Desserts

Sweet treats, involving sugar; likely cakes and cookies, and things that make people happy.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Vanilla Maple Frosting

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
Though Ireland is rich in heritage, I must say that my experience with both the nation and the holiday has been limited to savory experiences.   Needing to come up with something for an office pot luck, I turned to the world of baking to find something good to bring.   Apparently, putting Guinness Stout in cakes and bread is done quite widely, or at very least, lots of people write recipes about this combination.   Having read quite a few of them, I determined two things. One, I needed to buy some stout (and had no idea if that would be challenging on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, but then I remembered I live in Boston) and two that I was probably going to make cupcakes, not a cake.    I figured since beer-baking was new, I’d want to try it out before I shared it with a crowd.  You don’t really want to start slicing a cake just to see if tastes good.  In any case, they came out wonderfully and even my wife said they were as good or better than my signature best chocolate cake ever, which for me, was liking finding a pot of a gold at the end of rainbow. 

Ingredients/Cupcakes

Makes 24 Cupcakes.

  • 1 cup Samuel Smith Chocolate stout
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1/2 cup regular unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 + 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2+1/8 tsp of salt

Ingredients/Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp maple extract or a tablespoon of maple syrup

Directions

For the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray cupcake pan and use liners.

  1. In a saucepan, combine stout and butter, melt and then cool.
  2. Whisk together sifted cocoa and superfine sugar and add to stout-butter combo.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well.
  4. Add to stout mixture.
  5. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add to stout mixture.
  7. Whisk or just combine; use a #2 scoop to fill your cupcake trays.
  8. Whack your tray to reduce air pockets, place in oven for 22 minutes

For the frosting:Make sure ingredients are at room temperature

  1. Cream butter and cream cheese together.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar.
  3. Add vanilla, maple syrup extract and heavy cream, add a pinch of salt.
  4. Mix until smooth.

Transfer frosting to piping bag (or equivalent) and frost cupcakes.

Oatmeal Cookies: Third Time’s a Charm

oatmeal cookie dough on a cookie sheetMany of my readers know about my white-whale like obsession with making an oatmeal cookie like those found at Petsi’s, a bakery in Somerville, MA.  I have detailed in previous cookie recipes I have written here and here.  In those recipes I discuss how I discovered the missing ingredient was butterscotch extract (heartbreakingly discontinued by Frontier Co-op). However good the cookies may have been, they were not EXACTLY right for some reason.  This is despite soaking cranberries, using bread flour, and so much more.  Baking has brought out my inner competitive spirit, so I cannot rest until I have cracked the code, and I think I have finally cracked the code.

How? Unlike the other recipes, I started again from the beginning, and by that I mean I did not use my own previous recipes as a base, but experimented with others— I started with the Cook’s Illustrated/Baking Illustrated recipe for “Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies.” Of course, I changed it a lot since I like cranberries instead of raisins and completely reject their assumption that cinnamon should be jettisoned in favor of nutmeg. And of course, I added Frontier Coop Butterscotch extract, which was the best butterscotch extract anyone makes anywhere.  Aside from that, I had to make the following three changes:

  1. Ground Oatmeal! One thing that was stopping me was the use of whole oats.  All of the recipes and recipe writers that I respect say to use whole oats because they are better for you and have a better texture.  Those things are true, but after sampling and resampling Petsi’s cookies (what I do for you, readers) I realized that the cookie texture did not seem like mine, ergo not whole oats.   So, I ground whole oats in the cuisinart (not till dust, but no longer whole).  Bingo! Added a great flavor and texture that didn’t feel like someone trying to make me eat oats but not telling me!
  2. More Fat! Their cookies are soft in the middle and crispy outside.  I figure they have some other liquid or fat besides butter.  Oil?  Cream cheese?  Lard? Coconut oil? Many of these things were appealing thoughts, but ultimately they all changed the texture or flavor too much.  Through research I came across a solution: Sour cream.  Doesn’t change the flavor, but added a textural note that was heavily desired.
  3. Vanilla Paste!  Oatmeal cookie recipes NEVER have vanilla in them, but I don’t know why.  Vanilla makes everything better and my love has deepened when I found Vanilla bean paste, which is great for when you don’t want to add a tablespoon of liquid to your recipe but a plasma like paste is perfect.

