Okay, guys, I swear this place won’t become a mommy blog, but let’s just resign ourselves to the fact that I will be using the baby as an excuse for all kinds of things, like being the last person in the food blogging universe to write about David Leite’s Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie, published in the The New York Times way back in July. I wish I could be one of those incredibly smart-like people who reads the NYT from front to back even though they live in California (at least on Sundays), but I’m just not there yet. And by “yet” I mean “ever”. But I will check in with the food section online from time to time, especially when my beloved LRK makes mention of something that appeared in its pages on her delicious NPR show The Splendid Table.
It’s like heaven kissed the Toll House cookie–all crisp edges and tender, chewy interior, rich with butter and brown sugar and generous amounts of chocolate. Speaking of the Toll House recipe, bakers have been tooling with this gold standard chocolate chip cookie ever since its introduction in 1934, all chasing consistently delicious results. Because c’mon, even though the recipe hasn’t changed over the years, we’ve all baked underwhelming batches of these iconic cookies. Too crunchy, too brown, oddly puffy, not enough chew, too crumbly, what have you. It’s as though the formula has always been good and really, there’s no such a thing as a “bad” or inedible cookie if you follow it correctly, but I’ve always thought there’s a really mysterious X factor involved in getting the Toll House cookie to turn out just right. And as I see it, the genius of what Leite has done is create a recipe that can give really great, consistent results. After a few tweaks. It’s always something, isn’t it?
There a couple things that stand out about this recipe when you put it up next to the Toll House recipe, the first being an interesting ratio of cake flour (a low protein flour) to bread flour (a high protein flour) instead of all-purpose flour (a nice, middle ground protein content). The more protein in a flour, the more gluten that can develop during mixing and that effects how tender and/or fine-textured the final product will be. The interesting ratio of cake to bread flours is a great way to precisely control this. So there’s that. And another fancy trick here is a long rest in the refrigerator after the dough comes together–24 to 36 hours (!) during which the flour can get fully hydrated by the wet ingredients. So it would seem that the big secret to great chocolate chip cookies is in dealing with the flour, but there’s also the mention of big disks of bittersweet chocolate rather than semi-sweet chips to jazz it all up and a good amount of salt to balance the sweet and highlight the use of that great chocolate.
All in all, this cookie is really something. But I gotta say, as much as I love David Leite, there were a few things that had to happen to get it there for my tastes when I dug into this recipe. First, the 18-20 minute baking time yielded a sheet of dry, overly browned cookies that were of decent texture while still warm, but turned rock-hard when completely cooled. So in a word, overbaked. And we all know how Type A I am with checking and rechecking my oven temperature before baking so that wasn’t the problem. Reducing the baking time to 16 minutes produced a second sheet of cookies with a wonderful crisp-chewy-tender bullseye effect, even at room temperature the next day.
Another sheet was better still, and you know what was different about it? They were the cookies that had been portioned and frozen two days earlier after the first sheet was baked. It could’ve been the additional resting time that did the trick here, I’ll never know for sure. So there’s the resurgence of that chocolate chip cookie X factor again, I guess. But it does bode well for bakers like myself who like to freeze doughs and bake off a few cookies at a time when the urge strikes rather than have a whole container of cookies taunting me for days from a countertop. Hooray!
So now that I’ve told you about how these cookies indeed lived up to the hype with a few adjustments, can I be a little passive-aggressive? Okay, well, first of all, the chocolate disks I picked up (73% bittersweet D’Agoba) were obviously lovely and of high quality, but I actually found myself wishing my cookie had some semi-sweet morsels to complete the all-American flavor and perfection of the baked dough–the cookie part was just so spot on. Another thing was Leite’s instruction to sprinkle the cookies with sea salt before baking. Meh. Kind of unneccesary from a flavor standpoint and it just seemed like a bit of pretentious foodie flair that I could take or leave, so in a third batch, I left it.
