Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cookies: Any Time, Anywhere

The more I cook, and the more I write about cooking, the easier it is for me to see that my recipes generally fall into two camps: the cooking-for-one weeknight recipes and the more elaborate, festive, leftover-generating weekend recipes.  Sometimes a recipe will nicely toe the line between both camps, but that’s a tough thing to do.  I don’t expect it from any recipe, but occasionally, there will be a recipe that I’ve firmly planted in one camp, and that recipe, upon further investigation, proves to be quite feisty.  Today’s chocolate chip cookie recipe is one such example.

All I really wanted was a few cookies to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I wanted to make them myself, and I didn’t want three dozen leftover cookies lurking in my kitchen afterward.  A quick search on Google yielded a very promising looking recipe, a vegan recipe called “Cookies for Two.”  Bingo!  A quick peek at the recipe told me that it was an easy, simple sugar cookie recipe dressed up with a few chocolate chips and an optional sugar/salt coating.  Most importantly, I could make it without trotting over to the grocery store.  I was sold.

I was fairly obedient in my first date with this recipe, only making substitutions so I could use butter and cow’s milk instead of their vegan equivalents.  Out of laziness, I skipped the cookie coating.  The result was delicious: a thin, delicate cookie with crisped edges and a soft interior, dotted with big bittersweet chocolate chips.  It was hard to restrain myself at two cookies, but I did, which left me cookies for the next day’s lunchbag.  They were deceptively sturdy in transit and made for an excellent deskside dessert.

Of course I can’t resist tinkering with a good recipe, so the next time a cookie craving struck, I made a whole-wheat version with graham flour and a tiny spoonful of instant espresso powder.  I wanted the nuttiness of whole wheat and the bitter warmth of coffee, all melded together into a thin, crispy cookie with melted chocolate oozing throughout.  It seemed like a lot to ask of a cookie, but I knew this recipe wouldn’t let me down.

My first batch tasted fine enough, perhaps a little more fragile in texture than the original.  The night I made them, I really needed the calm warmth of my kitchen and the satisfaction of making something with my own hands.  I tucked the leftovers away without much thought.  The next day, I plotted my lunch: a Pita Pit pita after a brief visit to the lab, then an orange and a homemade cookie for dessert.  I ate outside, because you can do that in Texas in February, and the air smelled like spring.  I took a bite of my cookie, and, bewildered by what I tasted, said aloud, “Whoa.”

The cookie, it seemed, had somehow changed overnight from something tasty and basic to something far more complex and interesting.  The flavor had blossomed, bringing out rich notes of nuts and sugar, a subtle depth of coffee and the full round flavor of good chocolate.  It amazed me, and I thought maybe it was the alchemy of cookie with the taste of orange that lingered on my tongue, or even the spicy falafel of my pita.  Whatever it was, I sat there, stunned, unsure of what to make of a cookie that had surpassed all expectations.

Of course I wanted to know what, exactly, had changed this cookie’s flavor so profoundly, but the number of variables involved boggled my mind.  Was it an aging effect such that day-old cookies tasted better than freshly made?  Was it the difference between eating these cookies warm or at room temperature?  Was it just the aftereffects of a boldly flavored lunch bringing out all sorts of nice flavors in the cookie?  Trying to test all those variables felt overwhelming, so tonight I tested just one: warm versus cool.  Then, of course, like the excellent scientist I am, I promptly forgot to add the espresso powder to my cookie dough, thus negating my entire experiment…sort of.  Sadly, I would miss out on the coffee flavor that I craved, but I could still do a taste-test of warm and cool cookies, side by side, baked from the same batch of freshly made dough.  As far as experiments go, this one may not be perfect, but it’s among my favorites.

The results left me with no clear winner.  Or rather, I should say that I had two winners.  The room temperature cookie was baked and then left to cool for about an hour, while the warm cookie was baked, allowed to cool for about five minutes on the baking sheet, and then cooled very briefly on the rack.  Each cookie, I decided, had something wonderful about it.  The cool cookie was sturdier and tasted faintly of toffee.  The warm cookie had that lovely melty warmth of the oven and a delicacy that demanded I hold the plate under my chin while eating it.  Really, I’d be happy to eat a few of these cookies any time, anywhere—inside or outside, warm or cool, espresso or no.  Maybe I need a third category for my recipes: the whenever file.  These cookies will be my first entry.

Graham Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Espresso

Adapted from this recipe for Cookies for Two

Makes 8-9 cookies

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. whole-wheat graham flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

Scant 1/8 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. instant espresso powder, optional

1/4 cup butter, softened at room temperature

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 tsp. vanilla

1 tbsp. milk

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2)  In a small bowl, stir together the graham flour, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder if using.  Set aside.

3)  In another small bowl, cream together the butter and sugar by hand.  Mix the vanilla and milk into the butter and sugar.  Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

4)  Use a tablespoon to scoop rounded spoonfuls of dough.  Form the dough into balls and place on the prepared cookie sheet about two inches apart.  (The cookies will spread while baking.)  Bake for about 12 minutes.  Cool for 5-10 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove cookies from sheet and cool on a wire rack.


daine said...

No eggs? I've been experimenting with trying to cut down cookie recipes for a while, since I'd rather make a fresh batch every day than have to store cookie dough in my fridge (I don't know why it stresses me out to have the dough lying around). The thing I can't get around, however, is that there are no 1/2 sized eggs. maybe I'll give this one a whirl. I just need to go buy some graham flour.

shari said...

can't wait to try these cookies. they sound great!

Shannon said...

this would be perfect! sweets have been dangerous to me lately, but having a small batch would make me more apt to enjoy. and i just picked up some graham flour! serendipity :)

Rosiecat said...

Hello, everyone! I love the cookie enthusiasm.

Daine, yes, no eggs! These cookies are thin and a little delicate, but they do hold together. But if you are trying to make a half-batch of a cookie recipe that calls for one egg, you could try scrambling a raw egg and then taking half of it. I once measured a large egg and I believe it was about 2 tbsp., so you could use 1 tbsp. in your cookies and use the rest in an omlette or scrambled eggs.

shari, I hope you like them. This recipe is so easy and so good!

Shannon, I hear you on the sweets. I can't tell if I've been overindulging, which is a sign that I have been! All this running makes me crave sugar, and I always crave baking time. And hey, how cool is it that you've got some graham flour just waiting to be turned into cookies? Serendipity indeed!

Anonymous said...

Hi Daine,

Another possible egg solution is to use soy flour as an egg substitute. 1 tbsp. soy flour plus 1 tbsp. water = one egg. (Therefore, 1/2 tbsp. flour & 1/2 tbsp. water = 1/2 egg.) I use this substitution when making a half batch of muffins that would otherwise require half an egg. For muffins, it works great!

Two caveats, though --
1. Soy flour can cause baked goods to brown more quickly.
2. In some recipes, like brownies, I find soy flour negatively alters the taste and texture.

Good luck!

Rosiecat said...

Cool trick, AMPD! I like it. Have you ever tried it in cookies? I've had soy protein powder in baked goods, and they can be tasty if they are richly flavored (think pumpkin chocolate chip bread), so I can see the soy flour trick working in really flavorful cookies.

Anonymous said...

RA, I haven't tried it in cookies b/c James is the cookie maker in the house. For whatever reason my desire for cookies is lower than his, so he ends up wanting and making cookies (typically chocolate chip) first. He is, shall we say, not on the soy flour bandwagon. Sad.


Rosiecat said...

AMPD, I didn't know James was the cookie-maker! I think that's awesome. But he is very opinionated about soy, so I'm not surprised that he is resisting the soy bandwagon. I see now that if I want to know if the soy trick works in cookies, I'll have to take matters into my own hands. Time to roll up the sleeves!

Have a happy weekend, dear AMPD.