Then I was ready.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups quaker whole rolled oats, ground by pulsing them in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk your dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and set aside.
  3. Chop or grind walnuts, add them and cranberries to flour mixture.
  4. In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sour cream about three minutes.
  5. Add both sugars and mix until fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs, one a time.
  7. Add the vanilla paste and butterscotch extract.
  8. Add dry  ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined.
  9. Use a 2-inch scoop to form your cookies.
  10. Bake for about 22 minutes, until the edges are just browned.
  11. Let cool for five minutes.

 

Oatmeal Cookie

 

Chocolate Macaroons

img_2061Of course, there were always coconut (plain) and chocolate macaroons for Passover when I was growing up and I always loved chocolate better until I discovered home-made coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate that were so much better.

Taking a page out of a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, I added some chocolate to a half batch of regular macaroons I had made.  After they came out it just so happened that I had some Ghiradelli White Melting Chocolate and a bit of coconut oil which I melted and dipped them in.

I just barely got the picture taken before they all dissappeared.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 (14-oz.) bags sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. bittersweet (and milk) chocolate, mixed and melted.
  • Tiny bit of salt, perhaps less than an 1/8th of a tsp
  • 2 Egg whites
  • 1/8th tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons of non-sweetened cocoa powder, sifted

FOR MELTING

  • White chocolate (for melting)
  • Coconut oil (for making the chocolate easier to dip)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients (except egg whites and cream of tartar) until thoroughly combined.
  3. Place two egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer until you can see foamy peaks. Fold into other mixture.
  4. Press dough into a soup spoon or small ice cream scoop or ball in your palm and place on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly brown. If you want them crispy on top, it will be more like 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven; let cool.
  7. If possible, submerge (dip) the macaroon in melted chocolate and place on a tray lined with wax paper. (Don’t even start me on tempering the chocolate, that’s a whole other thing).
  8. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving.

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones with Maple Vanilla Coffee Icing

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones, just browned and drizzled (well, covered) with maple-vanilla-coffee-cinnamon icing

I did not drink coffee in college, and it was only in my mid-twenties that I started going to a coffee shop every morning on my way to work.   There happened to be an incredible and locally-owned coffee shop near me in Washington Square called Beans, which served incredible coffee and homemade (if you can call commercially rendered products that) baked goods including what turned out to be my go-to order, a maple oatmeal scone.   Beans closed, and though I ordered a few more scones in my life, I figured my maple oatmeal days were gone.   However, Starbucks began offering them, and in doing so, caused a propagation of hundreds of copycat recipes all over the Internet.   Looking through a bunch of them, I was surprised by how much STUFF they all had in them– I seem to remember scones being simple– made of flour, salt, baking powder, butter and maybe a bit of milk or water.

I didn’t like any of the recipes, so I was forced to improvise one from a few different sources.  Some recommended using quick oats instead of regular, and some suggested grinding the oats– I left ’em whole.

I noted some used maple syrup extract and some used maple syrup.   I had both, so I figured why not?  I like the addition of pecans, but not on top, I thought they needed to be crushed.  Also, where’s the vanilla?

All the recipes do say- don’t overmix,  and cut it into 8 pieces (pizza style).  I did that I did find that they were beautiful, but I also found them to be way too big– for one serving, anyway.

