Wednesday, June 17, 2009

One Snazzy Batch

I didn’t mean to throw a party the day before my first job interview this month, but that’s what happened. And it turned out to be just what I needed.

The truth is that I just wanted a friend to listen to my job talk because it felt like it wasn’t ready for the big time. It was hard to find any time to work on it! I needed a way of delivering it that would convey the enthusiasm I felt when this story was still fresh and exciting. Even if I felt stressed and ragged, I wanted my story to be beautiful. Hoping to find just a single person to listen to my talk, I e-mailed a bunch of my friends and much to my surprise, they all said they were willing and able to help. So I invited them all over to my place and baked a batch of cookies. We made tea and gossipped for a while, then we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I talked, they listened. When my tongue tripped over its own words, they waited patiently while I untangled the mess. If something didn’t make sense, we dissected the problem until it did make sense. A friendly argument broke out, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. For a scientist, there’s nothing better than listening to other people become passionately engaged in your work. Conflict never sounded so good.

Best of all, my friends took my talk and my ideas and they made them better. Clearer. Simpler. More precise. They saw where I stood and pointed out the path toward my destination. It was remarkable. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more impressed with my friends than I was that afternoon. Their criticism was an act of kindness and generosity—it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever given me. I’ve never felt so supported, so buoyed by other people’s cheerful advice. Such love! Such warm fuzziness! If I thought before that leaving Chicago was going to be hard, I think now it might be one of the toughest moves I’ve made yet.

Because they are fabulous, my friends probably would have cheered me on even without cookies, but I like to think the cookies helped. These cookies were particularly fabulous, if I may be so immodest about my baking. The recipe is one I’d bookmarked long ago from the February 2008 issue of Bon Appétit. It appeared in an article about whole-grain baking (oh yes!), and I swear every time I looked at it I’d see these words appear: “Rose-Anne, you must bake these cookies immediately. Get thee to the kitchen!” Of course I did what I always do with new recipes: I waited a year and then jotted down the ingredients on my shopping list. An eager beaver I am not, but I do have a sharp memory for cookie recipes.

The recipe in question is for Whole Wheat S’More Cookies, but my version was a little more like Whole Wheat Less-Is-More Cookies because I left out the marshmallows. Those fluffy campfire companions are usually not vegetarian because they’re made with gelatin, so I feel a bit funny about eating them. I try to be consistent in my vegetarianism, but quite frankly, if I’m going to break my own rules, I’d rather do it for Cajun food or the best chicken dinner I’ve ever had (Brick Roasted Chicken with Roasted Baby Carrots, Broccolini, Mashed Potatoes, and Preserved Lemon Pan Sauce, Villa Creek, Paso Robles, California, eaten with my favorite carnivore). I don’t feel deprived not eating marshmallows. I prefer setting them on fire to eating them anyway. Besides, aren’t the chocolate and the graham cracker the best parts of a s’more?

The best part about leaving out the marshmallows is that the ratio of cookie to tidbits is perfect. In this case, the tidbits are milk chocolate chips and walnuts, an underused combination, in my opinion. Dark chocolate gets all the love and all the praise, but I love a good milk chocolate—sweet and friendly, tasty alone or in a whole-grain cookie.

The cookies were very popular with my friends: between six of us, we ate more than a dozen. And these aren’t dainty little cookies, either. While they aren’t the behemoths I told you about last week, they’re hearty and a little rustic, which is just the way I like them. Ammie loved them so much that she jotted down the recipe and started making plans with herself to bake a batch that same night. (That Ammie—she’s such an ambitious cook.) These cookies have an unusually cakelike texture—due, I think, to the fact that the dough is made more like that of a muffin than a cookie. Rather than creaming butter into sugar, you melt the butter and stir it into a mixture of eggs, buttermilk(!), molasses, and vanilla. This buttery blend is then combined with the dry ingredients, in go the chocolate chips and walnuts, and you’re ready to drop and bake. That small amount of work gives you one snazzy batch of cookies, perfect for bribing friends or calming yourself down before stepping out of your comfort zone and onto the job market.

