Saturday, May 29, 2010

Variations on a Theme

One of the most satisfying, mom-put-this-in-my-lunchbox cookies to make is the chocolate chip cookie. It tastes great right out of the oven, a few days later, dipped in milk, straight from the freezer, or with ice cream sandwiched in between two cookies. We all have our favorite versions, to which many are steadfast and true. Mine has always been the Original Toll House recipe (click here for a Wikipedia article about the creation of the recipe), but, of course, I have created my own variations over the years.
Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies
4 ½ cups flour                1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking soda           2 cups packed brown sugar
2 tsp salt                           2 tsp vanilla
2 cups (4 sticks)             4 large eggs
salted butter
¾ cup malted milk       2-4 cups chocolate chips

With a whisk, combine flour, baking soda, salt and malted milk in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large mixer bowl, beat softened (but not melted) butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Add flour mixture 1 cup at a time, until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Using a small ice cream scoop, place cookie dough on a parchment lined baking sheet. At this point, I bake off a few cookies as a reward for all my hard work (9-12 minutes). But, the rest I scoop out onto a parchment lined baking sheet, then put in the freezer to be baked off in smaller batches. This also aids in making them better cookies. They’re a little more dense, but still very chewy. You can even refrigerate the dough overnight to develop this density.

Sweet & Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies
Another variation I love to make is a play on the whole sweet-salty thing (what my friend, Stephanie, calls yin yang cooking). I make the chocolate chip cookies without the malted milk and, instead of plain salt, I use the Smoky Chocolate Salt from Golden Fig. This is an amazing, hand-blended salt with sea salt, Alderwood smoked sea salt, vanilla and cocoa. I also sprinkle a little of the salt on top of the cookie before baking. You can also use coarsely ground salt, instead of the Smoky Chocolate Salt.
Sometimes, I have this blasphemous urge to make the chocolate chips smaller, or get rid of them altogether. Strike me down now, oh Lord of the Chocolate Chip Cookies. For the salted cookies, I actually coarsely grind the chips before adding them. This results in a very nice, gesamtkunstwerk experience. (I can't believe I actually used "gesamtkunstwerk" to describe a cookie. It's a term used by Richard Wagner, the 19th century composer, and refers to a performance which includes all the arts - music, dance, painting, literature - all on equal footing. So, instead of the chocolate chips stealing the show, you get a lovely balance of flavors. Who said I would never use my master's degree. So much for telling Sallie Mae I'm not using it - now I'll have to pay my loan.)
Then there's the kitchen sink approach to chocolate chip cookies. I found this one on the Quaker Oats lid and made my customary changes to the recipe.
Chewy Choc-Oat-Chip Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter             1 3/4 cup flour                                                                 
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar          1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar                  1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs                                       2 1/2 cups uncooked oats
2 tbsp milk                                       2 cups (12 oz) chocolate chips
2 tsp vanilla                                      1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
                                                          1 cup coconut
                                                         1 cup raisins, craisins, or other dried fruit
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter,  and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and beat well. Stir in oats, chocolate chips, pecans, coconut and dried fruit. Using a small ice cream scoop, place on a parchment lined pan and bake for 9-10 minutes.
Now, pour yourself a large glass of cold milk, dunk all the cookies you want (hey, we're grown-ups and can have cookies and milk for dinner, if we so choose) and listen to the Ride of the Valkries. Even Richard Wagner couldn't deny the culinary arts in his gesamtkunstwerk list.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tastes Like Nostalgia

There's a cookie that I really loved as a little girl in sunny California that had disappeared. I couldn't remember the name of the cookie or the brand, although I could see it in my mind's eye (which is so frustrating - isn't there a print button in the brain?). I knew the cookie had raisins in it and it wasn't super sweet. Then, one Christmas about 5 years ago, my mom tucked a package of Garibaldi Biscuits in my stocking. Now, stockings at Mom's house are a thing of beauty. My family has even talked about foregoing the main gifts in favor of the stockings, but who wants to give up a brand new Cuisinart Food Prep, my big gift this year. I certainly don't. Back to the cookie. I took one bite and I was suddenly 5-years-old again, standing in the kitchen of our apartment in San Diego. Total taste trip!

