Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Making of a Jezebel: Apricot, Almond & Chocolate Chip Cookies

How to Make: Apricot, Almond & Chocolate Chip Cookies
Time Factor: 50 mins
Wow Factor (1-10): 6
Music to Bake By: Nick Glider's Hot Child In The City

Sometimes working mother guilt takes strange forms like proposing "Let's bake cookies together!" an hour before a child's bedtime. I guess worse child abuse has occurred then letting a kid stay up past bedtime and stuffing her face with chocolate. Aside from that, the other reason I needed to bake is that I wanted to make my version of a Jezebel cookie. Jezebel's are only available at my local bakery, La Farine. I've asked several times for the recipe and was told no, no, no. One person, knowing I worked at Clorox, asked me, "Would you give away the secret formula for bleach?" In exchange for the Jezebel recipe??! Hell YES I would! (Quick note: no one has told me the secret formula for bleach.)

As you might have noticed I tend to obsess about things I can't have or don't understand. I couldn't have the recipe and I didn't understand how to re-create it. Batch after batch were trashed. Finally, after making the Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies, Colin pointed out that they were similar to the Jezebels. I didn't think it was the mesquite, but had I inadvertently stumbled upon the recipe without knowing it? I had to find out. Hello crazy Mommy!

Here's how to make my version of the Jezebel (apricot, almond, chocolate chip cookies), or as I call it, The Floozy:
  1. If you read the Adventures in Math post (the making of the Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookie) you know
    The scale is your friend. So are pearls.
    that I did some elaborate contortions to get the batch size down. On the surface it seems insane but go with me on this. It works. So you know the drill: preheat your oven to 375 and prep the baking sheets the way you like it, parchment or silicon mat. Then in a bowl whisk together 163 grams of white flour and two 1/8 teaspoons plus one-half of a 1/8 teaspoon of aluminum-free baking powder and two 1/8 teaspoons plus one-half of a 1/8 teaspoon baking soda. Add 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt.

  2. Probably should've washed her hands first.
  3. Beat 73 grams of unsalted butter until soft and then add 133 grams of natural cane sugar. When making the mesquite cookies I didn't have the right sugar and used white - that works too. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as necessary and beat until creamy.

    A note on baking with children: you'd be surprised by what they can screw up. Asked to help spoon out flour, they will spill it. Asked to empty a bowl of oats into the wet ingredients, they may, for example, accidentally drop the entire bowl into the batter instead. Asked to help measure chocolate chips, they will eat them, then become obsessed with some old bubble wrap they find in the garbage. Just try to enjoy it.
  4. Add two small eggs one at a time (or one large one) to the mix and then toss in (crazy math alert!) five 1/8 teaspoons of vanilla extract. I say toss, but you can just pour it gently if that's your way. Once I told Colin to 'toss some veggies in' (indicating a bubbly pot of soup) and he threw them in the garbage instead. Ah, marriage.
  5. Add your flour mixture in three batches to the wet ingredients and then hand mix in 77 grams of rolled oats.
    Some for the bowl, some for the floor.
    Try to explain to your daughter that oats are the same thing that's in oatmeal. Get quizzical look. Move along quickly... Now you need to add 120 grams total of chopped dried apricots, bitter or semi sweet chocolate chips, and blanched almond slivers. You can decide the proportion based on taste, but I tried for roughly equal parts.

  6. Drop mounds of dough (about two tablespoons per cookie) onto the prepared baking sheets. I used a #40 ice cream scoop, only because my #20 (standard cookie size) was in the dishwasher. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don't overbake. I did and it will be one of the things I regret my entire life. Or until I forget. Let them cool on the sheet and then a rack until you can't stand waiting any longer.

    So was it as good as a Jezebel? You'll have to wait for Colin's review to find out!

    Ice cream scoopers can get you fat in two ways!

