As many of you know, I have fine-tuned my recipe over the years until I have reached what I consider the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  But my obsession doesn’t even come close to this person.  Read and fine-tune to get your perfect version of chocolate chip cookies:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/09/04/345530660/the-science-behind-baking-your-ideal-chocolate-chip-cookie

And in case you want my recipe, here it is.  Pay close attention to the process – it really makes a difference.

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9/20/11: I just tried something new with my chocolate chip cookie recipe and it turned out so amazing I have to record it. The background of this is that I was at Shakespeare in the Park this summer, and overheard a woman behind me talking about how she had baked her chocolate chip cookies for their picnic. I was so amazed at what I heard, I had to turn around and talk to her, and eventually she offered me a cookie to taste what she was talking about. They were AMAZING!  It boils down to two simple tips:

Tip #1: BROWN the butter before you mix the dough. Just melt it in a sauce pan and keep stirring it until it starts to turn brown. This takes about 5-6 minutes. Be sure to cool it before you add the eggs, so they don’t cook in the heat of the butter. I used salted butter.

Tip #2: Instead of 1 tsp. of regular salt mixed with the flour, toss in a teaspoon of coarse sea salt when you mix in the chocolate chips and nuts. If you wish, sprinkle a few grains on top of each cookie before baking.

The cookies gain a toffee-like richness, and the counterpoint of the pops of salt against the chocolate are divine.  I remember the woman saying that she had gotten the recipe from The Barefoot Contessa. I’ve looked in some of her cookbooks but haven’t found it — at least not yet.

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Preheat the oven to 375 F.

2 sticks butter (1 cup), melted but not hot (to brown it, see Tip #1 above)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix these ingredients together with a spoon, NOT a mixer — you don’t want air in this dough.

Mix together (don’t sift):

1 cup all-purpose flour (I prefer unbleached) plus*
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups ground oatmeal (you can grind it in the blender; be sure to press it down in the measuring cup so it’s not fluffy)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (If you are using coarse sea salt wait and mix it in with the chocolate chips and nuts in the next step — see Tip #2 above.)

* (Or, just use 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour)

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  (You might want to start with the lesser amount of oatmeal flour, and add more if needed.) The dough should NOT be shiny or runny; it will be soft but firm enough to hold its shape.  If you have to add a bit of flour, add it one spoonful at a time, stirring after each spoonful, until the dough is no longer shiny.

Stir in:

1 12-oz. package chocolate chips (or better, half chocolate chips and half larger chunks of chocolate) (you can use milk or semi-sweet, your preference)
At least 1/2 cup of nuts (walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts), more if you love nuts
Sea salt (see above)

Now, the perfection is in the baking. First make a test cookie:

Drop a spoonful of dough (about 1-1/4″ in diameter) in the center of a baking sheet.

Put it in the freezer for about 5 minutes, just until the surface of the dough is firm.

Remove from freezer to oven and bake for 8 to 8-1/2 minutes. (You preheated the oven to 375 F, right?)

At this point, the top should not be shiny (no raw dough in the center) and the edges and high points over the nuts are just turning golden. If the center is still gooey, bake for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. The edge of the cookie should curve around and under, like a “D” and the top should be flat. Freezing the dough helps make this happen — it slows the melting of the dough and helps avoid dreaded “Overcooked Edge Syndrome” which occurs when the edge melts flat onto the cookie sheet and overcooks. If OSE happens, put a couple more tablespoons of flour into the uncooked dough and make another test. Also, be aware that the consistency of the cookie will be different if you don’t put nuts in it, so if you don’t use nuts you may need to add even a bit more flour to make up for the architectural support that nuts provide.

When you remove the cookie sheet from the oven, let it sit with the cookies on it for a couple of minutes (preferably on top of the stove, where the heat from the oven will keep the cookie sheet warm a little longer) so that the heat of the cookie sheet cooks the bottom of the cookie just a bit longer and makes it slightly crispy, while the top stays chewy. This is important: don’t leave the cookies in the oven longer because this will cook the whole cookie, and you will lose the gooey chewiness that makes these cookies so good. When you can touch the cookie sheet, remove the cookies to a rack or paper towels for cooling. One last tip: cool the cookie sheet completely before putting dough on it again, so it doesn’t melt the raw dough you’re about to put on it.  I usually run cold water over the back of it for a second or two to cool it.

Once you have your dough consistency and timing right, the rest of the baking is easy: drop the dough by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets, and freeze each sheetful of cookies while the previous batch bakes.