As for the icing, though I am committed to the low arts, I did allow myself to ‘kitchen-sink’ it a bit– I did throw in a bunch of stuff.  But it does taste really good.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quaker oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup crushed pecans
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 Sticks) cold butter, cut
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp maple extract
  • 2 eggs

Icing

  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (salted)
  • 2 tablespoons Dave’s all-natural coffee syrup
  • 2 teaspoons maple extract
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup whole mil (+ up to 1/4 cup of milk to make the icing “pourable”)
  • 1/6 tsp of cinnamon

 

Directions:

In a bowl, combine your dry ingredients– flour, oats, pecans, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Add the cubed butter and use a pastry blender to mix.   Everyone says stop when you have just a few pea-shaped pieces of butter left but I often large malt-ball size pieces left, so I say stop when it gets to a cohesive place where you can likely lift it as one piece.

Assemble your wet ingredients in a 2 cup measure– buttermilk first, maple syrup, then eggs, vanilla and maple extract.  Whisk to combine and add to the dry ingredients DO NOT OVERMIX.   Shape into a pizza and cut 8 slices.   If too large, cut on the diagonal and make more, or if you had the presence of mind, make two round discs and cut into pizza slices.

Heat oven to 400 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes on parchment paper or slipat.   Take out and let rest for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  When cooled,  create icing by combining ingredients and using milk to ensure the icing is not hard but pourable.

I wanted to create an artistic drizzle, but instead I just painted the thing like it was Benjamin Moore Eggshell white and I had a roller.   If you’re disciplined, you can pipe on your icing, but whatever you do, try to let them cool and set.   Try to save some for morning coffee.

 

 

Best Gingerbread Ginger Snaps / Spice Cookies

PA-based spice cookie

Ivan’s Famous Spice Cookies, my childhood in a cookie

Thanksgivings of my childhood were spent with my maternal grandparents and almost always it meant a trip to Pennsylvania and Ivin’s Famous Spiced Wafers.   My cousins and I loved these cookies so much that even with all the food and family it always what we talked about in January.  “Why can’t we get more spiced wafers?”  They were addictive, and seasonal.  So we’d have to wait 11 months until our next fix. (They’re now available at Amazon.com)  When I started to bake, I never thought about making a spiced cookie, because I didn’t really know what it was.  Turns out, it’s pretty much a Ginger Snap cookie, also sometimes called a Molasses Cookie, depending on which of the bevy of spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg) or sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, molasses) is most prominent in your flavor.  I tried lots of recipes, some with real ginger, candied ginger, or even pepper in them.   Most of them were not very good.   Then my friend Carolyn (last name withheld to protect her secret) shared with me her “go to” ginger snap recipe and I was hooked.  Most of the recipes I post here are versions of other people’s recipes where I felt they could be improved, and so I improved them.  This is one of those rare recipes where there is nothing I can do to add to this recipe.  It is just about the most perfect recipe there is.  Of course, I’m a little heavy-handed with the butter, molasses and white sugar, but otherwise, it’s pretty much as written below.    The original recipe calls for a frosting, which I determined was not necessary and actually detracted from the cookies.

Whenever I make these, they always disappear, whether I cook them perfectly, or too long.   They are just that good.   I do make sure to do a few things, though.

  1. I always use Kate’s unsalted butter.  You may have a favorite, but that’s mine.
  2. Get your one egg to room temperature.
  3. Freshly grate your nutmeg, and don’t use powdered nutmeg.
  4. Make sure your spices are fresh.  If you don’t know if the company that made your spices is still in business, it makes sense to go shopping.
  5. Chill your dough before you roll it, and keep the cookies small.  They better “crack” that way, which gives them a distinct and pleasing look.

 

 

gingerbread cookies, molasses cookies, spiced cookies

Ginger bread cookies– chilled first, then rolled and baked, have distinct ‘cracked’ look.

  • 1 cup sugar (for cookies), plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. In a stand mixer, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with unsalted butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and molasses.

2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and spices. Incorporate by whisking well.

3. Add to butter/molasses mixture and mix only until blended.

4. Chill dough if possible (leads to a better ‘cracked’ look in my opinion)

5. Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break off pieces of dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake about 9-10 minutes for soft, ‘ginger bread’ cookies and 11-13 minutes for ‘ginger snap’ cookies.   Let cookies set on a cooling rack (which is nearly impossible).   The dough freezes pretty well, but they generally don’t ever see a freezer.