And in all honesty, I was a little taken aback by the cost of this cookie. I’m all for decadence and seeking out a few spendy ingredients to try a recipe on occasion, but it just seems kind of wrong somehow to spend $15 just for the chocolate part of a chocolate chip cookie, a dessert that exemplifies the greatness of simplicity. Especially when the recipe only yields a little under two dozen cookies. Anyone with me here? Tack on to that the cost of cake flour and bread flour and flaky sea salt (I had these things on hand because I’m a culinary dork, but I’m betting most people would have to make a special trip to the store for these not-so-everyday items) and it all gets kind of fabulously out of hand for the humble chocolate chip cookie.
I have heard of people using this same recipe with just all-purpose flour and different kinds of chocolate and having fine results, so I may be sticking the method in my back pocket and taking the fancy-pants off of this recipe to create the perfect lunchbox cookie, and reserving the bells and whistles for special occasions, like this year’s Christmas cookie tins. At any rate, the first time you try this recipe, go for the big guns, be a Leite purist, and see for yourself. Unless you’re more on top of things than I am these days and have done so already.
Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres and David Leite
Makes about 2 dozen
After the initial long rest in the refrigerator, you can bake off a few cookies at a time, refrigerating the dough for up to 72 hours. After that, scoop out portions of the remaining dough, freeze them until firm on a sheet pan, and store the frozen dough balls for later use.
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks, at least 60% cacao content
Whisk together the dry ingredients in medium bowl–flours, baking soda, baking powder and set aside.
In a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment on medium speed, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together, 5 to 10 seconds. Carefully stir in the chocolate disks (by hand is best as to not break up the chocolate). Press plastic wrap against dough (or transfer to an airtight container) and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
Scoop 6-8 mounds of dough (about the size of generous golf balls) onto the baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Bake until the cookies are golden brown but still soft, about 16 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.
Oh, so…you want an explanantion? Okay, so I guess there’s a few things we should talk about. I realize, dear readers, that I haven’t posted in two months, but I really can’t believe it–the time seems to have flown by. And it’s funny, because the individual days seem oh-so-long as the husband and I count down the days to our first baby’s Birth Day. That’s right, people, Piece of Cake has a Bun in the Oven. And I have for quite a while now, more than six months to be honest. So you can look back at the break I took at the beginning of the year and sort of attribute that to not wanting to eat or really do much at all, let alone bake something. And then the resurgence of my appetite, sweet tooth and creativity with my last barrage of posts before I disappeared for a while again. Sigh. I’m afraid life is not going to get any more predictable than that anytime soon. Like for the next 18 years at least. But we are excited and happier than ever around here. I am feeling great and hopeful and full of wonder and worried and all the things I hear a first time mother-to-be should be feeling.
I’ve found the most common question from people who find out we’re expecting is “What have you been craving?”. Well, it’s more like what haven’t I been craving. It changes everyday, really. I hear of women having to have a certain thing at a certain time everyday just to be able to function, but I haven’t found that to be the case. It’s totally unpredictable–some days I can’t get enough milk or fruit (virtuous!) and other days I will plow through half a dozen cookies and wonder where they all went. Then I look down at the crumbs that have fallen all over my growing belly and know the answer. There was the evening early on in my pregnancy where I shoved an entire can of black olives into my face at an alarming rate (upon telling a nurse at my doctor’s office this story, she asked all cute-like if I’d put them all on my fingers before eating them and I responded, “Lady, I didn’t have that kind if time!”). I try to not give in to every whim, though. I still haven’t had any Little Debbie Star Crunches or Zebra Cakes–huminuh, huminuh. I do feel a twinge of guilt at eating such processed and plasticky (though delicious) items when I’m reminded with nudges, kicks, rubs and rolls that there is a little person inside me who is trying to grow on whatever I put into my mouth.
So I’ve been trying to be a good mommy to this baby whom I already love so much I am certain my heart will explode when we finally meet face to face. I am still exercising regularly and drinking loads of water, getting my fruits and vegetables in everyday and have cut my caffeine down so much I am sure I deserve a major award. And of course, no more Moonshine for me. Plus, when I do all those things, I feel a lot less guilty about indulging in made-from-scratch desserts (or store-bought ice cream, whatever). Often. It is a miracle I passed my recent glucose tolerance test with flying colors. For those of you who don’t know, this is something every pregnant lady has to do to check for gestational diabetes. It involves slamming a sugary beverage that tastes like orange soda that’s been sitting out on the curb for about a week and then sitting in starving anticipation for an hour before having one’s blood drawn. Worst!