The result is a perfectly creamy, chewy chocolate chip cookie, with a slightly crisp bottom that helps hold that chewy cookie together long enough to get it from cookie sheet to serving plate to mouth, where it then melts like nirvana.

This may sound like more trouble than it really is, but it’s easy when you get into the rhythm of load cookie sheets – put in freezer – bake – cool and it is worth the little extra effort. These cookies are dense, chewy and slightly crispy on the bottom. They don’t really soak up milk if dunked (no air in the dough, no pockets for milk), but served with cold milk “chasers” there’s perhaps nothing better on earth. (Okay, so I’m a total chocolate chip cookie junky…………)

The Perfect Bedtime Drink

February 12, 2014

Chamomile tea, warm milk and a shot of almond . . .  ZZZZZzzzzzz z z z  z zz

Spiros, lately I’ve been having a bit of a hard time sleeping, so anything that helps me along is welcome.  I’ve been drinking chamomile tea for its relaxing properties.  Warm milk, ditto.  Lately I’ve been adding a touch of sugar and a drop or two of almond extract to the milk — YUM!  And I like a little milk in my chamomile tea, too.  Last night it hit me: mix all three.  A cup of chamomile tea, with a little milk, with a touch of sugar and a few drops of almond extract (I suppose you could use amaretto liqueur).  The flavors of almond and chamomile blended beautifully and it turned out to be just what the title says.

And I could hardly keep my eyes open.

R 🙂

greek yoghurtSpiros, the other day I stumbled across this video about how to make Greek yoghurt and decided to try it. It worked PERFECTLY — ridiculously easy to make and about half the cost of buying it at the store.   Plus you don’t dump all those plastic yoghurt containers in a landfill.

http://video.about.com/greekfood/How-to-Make-Greek-Yogurt.htm

A couple of tips — don’t strain it too long or it gets stiff like cream cheese.  If it does go too far, you can stir back in some of the whey that drained off.

Also, I found that beating it with a mixer makes it creamier.  You can beat in some fruit to make a fruit-added yoghurt just like you buy in the store.  Try bananas, bananas & peanut utter, peaches, or whatever is ripe and handy.  If you feel it needs sweetening, add a little bit of brown sugar,  or honey.   YUM!!!

A couple of notes:

I just warmed the milk, didn’t boil then cool it.

To strain, I used two layers of kitchen towel in a colander (wash and re-use them, one less thing to dump in that landfill).

Start at breakfast: Warm the milk while you’re preparing breakfast.  Cook soft- or hard-boiled eggs, or heat water for coffee or tea, then use that boiling water to rinse the jar where you’re going to put the warmed milk.  Prepare the milk/yoghurt mixture as shown in the video, then leave it until you come home.  While you’re preparing dinner, put the yoghurt in the strainer.  By the time you have finished the dishes it’s done.  Put in the fridge and Voila! the next morning you have your own fresh, homemade greek yoghurt waiting for you.

(Here’s a trick for keeping the yoghurt warm: I put it in the oven with no heat — just the light on.  The light is just enough to keep the temperature about 80 degrees in the oven.  This is also how I keep my sourdough culture warm when I feed it, and bread dough warm when it is rising.  BE SURE TO PUT A NOTE ON THE SWITCH THAT TURNS ON THE OVEN to remind yourself that the stuff is in there, so you don’t turn on the oven and kill the culture, or set something on fire.)

For creamier yoghurt, beat it with a mixer.  Mix in bananas or fruit jam for fruit yoghurt.

Remember to save the last 1/4 cup of yoghurt to start the next batch.

A half gallon of milk makes about 2 cups of yoghurt.  That’s about half the cost of buying it.

Red Velvet Cake

November 27, 2012

Spiros, for years I have been asking red velvet cake enthusiasts the question “What’s the point?”

I just didn’t get it.  Why muck up perfectly good chocolate cake with a bunch of red food coloring that adds chemicals but doesn’t improve the flavor in any way?

Until recently, no one could give me a reasonable answer.   A few weeks ago, someone came up with “It’s a lighter chocolate, and the red just makes it prettier.”  At least it was straightforward.

Then the November/December 2012 issue of the Mensa Bulletin arrived in the mail the other day.  Lo and behold, there is an entire 6-page article on the history and raison d’etre of red velvet cake! Turns out, before the invention of red food coloring, the red in the cake came from the reaction of buttermilk with cocoa. And the point of using buttermilk was to tenderize and leaven the cake — in other words, to make it light and fluffy.

Here’s the article, complete with a recipe that I can’t wait to try — including ermine frosting that uses 2 entire pounds of butter.

Red Wine Velvet Cake

Reason enough to host a holiday party, I say.