Chocolate Chip Cookies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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!

 

 

Mexican Mocha Pudding with Kahlua Whipped Cream

Most of my friends will say that I possess addictive tendencies towards my relationship with coffee.  While my body demands a morning jolt of caffeine in its bloodstream, my afternoon coffee is purely indulgent.  There is nothing more satisfying than consuming a robust cup of coffee to revive my senses and defeat the sleepiness that looms over me in the afternoon.  This passion for the bean carries over equally to desserts and given the choice, I’d opt for a coffee-induced dessert every time.  Some warning signs that might indicate you too have an irrefutable dependence to coffee are: you have your own espresso machine at the office, Starbucks is the specified landmark for any and ALL directions given, your child shouts from the backseat at the mere site of a Starbucks, “Pull over Momma…you need a coffee” and finally, you can balance your child, purse, groceries and more while still managing to keep a firm grip on your coffee and not relinquish a single drop.

Am I alone here??  Anyone wanna go grab a coffee?

This amazing dessert is inspired to showcase the essence of a true Mexican coffee.  The flavors of this pudding are complex and are perfect for steadfast coffee lovers.  Steeping the cocoa nibs in milk adds a unique element of chocolate that creates an unexpected balance to the pudding.  The Kahlua whipped cream without doubt takes it over the top.  I like to serve this pudding in espresso cups (mostly for portion control) as it is quite effortless to become immersed in an entire bowl of this decadence without even realizing it.

Mexican Mocha Pudding          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 6-8 servings

2 cups whole milk

1 ¼ cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp cocoa nibs (can be found at most specialty stores)

2 1/2 Tbsp Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur, divided

½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar

3 Tbsp cornstarch

3 Tbsp instant espresso powder

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Make the pudding:

In a small saucepan, bring the whole milk, 1 cup of the heavy whipping cream, cocoa nibs and 1 ½ Tbsp of the Kahlua to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for 20 minutes.

Strain the infused milk into a medium sized bowl, pressing the cocoa nibs with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the nibs.

In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk the brown sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder and cinnamon with about 1/3 cup of the infused milk and stir to form a smooth paste. Stir in the remainder of the milk to combine.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat whisking constantly for about 1 minute until slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat and pour into individual ramekins or espresso cups. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 4 hours, or until set.  Tip: Place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding while chilling so that it doesn’t develop a film.

Make the whipped cream:

Combine the remaining ¼ cup of chilled heavy whipped cream and 1 Tbsp of Kahlua in a mixing bowl and beat until peaks form.  Spoon onto puddings and serve.

Enjoy! xo

Flourless Chocolate Brownies

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the ever ubiquitous pumpkins, apples, spices, nuts and everything fall make their way into most of the desserts for this holiday of thanks.  I absolutely adore this time of year and all of its flavors; however, sometimes you just need a little break from tradition for a change of taste.  A profound chocolate craving took over my willpower this week (not unusual by any means).  These decadent chocolate brownies instantly came to mind and I knew they would be the perfect diversion from the classic fall desserts furthermore satisfying my intense craving (at least until next week).

These brownies are rich and fudgy, but not too sweet.  They are made without flour which further propels the chocolate onto center stage.  You won’t even miss the flour…in fact you’ll wonder how flour ever made its way into brownies in the first place.  Who knew the absence of flour in a baked good could be such a wonderful thing? Whether you have intolerance to gluten or simply want a divine fudgy brownie…this is absolutely the recipe for you!  What I like best about this recipe is that it doesn’t involve a mixer of any kind.  Just make sure that you stir the batter long enough (as directed below) otherwise the brownies can become crumbly.  The cocoa nibs are a wonderful addition creating a nice texture combination with the nuts. (You can find cocoa nibs at Whole Foods Market or any specialty food store).

Flourless Chocolate Brownies          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 12 brownies

6 Tbsp unsalted butter

8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

¾ cup sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-process

3 Tbsp corn starch

1/8 tsp salt

3 Tbsp cocoa nibs – optional but highly recommended

1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped – optional

Line the inside of an 8×8 square pan with foil so that it goes up the sides and wrap over the rim.  Lightly grease the foil with butter or non-stick cooking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter, salt and chocolate in a medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, then the eggs, one at a time.

Sift together the cocoa powder and corn starch in a small bowl then stir them into the chocolate mixture.  Beat the batter vigorously for at least one minute, until the batter is no longer grainy and nearly smooth.  It will pull away from the sides of the pan a bit.

Add the nuts and cocoa nibs, if using, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the brownies are set in the center and slightly cracked on top.  Be careful to not over bake. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a rack before removing from the pan and slicing.

Keep brownies stored in a sealed container for up to 4 days…but they probably won’t last that long.

Recipe from David Lebovitz, http://www.davidlebovitz.com