Anyway, I am relieved I passed the test because if I failed that would mean going on a no-sugar diet and that would just be bonkers. Because like I said, I haven’t suddenly lost my sweet tooth the way I’ve inexplicably lost my ability to eat chicken (ugh, gag, shudder). Although I haven’t been saying so, I have indeed been baking during this last blogging hiatus. It’s just that none of it has been terribly interesting. I’ve been revisiting many of my old, comfortable favorites from this blog, in addition to recipes that everyone knows and loves from the side panels of various baking ingredients. And there were a few failures that my weepy days just couldn’t handle–Tartine’s Almond Rochers, for one (though I found out I wasn’t the only one that had sucky results with this recipe) and a banana tea cake that was delicious and cooked through but had a bizarre tunnel running through the center of it (I will be retooling this recipe and trying again in the near future as the bold banana flavor and chewy crumb was just too fabulous to abandon it on account of aesthetics).
But I thought today’s baking adventure was successful and blog-worthy, and so here I am to share another recipe from the Tartine cookbook. I feel like I’ve worked my way through enough recipes in this book to give my honest final opinion of it, and to be perfectly honest, it is far from foolproof. The recipes are just not forgiving or sometimes, it seems, terribly accurate. I’m not sure why–perhaps many of the recipes are scaled-down versions of the bakery’s recipes that just didn’t translate well to smaller batches or maybe there just wasn’t enough recipe testing going on by people who hadn’t worked with the recipes hundreds of times before. But I’ve heard I’m not alone in having a few unexplained, really disappointing results from recipes in this book. It seems like most problems are related to the baking times and/or the baking temperatures of the recipes or how many portions you can expect out of a batter or dough. Our oven is barely seven months old and I always double-check the temperature with an oven thermometer when baking, so I know that’s not the problem, and I follow the portioning instructions to the letter, even using my digital scale for accuracy. So I just scratch my head and pout a little and am thankful that the husband will eat nearly everything sweet and baked, even if it looks nothing like it’s supposed to.
The Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal-Walnut Cookies from the Tartine cookbook, however, worked out beautifully. Again, I take issue with the suggested baking time because these cookies go from nowhere near done to a smidge too browned in a nanosecond, but the extra browning didn’t result in a dry, overbaked or disappointing final product. I opted to leave the walnuts out of this recipe, and it worked out just fine–the lacy, delicate landscape of these cookies is just texturized enough with oats and chocolate and the crisp edges offer plenty of crunch, making the nuts truly optional. And beware–although you have to pat these monster cookies into shape a bit, they spread even further while baking, so don’t attempt more than, say, six per baking sheet. You could always portion them much smaller and trim the baking time in half, which I think I’ll do next time. I halved the original recipe with fine results, making one dozen with-child-sized cookies.
Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Tartine
Makes 1 dozen monster-sized cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons molasses
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper.
Stir together the flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy. Slowly rain in the sugar and beat until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy and then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the molasses until well-combined. Add the egg and beat until everything is incorporated. Scrape down the bowl once more, and then beat in the vanilla, milk and salt. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients until well-mixed. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.
Portion the dough onto the prepared baking sheets (about 75 grams per cookie if you are a sucker for uniform cookies) using two spoons, leaving plenty of space between each cookie, six per sheet. Moisten your fingertips slightly with water and flatten each cookie evenly, to a diameter of about three inches. Bake for 10-12 minutes, one sheet at a time, rotating halfway through baking, until the cookies have spread considerably and the edges are well-browned and paler towards the centers. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets to allow the cookies to set up a bit before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.
