I’m a serious baker. You might even call me hardcore. I don’t walk around wielding a spatula in one hand and a hand mixer in the other, but I do feel pretty hardcore about baking – and even more so about cookies.
Photograph courtesy of Dorie Greenspan and Alan Richardson
Everyone loves cookies. No one is unhappy when they see them. They’re compact and portable and can be picked up and eaten like finger food. Sure, you could make a cheesecake – but you have to put it on a plate and eat it with a fork, making it difficult to stand and eat at the same time. A cookie, for the most part, can be held in one hand and nibbled on. It’s a happy treat.
Like every connoisseur, I’m picky about the kind of cookies I make. Every Christmas I make a few different kinds, box them up and send as gifts. A lot of love goes into making food for friends and, if you’re looking for a treat to send, cookies, for the most part, travel well. Also, myriad of different kinds exist to suit everyone’s taste: chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, fruited, nutty, shaped, rolled, dropped, spicy, creamy, chunky, crispy, filled, frosted – and more.
My preference is drop cookies. In case you’re unsure of what that means, a chocolate chip cookie is a type of drop cookie. Using a spoon, you scoop up the batter and drop it on the baking tray. The reason I like drop cookies is that, once you’ve made one kind of drop cookie, you’re ready to make ’em all. They’re also sturdy, meaning if you pick them up there’s not much of a fear of them falling apart. People who aren’t as accustomed to fussy baking that involves twisting, rolling, freezing and cutting, or futzing would do well with drop cookies. Most baking is an exact science, but most drop cookies are very forgiving.
I purchased a new baking book called “Baking, From My Home to Yours” by Dorie Greenspan. Dorie, and her book, received a James Beard Award. For the unfamiliar, it’s like the Academy Awards of food.
The cookie section is substantial and looks amazing. Ninjas, our mission is clear: Attack the cookie and brownie section and leave no survivors. Or, at the very least, no leftovers.
The first cookie I baked caused me to think of some friends of mine that I started sending cookie boxes to. He loves salt, she loves sweet and a lot of chocolate. This cookie marries both tastes perfectly.
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips or chunks
6 ounces premium quality milk or white chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips or chunks
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped nuts, preferably salted peanuts or toasted pecans
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or finely chopped moist, plump dried apricots
The list looks intimidating, but it’s not. I promise.
The instructions in the book say: Set your oven rack in the center and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line your baking sheet with parchment.
After that, I start to diverge into some shortcuts that I’ve developed over the years.
A drop cookie recipe will usually start off by telling you to take the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder) and sift them together. I don’t. There’s definitely a reason for sifting the ingredients together, creating a beautifully light and lump-free structure to your cookie, but it is time consuming and messy, and makes for more clean up. For now, I’d say skip it. Just trust me.
No? Okay, I’ll tell you what. The next time I make these (it will be very soon) I’ll sift and then come back to tell you of any significant difference in the cookie. For now, skip it.
Set a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. You only want a couple inches of water in the pot and do not let the bowl touch the water. That’s very important.
Blurry pictures. Also very important.
Turn the burner on to a medium low setting. Into the bowl put your butter, bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and stir occasionally, just until melted. For you short-cutters out there, if you turn the burner on to medium, you’ll need to stir it constantly. When it’s done, the chocolate and butter should be “smooth and shiny but not so hot the butter separates.” Remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the counter to cool.
In a new, large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar for 2 minutes, until they are a pale yellow and foamy. If you’re using a stand mixer, set it to medium-high. If you’re using a hand mixer like I do, you really only have two options for speed: Off and Flinging Batter Everywhere. So, hand held mixer ninjas, please be careful. What I do is scrub out my sink and then put my bowl in it. This lowers the batter to wall ratio while increasing the batter to bowl ratio.
I don’t have a mathematical formula to explain that. Sorry.
When you’re done with that, beat in the vanilla extract, then scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula, making sure you get all of the sugar granules. Reduce the mixer to speed (or, for hand held mixers, change the setting and pretend something different is happening) and add the melted butter and chocolate mixture. Mixing only until incorporated. So, barely a minute of mixing. Scrape the bowl again, then on low speed (or imaginary low speed – whatever you’ve got) start adding the dry ingredients.
Ok, because we skipped the dry ingredients in the beginning, we have to make sure everything is completely incorporated and mixed up. What I do is, add the smaller amounts of ingredients first.
Toss in the salt, baking soda, and cocoa. Mix it with your mixer. Scrape it down and add the flour. Scrape again, and mix for a few minutes more.
This “technique” (aka shortcut) really comes in handy when you’re working with a cookie that calls for more flour. A good example is your basic chocolate chip cookie, which can call for 2 or more cups of flour. In that case, add your smaller ingredients to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Then add one cup of flour. Mix thoroughly. Add the second cup. Mix thoroughly. A baker would probably tell me what I’m doing is wrong but for our purposes, it’s fine.
By now the dough is thick, smooth and shiny. Using the rubber spatula, mix in the semi-sweet and milk (or white) chocolate chunks, nuts and raisins. Don’t use the mixer!
The dough will contain more “crunchies” now.
About the nuts. Most recipes say nuts are optional, and they certainly are. However, to get the full wow factor of this cookie, you’ll really want to add the nuts for salt.
Now, about the raisins. My raisins were old and dry. They looked like – well, I won’t bother telling you. To plump them up (and I really wish my picture of this had turned out) take a bowl of hot water and put your raisins in them. Let the raisins sit for a few minutes, then drain and pat dry (very gently so you dry them and don’t squash them back into their previous state). The hot water will plump them up, and they’ll be ready for your cookie.
Now, drop the dough onto your cookie sheet. Using a tablespoon, take heaping scoops of cookie dough and put them onto the sheet, a couple of inches apart from one another. These cookies will not spread, so whatever shape you leave them in on the cookie sheet – that’s what they’ll look like when you take them out. My suggestion would be to put them on the cookie sheet, then very gently mold them into a relatively round shape so they look pleasing.
Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 10 – 12 minutes. The tops of the cookies will be a little dry, but the interiors will be soft. Remove them carefully with a metal spatula and let them cool on a cooling rack.
Grab a glass of milk and enjoy.