Whole Wheat Less-Is-More Cookies or Whole Wheat Cookies with Walnuts and Milk Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes a lot of cookies—more than three dozen

Like I said above, these cookies have a delicious cakelike texture. They’re soft with just a hint of crunch on the bottoms. And the flavor is fabulous: rich but subtle, vanilla sugar sweetness combined with sassy chocolate and wholesome walnuts. I really like them. To seal the deal, I’ll just tell you that they travel well too. I packed two in my lunch to be eaten while on a plane to North Carolina, but I ended up eating them as a pre-dinner snack in my hotel room. They were so good that I thought to myself, I should eat cookies before dinner every day. Doesn’t that sound nice?

3 c. whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour (I used the latter, but I’m curious about using hearty whole wheat flour. If anyone does, report back with your results!)
1 1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. (one stick) salted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 c. milk chocolate chips (about 9 ounces says Bon Appétit. I like Ghirardelli brand here)
3/4 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, molasses, and vanilla extract. Whisk in the melted butter.
3) Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.
4) Use a tablespoon to drop rounded spoonfuls of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 3 inches between cookies. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for about 15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown around the edges and dry to the touch but still slightly soft. Place the cookie sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool on their sheet for about 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies directly to racks to continue cooling. Eat, preferably with a mug of tea and a gaggle of friends.

PS For those of you who love vegan cookies, Ammie made a vegan version of this cookie. In fact, she beat me to the punch, telling all her readers about it yesterday! Her enthusiasm about this recipe makes me happy. I hope you'll hop on over to her site to check out her version, made with a banana and almond milk. (And I hope she saved me a cookie...)


ttfn300 said...

what an amazing group of friends you have! and to hear them get all excited about your work is very kewl :)

these cookies? YUM. i love slowly roasted marshmallows on a campfire... or the addition of pb to a smore. the key, we have found, is to, once assembled, wrap the little bundle of joy and set it back in the coals. The cracker gets crisp, chocolate fully melted... sheer bliss! One's usually enough ;) Maybe i should try to make some graham crackers... and my own 'shmallows... oh boy, here we go!

JD said...

Cookies sound excellent! I think it is pretty much un-American to not like smores. So you have to at least let us know where these potential jobs are located? James is wanting to know if he is going to see less or more RA in the future.

ammie said...

I gave away all of my cookies! Alas, now I have to make more ;) And for the record, the whole wheat flour vegan version are a bit heavier and that grainy texture I loved so much didn't come out, which was sad. They were still kind of muffiny, but not like a graham cracker at all. But people seemed to like them a lot, so I can't say it was a failed experiment.

Rosiecat said...

ttfn, you are Queen of the Campfire! I'd eat one of your s'mores any day, gelatin be damned. And calling it "the little bundle of joy" cracked me up. You're hilarious!

JD, okay, I concede that it is un-American to dislike s'mores. So maybe I should make an exception for marshmallows. I'll put them in the same category as Cajun food and local, organic chicken that was so good I could have cried with pleasure.

The jobs, unfortunately, are not very close to JD's home base. One is in Texas, the other Iowa. There's no rhyme or reason to the locations; it's just where these professors happen to be right now. And if you're wondering why I was in North Carolina this week, it's because that lab will be moving to Texas later this year. Can you imagine? Me in Texas? Oh my...

Ammie, I'm sorry to hear the vegan version wasn't quite what you wanted. I wonder if adding some ground walnuts would help the texture of the cookies. It might be worth trying! But I agree with you: if other people loved your cookies, I think you should feel pleased with your efforts. My belly and I will be waiting for our chance to taste-test them ;-)

daphna said...

I hope the job interview went well!! I will have to chat with you about it soon. :)