Final note— I have experimented with using brown sugar and it doesn’t do anything for the cookies, so don’t bother.   I find blackstrap molasses is the best kind, and it should flow pretty freely from the bottle.

World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

World’s Best Apple Cake (The best dessert that’s not chocolate or ice cream)

  • World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

    The World’s Best Apple Cake, baked, and topped with confectioner’s sugar

    World's Best Apple Cake with Streusel Filling and Topping

    Apple Cake before baking–bundt pan and streusel showing

Of all the things people ask me to make, and I oblige, the World’s Best Apple Cake is at the top of the list (second only to the World’s Best Chocolate Cake).   Many apple baked goods suffer from a lack of cohesion— apple pies (and their ilk) often feature hard or brittle crusts with soft sugary apples in them.   When the crust and pie filling aren’t married (but crash into each other) there is a discordancy that I find highly unsatisfying.    On the other hand, the term apple cake brings up the idea of some kind of bad grandmotherly offering– some kind of dry, crumbly thing that has as much apple flavor as a dry martini has vermouth.

On the other hand, this cake has it all– deliciousness, moistness, crunchy yummy streusel topping, and of course, rich and real apple flavor. It comes from the The Cookie Shop and the original recipe is here.  Many recipes called “the best” aren’t even close, but this one really takes the cake (:]).  Seems like that recipe was adapted from an original Martha Stewart recipe (who got it from someone else) which confirms that everything has been done, but still it’s a great recipe.

However, as always, I found it necessary to make a few tweaks.

  1. I use slightly less cinnamon and more vanilla, salt and sugar.
  2. I only use Honey Crisp apples (in a pinch I’ll use Pink Lady or Fuji, but I try to stay on Honey Crisp).
  3. I added a streusel layer that I added to the bottom, the middle and the top (see recipe below).
  4. I have consistently found that baking time maximum is 75 minutes (the original recipe says 75-90 minutes).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (the original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon but I can’t fit the tablespoon measure in the bottle of cinnamon, so I just take the easy way out).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3-4 honey crisp apples (you can substitute your favorite apple, but HCs are the perfect balance of sweet-tart), chopped. [Editor’s note: probably three or four cups of chopped apples is the right amount]
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside (you’ll have to empty it out after a while if it pools on the bottom)
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until satiny and lemon-colored, about five minutes.
  4. Add dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Chop the apples by cutting the apple’s sides off and then dicing finely; you should end up with three-five cups of diced apple. (I leave the pieces rather large, but the size is up to you and your knife skills.   The apples cook all the way through so don’t worry about crunch factor).
  6. Add apples to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack.
  9. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack
  10. When cool, sift powdered sugar on top.  (Cookie shop shows the cake with sugar on top but doesn’t list it as a step or an ingredient; I have been asked to top the cake with cream cheese frosting but so far have refused).
Streusel Topping*:
1/4-1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 cup butter
pinch of salt
1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine pecans, flour, brown sugar, vanilla and unsalted butter and salt, to taste, in the Cuisinart or equivalent.
Grind to till combined, paste-like but not paste.
Lay in the bottom of the bundt pan; pour on batter about 1/3 full.  Add another “stripe” of streusel.”  Fill the bundt pan with the remaining batter, then top with the rest of the streusel topping.
*This is totally improvisational, and all amounts are approximate.  I usually don’t measure at this part, so you’ll have to find the amounts that work for you.  I find it hard to get it wrong.

Father’s Day Sugar Cake: Part Three of the Butterscotch Triology

sugar cake, perfect cake, father's day dessert, robert deutsch cake, simple dessert, perfect easy dessert, egg whites

Old Fashioned Sugar Cake as developed by the website chocolatechocolateandmore.com. Fantastic!

This simple and delicious dessert was made for Father’s Day, and is the third of my dessert recipes to feature butterscotch extract. (Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip cookies being the first and second). I’m not sure how I found this recipe (think it was through some kind of Pinterest investigation) but I am glad I did.  It was from a site called chocolatechocolateandmore.com, so you know it’s good!  Warning: it contains no chocolate.