Oh, man. I’m sorry, I’m blogging with my mouth full right now. Anyway, I know I just told you about a recipe that you just have to try, and here I am, pushing another one on you. But trust me, again. This recipe is really, really something. And! It’s from one of my favorite food-world people, the fantastically classy Sara Foster. I’ve never been to her famed market of all things delicious in Durham, North Carolina, but her great cookbooks of Foster’s Market’s favorites certainly make it seem pilgramage-worthy. And one of the most sought-after goodies at her market is the sigh-while-you-chew-them Chocolate Whoppers. If the name isn’t enough to send you running to the kitchen, arms flailing, then there’s something wrong with your soul that you might want to get checked out.
I was reminded of this recipe by a fabulous couple that invited the husband and I over for a delicious dinner this past weekend. They lived in North Carolina for quite some time so they have had the Real Deal Chocolate Whoppers straight from the market, in addition to making them at home using a recipe from one of Sara Foster’s cookbooks. When someone makes a point of telling me about a certain sweet after hearing about this blog, I am always intrigued. Especially when the words chocolate, chewy and gooey are involved. Cut to just a few days later, and I tracked down the recipe and tucked into the kitchen to find out what this Chocolate Whopper business was all about. And boy am I (as is the husband) glad I did.
These gems are the ultimate celebration of big chocolate flavor, chewy midpoint and gooey bullseye, with just enough of a crispness to the edges to give the cookie an incredible sense of varying textures and dimensions as you savor your way through it–like Saturn’s rings for the sweet tooth.
Adapted from Foster’s Market in Durham, North Carolina
Makes one dozen whopper-sized cookies
The original recipe calls for two ounces of chopped unsweetened chocolate instead of making a chocolate “paste” of cocoa powder and vegetable oil, but I happened to have a great quality cocoa powder in my cupboard, so I opted to use the classic substitute for solid unsweetened baking chocolate with great results.
6 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or lightly grease them.
Place the chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 20-30 second intervals, stirring well between each, until a few small chunks of chocolate remain–the residual heat from the bowl will melt the chocolate the rest of the way, and it’s important to not overheat the chocolate. In another small dish, combine the cocoa powder and vegetable oil until a smooth paste forms. Add the chocolate paste and melted butter to the melted semi-sweet chocolate and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer or a strong, energetic arm and a whisk, beat together the eggs and vanilla. Add the sugar and beat until thick, paler in color and creamy-looking. Add the chocolate mixture and stir until well-blended.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. The finished batter will look much more like a brownie batter than a cookie dough.
Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet using a 2 ounce ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, about three inches apart (half a dozen cookies per sheet). Try to be as precise as possible in portioning the batter so the finished cookies are consistent. Bake for 10-12 minutes and do not overbake–the cookies will be very gooey in the center. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes and then transfer them onto wire racks to cool completely.
So before my last post, you probably noticed that it had been, um, a
since I last visited with you. And some false starts before that. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I just straight up lost my baking mojo, people. But happily, it’s all coming back to me now and everything is getting okay. I’ve been so
to be back in kitchen, holed up with a great cookbook or a promising idea, my steadfast and true KitchenAid mixer purring along, not even once giving me grief for being away for so long. We just don’t speak about it.
In this case, the great cookbook that got the mojo working once again was, but of course, the Tartine cookbook. I am lucky to live a healthy walk away from Tartine (healthy enough to offset any guilt, anyway), and every time I glance in the windows while passing by, I just want to hurry home and caress the gorgeous photography and read through the intricate recipes in the cookbook. Like I’ve said before, many of the recipes have so many steps it will just blow your mind, like the Three Day Cake, but there are a few simple beauties in the book that come together more quickly than that favorite cookie recipe you can bake by heart.
The Tartine shortbread recipe is so easy you might wonder if you’ve suddenly taken a wrong page turn into another cookbook. But that’s just the kind of baby step I needed to get back into the kitchen. The simple ingredient list and method yields a shortbread cookie so tender and buttery, it’s practically restorative. Well, it was for me, anyway, because it got me back to tying my apron strings after a long hiatus, and even sparked some extra creative energy, like adding a small pile of finely grated lemon zest to the dough for a little extra somethin’.
