Chocolate Chip Cookies

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What quantifies the perfect chocolate chip cookie? Everyone holds their own discretion regarding what defines this most beloved cookie, but the broad characteristics seem unanimous; a cookie with a soft chewy center, chewy but crisp golden edges, the perfect ratio of chocolate to buttery dough, a little bit of sweet with the balance of some salty, not too thick, not too thin…such a simple cookie demands such complex merits! Chocolate chip cookies are one of the most fundamental elements that a baker holds in his/her repertoire. It even seems like they need little explanation. What could be complicated about such an unassuming yet omnipresent cookie? So here I ask…why is this cookie so difficult for me to master?? I’ve spent countless hours making so many chocolate chip cookie recipes and while they’ve been graciously consumed (mostly by yours truly), they’ve fallen well short of ideal. I’ve thus decided to take this cookie on head to head stopping at nothing for defeat. Let the pursuit begin…may the best cookie win.
In order to battle this cookie properly, I had to dissect and assess the role of each ingredient and how it directly affects the end result. While this might just be too much information for your interest, I personally found the process fascinating and feel compelled to share my research with you nonetheless. While some cookies are unaffected by high altitude, this cookie proves quite the challenge. My chocolate chip cookie creations of the past have emerged from the oven completely flat due to unruly spreading and entirely too crisp lacking the desirable chewiness that they deserve.
Here are a few discoveries that I’ve made along the way to cookie perfection:
• Butter adds wonderful flavor to a cookie but at high altitude it can pose a problem by causing the cookie to spread too much when baked. I find that substituting anywhere from 1-3 Tbsp of vegetable shortening (Crisco) in place of the same amount of butter provides additional structure and prevents the cookie from spreading too much without hindering the flavor of the cookie.
• Sugar not only provides sweetness to the cookie, but also crunch. Brown sugar on the other hand, lends itself to a moist and chewy textured cookie due to its molasses content. You’ll find that most chocolate chip cookie recipes call for an equal amount of these two sugars in order to create the ideal textural balance. You can however play with these individual sugar amounts depending on if your cookie preference runs chewy or crispy.
• Letting the dough rest overnight (24-36 hours) not only allows the flavors to meld together, but also allows the dry ingredients to soak up the eggs, which will create very dry dough. This dryness creates the most perfectly textured cookie.
• After the dough is incorporated, I chill it in the refrigerator (in the mixing bowl) for about 30 minutes to one hour until it is slightly firm, then I scoop the dough into ¼ cup scoops onto a cookie sheet. At this point, I chill it overnight in the refrigerator and then double wrap the dough scoops and place in the freezer. This makes it easy (sometimes too easy) to grab individual cookie dough servings to bake so that you can enjoy fresh warm baked cookies any time!
• On this note, it is imperative to place the dough straight from the refrigerator or freezer immediately into the oven to bake. The baking time is the same whether frozen or chilled. Cold dough means firm butter, which in turn means less spreading during baking.
• Use parchment paper or Silpat liners on the cookie sheet to help prevent cookies from sticking and to make clean-up easy.
• Finishing off the cookie with a light sprinkle of sea salt just before baking truly enhances the flavors of the cookie while also balancing the sweetness.

 

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Chocolate Chip Cookies         {Print Recipe}
Yield: 18 – 4” diameter cookies
2 ¼ cups [+1 Tbsp for high altitude] all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature [replace 3 Tbsp with shortening for high altitude]
¾ cups granulated sugar
¾ cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chips
1 cup semi-sweet chips
Sprinkle of sea salt (optional)
Whisk the flour, baking soda and the salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and add both sugars. Beat until well incorporated and smooth, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.
Adjust the speed to the lowest setting and gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Beat until well combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Place plastic wrap directly on the cookie dough surface and place in the refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator and form dough into ¼ cup portions using a large cookie or ice cream scoop. Return the cookie scoops (on the cookie sheet) to the refrigerator for overnight storage. After 24 hours, the cookies are ready to bake. Simply remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and place directly into the oven or double wrap the dough mounds and relocate to the freezer for longer storage.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. I like to bake one sheet of cookies at a time, but if you choose to bake two sheets at a time, place the racks on the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Make sure to rotate the cookie sheets halfway through the baking time. Bake the cookies, spaced about 4” apart, until the edges are golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven when the center of the cookies still looks soft…trust me. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes and relocate to a cooling rack to cool completely (or indulge in them while they’re still warm). I like to make the cookies large (4” cookie), but if you’d prefer to make smaller cookies, make the dough balls with a medium sized cookie scoop (3” cookie) and bake for about 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy!

