Monday, May 12, 2014

Food is Love: I like to say it with cookies.

I had a friend who entertained me with stories about the Italian Mamma that would feed her while she nannied in New York City. "Food is Love," she would quote in her best Brooklyn accent, "I cook for you because I love you." For some reason it made me laugh, but as I have learned more about cooking, I often find myself returning to that mantra. Sharing good food with my friends and family is definitely a method of mine in expressing how much I love them. Food brings people together. It gives us a reason to gather, and something to share that we all enjoy. Over the years, one of the food traditions that we have enjoyed most is inviting friends over to have chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven with ice cream.

I have a distinct memory from my younger years of a woman who came to visit my mom and brought the most perfect batch of cookies to share with us. I don't even know who she was, but I remember asking her very sincerely how she made such amazing cookies. I think she said she just followed the recipe on the bag of chips, but try as I might, mine never turned out like hers. As a young married, I was determined to find the big secret. Thanks to a jump start from scientific cooking guru Alton Brown, and through extensive trial and error of my own, I feel like I can confidently say, I did it! It's so good, in fact, that my husband never asks for anything else for dessert. If I want to bake something else, I do it at the risk that he will be disappointed, no matter how delicious or fancy it is. That's why these cookies have been dubbed "Dallyn's Favorite Cookies" or "DFC's" by some of our friends. 

There are actually about a dozen secrets to baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie. All points are calculated to increase the moistness, chewiness and flavor. As I've shared this recipe, a frequent response I've gotten is, "Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. I don't know if I can do all that." Personally, I don't feel like it takes any more effort than the recipe you find on the back of the Nestle chips bag. Most of the secrets are just better ingredients, but there are some method secrets. Anyway, my point is, if you want the perfect cookie, you have to be willing to put in the effort. Every pointer is for a reason. So here's the recipe, along with footnotes that explain some of the why's behind it:
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (DFC's)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) good quality margarine (Land O'Lakes is my favorite)1
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar2
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cup bread flour3
1 teaspoon kosher salt4
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 egg yolk5
2 tablespoons milk6
1/2 tablespoon Mexican vanilla (my favorite is Blue Cattle Truck Mexican Vanilla)7
1 bag (about 2 cups) Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips8

Picky about ingredients: I never compromise on the vanilla or the chocolate. These are my 2 faves.
Melt the margarine and butter in a small pot.9 Meanwhile, add both sugars to your mixing bowl, sift dry ingredients into a medium bowl, and measure milk, vanilla, egg and egg yolk into a small bowl. Pour melted butter into your mixing bowl with the sugars and beat until smooth. Add milk mixture and beat well. With beater running, slowly spoon in sifted dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips and beat or stir until evenly distributed. Put all the cookie dough into plastic containers (I like to use two flat 3 1/8 cup Gladware containers) and put in the freezer. Chill at least 1 hour.10 Preheat the oven to 350° and move the rack fairly close to the upper element (not the closest, but probably the next down from that).11 Shape dough into balls a little larger than a ping pong ball, smaller than a golf ball and place a couple inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 6 minutes and rotate the pan, then bake for 6 minutes more. Cookies should be just golden on the outside. Remove the pan, set it down and carefully move the whole sheet of parchment with the cookies onto a counter top or cooling rack.12 Allow to cool a few minutes then serve in a bowl with vanilla ice cream, Hershey's syrup, butterscotch, or whatever you like best. Makes about 4 batches of 9-12 cookies.

I usually only bake one batch at a time, which ends up being about 1/2 a container. I just keep the rest in the freezer and we always have cookie dough on hand for those nights we want a special treat. Any leftover cookies (which are highly rare) can be cooled and put in an airtight container to be fought over for snack the next day. They will stay tremendously moist and chewy for a few days if they last that long.

Again, it sounds complicated, but believe me, every detail is so worth it and makes for one awesome cookie! Bon appetite!

Footnotes:
1. Butter is always better in my book, but there are times margarine is called for. This is one of them. Butter melts more quickly, and crisps up instead of staying soft, so all-butter cookies will flatten and be crispy rather than chewy. Using a stick of each is a happy compromise. Just opt for a good quality margarine which will have creamier flavor and less water content.
2. Brown sugar is more moist than white. Most cookie recipes call for an even amount of each. Increasing the brown sugar results in a moister cookie.
3. Bread flour is higher in gluten, which is what makes bread chewy. This was one of Alton Brown's recommendations.
4. Why Kosher? Not sure. I do know it is recommended for bread making because of the extra texture that helps in kneading the ingredients.
5. The yolk is the moist part of the egg. The whites tend to be drier when cooked. So again, adding a yolk increases moisture.
6. Adding milk, once again, adds moisture.
7. This is perhaps my biggest ingredient secret. Do not skimp of the quality of your vanilla! It makes all the difference. This brand is available in select stores in Utah, online, and if you live near me, I buy it wholesale, so I can set you up.
8. Good chocolate is just about as important as the vanilla. This is my favorite brand, and the chips are bigger, which we also like. You can of course substitute semi-sweet, or try other brands, but this is the one we love the most. Cheaper chocolates are higher in wax and other nasty fillers, so not nearly as tasty.
9. You don't need to soften the butter! Hooray! Melting the butter & margarine will make your freshly made dough runnier, which is why you will need to chill it before baking, but it helps the sugars to dissolve and incorporate better.
10. I guarantee it will be better if you wait several hours or prepare the dough a day ahead. If the dough is thoroughly frozen, you will need to thaw it on the counter about 15-30 minutes before you can cut into it, but you still want it to be colder than fridge temperature.
11. This was actually the crowning discovery in my quest for cookie perfection. It happened by chance on a night I had broiled something for dinner, and when I went to bake the cookies I didn't bother moving the rack down. The result was that the cookies browned more beautifully without overcooking the dough, which meant they kept their domed shape better when removed from the oven.
12. Moving the cookies to the counter top prevents the bottoms from continuing to bake from the heat of the cookie sheet. This is why parchment is essential. My cookie sheets have a 1 inch lip, so sliding them over the lip rattled the soft-set cookies too much and caused them to deflate. I found that carefully using my fingernails to grab the corners (which tend to curl up from the pan anyway) and gently lifting the whole thing up and over had much better results. Of course, if your cookie sheets are flat with no lip, you can slide them off. Just do so gently.