Adapted from Tartine
Makes about 40 cookies
The butter should be so soft that it has the look and consistency of mayonnaise or thick whipped cream; this can be quickly achieved by putting the cold butter into a saucepan, melting about a third of it, and then stirring all the butter together to create a very soft result. Create superfine sugar for dusting the shortbread by taking granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor, blender or clean coffee grinder.
1 cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (2-3 lemons’ worth)
1/4 cup superfine sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish.
Place the butter in a mixing bowl–it must be very soft, think the look and consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Stir the salt into the butter. Sift together the flour and cornstarch. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir the sugar into the butter and then stir in the flour and lemon zest until a smooth dough forms, using your hands towards the end if necessary (run your hands under cold water first to keep from making the dough too warm). Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom of the shortbread begin to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack until just warm to the touch.
While the shortbread is still warm, sprinkle the surface with superfine sugar, tilting the pan to coat the shortbread evenly with sugar. Tap out any excess that doesn’t cling to the surface. Use a very thin, sharp knife to cut the shortbread into 40 equal cookies. Chill completely in the pan before attempting to remove the cookies with a small offset spatula–the first cookie will be hard to remove, but the rest should come out cleanly.
Dorie Greenspan, why are you so awesome? Why must you be an amazing baker and great food writer and have one of those fantastic names that is so fun to say with first and last name together all the time, Doriegreenspan?
For my last Christmas cookie tin trick, I decided to go for the Sure Thing–chocolate and more chocolate. And thanks to the endlessly inspiring Dorie Greenspan by way of the legendary Pierre Herme, I was able to introduce a whole bunch of lucky people to the now-famous World Peace Cookie this holiday season.
This recipe is like the No-Knead Bread of the dessert world, ending up on countless food blogs for the better part of two years. And not-a one has dissed this cookie. It is at once sweet and salty, crisp and tender, a pure celebration of chocolate. The name comes from a neighbor of Dorie Greenspan’s who proclaimed upon tasting it that if this cookie was given to every single person, there would be planetary peace and happiness. It’s food stories like this that make me laugh out loud like Lynne Rosetto Kasper and then get immediately into the kitchen. I pulled the recipe from The Splendid Table’s website forever ago, and was excited to finally have a reason to bake up more than one batch of these luscious gems to give away and pass on the cookie love.
These are intended to be easy slice and bake cookies, just like a good sablé, and believe me, I have made batches of these cookies in that very manner. For the cookies pictured in this post, however, alternative measures were taken. Note to self and anyone who will listen: do not take every single one of your knives to be sharpened during high baking season. A steak knife will not cut it–literally. The dough will mush and crumble instead of slicing cleanly. But it’s a tribute to how great this dough is, because even though I ended up having to do these cookies up Heirloom Sugar Cookie style by rolling the shattered dough into balls and then flattening them with a drinking glass, their flavor and texture came out just as lovely as the batches I’ve made the “right” way.
Something else to think about with these beauties is the quality of the ingredients you choose. Sometimes in baking you can cut corners–store brand flour, sugar, butter and eggs–without effecting the final product one bit. I’m all for saving a buck when it doesn’t make a difference in the end. But when you’re making a recipe that either has very few ingredients (say, five or less) or when you’re dealing with a recipe that has a Main Event flavor or ingredient (like the chocolate and cocoa in these cookies), don’t scrimp. Don’t tell Dorie Greenspan (or worse, Pierre Herme, mon dieu!), but I once made these cookies with Hershey’s cocoa and chopped Nestle chips. Good, but…meh. Flat tasting. And then I redeemed myself by using Valrhona. I’m sure you can guess which cookie got more eyes fluttering upon tasting–the finest dark or bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder here really will take this recipe to the level at which it’s intended to be. A lovely fleur de sel rather than table salt also gives an obvious bump in flavor. It may take a little extra time in your grocery store to find the best ingredients available with which to make these cookies, but then again, doesn’t the possibility of world peace just in time for Christmas make it all worth it? I thought so.