The recipe was near-perfect, but as always, I had to go and mess with it.   A couple of tweaks were necessary, not least of all was the elimination of the cast-iron pan, as mine recently broke (snapped, really).  Of course, increasing the vanilla and salt levels (this worried me at the batter stage, but paid off at the cake stage).   Lastly, I added 1/8 tsp of butterscotch extract (Frontier brand), which is a bit of guilding the lily—you can leave it out and it makes for a great, simple dessert.  But I thought it needed just a tiny little bit more personality.   Also, I found myself wondering what it would be like if I beat the egg whites (to stiff foamy peaks) with the sugar separately and then folded them into the rest of the recipe.  I didn’t try it, but that is how egg whites are frequently used in baking this type of light dessert.

My one big deviation from the recipe as written was to add a cup of sugar to the shortening, milk and vanilla combo, rather than add it all to the wet ingredients with the dry.  I felt it was necessary.  Did it make a difference?  I think when you can cream or semi-cream your sugar, you eliminate the possibility of that granular mouth feel.

Despite my track record of putting great desserts on table, my family doubted this would be a dessert they would like.  After all, it’s not chocolate, and what is it, really? Plain cake?  But no, as its original author contends– it’s melt in your mouth delicious.  Might I need to add a streusel layer (one of my other obsessions)?  Most likely.     This is also a great cake as a base– for covering with strawberries, or strawberry filling (like that from my version of hand pies) or some other kind of sweet confection.  If you have a good maple syrup, you might substitute for that for the butterscotch.

As for whether this is better in the morning, it will be hard to tell, since my family of four almost completely cookie-monstered the cake last night, which rarely happens.

So if you have a Father (or Father substitute) that you want to make happy, this a great recipe: simple and quick.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp butterscotch extract
  • confectioner’s sugar for covering

Instructions

  1. Cream together shortening and milk for about 3 minutes, (it will look like small curd cottage cheese.)
  2. Add in 1 cup of a sugar and the vanilla.   Continue to mix.
  3. in a separate bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add flour, one third at a time to the milk mixture, blending well after each addition.
  4. Add in egg whites, beating just until all combined.
  5. Pour batter into a greased and floured (not sprayed) 9 inch round cake pan.
  6. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 40-45 minutes (mine was ready at 43) or  test for doneness.
  7. Let cool on wire rack for at least 45 minutes before serving, cover top with powdered sugar.

After cooling, I ‘heavily dusted’ the top with powder sugar, covering the top like a ski-chalet after a heavy Vermont snow.  The original recipe called for a dusting, but I thought it needed more.  Some in my house suggested it needed frosting, but I am not among those who agree.  However, you can check out this simple vanilla cream frosting recipe (at the bottom of this chocolate cake recipe) if you like.  Otherwise, Happy Father’s Day!

Chocolate Chunk, chocolate chip cookies, perfect chocolate chip recipe

Sublime Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chunk, chocolate chip cookies, perfect chocolate chip recipe

Chocolate chip cookies, made according to best practices: crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside, full of chocolate and delicious.

Or How to Make the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.

If you knew me, you would know that there was period in my life where I was obsessed with creating the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  This particular obsession stayed with me for about two years. During that time I continually asked the question, how could one chocolate chip cookie be so different from another?   Having eaten my way through scads of cookies at bake sales, restaurants, bakeries and neighbors’ houses, I was struck by why one cookie, be it a cellophane-wrapped one at a nearby deli was so dry, crumbly and flavorless,  while just a few doors down at another place they were chewy in the center, crispy on the outside and delicious in every way to the point that you wanted to eat the wax paper it came in.  Everyone is basically using the same ingredients: flour, butter, vanilla, salt and chocolate, how could the cookies be so different? Was there a secret ingredient?