    A watched cookie does, in fact, bake.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies

These were very good. Hearty and satisfying. The chocolate chips were very dark and somewhat bitter, which appeals to me of course. The texture was dense and filling, chewy but firm.

The only problem was, these had to follow the perfect chocolate chip cookie that came just before. Those were sweet; these were more savory. See, I am a simple man, a true American who likes classic chocolate chip cookies warming on a windowsill in a 1950s that never really occurred. Simple. These were a little hifalutin', like something out of magazine with a French name (I'm talking to you Saveur!).

They were very good though. Not bad at all. Here's the final score:

Daughter told showed me how to whisk ingredients together. Plus 2.
Highly edible. Plus 1.
Pretty. Plus 2.
Smug. Minus 2.
Hot and gooey chocolate chip. Plus 1.
Forced to eat them while watching Sex and the City 2. Minus 2.
Counterbalanced the bad taste left in my mouth by Sex and the City 2. Plus 2.
After eating them, had to endure remaining 139 minutes and 24 seconds of Sex and the City 2. Minus 1.

Total: 3 points for Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Adventures in Math: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies

How to Make: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies
Time Factor: 40 mins
Wow Factor (1-10): 8
Music to Bake By: Lyle Lovett's She Makes Me Feel Good

One night while I was simultaneously texting, surfing, IMing and watching Top Chef: Just Desserts, I stumbled upon a blog called 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson has healthy recipes along with stunning, thoughtful photos of the kind that could not possibly be taken by a woman with young children. (These are the illusions we Moms cling to. If she does have children, I don't want to know about it.) Anyway, she had a recipe for Mesquite Chocolate Chip cookies that she deleted from her site to put into her cookbook. It sounded like exactly the right amount of weird that I like - and thankfully our trusty friend Google found the recipe posted on several other blogs. Thanks Googs!

Mesquite flour sounded like it would have a BBQ flavor, but I was happy to discover it did not. Also happy to discover it wasn't that hard to find - spotted it in two local supermarkets near me. What is hard to find is the right word to describe it - earthy is the best I can do. What was also hard was dividing this recipe into a small batch. I wanted to bake a third of the original version which resulted in many, many calculations and overthinking and absurd sounding portions. Weirdly, it worked. Don't ask how. Just benefit from my insanity. Oh right, and turn your kitchen scale to grams because there is no way to divide so many cups and ounces into thirds properly. By the way, these were the first cookies I've ever made that I can honestly say came out looking somewhat professional. Was it the mesquite? The math? Try it yourself and decide!

Without further ado I bring you a small batch of Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies:
  1. The star of the show: mesquite!
    Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line your baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. In a bowl, whisk together 53 grams of mesquite flour and 110 grams of white flour. So far, easy. But then it starts getting weird. How to divide a teaspoon? The best I could come up with is two 1/8 teaspoons + a half 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder and add the same two 1/8 teaspoons + a half 1/8 teaspoon baking soda and then add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt. Whisk it all together and don't stress. It will be fine.
  2. Time to bring out the big guns: your KitchenAid, if you have one. I got mine for "free" with Thank You points from Mastercard. I'm having a bit of a love affair with mine right now. Let's not tell Colin, shall we? So either with the KitchenAid or a hand mixer or if you're a member of the Russian women's Olympic team then by hand, beat 73 grams of butter until soft.  This seems like as good of a time as any to tell you I messed up with the sugar. The recipe calls for natural cane sugar
    Have you seen sexier butter? I think not.
    and I accidentally bought something that was not that. So I used white sugar and all was well. Do not stress. I will tell you when to stress. This is not that time. Add 133 grams of natural cane sugar or white and beat until creamy.  Add either 2 small eggs (or 1 large egg), one at a time until incorporated. Why not throw in the five 1/8 teaspoons of vanilla extract at this point too? Go ahead and get crazy.
  3. Important tip: lower the mixing speed on your mixer so you do not get a face full of flour before adding the dry ingredients to the wet, in three batches.
    Minor disaster: the small egg had a harder shell than anticipated and didn't crack properly. Luckily, part of the egg slid into the crack between the oven and the counter, so that was nice. Let's not tell Colin that either, shall we?