This is my first holiday season blogging about my baking projects, and it’s been so much fun! For the first time in quite a while, I’ve truly been counting down the days until Christmas like a little kid, and I know sharing recipes with all of you has been a big part of that Advent calendar-esque feeling, so thank you for reading and coming along for the ride. We leave tomorrow for Chicago to enjoy a fabulous, extended Christmas break with family and I look forward to sharing all kinds of great new recipes with you in the brand new year. I hope you all spend the coming days surrounded by friends and loved ones and lots of great food. Happy Holidays!
World Peace Cookies
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes 3 dozen
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, or semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. For the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, the dough may look a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.
Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.
The best holiday cookie tins have a terrific balance of flavors and types of cookies. Like a classic, simple shortbread or sugar cookie, definitely a chocolate selection, something exotic and then something that brings the cute, festive factor that takes a little doing.
For the cute, festive cookie in my gifty tins this year, it had to be kitschy little gingerbread people–the ultimate holiday baking experience, right? But after some cheer-filled mixing, rolling and cutting (with Frank and Bing still playing in the background–not tired of it yet!) things took a turn. Sheet after sheet of spicy sweet little people began emerging from the oven. And then I started to panic–I knew there was no turning back. You simply cannot give someone a cookie in the shape of a person and not decorate it. That would be the saddest thing ever. And given my Type A baking tendencies, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until every last cookie had been given life in the form of royal icing eyes, mouths, clothing and accessories. What had I done? I had put myself in Martha hell, that’s what. Oh, dear.
Thankfully, the anxiety was fleeting. As soon as I had put the finishing touches on the first cookie and saw its darling little face smiling at me, I let out a maniacal giggle much to the husband’s great fear, and spent the next two hours hunched over a community of adorable gingerbread people that outnumbered the residents on my block. I mean–so cute! Can you stand it?!
But all of their adorable, sugary accoutrements aside, gingerbread cookies are one of those things that can be very, very good, or very, VERY not. Some are so spiced and pungent, they’re almost soapy. Some are so weak, well…they might as well be snickerdoodles, people. And the right texture was of upmost importance–I definitely wanted crunchy, but not so hard they could be mistaken for dog biscuits. So in short, I wanted to make sure the base cookie recipe for my gingerbread friends was crisp and sturdy enough to decorate and had a balance of sharp spice and mellow sweetness, with a lush, buttery nuance as well.
I wanted them to be as cute as they were delicious, and to add the cuteness I needed a good royal icing recipe. Something that would be workable given my limited cookie decorating experience (and lack of piping bag–there are still five shopping days left until Christmas if you’re trying to think of something to get me, I’m just saying) and also an icing that would set up firm so I could ship the cookies without freaking out about my hard work schmearing all over the insides of the tins.
I settled on a gingerbread recipe from Baking Illustrated with a few added tweaks, and consulted the fantasically handy Joy of Cooking for guidance with a royal icing recipe. To color the icing, I used my beloved gel food coloring for the most intense color, mixing red, yellow and blue like a first grader until I arrived at the perfect Christmas-y red and green hues. Filling the icing into plastic zip bags and snipping off a tiny corner of them worked really well considering the aforementioned lack of piping bag, and helped make this the most freakin’ adorable Christmas ever.
Classic Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing
Adapted from Baking Illustrated and Joy of Cooking
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on shape and size
For the cookies, feel free to experiment with the amount of ginger in the recipe–more ground ginger equals more spice and heat. Or add additional spices like nutmeg, clove, even white pepper. Mild flavored molasses is recommended here, but if you love the flavor, try a robust molasses instead. For the icing, meringue powder is easiest to work with, but a large fresh egg white can be used in a pinch if you’re not afraid of using raw eggs. The consistency of the icing is stiff enough to pipe smiling gingerbread faces and buttons, but adding a tiny bit more water will make it spreadable enough to smoothly cover larger surfaces. Any leftover icing stores for up to two weeks in an airtight container.