 

 

Spiced Sugar Cookies

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I have a confession to make.  I’m caught in the midst of a love affair…no not of the traditional variety, but rather the sweet kind.  Sugar cookies.  Sugar cookies of all kinds…vanilla,  lemon,  almond,  chocolate.  The list is ever evolving and I have no intention of ceasing my indulgences.  You might not believe this, but I have a surprising amount of willpower when it comes to most desserts, keeping my portions at bay (relatively speaking).  But when it comes to sugar cookies, I’m afraid I simply can’t resist. Thin, crisp and subtly sweet with a delicately crunchy icing that adds just the right amount of sweetness and texture.  I adore making these cookies because…well…let’s face it, everyone loves a good sugar cookie.  I also cherish them because of the accuracy that comes along with the task.  Don’t get me wrong, sugar cookies are simple to make, but achieving the desired shape and finished product comes with precision, lots of patience and plenty of challenges.  In an effort to create the perfectly crafted sugar cookie, I attempt them often and find myself tweaking my recipe a little each and every time that I make them.   Living in the “Mile High” City of Denver, high altitude undoubtedly plays a large part in the end result as it presents numerous baking challenges.  The dough rises too quickly and the cookie spreads too much, all but eliminating the details of the shape that you’ve worked so hard to create.  The center of the cookie is under baked while the edges of the cookie quickly become too dark and last but not least, the texture of the cookie reveals tiny bothersome bubbles throughout ruining the anticipated flawlessness.  After many years and a lot of tries, I’ve finally discovered my choice recipe and methods to creating sugar cookie perfection.  You may remember my post for “Sugar Cookies” from a couple of years back.  These cookies have the delicious flavor of almond infused in both the cookie itself as well as the icing…soooo good.  The chocolate sugar cookies from the “Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies” (another post from the past) are incredibly rich and chocolate-y and display the magnificent versatility that a simple sugar cookie can uphold.

Now that I’ve successfully surmounted the sugar cookie hurdle, I ask myself, “how can I further explore this beloved cookie?”  Sugar cookies are a chameleon of sorts, quite versatile, revealing endless possibilities.  The dough is a pleasure to work with and can accept many flavors to transform it from a humble sugar cookie to a cookie with more complex form and flavor.  After much contemplation, I concluded that in the spirit of this fall season and with the holidays quickly approaching, what better flavor addition than to infuse the cookies with the warm spices and flavors that this season embodies?

These lightly spiced cookies are really really good.  By altering my sugar cookie recipe slightly, I discovered such a lovely flavor combination.  These cookies warm your senses with the aromatic flavors of spice.  They truly embody the essence of fall, yet the cookie still maintains the admired qualities of a sugar cookie.  They are a perfect cross between a sugar cookie and either an English Biscoff or Dutch Speculaas.  Never heard of Speculaas cookies?  They are essentially a shortbread biscuit derived from the Netherlands, and are common particularly during the Christmas season.  Both varieties are a delicately thin and crisp cookie infused with holiday spices.  Whatever you call them, they’re delicious.

These spiced sugar cookies are lovely all on their own, but the royal icing and sanding sugar offer a contrasting sweetness and crunch that takes them over the top.  I think that you’ll find that these cookies become part of your beloved cookie repertoire as they did for me and you just might find yourself caught in the midst of a love affair.

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Spiced Sugar Cookies          {Print Recipe}

(recipe adapted from Susan Gold Purdy, Pie in the Sky)

Yields approx.: Four dozen 2” cookies

12 Tbsp (1- 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup  superfine sugar

¼ cup  dark brown sugar, lightly packed

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½  tsp  vanilla extract

2 ¾ cups  all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough

1 tsp  baking powder (1/2 tsp at high altitude)

1 tsp  salt

2 tsp  cinnamon

½ tsp  nutmeg

¼ tsp  cloves

½ tsp  ground ginger

¼ tsp  black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and divide the oven racks into thirds.  Line the cookie sheets with baking parchment or a nonstick baking mat.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, scraping down the bowl and beater as necessary.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on the lowest speed until well incorporated.  Remove from bowl and form the dough into a ball on a slightly floured surface. If it feels too sticky, add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of flour, until it is easier to handle. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes to an hour, or even overnight.

Work quickly with one-half of the dough at the time (keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator).  Lightly flour table surface and rolling pin and roll out dough to about a 1/16-1/8 inch thickness. Cut out shapes as quickly as possible.  The key here is to keep the dough as cold as possible (this helps to solve the bothersome bubble problem).  Transfer cookies onto prepared cookie sheet and place in the freezer for about 15-30 minutes (this helps the cookies to keep their intended shape).

Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes, or until they look slightly golden around the edges. Make sure to rotate pans halfway through baking time for even baking. Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Let the cookies completely cool before icing.