If you care about food then you have asked this about lots of things.  The English can’t figure out why Americans can’t make proper tea, and that can have as little as three ingredients.  Simple black coffee differs from restaurant to restaurant and house to house and from coast to coast.  I hypothesized that if the quality of the ingredients was better, the overall end product would be correspondingly better.  So I commenced my experimentation by trying out what looked like the best of everything: premium chocolate, eggs that came from chickens within hours, farm milk and butter, expensive flour and premium vanillas.  Cooks Illustrated did a vanilla taste test that concluded that McCormick’s (the kind available in most markets) was the best for things that will be cooked at high temperatures (e.g. cookies).

With that, and my anecdotal experience that home bakers routinely turn out better cookies than Whole Foods, I decided to research equipment and techniques.  There is a lot to both.   King Arthur Flour did an experiment on the complexion of your pan and the difference between parchment, silicon mats and lightly greased pans has been written about extensively.   The Cook’s Illustrated recipe recommends periods of rest between beatings to allow the air to infuse properly into the cookies.  Epicurious (et al) recommend chilling your cookies, especially if they have a high fat (butter) content.

Ultimately, the right chocolate chip cookie for a person is exactly like the right bed.  Everyone’s likes are different, and vary based on age and may continue to evolve.   The perfect cookie may not be an objective, achievable thing, but I do believe it is possible to make a great and distinct cookie that will win over most people.   After years of experimentation, I finally found one I’m ready to share, though I can hardly take credit for it.   Most people I know well enough to ask them about their chocolate chip cookie recipe either use the Toll House recipe (which is fine) or one of the three Cook’s Illustrated recipes.   I have made them all repeatedly for years and they turn out predictably good cookies all the time.

But I was not satisfied, and had to continue to experiment.  Luckily, even mediocre chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven are good to eat, so experimenting was not a hardship.   I kept seeing recipes I had to try– there’s even one on the box of baking soda!  Finally, I noticed one on the Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip bag (duh) and with a few tweaks, it made the perfect cookie for me (and the people in my immediate circle of friends who are subject to trying such things).   It was pronounced “the bingo” and “best.cookie.ever.”     So I figured it was time to share with you.

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 1/4 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 HEAPING teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 11 .5 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips  (use 7 oz chips and 1 bar [4 oz] choppeda semi-sweet bar) or you could use a whole bag of chips, if you’re lazy
  • 1 cup butter (I use Kate’s unsalted butter), browned (which comes after simple melting) and cooled.
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ~Three drops of butterscotch extract (about 1/16th teaspoon).
DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 350ºF
  2. Stir flour with baking soda and salt and chocolate, set aside
  3. Using a stand mixer, combine sugars, and then add browned butter.
  4. When completely mixed, add eggs one at a time
  5. Add vanilla and butterscotch, mix well.
  6. Add dry ingredient by mixing by hand with a spatula (I have stopped using the mixer to combine wet and dry ingredients, and find that it is significantly important to the final texture)
  7. Refrigerate for a few hours (but feel free to eat some cookie dough before you put it away).
  8. When ready, use a 2-oz scooper to make rather large cookies.
  9. Place 9 to a sheet. (I use parchment paper and a cushion-air baking pan)
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes.
  11. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, for the cookies to set

So even though this recipe comes from mostly from Ghirardelli,  I wanted to discuss the things that make it different from your standard Toll House recipe, including the three tweaks I made, which come from various places.