  4. You might want to turn off the electronics at this time and start hand mixing in the 77 grams of rolled oats as well as the 110 grams of chocolate chips. Then take an ice cream scoop - I used a number 20 for this one - and scoop even rounds (about 2 tablespoons) onto the cookie sheet. In the home stretch...
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes. If anything, you're supposed to underbake them, which is very hard for a child who comes from a home where everything is burnt.  Burnt = cooked. Underbaked = salmonella. But I followed the recipe as told and, I'm telling you, they looked - and tasted - pretty darn good. Of course, you'll have to wait for Colin's rating to find out the real scoop.
Ice cream scoops make evenly sized cookies.
Would you pay $2 for these? How about $.75?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Can't Fail Chocolate Chip Cookies

Rating: 4/5 man guts

C Reviews:
The name of these cookies puts a lot of pressure on the baker. What if the baker botches the batch? Fortunately, these were epic successes.

The flat, wide chips were melted and packed a flavor punch that made my mouth water. The cookie was moist and just the right consistency; soft but with a tangible mouth feel.

Again, I don't really describe things in a food critic sort of manner. That is not my purview. I give you a real-world snapshot of how you might enjoy these cookies in your own kitchen.

It was sad not to have Z help make them. I missed that. But the best part was seeing Z taste them. Her face became wide with joy as the flavors washed over her tongue, then she jumped on the couch for awhile. I guess she hasn't ever really had a chocolate chip cookie before. It is always fun to see her try something new and delicious.

It is a good thing these are small batches because I ate them all within a day. They would get 5 man guts, but it seems like I need to save the man gut award, not just bandy it about willy-nilly.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Can't Fail Chocolate Chip Cookies

How to Make: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Time Factor: 30 mins
Wow Factor (1-10): 3
Music to Bake By: Hot Chocolate You Sexy Thing

True story: I spent an entire summer ruining batch after batch of chocolate chip cookies. My cookies were alternately too dry or too buttery or too flat. You'd think you can't mess up Chocolate Chip Cookies but you did not spend that summer with me in D.C. Those people will tell you.

I didn't learn until years later (and my mother-in-law instructed me) that I was measuring the flour wrong (shake spoonfuls into the measuring cup, don't scoop). Anyway, this recipe is adapted from the The New Basics Cookbook, a cookbook I could not live without. It's my go-to for everything. Fitting that I used it for my first real small batch.  And it seemed like the old standby of chocolate chip cookies was an appropriate test. It was insanely easy. My husband left for Target and by the time he was back the cookies were almost done.

Small Batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Now every good cookie recipe starts with creaming butter and sugar.
    I could just eat this with a spoon and call it a day.
    Combine 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of unsalted butter at room temperature with 3 tablespoons (packed) of brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of white sugar. Add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and beat for at least three minutes to get it really fluffy. Don't be impatient and cheat! Use a timer to force yourself to really do it that long. Trust me, it makes a difference. If you're really bored, multi-task and do some Kegels.

  2. I was at the Farmers Market in Davis, California this weekend (don't ask) and was delighted to find small eggs. I have never seen regular small chicken eggs in the supermarket. I asked her how many small eggs would equal a large one for baking and her answer was two - but her thick accent made me concerned about whether she really understood the question. Feeling adventurous, I decided to trust her. And that's also when I decided to halve the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe since the original called for one large egg - easy math. Let's try out this little egg and trust walk with the Estonian organic farmer shall we? (And put off the inevitable where I have to divide an egg into fourths... just a little longer.) So add one small egg to the butter/sugar mixture and beat it.

    Look! Mini Me egg!

    So tiny you just want to hug it.

3. Next mix your dry ingredients. I was surprised that I could put the half cup plus 1 tablespoon flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and get ready for it... half pinch of salt into a soup bowl. (Maybe letting your kid's small fingers do a pinch is the way to go with that half pinch.) Another benefit of baking small batches is that clean up is easier. Or it seems that way.

4. Slowly add your dry ingredients to your wet ones and beat until smooth, then add a half cup of chocolate chips. This time I used Ghirardelli Chocolate Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips. If you've been using a mixer at this point you probably want to just hand mix the chips in with a spatula.

Think happy thoughts.
5. Use a dessert spoon and scoop out roughly even mounds of dough onto a cookie sheet that is either lined with parchment paper or a Silpat Baking Sheet. I have to say I'm not enthralled with the Silpat myself - it seems greasy - but I'm probably not cleaning it correctly. I used parchment. Pop these 12 babies into the oven and bake for 4 minutes, then rotate and the Silver Palate gals say to rap it on the counter once. Bake for another for another 4-5 minutes until they look like something you wouldn't be ashamed to bring to a bake sale.

The final product: C's already gotten into them!

6. Given that Z was asleep when I made these it was extremely fast and simple - although probably less fun. She would love to see that mini egg so I'll definitely let her help me for the next one. It's about time to teach that girl to crack an egg, isn't it? (Might wait for the flour lesson until she has better manual dexterity...)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Inaugural Review: Dulce De Leche brownies

Rating: 4/5 manguts

C reviews:
These brownies were fantastic. The dulce de leche was delicious on its own, but coupled with the brownie it was a flavor overload.

You know, I'm realizing it's hard to write food reviews. That's why I have avoided doing it on Yelp! It always sounds like a blatherous fool sounding off with a limited grammar toolbox. But since I am that, I may as well be it.

So anyway, these were super yum. They were chewy with crispy chunks on the exterior. The center was moist, made more so by the melted dulce de leche. Since I was also eating ice cream and drinking wine at the same time, I was delighted to no end until I made a crack about how parents have so little to discuss with each other and a pall settled over the whole table.

I would give these 5/5 manguts (a mangut is my trademarked system of rating food), but the first one out of the gate can't be 5 manguts. Manguts are easily pleased but they're discerning. I am not going to be soft on these brownies just because my two gals made them.

Rest assured, these were so good that Z wanted more and when she didn't get more she wept sorrowfully. And then because I am an adult I secretly went in and had more. Mangut scores!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Inaugural Bake - Dulce de Leche Brownies

How to Make: Dulce de Leche Brownies
Time Factor: 3ish hour
Wow Factor (1-10): 8.5
Music to Bake By: Gwen Stefani "The Sweet Escape"

Amanda Bakes:
This is my first adventure baking for this blog. Let me point out that I'm basically an untrained - but enthusiastic! - baker, I work full time and I'm the mom of a delightfully energetic preschooler. i.e., things don't come out perfectly. Ever. For example, I really wanted to spend time picking out the precise, exact, most perfect recipe to kick off this blog but the truth is we were invited to dinner at a friends (with kids) and I didn't have time for the butter to soften. That meant brownies. I have been reading David Lebowitz's fabulous blog and he has an intriguing recipe for Dulce de Leche Brownies. I had to try it.

This was further complicated by the fact that this was not a small batch job (the whole point of the Baking for Three blog) because we were bringing it to friends. Nor did I have sweetened condensed milk. (Well, I did, but it had expired TWO YEARS AGO, necessitating a quick pre-nap trip to Safeway.) These brownies took me insanely longer than the average person because my daughter decided not to nap and once we broke her free from her cage (I mean bed), she really wanted to help. Which means everything took twice as long - but let's face it, it was twice as cute too.

Okay, so Dulce de Leche Brownies - here goes:
  1. First you have to make the dulce de leche. Sounds complicated. It's not. Preheat the oven to
    Whisk found in my daughter's play kitchen.
    425° F. Get a can of sweetened condensed milk and pour it into a glass baking dish or pie plate. Add a pinch of sea salt and stir. Cover with tin foil. Get a larger glass baking dish and place the small one inside the larger one. Add warm water into the larger one (so the small one is essentially taking a nice warm bath. Bake for one hour to one hour fifteen minutes. When it's done it should be nice and carmely brown. Let cool, then whisk. Mine had some uncarmelized parts but when I whisked it all together it was fine.

  2. While that was cooling I started the brownies. First preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then line a 8-inch square pan with tin foil and give it a light spritz with non stick spray. The tin foil is David's trick and he's right - it makes getting the brownies out and clean up a lot easier.

  3. Small pieces melt faster.
    So then you take 8 tablespoons (one stick) of salted or unsalted butter, cut it into pieces, and put it into a double boiler to melt. Don't put too much water in the double boiler or it starts steaming up around the sides of the bowl and condensation could get into your chocolate. Water and chocolate, I've been told by a pastry chef friend, don't mix. Water basically ruins the chocolate. Use just enough water and keep the heat low to be safe.

  4. Action shot!

    Now there are lots of strong opinions about chocolate, which brand to use and which type (bittersweet, semi, milk, white, etc.) I am chocolate agnostic (so far) and try everything. I recently learned that baking chips are not good for recipes that require melting because they're made to stay whole in cookies. However, there's a big difference between the ideal ingredient to use in a recipe and what you have in your cabinet. That said, I used 6 ounces Semisweet Chocolate Chips (I used Guittard Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips). DL says you can use bitter or semisweet -- I used what I had. They melted easily. You are supposed to stir constantly over very low heat until the chocolate is melted but I was interrupted by the calls of my non-napping daughter and the mostly unattended melt still turned out fine.

  5. Wash your whisk! Remove chocolate/butter
    I was ordered to wear Z's Halloween Silly Bandz.

    from heat and whisk in 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder which I just realized is not dutch-processed but, oh well) until smooth. Add in 3 large eggs, one at a time.
  6. At this point Z had dragged her mini chair into the kitchen and was not going to be denied involvement. I let her stir in the 1 cup of sugar while I added 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and then (following another DL trick) I tossed in about a half teaspoon of Star Kay White Pure Chocolate Extract just for kicks. DL says it makes things taste extra chocolatey but honestly the jury's still out for me.
  7. You're in the home stretch! Add 1 cup of flour and if you
    Z 'helping'!
    want, 1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped. I couldn't deal with the nuts - plus I figured I was already pushing my luck with preschoolers and these brownies. During this part of the process, feel free to chant 'bate, bate, bate!' which is what Dora does when she's mixing things.
  8. Scrape half of the batter into the pan with the tin foil. Now take one-third of the Dulce de Leche and pour that in over the brownie batter. Drag a butter knife through to swirl it slightly. I do not recommend letting your three-year old do the swirling, but hey, you may be more adventurous than I. Pour the in remaining brownie batter and then drop spoonfuls of the rest of the  Dulce de Leche over the top of the brownie batter and swirl, swirl, swirl.
  9. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. DL says the brownies are done when the center feels "just-slightly firm". I put a little skewer in mine to test and it looked too wet so I let it cook an extra ten. In hindsight I realized what I was looking at was the Dulce de Leche, which stays very soft and wet. So don't make my mistake and over-bake! Despite that, Z said she liked 'the inside and the outside' so I guess there's no such thing as bad Dulce de Leche brownies. Once they're done, remove brownies from the oven and cool completely.

    After the oven.
    Before the oven.
  10. My brownies tasted pretty good (well, the three 3-year olds liked them) but the chocolate looked MUCH lighter than DL's. I think it's because the cocoa I used wasn't Dutch processed. Bake and learn! In a strange mind meld our hostess bought Dulce de Leche ice cream for dessert. You'd think that might be too much Dulce de Leche, but, apparently that's not something you need to worry about.