Sugar Cookie Icing

(recipe adapted from allrecipes.com)

3 cups  confectioner’s sugar, sifted

2-3 Tbsp  milk

2 Tbsp  light corn syrup

¾ tsp  vanilla extract

Assorted food coloring

Assorted sanding sugars

In a mixer bowl on low speed, beat together the confectioner’s sugar and milk until smooth.  Increase the speed to medium and beat in the corn syrup and vanilla extract until icing is smooth and glossy.  If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.

Divide the icing into separate bowls, if using multiple colors and add food coloring to the desired intensity.  Spread icing over completely cooled cookies.

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Homemade Graham Crackers

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First of all, it feels fantastic to be back to baking!  Now that we are a family of four, I find that there just isn’t enough time in the day, particularly uninterrupted time in the kitchen.  Sometimes however, a sweet tooth can drive your focus and become quite a powerful force to deal with.  These constant impulses and sweet cravings have once again captured my senses and brought me back into the kitchen emphatically.  With this said, my focus and attention are still guided by my little ones.  Therefore, I feel that I owe it to them to highlight a kid-friendly dessert for this post.

With the craziness of daily life, I feel that I’ve recently fallen victim to the vast array of convenience foods that I’ve relentlessly made such an effort to avoid in the past.  It’s so easy to grab a few prepared snacks for the kids; crackers, cookies, snack bars, etc.  In an effort to put myself at ease about this latest crutch of mine, why not at least attempt to make some of these oh-so-desired snacks from scratch??

These crackers are really more like a cookie and they are so simple yet incredibly versatile.  The ingredients come together quickly and the texture and taste are far superior to those of the store-bought variety.  They are perfectly satisfying on their own, particularly to the kids, but I find that awarding them a dip into warm homemade chocolate sauce and a good slathering of toasted marshmallow elevates them to new heights and captures the attention of the grown-ups as well.

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Graham Crackers          {Print Recipe}

Yields: 40 1 ½” x 3” graham crackers

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup + 2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen

1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover

6 Tbsp. whole milk

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Topping

1 ½ Tbsp. granulated sugar

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

To make the dough:

Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Pulse or mix on low to incorporate.  Add the butter and pulse on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla extract until well incorporated.  Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together.  The dough will be very soft and sticky.  Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour.  Turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick.  Wrap it well, and then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

Roll out the crackers:

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator.  Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface (you can be generous here as the dough is very sticky) and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8” thick.  Cut the edges of the dough to make a straight edged rectangle.  Working with a pastry cutter and straight edge, cut a strip down the long side of the rectangle 1 ½” – 2” wide and repeat all the way down.  Cut the strips along the short side of the rectangle 3”-4” wide and repeat all the way across.  You can cut the dough into squares or rectangles, or even use a cookie cutter if you prefer.  I cut my into 1 ½” x 3” rectangles and it was a perfect size. Traditional graham crackers are about 2” x 4”.

Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar topping.  Chill the dough until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer.  Repeat with the second batch of dough.  Gather any remaining scraps together into a ball, chill until firm and re-roll.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Decorating the crackers:

Cut a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut all the way through the dough.  Using the blunt end of a wooden skewer, prick the dough to form two dots (or however many you want), each side of the dividing line.  You can be as creative as you want here.  It all depends on what size and shape you make your crackers.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.  Be careful as they go from browned to quite toasted in a matter of minutes (I learned this sad fate the hard way.  Fortunately the slightly over-browned cookies made an excellent crushed topping over amazing hot fudge sundaes!)

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Chocolate Fudge Sauce          {Print Recipe}

Yields: 1 cup

3.5 oz. dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or higher), finely chopped

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or dutch-processed)

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup powdered sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch fine grain sea salt

Place the chopped dark chocolate and cocoa powder in a heatproof bowl or double boiler over simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) and heat until the chocolate has melted.

Once the chocolate has melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the light corn syrup, followed by the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt.

Transfer to a glass jar or heatproof container with a lid and serve immediately or cool to room temperature.  The syrup can be refrigerated for several days.  Simply reheat the jar for about 20 seconds in the microwave before serving.  You can reheat the chocolate sauce many times and the consistency will be perfect every time.

Recipe from The Sophisticated Gourmet

Toasted Marshmallow Dip          {PrintRecipe}

Yields: 1 cup

5 oz. (1/2 pkg.) large marshmallows

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the marshmallows in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until nice and toasty brown.  Make sure to keep a close eye on them though as the tops can burn quickly.  With a spatula, scoop the toasted marshmallows into a blender (they will be extremely sticky) and add the heavy whipping cream.  Blend until well incorporated.  Transfer marshmallow mixture into a glass jar or sealable container and refrigerate until the mixture becomes more of a marshmallow consistency.