  1. The melting of the butter comes from Cook’s Illustrated, who suggest that browning the butter (so that it produces an almost nutty smell) produces a great cookie.  They are right.
  2. Using chopped chocolate instead of all chocolate chips was inspired by an almost perfectly written piece over at Serious Eats, a website you should visit all the time if you care about what you eat.   They say you should use ALL chopped chocolate which I agree with, but also like the mixed up texture of using both.
  3. Not sifting the flour is a counter-intuitive step for a baker, but seems to work wonders, and is in the original recipe.
  4. Adding Butterscotch is of course, my own obsession.  (I recommend Frontier brand, which is available at Amazon and probably your local health food store. Do not use artificial butterscotch flavor).
  5. More Salt and Vanilla. I’m probably using closer to 3/4 teaspoon of salt than a 1/2, but I use the 1/2 teaspoon and get a big heap on it.   When combined with butterscotch and more vanilla, these three ingredients give the cookies a deep and soulful flavor that is intense and satisfying.
  6. Using 11.5 oz of Chocolate.  Standard bag of chips is 12 oz and the Ghirardelli baking bars come in 4-oz sizes (unless you get the massive high-end bars, which come in all kind of sizes). Before this recipe, I used a fat cup (9 oz) of semi-sweet chips, but measuring out 11.5 ounces was a revelation.
  7. Making them big.   It’s a cliche to say go big or go home, but I feel like when I’m making desserts for the crowd, make ’em big.  Why make little cookies?  It’s more work!   Also, if you make ’em big it’s more likely that you can achieve that crispy on the outside soft in the middle perfection that most people love.    I end up with a nine to a tray, instead of 12.

Lastly, a great cookie dough is an important part of your arsenal.  Not just for baking cookies, but for eating straight, as I love to do.  I spent much of my youth eating out of a roll of cookie dough purchased from the supermarket. Only in my thirties did I realize I could make my own which would be better and free of high-fructose corn syrup anytime I wanted, and I could freeze it so I would always have it.

If you are like me, and obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, you may find as I did, that here is so much to read, that it’s hard to know where to start or where to stop.  Epicurious, the Huffington Post and Bon Appetit have great articles about what to do and not do and besides my recipe, maybe the only things you need. For now, anyway.

chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chunks, perfect cookies

Sublime chocolate chip cookies. Better than any other–even if the photograph isn’t going to win any awards.

 

 

 

 

Even Better than Perfection Oatmeal Cookies

Butterscotch, cranberries for perfect oatmeal cookies

Butterscotch Extract and Apple Juice-infused Cranberries, ridiculous but necessary

I wrote earlier of my quest to make the perfect Oatmeal Cranberry Cookie, pushed forward to insane measures by the nearly perfect cookie available from Petsi’s Pies in Cambridge, MA.  Though my first attempts resulted in an excellent cookies, I knew that I could do better, and in fact, had to do better.   So I kept trying out recipes.  Of course, when you’re experimenting with cookies you realize there’s almost no such thing as a bad oatmeal cookie.  You just eat your mistakes.  No one was complaining, but I wasn’t satisfied. I was trying for a particular taste and texture.  In other words, on a mission from God.    Remembering a chocolate chip recipe that used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, I started looking specifically for an oatmeal cookie recipe that used bread flour and found one at Averiecooks.com (that was itself modified from a Land O’Lakes recipe). I use Kate’s for all my butter baking, just FYI, but this was a great recipe. Of course it needed some tweaks.  A little more butter, salt, vanilla and natch, the secret ingredient of butterscotch.   I think 1/4 tsp is the right amount but if someone tasting it immediately says “these have butterscotch in them!” you’ve used too much.

Keep your butter and eggs and room temperature. If you can’t find infused cranberries, you can always just buy regular and soak ’em.  I used to soak them in a vanilla/water base for 30 minutes but ultimately I found that it didn’t hurt to use them dry.  But if you want people to ask for you the recipe (as I was asked for) than you go that extra few miles.

