More complicated than it needed to be

They didn't all fit on the table, let alone in the frame.

They didn't all fit on the table, let alone in the frame.

The current… mini-trend? trendlet? meme? on the food blogs is to comment/critique/test out the assertions made in the NY Times article about the perfect chocolate-chip cookie. It’s sort of the cookie equivalent of the no-knead bread phenomenon, except smaller scale. Never let it be said that I can’t be a sheeple when required. Or when cookies are involved.

In the article, there are a few other suggestions made to improve your odds of cookie perfection, but the main one is to age the dough 36 hours, which lets it dry out — the liquid is fully absorbed — and a drier dough makes for a more consistent cookie. It’s also supposed to add pleasant caramel notes and other good stuff, all of which should mean that the perfect chocolate chip cookies are really the ones that come in the tube in the dairy case at the supermarket, since they’ve been sitting around forever. Too bad about the preservatives, of course.

Like everyone else, I had to try this out. Also like everyone else, I went with my own chocolate chip cookie recipe — from here — since I know it works how I want it to work.

I put up the batter before work on Thursday morning with the intention of making them Friday evening. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men (and the possessors of heavily used ovens that are older than they are) often go awry. But more on that in a sec.

As you can see here, the dough is plenty moist, but it’s not very wet. The advantage of Beard’s recipe is that it has a reasonable butter-to-flour ratio, which prevents too much spreading, which in turn prevents you from winding up with ‘moonscape’ cookies — those bake sale standbys that are flat except for the chips.

Come Friday evening, I took the dough out of the fridge to warm up to room temperature while I got started on the other two batches of dough. After a quick canvassing of likely cookie eaters provided no requests/suggestions/preferences whatsoever, I opted for lemon-poppy and crispy salted oatmeal white chocolate, both of which are repeats.

The lemon-poppy come from this recipe, which are for orange-poppy but also provide the alternate suggestion for lemon-coriander, which is a very interesting and tasty variation — the lemon and coriander are extremely complementary. Here is my denuded lemon (have I mentioned recently how much I adore my microplaner — that Cook’s Illustrated sent me as a prescient gift for subscribing to their magazine?) and the sugar tossed with the resulting zest. This is a tip that comes from Dorie Greenspan, I think, or was at least attributed to her when I saw it, and the lady knows what she’s talking about when it comes to baked goods.

The butter-to-flour+sugar ratio for these is much higher, which makes for a softer, more delicate, cakier cookie. It also doesn’t make a lot of dough. so I opted to make smaller cookies. When I finally got to bake them. More on that in a second.

This is around the time I turned on the oven to pre-heat. My oven is a lovely extra-wide Magic Chef that accommodates my half-sheets with room to spare… and is older than I am and thinks it’s French, which means there are rules about how often it has to work. And, of course, those working hours may or may not coincide with when I want to use it. Now, granted, it worked just fine this winter when the boiler went out and I needed to cook for warmth, but it’s been downright persnickety in the warmer weather. Maybe it needs more regular exercise. I don’t know. All I know is that it wasn’t heating up, so I kept trying while starting the next batch of dough.

The oatmeal cookies were a bit of a why-the-hell-not sort of thing the first time I made them. I’ve been trying to find a decent oatmeal cookie recipe forever, but all of them seem to have that weird aftertaste. Also, I’m not wild about raisins in my cookies. I can’t say that white chocolate anything is something that appeals as a concept and I was quite skeptical about salting my cookies, but Deb over at Smitten Kitchen was over the moon when she blogged about these.

The first time I made these, I dutifully chopped up a bar and a half of Ghirardelli white chocolate. This time around, I went lowbrow and just got the Baker’s squares, since it’s still white chocolate and not “white chocolate.” Baker’s white chocolate had a food recall last year, but I checked dates (and they redesigned the package afterward to lose the stigma), so no blaming me.

The butter-to-flour+sugar ratio is pretty high with this one, too, but it doesn’t quite feel like you’re scooping buttercream on to the baking sheet since it’s got 2.5 cups of oatmeal — miraculously, the exact amount left over in my box.

It was now getting pretty late — late enough that I knew that even were the oven to actually ignite, I wouldn’t get all three batches of cookies baked. So I put the lemon-poppy batter in the fridge as the first casualty of the hour, figuring the lemon could use the extra time to permeate the dough. I kept trying the oven during clean-up and throughout the evening, finally giving up around 11pm. There might have been a tiny fit of pique that accidentally blew my stove pilot lights out. Which I didn’t realize until well into the next day.

A day later and a year older, I started the oven again… and got nothing except frustration. Finally, after five more hours of constant attempts, it started. Happy birthday to me.

With the oven finally heating up, I pulled everything out of the fridge. I was too relieved and too impatient to wait for everything to come to room temperature, so the chocolate chip dough — the first up — was not quite warm when it was molded and put into the oven. The first batch ended up a little overcooked — not burned, but a little harder than I’d like.

After fifty-six hours, the dough, when warmed, was still much more solid than I was used to — almost sandy, but not difficult to work with at all. Actually, much easier and less loose than the ‘fresh’ version, which I usually have to fight with to keep the chips in place.

I’m not sure how much the cold dough mattered beyond affecting cooking time, but I’d like to try this again when the oven isn’t on strike. The cookies were definitely denser and smoother and there was more browning action; I thought there was some improved taste, but it’s been a while since I’ve made these and, really, there’s no such thing as bad chocolate chip cookies when you’re working from Beard’s recipe.

(As a side note: one of the ‘tricks’ from the Times article was to make six-inch cookies, but those were based on a different recipe — not to mention some dubious concepts — and plate-sized cookies are just ridiculously impractical for dinner party desserts or any time you’re going to be offering a variety of cookie options.)

By the time I got to the lemon-poppy, they were definitely at their original texture — there was too much butter and not enough anything else to be significantly affected. These do feel like you’re dropping buttercream instead of cookie batter, but it’s not impossible to work with — just sticky and requiring two spoons and not quite being able to rely on gravity to do all the work.

As mentioned above, you don’t get a lot of batter out of this recipe, so I went with smaller cookies. Which works because they’re delicate and light, although next time I’d like to be better about getting them round. These aren’t representative of the oblong majority.

Apparently salting your cookies has been a trend for a while, but this oatmeal recipe was the first time I’d seen it in anything I was otherwise considering. But it was a surprisingly tasty addition. Not to the point that I missed it dreadfully in the ones I hadn’t salted, but much more exciting than overturning the salt shaker on my cookie dough.

Maldon salt can get some pretty big chunks, so I had to be watchful and break up the biggest pieces so that I wasn’t encrusting anything by accident. Deb suggests half a teaspoon, but I used less than half of that, choosing to err on the side of extreme caution. Also, because I didn’t want to have to keep explaining that the salt was intentional and not a matter of poor execution.

Here is where I wonder if the overnight in the fridge might have changed things a bit — the first time I made them, they were shattery and wonderful. This time, they were certainly tasty, but a little chewier and not really crispy. Not “chewy oatmeal cookie” chewy, but certainly more flexible. Maybe the oatmeal absorbed enough liquid to futz with things. Maybe I didn’t bake them long enough. Maybe I should have stored them differently. Do not know. I would like my oven to accommodate my baking whims so that I do not repeat this part of the experiment.

They were a lovely shade of golden, though.

… So, to conclude, I baked a lot of cookies, to mostly satisfactory effect. And my oven is spiteful.

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