Posts Tagged cookies

The Secret to Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are exactly the way I like them. Exactly.

I feel okay about cupcakes. I feel okay about muffins. I even feel okay about cakes (well, not frosting them, but making them). I feel okay about my ability to make them consistently. I feel like they’re products that, while I wouldn’t say I’ve “mastered” them, I feel confident that I can make them well.

But cookies? Cookies are something else.

Cookies are tough. They’re small and delicate. They burn easily. I have a hell of a time making them the same size and thickness. And it’s easier to mess a cookie up. Yes, if you accidentally add too much butter to your cake, it might turn out a little heavy. But if you add too much butter too your cookie it will spread out all over the pan into a thin, crispy, inedible mess.

And of all the cookies I’ve ever made, the ones I’ve had the most trouble with are chocolate chip cookies. Yes, the things I’ve been making since I was four – the baked good I’ve made more than any other. They’ve been a source of endless frustration – sometimes ending up dry and crackly, other times spreading out into paper thin circles. Even though I use the same recipe every time (the one on the back of the bag of Nestlé Toll House Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips), the actual finished product varies wildly.

For what it’s worth, I like a thick, hefty chocolate chip cookie, with a soft, substantial center and a slight crispness around the edges. I like them best right out of the oven, when they’re falling apart and melting and the centers are just barely set.

I had some girlfriends over Friday night for girl talk, wine and Apolo Ohno watching, and I did something I’ve always wanted to do – I popped up in the middle of the evening and made everyone a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. It made me feel like the best hostess ever – although I think they were humoring me more than anything (one of my friends was like “just let her be The Modern Domestic, guys”).

But I have a new weapon in my kitchen arsenal these days – I finally went out and bought a kitchen scale. And I would just like to say that every home baker should go out and get one right away. Immediately. They make baking so much easier; rather than messing around with measuring cups, you just pour everything into the bowl. And it’s so much more precise – rather than hoping that my “dip and sweep” cup of flour really is one cup, I know that I’ve added exactly five ounces of flour to my batter.

So this Friday, I converted the Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie to weighed measurements using an excellent set of conversion tables in the back of The Cake Bible. And the cookies came out perfectly – slightly mounded and soft in the center and crisp at the edges. For the first time in a long time, they were exactly the way I liked them. Because the tiniest changes in the portion of fat to flour to liquid matters so much in a cookie, the extra control that the scale affords can make a huge difference.

So go out. Buy that kitchen scale. And the first thing you can make are the Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookies – my converted recipe is below. Go fourth and weigh!

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Bake Sale: Cookie Plates for Valentine’s Day

Almond and Citrus Sandwich Cookies - 2

It's February. It's Valentine's Day. Don't we all need a cookie?

Someone suggested mid-December that I should have sold cookie plates for Christmas, since people are always looking for sweet treats to celebrate the holiday. But, think about it, wouldn’t you rather have cookies for Valentine’s Day? It’s after the holiday season, the weather is usually dreary, and I think people are much more in need of a little something to brighten their day. If you’re not in a couple, then you can get a plate to snack on with your friends while you drink champagne and celebrate the single life. If you have a partner or a family, you can have them for a lovely dessert. And if you want to give your coworkers a pick-me-up (let’s face it, if you’re working on health care reform you probably need it by now), then bring in a plate to share with the office.

So, I’ll be offering up plates of heart-shaped sandwich cookies for the holiday. The cookies are almond sugar cookies, flavored with citrus. They’re sweet and buttery and crisp, with a fragrant hit of lemon and orange. You can choose between two fillings – a sophisticated Cabernet filling, or a decadent and rich dark chocolate ganache. One plate is 20 cookies and costs $15.

To order and for details, just fill out this order form. If you have questions, shoot me an email at moderndomestic@gmail.com.

Almond and Citrus Sandwhich cookies - 4

Cabernet filling - sweet and rich with a boozy hit that marries perfectly with the crisp almond cookies.

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Weekly Roundup: Holiday Cookie Edition

Gingersnaps

It's cookie time. Now that's my kind of time.

What is it with the cookies? With the exception of an ice cream recipe (I can never resist a good ice cream recipe) all the recipes I want to try this week are cookies. I think that the holidays are just cookie time – people bring them to parties, they give them as presents, they put out plates of them at the office. Hell, even I posted a cookie recipe this week for salty and sweet chocolate thumbprints (which you should make because they’re a-mazing), and usually I’m more of a cake girl.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I haven’t done my holiday shopping. I haven’t even really thought about it. Is it acceptable to give one’s marathon-running sister and theater-loving brother trays of cookies for Christmas? No? I didn’t think so.

Recipes I want to try, as found on the Internet this week:

  • Polenta ice cream, from David Lebovitz. Can I just move to Paris and become his ice cream taste tester? Please?
  • Chocolate creme de menthe bars, from A Measured Memory. These seriously look like these mint brownies I used to get from Humble Bagel, this bagel shop across the street from my middle school. God those were good. And God, these look good too.

And in other news:

  • The Tipsy Baker shares her thoughts on “Cleaving,” Julie Powell’s new memoir about her obsession with butchering, and her extra-marital affair (and yes, that’s the same Julie Powell of the Julie/Julia Project).
  • The Arugula Files is asking for your input about what she should make from the farmer’s market.
  • Micheal Voltaggio wins Top Chef. It feels weird that that means nothing to me, after recapping Top Chef last season (I was rooting for Carla Hall, by the way). The Voltaggio brothers, both of which were Top Chef finalists, have launched a new Web site where you can keep tabs on the brothers. So you can . . . stalk them? Via Top Shelf.
  • The Washington Post published an investigation into Founding Farmer’s food sourcing (the restaurant has built its brand on the image that they get their food from small family farms). What did they find? Well, some of the food comes from small farms, but a lot if it doesn’t. It’s an interesting look at the difference between a brand promise and the reality of running a restaurant. And I’m still planning on going there with Miss. Nonnka, by the way.
  • The Washington Post publishes their holiday cookie guide. See what I mean? It’s cookie season.
  • Lemmonex posts her 500th post. It is a cause for celebration. And interviews.

Happy Friday!

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Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprints

These cookies did not survive for long after I took this photograph,

In case you missed it, yesterday the Washingtonian Web site featured ModernDomestic in their weekly “blogger beat” feature. The interview with reporter Emily Leaman was really fun to do – mostly because I got to do what I already do here: write about baking. Thanks for everyone’s feedback on the piece – your comments and kudos are very flattering. I’m touched.

However, I know what you’ve come here for, which isn’t to hear about my press coverage (well, except my parents, aka my biggest fans). And, really, I’d much rather be writing about the cookies I made for my friend Victoria’s going away party last Friday.

It was a bittersweet affair, since Victoria, a fellow choir member, was abandoning us for Boston. But it was also a party, and parties are generally fun, even if they celebrate departures. I decided that I wanted to make cookies, since I often overlook them in my current quest to make ever more complex and “impressive” desserts. Which is silly, because cookies are actually really hard to get right. The Washington Post just did an annual cookie feature and interviewed pastry chef Tiffany MacIssac on the complexities of cookies (check out my own interview with MacIssac here).

Maybe I don’t make cookies often because I, too, find them challenging. Take chocolate chip cookies. I can use the exact same recipe, and it will yield entirely different cookies – sometimes they’ll be thin and spread, and other times they’ll be chewy and thick.  Cookies are also prone to burning because they’re small and delicate – I’ve probably burnt more batches of cookies than all other baked goods combined. Plus it’s hard to make cookies pretty – my cookie dough is always rolled unevenly, or my drop cookies end up being all different sizes.

So yes, cookies are a veritable mine field of baking challenges. But, that being said, these salty chocolate thumbprints with chocolate ganache came out really well. Victoria’s party was well supplied with treats and food and I wasn’t sure they’d get eaten. But they were all gone by the time I left.

These cookies owe their magic to the salt, which brings out the chocolate and gives them an addictive salty-sweet quality. I adapted them from a Martha Stewart recipe, but decided to use my own ganache recipe for the filling. The ganache is fudgy and deeply chocolatey, and adds a rich, creamy note to the cookies.

My one note of caution is to not over bake the cookies – you want them to be soft and crumbly, and the centers should be fudgy. The soft cookies and rich ganache melts in your mouth, followed by hit of salt and sweet. Believe me, they’re a little unusual, but I find them completely addictive.

As I mentioned in the Washingtonian article, cookies make great holiday gifts, and any friend with a sweet tooth would be happy to receive a tin of these. Just take care – you may find yourself eating them all before you can package them away!

Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprints 2

Wouldn't you want to get these for Christmas? I know I would.

Recipe: Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprints

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March Shortbread Project, Take Three: Chocolate Chip Orange Shortbread

Shortbread Small

Orange chocolate chip shortbread. Simple, but perfect.

For the next installment of the March Shortbread Project, I made a rustic shortbread cookie studded with chocolate chips and flavored with orange peel. It didn’t look like a traditional shortbread cookie, which are usually shaped as narrow fingers, decorative squares, or thick wedges. Instead, this cookie looked like a regular drop cookie, with the same round and slightly lumpy shape.

I liked this unfussy shortbread – the crisp butter cookie married well with the soft and gooey chocolate chips, especially when they were right out of the oven. But this cookie was also a tease. When I see a drop cookie, I expect that it will be soft and chewy, with the texture of the classic Nestle Toll House cookie. I found myself disappointed that the texture of the shortbread drop cookie was crisp and crumbly, with a no-nonsense snappiness.

Still, as the week wore on and I was better able to accept this cookie for what it was, I found myself looking forward to them as an after-dinner treat. The chocolate-orange-butter combination is to die for.

I based the cookie on this recipe, but I made some changes. I omitted the orange extract, which I didn’t feel like buying, and upped the amount of orange zest to a full tablespoon. It may sound excessive, but you absolutely must add the full amount of zest – the orange makes the dough sing, and brings out the flavor of the chocolate.

Also, rather than adding a modest 8 ounces of chocolate chips, I dumped the whole 12 ounce bag in. After all, if you’re going to make a cookie with chocolate chips, why not go the whole hog? And this keeps me from eating the extra chocolate chips later (because you know that I can’t keep an open bag of chocolate chips in the house for long).

Shortbread Small 2

Chocolate Orange Shortbread
Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs grated orange peel
1 large egg yolk
3 tbs whipping cream
1 12 oz bag semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place sugar and orange zest and mix together until zest is evenly distributed throughout the sugar. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add yolk, then cream, and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until dough comes together. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by the tablespoon full onto prepared baking sheet, gently pressing down on the top of each cookie to flatten. Space 3/4 inch apart. Bake 20 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

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When Mint Oreos Go To Heaven

Chocolate Mint Cookies

These are mint Oreos that died and went to heaven.

 I have a mint addiction.

Or, to be absolutely clear, I have a chocolate and mint addiction, which I developed after a youthful love affair with Junior Mints. But chocolate and mint is such a special combination that I like to save it for really special times of year: Girl Scout Cookie Season and Christmas. So this Christmas Eve it only seemed appropriate that I should try my hand at a chocolate-mint dessert, given that I wanted to make something for the various Christmas parties we were attending.

I decided to recreate one of the most perfect expressions of the chocolate-mint combo: the mint Oreo. I chose this Epicurious double-chocolate sandwich cookie recipe and added a hint of mint to the white-chocolate filling. The key, I found, was to add enough mint so that it perfumed the filling, but didn’t overwhelm the white chocolate.

The recipe is a little time consuming,but none of it is especially difficult. I decided to follow my own advice and use properly softened butter that I didn’t heat in the microwave. I also creamed the butter and sugar together for a full six minutes. At the end of the creaming stage it was entirely different than what I was used to; the mixture was extremely pale and extremely fluffy, as though it was filled with a spunky soul all its own.

I also took the recipe’s advice and froze the cookies before I baked them, which helped them keep their shape. You’ll see in the “comments” section of the recipe that many people found the dough difficult to work with, but I didn’t think it was all that bad. I let the dough sit out at room temperature for ten minutes before rolling it out, which helped quite a bit. The dough did have a tendency to crack when I first rolled it out, but I patched the cracks together with my fingers. And if the cracks wouldn’t disappear, I simply cut out my cookies around them, with no harm done.

The only problem I had is that the cookies puffed up quite a bit as they baked. I’m not sure if this meant I mishandled the dough, but when I make these again I’m going to score the dough lightly with the tines of a fork and see if that helps.

Appearances aside, these cookies were just lovely. I like to think of them as mint Oreos that died and went to heaven.

Chocolate-Mint Sandwich Cookies Recipe

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The Secrets of Baking With Butter

martha-washington-cookies

Martha Washington's Shrewsbury Cakes are an old-fashioned butter cookie.

For all of you home bakers out there who soften your butter in the microwave (a sin which I am completely guilty of) take warning: your butter will never be the same! This New York Times article, which came out today, is all about butter. Not only did the Times staff taste-test butters, but reporter Julia Moskin gives you the scoop about how mistreating your butter can affect your baked goods.

After reading this article, I totally want to go back and re-bake all my baked goods that didn’t turn out so well (like the last time I made chocolate cupcakes, which came out too dry), and make them again with properly softened butter. Apparently you want your butter to be at 65 degrees, which is warm enough to spread, but not warm enough to melt. Also, you’ll have better results if you keep your butter-based dough extremely cold before baking.

If you’re in the mood for some additional Christmas baking, the recipies in the article look rather tempting. If I hadn’t just baked so many gingerbread ornaments this weekend (which hopefully I’ll update you on tomorrow), I would probably be baking these Orange Butter Cookies tonight.

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