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp butterscotch extract
  • ~2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4  heaping teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole rolled old-fashioned oats (not quick cook)
  • 1 cup apple juice infused cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sugar for about five minutes and add the egg.
  2. Add the rest of the wet ingredients slowly; vanilla and butterscotch extract and mix till incorporated.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix some but NOT ALL of your dry ingredients: the bread flower, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a third bowl you can mix your cranberries and walnuts.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients inside the stand mixer bowl, but ignore the paddle and mix with a spatula (I find this better than mixing it with the stand mixer).
  6. When sufficiently mixed, add your oats.
  7. Then add the cranberry-walnut mixture.  Mix with the paddle attachment but DO NOT OVERMIX.  Just enough to to ensure incorporated ingredients.
  8. Transfer mixture to cellophane wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, but ideally overnight.
  9. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Non-Stick Baking Mat set aside.
  10. Use a cookie/ice cream scoop to form mounds, but after you’ve set them up (I get about 12 to a tray) use a metal spatula sprayed with PAM to flatten the cookie.  I found this necessary because otherwise the mound of cookie doesn’t melt to the proper width (for my taste).  I am aiming for a crispy and chewy cookie; the mounds end up softer and chewier; flattening them allows more crispiness.
  11. Bake for 13-15 minutes (depending on your oven, your cookie tray and your altitude). For more on the difference between your pans and baking time, read this incredible article from King Arthur Flour.
  12. Let the cookies set up on the tray, at least five minutes, before transferring them to another location, like a cookie rack, or your mouth.

This recipe is dedicated to Mike B, Justin and F.Y. Ruts, and the guys from the Chinatown Collective.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

coconut_macaroons

Manischewitz Coconut Macaroons

coconut macaroons, passover, gluten-free

Before they can be dipped, the coconut macaroons must be cooked to a toasty, hash-brown looking perfection

Growing up on the East Coast, we always looked forward to Spring because it meant freedom from snow (which would be black and dirty by April),  and the Passover/Easter holidays, which themselves brought candy, days off from school and special visits with relatives.    As far back as I can remember, Macaroons were one of the things I most looked forward to.   The Manischewitz brand came in Coconut and Chocolate and later on, Chocolate Chip, and were, in my opinion, the top of the line until I tasted one from a bakery on Long Island called Bruce’s.  Like the Wizard of Oz going to color from black and white, my world was rocked when I ate this magnificent morsel, which I instantly awarded the designation of Best Macaroon of All Time. They were shaped like a pregnant traffic cones and were dipped in chocolate.  They were crispy on the outside like a coconut hash-brown, but moist on the inside.  The chocolate was not too sweet and was perfect complement to the coconut.  The chocolate had a sensational mouth-texture to it, requiring a firm bite but rewarding you with melty mouthful.    Any pilgrimage to New York always included a trip to Bruce’s to get these incredible treats, and it was always with great woe that I noted they were gone, because it meant 1) I no longer had any of them and 2) I had gained 10 lbs.

I tried often to recreate them, but never succeeded.    I had mostly given up on trying when I attended a seder and I tasted a macaroon that was just as good, if not better than my beloved Bruce’s.  I begged for the recipe, which is here below, and I’m glad I did, because shortly after the next year’s Seder, Bruce’s inexplicably closed its doors.

Bruces Cookbook. Long Island Desserts, Bakeries

The Bruce’s Bakery Cookbook. Worth getting, but doesn’t have the macaroon recipe

Had I not had this recipe, I’m sure I would have given up all hope of ever eating a chocolate dipped coconut macaroon ever again.     The recipe is not complex, but does require ingredients you likely don’t have at home (condensed milk?).  Using an ice cream scoop I found was very helpful, but I have yet to recreate the traffic cone shape of the original.

Though it is obvious, I must remind you that this is not health food.  Some people might assume that if a dessert is flour-free and made with coconut that it could conceivably be healthier or lower in calories than other desserts.  But in this case, that is absolutely not true.  In fact, this is a true diet-buster, so proceed with caution.  Make sure you have a place to bring these, because you don’t want them sitting on your counter, taunting you to eat every last, absolutely delicious one of them.

 

 

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 (14-oz.) bags sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. bittersweet (and milk) chocolate, mixed and melted.
  • Tiny bit of salt, perhaps less than an 1/8th of a tsp

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until thoroughly combined.

3. Press dough into a soup spoon or small ice cream scoop or ball in your palm and place on baking sheet.

4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly brown. Remove from oven; let cool.

5. If possible, submerge (dip) the macaroon in melted chocolate and place on a tray lined with wax paper. (Don’t even start me on tempering the chocolate, that’s a whole other thing).

6. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving.