think 1/2 tsp is the right amount.  You want it enough to be “heard” but not so much that it’s overwhelming the other flavors.

Texture.  My brother loves crispy cookies but I like them soft and chewy.  This is a seemingly impossible-to-placate schism for cookie lovers and bakers all around the world, but it can be solved easily in the way that grill masters satisfy their distinct needs in adult and child audiences.  Steak cooked rare comes off first; steak cooked medium stays in longer.    That’s one solution, but what I found was that by making the cookies BIGGER, as Petsi does, you can get a crispy outside and a soft inside, which is really the best of both worlds and makes everybody happy.

When I make them for myself, I use a 1.5 inch scoop, but when I make them for anyone else, I use a 2 or 2.5 inch scoop.  This makes them bigger, and more likely to achieve the crisp and chewy outcome.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar + 1 tablespoon
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½  tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • ¼-½ tsp kosher salt (I used ½)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • ½-1 scant cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup cranberries (I used apple-juice infused cranberries)

Instructions

Make sure you have butter and eggs at room temperature: cold is bad.

Mix together dry ingredients flour, corn starch, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, prepare your cranberries, chopped walnuts and oats.

Cream sugar and butter, about 3 minutes if you need to time it.

Add your egg, and mix.  Then add vanilla and butterscotch extracts.

Then pour in your flour, baking powder, cornstarch, and cinnamon and mix just until combined.

Add the oatmeal, cranberries and walnuts.  Mix until just combined.

Remove from bowl and place in cellophane wrap for 30 minutes up till overnight.

After chilling,  take out and let come to temperature– this will help scoops melt into a more familiar cookie shape.  If you like mound-shaped cookies, then you don’t have to wait.

Scoop cookies onto parchment paper or silicon mat and bake for about 12 minutes at 350.   Depending on how crispy you like them (and how old your oven is) you might want to turn them around and give them another 3-5 minutes.

Important: these cookies need to “set up,” meaning that if you try to remove them from the tray before they’ve cooled you’ll have a crumbling hot mess on your hands, and likely everywhere.   Let them cool on the tray for at least five minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack for about five minutes.

Then, experience oatmeal cookie perfection.

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General Rob’s Sesame Chicken

Sesame Chicken, General Gao's Chicken, Chinese Takeout, Quick Chicken Dish

Sweet, savory chicken that will delight your family. So much better for you than Chinese take-out.

My kids love General Gau’s/Tso’s chicken or Sesame Chicken as a dish from Chinese restaurants.  I always knew it was not a health dish, because it was likely rolled in flour and deep fried before being covered with a sickeningly sweet sauce.   I also know that any time you can make something at home, you have better control over exactly how bad it is for bodies, for teeth, and for wallets.

But the great thing for me about either going out for Chinese food or doing take out is that it’s something you can’t make at home.   But trawling through the Internet, I found a great recipe for sticky sesame chicken here from the website Creme De la Crumb.  The author Tiffany, took the recipe from a blog called Six Sisters Stuff, that called for using prepackaged popcorn chicken.      I of course, have tweaked it further because I can’t leave well enough alone.   I think 4 tablespoons of honey is fine (her recipe called for six) and I always insist on fresh steamed broccoli with it, so at very least I can kid myself it’s a balanced meal.

I made this this year for New Year’s Eve and it was a big hit!  I made it first with breast of chicken, but have since found that it can be made successfully with chicken thighs.  This is so far it is the only way to get my kids to eat chicken thighs and requires that I trim the fat aggressively.   Though it seems fancy, the dish is relatively easy to make and always comes out like the picture (above), which is actually my dish.  All the versions of this recipe produce such equally good-looking chicken dishes is really a testament to its ease. You can do it!

Even though this is dish is made at home, it’s still no diet-helper.  It’s double dipped in flour and corn starch, and the sauce features four kinds of sugar (honey, ketchup, white and brown sugars).  Still, it’s DELICIOUS and quick, and still great the next day.  It’s really all in the timing.  I recommend before you start, you set your rice in your rice cooker (this takes about 45 minutes) and trim and cut your broccoli.   If you are going steam or boil it, prepare the pot and the water.

For the chicken, I find it’s easier to do all your cutting before your dipping and coating.

There were some omissions or points of interest in Tiffany’s recipe that I had to either correct or fill in for myself. Her recipe called for “one tablespoon of oil.”  I tried that but found that I need a lot more oil to get the chicken cooked, and since I had to cook it in batches, I ended up using quite a bit more.  At the end, I had a skillet with oil in it, but clearly that wouldn’t have been the case with one tablespoon, hence my direction to pour off the extra oil (but not the charred bits of chicken-stuff. Keep that, it’s good).

That recipe also supposes I have a pan big enough to cook ALL of the chicken at once (since she never mentions taking it out).  That’s not the case, and so I ended up cooking the chicken in batches, and then placing it on a paper towel to dry while I did the next batch (four chicken thighs took three separate batches).   After all the chicken was done, I cooked the sauce and then returned the cooked and dry-drained chicken to the pan.

Lastly, she did not specify what kind of oil to use.  Usually I use canola oil for frying but in this case I added a little peanut oil  as well.   Did I say “not a health food?”   Though high in fat, sugar and carbs, unlike a take-out chinese meal, there were no other dishes, and no fortune cookies, so at very least that was a calorie saving.  And this week, we actually ordered the dish from our favorite Chinese restaurant and my kids voted mine better.  So to recap: cheaper, faster and more popular.  But still not a health food.