For the cookies:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 12 pieces
3/4 cup mild molasses
2 tablespoons milk
For the royal icing:
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder or powdered egg white
4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and position the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
In the bowl of your standing mixer with the paddle attachment, with an electric mixer, or in a food processor, mix the flour, brown sugar, soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt until well-blended. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and mix again on medium low speed until the mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal. With the mixer or processor running, slowly pour in the molasses and milk, and mix until the dough is evenly moistened, no traces of flour remain, and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and divide it in half. Roll out each portion to about 1/8 inch thickness between two large sheets of parchment paper. Stack the two parchment-gingerbread sandwiches onto a baking sheet and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Working with one portion at a time, cut the dough into desired shapes and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are darkened in color and their centers are firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheets for two minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely before icing.
Meanwhile, make the royal icing: In a medium bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, meringue powder, extract (if using) and water until well-blended. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or using a handheld electric, beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about two minutes. Divide the icing into smaller containers and color as desired with food coloring (use gel food coloring for the most vibrant colors and to avoid thinning out the icing). Embellish the cooled gingerbread cookies to your heart’s content using a small spatula, a piping bag or similar. Allow the icing to dry completely, at least 15 minutes, before serving.
I am an “everything in moderation type” of person when it comes to the joy of eating, especially during the holidays. I am sort of notorious for following a lovely balanced meal of grilled fish, brown rice and a green salad with a sizable piece of frosted cake. And I think that’s just fine. I prefer healthy, nourishing foods for my main meals and my desserts from scratch so I know exactly what’s in them. When I’m keeping this kind of balance in my diet, I don’t have to reach for fat-free plastic pudding or go all wacky health food nut and muck up classic dessert recipes with whole wheat flour or somesuch to guiltlessly satisfy my sweet tooth. Viva le white flour and sugar–in moderation!, I say. So although intrigued by the Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies in Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert (an entire book beautifully dedicated to “mucked up” dessert recipes with wacky health nut ingredients, by the way), I was skeptical. Then I saw a post about them on the ever-inspiring Orangette, and onto the baking to-do list these cookies went.
I wanted to instantly love these, I really did. They seemed so awesomely sophisticated. Cacao nibs are the new black. I pretty much covet everything Alice Medrich has ever done, and then there was that endorsement from one of my favorite food bloggers. I so wanted to be in the Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookie Lovers’ sorority. Well, it didn’t happen right away. In fact, I didn’t think it would happen at all. It didn’t even happen after Molly’s recommended day of waiting to let the flavors develop and the buckwheat-y punch to dissipate. I was afraid this was too much moderation for me. I wanted to ice them with a vanilla glaze or dip them in melted Valrhona or something. I don’t want to feel like I need to wear something made of hemp in order to enjoy a cookie, okay?
But then a few more days went by. I had stashed the leftover cookies in the freezer because I hate throwing out food, even food I am on the fence about. After lunch one day, I wanted a little something extra, but not too sweet. I had been surrounded by glittering, sugary, buttery discs the entire day before, and although I hadn’t had too many (just enough to ensure they had turned out suitably, of course–baker’s obligation, you know), I just needed to back up from that a bit. I remembered the nibby buckwheat buggers in the freezer. And wouldn’t you know it, the flavors had definitely transformed into something quite different! Even the husband said so. In the end, these radical little hippie cookies had charmed us. Who knew? This of course, wasn’t the first time I was proven wrong by a recipe. And I apologized by including these in my holiday cookie tins as the “exotic” selection. Crunchy, buttery, just sweet enough and the cacao nibs are one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. Now how’s that for moderation?
Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies
From Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Makes 4 dozen
Medrich’s original recipe says these cookies are delicious fresh or the day following baking, but I found them to be at their best three days later. They store well in an airtight container for up to one month and are great candidates for shipping.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1 1/2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
Whisk the flours together in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy, but not fluffy. Stir in the cacao nibs and vanilla, then mix in the flours just until incorporated. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead a few times if necessary until the dough is smooth. Form the dough into a 12-inch long log, about two inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Slice the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking until the cookies just begin to brown at their edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.
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