Monday, June 8, 2009

"I Vote Yes!"

Today’s post has an alternative title: “Defiantly, I Go All the Way.” It could have been the primary title, but I worried about what sort of scandal that might cause. I like a little scandal, but even I have my limits. Do you have any idea what sort of crazy stuff people ask Google to find for them? Yeesh.

But indeed, defiantly, I do go all the way, and I’m mighty proud of it. Whole grain is the way to go, and I like to go all the way. Don’t you?

My love affair with whole grains started long ago. I vaguely remember discovering “wheat” bread (as opposed to “white bread” which is also wheat bread but has that odd, squishy texture). It was like taking a peak into a room in my grandparents’ house, a room filled with history and magic which beckoned to me, Come inside. Wheat bread had a lovely tan color, actual wheaty flavor—wheat bread had personality while white bread had none. It felt like comparing two kids from high school, one a pretty but dull cheerleader and the other a nerdy guy with glasses who wore vintage-style shirts and asked the most interesting questions in class. Actually, that latter person is Matt. Yes, wheat bread is like Matt: quirky, delicious, and good for me. I love them both.

Now I realize that the wheat bread that started it all was hardly a whole-grain bread. Maybe it had a little more whole-grain wheat in it than its squeaky white counterpart, but it wouldn’t be my first choice today. It got me started on this path, like another childhood favorite, the oatmeal cookie. My goodness, how I adore the oatmeal cookie. I could go either way on raisins versus chocolate chips in my oatmeal cookies, as long as there was plenty of cinnamon. I don’t quite understand the spell that oatmeal cookies cast over me. Was it their chewiness? Was it the aroma that wafted out of the oven, an aroma that convinced me the kitchen really is the best room in the house? Or was it the tactile pleasure of the dough, so sturdy and flecked with oats, rich and sweet, an absolute delight to make and then eat straight out of the bowl? Oatmeal cookies enchanted me. They still do.

These whole-grain revelations occurred before I knew anything about whole grains. I didn’t know they were packed with nutrients or less processed. I didn’t know they bring satiety to a meal or that they help keep your blood sugar on an even keel. All I knew is that they were different, and I liked them.

Today whole grains make me very, very happy. For the home baker, there are so many options for incorporating whole grains into treats; the sheer amount of choice is dazzling. The two basic flavors of choice are the grain and the type of flour. Whole wheat flour can be rustic, unapologetic WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR. Or it can be pastry flour or my personal favorite, white whole wheat flour, a softer, gentler version of whole wheat flour, just perfect for baked goods. Oatmeal can be rolled oats, quick-cook oats, or even oat flour. I like to play around with the texture of the oatmeal: with rolled oats, oatmeal’s presence is bold and sure-footed. Quick-cook rolled oats are a little more shy, and oat flour makes a barely discernable, nubbly crunch. These days, whenever a recipe calls for oat bran, I use oat flour and I’m quite happy with the results.

All this whole-grain goodness can make a girl feel downright virtuous at mealtime. I think virtue is overrated, so to keep myself from having a religious experience, I take my whole grains with a side of butter, sugar, and chocolate in the form of a seriously delicious, entirely whole-grain chocolate chip cookie. Oh yes. These cookies are intense: this isn’t a cookie you eat when you want a sweet little something after dinner. This is a cookie you eat when you want a DESSERT. Thick and dense, these cookies ride the line between chewy and crunchy. They are almost over the top, but I never have any problem finishing one in a single sitting. Because they are so rich, they make wonderful impromptu gifts. I gave away half of dozen of them last week. Consider the following conversation:

I approach the desk of my friend Daine. I wait patiently for him to notice me. He looks over at me, smiles, and says, “Hey, what’s up?”

“Hello, sir,” I say. “How do you feel about chocolate chip cookies?”

“Uh, I’m in favor of them!” Daine laughs.

“I vote yes!” I say, laughing at this silly exchange. “I’m going to bring you some cookies later this week.”

“Excellent,” says Daine. And then we both go back to work.

A few days later, after the cookies have changed hands, Daine asks me for the recipe, which is kind of an amazing thing because Daine uses recipes in the loosest possible way. You see I had no choice but to oblige. So now I’m shooing you off to the kitchen, recipe in hand. See for yourself if this recipe doesn’t make you want to go all the way too.

Whole-Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from this recipe
Makes ~20 cookies

One more plug for these amazing cookies: they are good, sturdy travelers, perfect for picnics or cross-country flights. I trotted them out for both last summer and was mighty pleased with their performance. They could become my top cookie choice for picnics—I rather like the idea of having a go-to picnic cookie recipe.

1 1/2 c. white whole-wheat flour, such as that from King Arthur
1/2 c. oat flour
1/2 c. quick-cook rolled oats
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. molasses
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 c. bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli here)
Cooking spray (optional)

1) In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, oats, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, sugar, and molasses until well blended. Stir in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until well combined.
2) Pour the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir them together, working just until everything is combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
3) Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. The dough keeps well in the fridge for at least a week, and it can be frozen for longer periods of time. I find it helps to let the dough warm up a bit on the counter if it’s been in the fridge for over an hour.
4) When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and prepare a baking sheet by either spraying it with cooking spray or using a Silpat. (I’ve tried both and they yield similar results.)
5) Pack the dough into a 1/4-cup measuring cup and then use a table knife to plonk it down onto the baking sheet. Space cookies ~3 inches apart.
6) Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes. A shorter baking time will give you chewier, softer cookies, while a longer baking time will give crunchier, harder cookies. I tend to go for the former, but it’s up to you. Note that since we’re working with whole-grain flours here, these cookies won’t pick up much color while they’re baking—they’re brown at the start, and unless you burn them, they’ll be brown at the finish. So be sure to time the baking because color is not a useful indicator here.

7) Allow the cookies to cool on their baking tray on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes. Then place the cookies directly on wire racks to continue cooling. I find it essential to taste-test a cookie during this cooling period--you know, for quality control. When the cookies are completely cool, store them in airtight zippered bags.


JD said...

Are cookies even allowed the appearance of being healthy? I like my cookies to be honest about what they are...huge globs of sugar and butter.

Rosiecat said...

Sure, cookies can pretend to be healthy! As long as we're all in on the game ;-)