 

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, or 4 chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cut into small pieces.
  • canola and/or peanut oil
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 tablespoons corn starch
  • roasted sesame seeds
  • Scallions, washed green ends only
SAUCE
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon powered ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cold water + 2 tablespoons corn starch
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Whisk all sauce ingredients together, set aside.
  2. Arrange in three bowls, the beaten eggs, corn starch, and flour in sequence.
  3. Cut the chicken; dip pieces in egg, then flour, and lastly in corn starch.
  4. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add chicken and cook, stirring throughout to ensure even cooking, 5-10 minutes until cooked though.  You’ll have to do it in batches.
  5. If you have extra oil, drain off some of it.
  6. Combine corn starch and water until dissolved.
  7. Add sauce to pan and bring to a boil.  Add corn starch mixture.  Stir until sauce thickens.
  8. Add chicken pieces, and stir until completely covered.
  9. Place in a bowl and cover with sesame seeds  and green onions.
  10. Serve with rice and broccoli.
  11. Feel immense pride.

New York Style Black and White Cookies: Baking for Harmony

Black and white cookies, chocolate and vanilla cookies, baking for harmony, martin luther king day

Black and white cookies are delicious when light, moist and redolent with lemon flavor and scent.

My wife is a teacher and asked if there was anything I could bake to represent Martin Luther King, Jr day.  After discarding many ideas, we concluded Black and Whites would be appropriate as a sweet treat for her classes.  Though in the final execution, some of them look more Yin-Yang looking than half moon, they taste great, and it’s possible that if people are eating something yummy,  they’ll be more receptive to learning.  In any case, my part of the curriculum ends when the cookies are done.

Black and White cookies have always been something I’ve wanted to make well, but until this batch, I’ve never succeeded in making them taste as good as the ones I had growing up in New York.

And in New York, great ones are everywhere.  Whether at your favorite red-and-white string bakery or facing down a 2AM sugar urge at a nearly-abandonded bodega, they were consistently delicious: moist, light, redolent of lemon and just the right smidgin of crackle in the icing.

When I moved to Boston I noticed they didn’t make them the same here.  They were crumblier, and almost always used frosting on both sides or sometimes just the chocolate side.  They were fat, and consistent with their name “Half Moon,” but not like the big almost sugar-cookie shaped delectable we often got at Zabar’s.   In Massachusetts there seemed to be no parameters constraining their size; in New York there were mini black and whites and regular.  Nothing in between. And that’s how we liked it.

Most of that has changed; you can find “NY Style” black and whites here in Boston proper now, and they sell pretty good ones in nearly any suburban supermarket.  However, my need to make them well was still powerful, and a request from my wife was all I needed to try again.

I did use the Zabar’s recipe (printed in my favorite New York cookbook and the NY Times) as the base, but also consulted with the Joy of Baking‘s version, which was similar but had a few more interesting ideas.  I found it necessary to double the vanilla (always) and double the amount of lemon extract.   It seemed using the prescribed amount ended up with no lemon smell or taste at all, and it is supposed to figure prominently in the flavor.

There was also an issue with the chocolate color.  Just using semi-sweet chocolate (chips, for instance) and adding to the frosting resulted in a light-brown color, but the New York style are nearly black, so obviously something needed to be done.  I found that adding  cocoa powder neatly darkened the chocolate and in addition helped it retain a nice chocolate taste.   Lastly, the corn syrup was necessary to keep it all not just spreadable but smooth.  My first few were not smooth and but I realized how to fix that and then I was happy.

In terms of the cookies, because the recipe described using “just enough flour to make them workable,” I held out about a half cup of the flour mixture from the final product.  This I think resulted in a lighter, less dense cookie.   The only other thing to note was that the cookies, to be true new york style should be flat, not half-spheres, so if you’re aiming for complete fidelity, the ice cream scooper might not be what you want.    I found silicon mats and parchment paper worked equally well.

New York Style Black and White Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

The Glaze

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup  (more for chocolate icing)
  • 1 ounce bittersweet and milk chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (more for chocolate icing)
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder (for chocolate icing)

 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   (I found this recipe required more than two baking trays).

2. In a stand mixer, combine sugar and butter. Mix until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and lemon extracts, and mix until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixed. Add dry mixture to the wet, DO NOT OVERMIX. Using an ice cream scooper, place heaping spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.

THEN:

1. Place confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer. Gradually stir in just enough boiling water to the sugar to make a thick, spreadable mixture.  Add corn syrup and vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Adjust all those ingredients to taste.  You don’t want a grainy, sugary texture.

2. Add 1/3 the frosting to the top half of a double-boiler where you had previously melted the chocolate and corn syrup over simmering water. Warm the mixture, stirring, until chocolate is melted and frosting is smooth. Turn off the heat, but leave chocolate frosting over hot water to keep it spreadable. I used a spreader to coat using the vanilla, then a spatula to finish “smoothing” the warm chocolate side.  Let sit (if you can) to harden.  Let dry before eating, if you can.  I found the cocoa powder necessary to get the right chocolate color and the corn syrup to make it smooth.

Yield: 2 dozen large cookies.