Smells and tastes are so connected with events and times in our lives, that they can transport us right back to a nearly lost memory. The same thing happened when I had fig jam at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco a few years ago. I was there with my cousin, who I hadn't seen in several years, and took a taste of Dalmatia Fig Jam. I looked at my cousin and said, "Why do I know that taste?" She said, "Because, Great-Grandma Park used to make jam with the figs from the tree in her back yard." It was a memory I had completely forgotten. There it was, handed to me on a cracker.

I went searching for a recipe for the Garibaldi Biscuits, since I wasn't going to order them from the Vermont Country Store every time I wanted them (as tempting as it might be). On Google, I found a simple recipe, albeit in metric (European) measurements, which is simple to convert. Just use one of the systems, also found on Google, to make the conversion. I discovered that the raisins were actually currants, which is a like a raisin, but much smaller. There are red currents, which are completely different, so don't use those. You'll find them at the grocery store as Zante currents. I like to say that they're intense raisins, without the squish.

The Garibaldi Biscuits aren't too difficult to make. The dough is a little sticky, so I've come up with a few ways that make it easier to handle, besides just throwing it out and buying them online.

Garibaldi Biscuits
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 tbsp cold butter (I prefer salted)
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup currants (Zante)

Combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut in butter, or use food processor (my preferred method) until crumbly. Add milk and pulse until the dough starts to gather on the blade. Turn out onto a well floured surface. Press together until a ball forms, wrap in plastic wrap and flatten out into a rectangle shape. Chill.

Finely chop the currants - again, I prefer using the food processor (and, no, it isn't because it's all shiny and new). If you're using a knife, you may want to put a little vegetable oil on it to keep the currants from sticking. Roll the chilled dough out in a long rectangle on a sheet of floured parchment paper until it is the length of the paper (which should be the length of a standard jelly roll pan). Spread the currants down the middle of the dough (think of the dough as divided into 3 long rows and put the currants in the middle row). They won't necessarily cover all of the area since it isn't a thick amount of filling. Fold one half of the dough toward the middle, using the parchment to hold the dough (see, I told you I'd help you handle the sticky dough), then do the same with the other side. Cut this in half to create two shorter pieces. Carefully put both pieces side by side, cover with another piece of parchment, and roll them out until they're a little thinner. Flip them over so that the edge is on the bottom. Place the biscuits and parchment on the baking sheet. Brush with an egg wash or milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown, about 15-25 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove from oven and immediately cut into 1 inch pieces.

A favorite variation of mine is to use apricots and craisins, instead of currants. Use 1/4 cup of apricots and 1/4 cup of craisins. Pulse in the food processor just like the currants until finely chopped, and spread on the dough.

These make beautiful cookies for the holiday season, but I love them year 'round. They're a great breakfast cookie, too. Well, I'll eat any cookie for breakfast. At least I know what the ingredients are, as opposed to breakfast bars or cereal from the grocery store.

Fig Jam
I found a recipe for Fig Jam using dried figs that tastes a lot like the jam Grandma Park used to make. I can't wait for fresh figs to come in to my local co-op, but until then, I'll have to be satisfied with using dried figs. You can find them at any grocery store - even Sun-Maid has them. Black Mission figs are the most common.

Fig Jam
7 oz. dried figs
1 1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar

Place figs in a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to soak for at least an hour. After the figs have softened and plumped up, remove them from the pan, but save the water. Place the pan back on the stove, add the lemon juice and sugar and bring to a second boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. In the meantime, snip the stems off the figs and chop them with a knife or in a food processor. I like a smooth fig jam, so I chop them until there are no pieces left. Add the chopped figs to the pan, stir thoroughly, and bring to another boil (be careful, this thick mixture can burn if it splatters onto your skin - use a cover). Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened. If you understand how to can, you can do that. I don't have a well-stocked shelf in my basement with the bounty from my non-existent garden, so obviously, I don't know how to can. I pour the mixture in a few covered bowls and keep them in my fridge. It doesn't take long to use it up since it goes on my toast every morning.

This would be a delicious filling for the Garibaldi Biscuits. Then, you can take Fig Newtons off your shopping list.