Recipe from Baked Bree

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Amaretti Cookies

 

I’ve been wanting to make these Italian meringue cookies for a long time…dreaming of them in fact.  They are wonderfully light and airy with a sweet almond flavor & a chewy yet crunchy texture when you take a bite.  They all but melt in your mouth.  I absolutely love to make Italian desserts and am so inspired by Italy’s cuisine.  I think I might just need to take a trip there soon so that I can experience it all first hand!  These meringue cookies remind me of French Macarons if you’ve ever had those.  You could easily envelop two of these cookies around a delicious filling; chocolate ganache, lemon curd or espresso buttercream would make a great pairing with the almond flavor in the cookies.  I chose to keep it simple though and just enjoy a couple (3 or 4) of them with my latte…life just doesn’t get better than that!

Amaretti Cookies          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 75-80 1 1/2 inch cookies

1 2/3 cups (8 oz) blanched almonds

2 cups (8 oz) confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup egg whites (from about 4 large eggs), at room temperature

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

2 tsp almond extract

1/2 cup (3.5 oz) granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor.  Process until the almonds are finely ground, pulsing to avoid turning the mixture into a paste and scraping the sides as necessary.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted.  Add the almond extract and continue to beat, gradually adding granulated sugar, until the egg whites are fluffy and very stiff with a dull sheen.  Pour the almond mixture over the meringue.  Fold with a large rubber spatula just until the dry mixture is fully incorporated.  Scrape the batter into a pastry bag.  Pipe low domes about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 3/4 inches high, 1 inch apart, on parchment lined cookie sheets.  You can also use a spoon to scoop tablespoons of batter 1 inch apart onto the pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cookies are golden.  Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool.  Let the cookies cool completely before storing.  The cookies can be kept in an airtight container for weeks.

Recipe from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt in Your Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

Enjoy!

Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies

They say that love is in the air, but I’m detecting an enticing aroma of freshly baked cookies.  There are many ways to express your love to someone special, but few are as tasty and memorable as a batch of homemade cookies made with love straight from the heart.

These chocolate-y cookies are rich and buttery with a light crunchy texture and are extraordinary entirely on their own.  However, the mint buttercream filling provides a wonderfully creamy and refreshing flavor contrast.  The fusion of crunchy and creamy is so irresistible it will take hold of all your senses tantalizing every last taste bud.

This recipe was inspired by my insane love for peppermint patties.  I just can’t get enough of them and these cookies share a striking resemblance to my all time favorite treat.  I hope that you and your loved ones have a wonderful day full of love, appreciation and most importantly sweets!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!! xoxo

Chocolate Cookies          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 1 dozen sandwich cookies

1 ¾ cups all-purpose white flour

1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted after measuring

1 tsp baking powder

2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 Tbsp canola oil or other flavorless vegetable oil

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and set aside.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, oil and sugar at medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and mix until well incorporated.  Adjust the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture until just combined.

Divide the dough in half and place each portion between 2 sheets of wax paper.  Roll dough to an 1/8” thickness and refrigerate on a baking sheet for at least one hour and up to 24 hours (still between wax paper), until chilled and firm, but not too hard.  Let dough warm up slightly before cutting.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Working with one portion of dough at a time, remove the wax paper from both sides of the dough and place on a lightly floured surface.  Using a 2” fluted round cutter (or any cutter of your choice) cut the dough and place rounds on the prepared baking sheet.  You can re-roll any leftover scraps, but chill again before cutting.  Chill all of the cut cookies until firm again before baking.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until set.  Let cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Mint Buttercream Filling

½ cup plus 2 Tbsp non-hydrogenated solid vegetable shortening or unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ tsp peppermint extract

¼ tsp vanilla extract

2 cups plus 3 Tbsp powdered sugar, sifted

¼ cup egg whites, pasteurized

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, add the shortening, peppermint extract and vanilla extract and mix at medium speed until blended.  Adjust the mixer speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar, egg whites and the pinch of salt.  Increase the speed to medium to fully incorporate the ingredients, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Chocolate Ganache

½ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

3 Tbsp heavy whipped cream

Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium low heat until slightly simmering (the edges start to bubble).  Be careful not to boil the cream too long or it will scald.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate chips, stirring until well incorporated.  Let the chocolate mixture sit and cool until it becomes a spreadable consistency, about 30 minutes.

Assembling the cookies

Pair the cookies so that the sizes match as closely as possible.  Using a pastry bag fitted with a small or round metal piping tip, pipe about a tablespoon of the mint buttercream onto the bottom cookie.  Pipe using another pastry bag, or spread with an offset spatula, a thin layer of the chocolate ganache onto the other cookie.  Sandwich the cookies together allowing the filling to ooze just a bit at the edges of the cookie.  Let set for about 10 minutes.  These cookies can be kept at room temperature in a sealed container for a couple of hours, but refrigerate for longer storage.  Make sure to bring back to room temperature before serving.

Visit www.frontrowmonthly.com to also view this recipe as well as the latest in fashion news and entertainment.  My recipe post is on page 17 of the “page-flip” under the section Dish.