Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cooking with Sara: A Recipe for Ego

Any of you who have spent much time with me know that I tend to be more self-deprecating than egotistical. Unless...I'm gushing about how spectacularly yummy my chocolate chip cookies are.

It all began way (way, way) back in high school when I needed material for a demonstration/how-to speech. I opted for making chocolate chip cookies - talk about ample visual aids and something I at least knew a smidge about before doing any research. As part of said research, I experimented with all kinds of recipes and read about different baking techniques. All this researched resulted in the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Perfect for me, that is. I won't claim that anyone else will like my version of the old standby, but hey, if you do, I'll like you that much more ;)

As such, I thought, why not share these findings with everyone else? They aren't rocket science; they're more a list of steps and tools that make the baking process that much easier and that much closer to success. First I'll share the recipe, and then I'll describe the steps and tools used. At any point along the way, you are welcome to shake your head and think, "Good Lord, she's incredibly obsessive. Baking should be more fun than this!" But hey, most of you already know that I'm Type-A, and in my own defense, baking really is a very precise and scientific act. :) Here we go!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
¾ c. butter flavor shortening, minus 1 Tbsp.
1 ¼ c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Milk
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
1 egg
1 ¾ c. flour
1 tsp. Salt
¾ tsp. Baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips
1 c. nuts, if desired

First ingredient - butter flavor shortening (Crisco) - is important. Butter is yummy and isn't hydrogenated, but just isn't stable enough to withstand the high temps of baking. Using shortening yields a chewier cookie that doesn't flatten as much during baking.

Second ingredient - brown sugar. Stick to C&H or Domino brand. They are two of only a few brands out there that don't package white sugar sprayed with molasses and label it "brown sugar." Go for the light brown sugar; dark brown sugar is spicier - think gingersnaps.

From there, the ingredients are standard, and what you have in your cupboard will work just fine.

Here are the steps for mixing up the dough. These are the basic steps for most cookie recipes, so once you learn them, you can repeat them with your other recipes.

1. Throw the shortening and brown sugar into your mixing bowl. (If you don't own at least the KitchenAid Hand Mixer by now, please consider buying something/anything from this brand!) I leave my mixer on Low Speed for the entire dough mixing process, and stop it every now and then to scrape the unmixed ingredients from the sides of the bowl down into the center. Another tip: throughout the mixing process, avoid letting your mixer churn the dough for minutes on end. It just needs to be mixed until the ingredients are combined and there aren't blobs of unmixed ingredients floating around in the dough.

2. Add the egg, and while that's mixing, add in the milk and vanilla. Again, let it mix until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, and salt. No need to sift them as other recipes may state. Call me lazy, but I just mix them with a wooden spoon, and (ego-alert:) my cookies turn out fabulously.

4. Slowly pour a small portion of the dry mixture into the wet dough. (If you forget to turn off the mixer first, it'll fling flour out of the bowl in a matter of milliseconds.) Let that portion get mixed in, stop the mixer to scrape the bowl sides, and add in another portion of the dry ingredients. Repeat this a few times until all of the dry ingredients are mixed in.

5. Toss in your chocolate chips (and optional nuts) and let the mixer clunk around mixing them in for a few seconds. (This is where a Kitchenaid shines - the motor won't burn up trying to mix bumpy chocolate chips into a stiff dough.)

Dough's done!! Grab a spoon and eat a nice big scoop of it while you're gathering the hardware:

AirBake Baking Sheet, a must for even browning and pretty, crackly cookie tops.

Cookie Scoop, optional but appealing to those of us who love symmetry and evenness :) These are also handy for making muffins and cupcakes. They'll also replace that melon baller you only use once every 2 years.

An oven with even temperatures - 75% of the ovens I've used have been off in temperature! (I measured mine last night at 30 degrees over the temp I selected, argghh!) Stick an Oven Thermometer Probe in there before baking to gauge how close yours gets to any specified temp. It's incredibly useful info!

Spray your cookie sheet with a light coat of cooking spray. Measure out a scoop of dough and scrape the bottom of the scoop against the mixing bowl for a flat, even bottom. Pop it out onto the tray and continue until your tray is filled, the dough balls spaced about 3" apart.

Bake at 375 for 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. Because you're going to be so obsessive as to rotate the cookie sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking process. Yessirree, you are. This helps to compensate for the fact that most ovens cook unevenly and are hotter in the back than in the front. After the initial 5 minutes are up, rotate your cookie tray and program your timer for an additional 4 minutes. From here, you'll have to monitor the time required to finish as this will depend somewhat on your oven. My batches typically require 9-11 minutes bake time. The cookies will be done when the tops look lightly browned, before the edges turn the shade of our aforementioned brown sugar.

Take out the cookie sheet and allow the cookies to cool to "warm" before sliding a spatula under them. This is also the perfect temp to snatch up some cookies to break in half to watch the chocolate chips make gooey strings. Tollhouse commercials, eat your heart out. Place them on a Cooling Rack to finish cooling before storing in a container.

One big tip: do not put dough onto a hot or very warm cookie sheet. Allow it to cool down a bit before beginning your next batch. A hot cookie sheet will melt the dough balls before they do their stint in the oven. You also do not need to re-spray the cookie sheets with cooking spray; just the initial coating will carry you through the baking process.

A note about SilPat and other silicone baking tray covers. I've tried them, and I don't see much difference. They didn't do enough of anything for me to warrant hassling with them and buying enough to have a few trays of cookies baking and cooling at any one time. Your pièce de résistance will be the insulated Airbake style cookie sheet.

Well, now the secret's out. I can no longer brag about my scrumptious cookies because you all will snap back, "We can do it too, Punchenella, Punchenella!" :)

1 comment:

  1. Update: C&H brand brown sugar is distributed by Domino brand. So if you're on the East Coast, it'll work too!!