May 26, 2012

And the Quest Ends

If you’ve been patiently awaiting my second (and probably last) installment on chocolate chip cookies, I’m sorry. I’ve been down with the cold and a sore throat for a week, and yet they refuse to leave me. Plus, I’ve been looking for jobs. If nothing goes wrong, I should resume working on June 1. Well, I guess my notion of soon isn’t that soon. Now waste no time. Let’s cut right to the chase for what would be considered the consummate chocolate chip cookie.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

Although Kim Boyce’s whole-wheat spin on the American classic isn’t shabby, I admit I’m partial to the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, first unveiled on July 9, 2008, courtesy of master pastry chef Jacque Torres (an American classic perfected by a Frenchman?!) and witty food writer David Leite. But it was only after two and a half years later, as I browsed through the Orangette blog, that it hit my radar. Sometimes I wonder what I was up to then, when my journalism professors had made me pick up a copy of the paper to read every day. Did I just leaf through the A section but not the Dining & Wine? Oh, Pei-Lin!

Now, in a hope that you don’t wind up in my awkward position, especially when you have a sweet tooth and a fondness for American-style chocolate chippers, I’d advise you to read Leite’s special report and heed the words therein, and then bake up a batch of these mind-blowing cookies. I’d been there, done so. And the four lessons I took home with are:

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Valrhona Guajana Les Feves
In the mixing bowl are Valrhona Guanaja fèves.

Be aggressive with chocolate
To ensure the cookies live up to their name, keep the chocolate-to-dough ratio at no less than 40 to 60. In addition, use couverture chocolate for its superb melting properties, and be sure it’s of at least 60 percentage cacao and larger than commercial chips. I had amazing results with Valrhona Guanaja fèves, which are oval-shaped chocolate pieces of 70 percentage cacao; Ghirardelli baking morsels of 60 percentage cacao; as well as bittersweet chocolate of various brands, including Lindt, which was of 75 and 85 percentage cacao, and broken into large pieces for the cookies. Regular semisweet chips, however, are out of the question, as they’re way too sweet for the purpose.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

Never play down salt
After making the chocolate and salt combo-themed Sablés Korova, which helped me garner the first place in a chocolate bake-off in the States three years ago, I must agree with Dorie Greenspan that salt heightens the spirit of the otherwise dark, rumbly chocolate, as well as highlights chocolate’s sexy, silky mouth feel. In the case of these chocolate chip cookies, I love the ideas of using coarse salt in the dough and fine salt for sprinkling over. Salt marries with the cookies’ caramelly note seamlessly. So, it’s wise to invest in the slightly costlier sea salt or other pure salt. NO table salt, please, or your cookies will taste way too salty.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Dough in the Fridge, at 1 Hour

Age the dough
This is the revolutionary technique I was referring to. Letting the dough sit in the fridge allows the wet and the dry ingredients to blend thoroughly, that is, the eggs to break through the butter-enrobed flour, which leads to superior consistency in baking. In addition, you’ll be blessed with a drier dough to handle, which makes rounder and moderately plump cookies possible. The flavor improves and the color intensifies with time, too; the cookies will taste not just of chocolate but also of butter and toffee, and look more “tanned.” I find the best results come after 36 to 72 hours of aging.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Cooling in the Pan

Make the cookies BIG
We’re talking about 100 grams of dough for one four-inch cookie. This allows for three distinct textures. First, your teeth feel the crisp as they bite into the cookie’s outermost inch; then give way to the chew — the essence of the American chocolate chipper, where all the flavors jumble up — in the one-and-a-half-inch middle ring; and finally the soft center. Dough that’s been aged for at least 36 hours produces cookies with such textures.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Cooling Away on the Cooling Racks

I’m sold. Nonetheless, I’ve never grown comfortable with the Warm Rule, which asks that you devour fresh-from-the-oven, still warm, ultragooey cookies. Perhaps I feel sorry the cookies aren’t given enough time to rest and see the world before going into my tummy. And I think, when eaten warm, the melty chocolaty goo can overpower the other more delicate flavors. So I prefer mine served at room temperature, when I can hold the cookie without fearing it’ll fall apart, and savor its true flavors after letting them settle down and mingle around. Moreover, cooled cookies dunk better in cold milk. Sadly, everything good seems ephemeral, including these qualities of a good homemade cookie, which stick around for only two days. After that, the cookies dry up and turn crunchier, crumblier but still taste fantastic.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Baking; Ingredients Mise en Place

Of course, not forgetting some basics: read through the recipe; understand what you’re about to pursue; and use the best-quality ingredients you can source. (Psst. Learning from Boyce, to impart a hearty, nutty flavor, I’ll sub whole-wheat flour for white flour. This is where money spent on quality ingredients is put to good use.)

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies are, to me, the pinnacle of cookie perfection. (They’ve become a favorite of Kenelm’s, too.) My quest for the perfect chocolate chipper officially ends here. Should you try the recipe, your journey to the perfect chocolate chip cookie perhaps may wind up with the same fate. Which makes it all the worth waiting.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacque Torres, The New York Times and David Leite

This recipe, though perfect on its own, leaves leeway for modification or adjustment. If all-purpose flour is all you have, or, for that matter, whole-wheat flour (of neither high nor low protein contents), use it in place of cake and bread flours.

Also, you can actually age your dough for more than 72 hours, provided you remember to bake it. I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies using this recipe four times, and the furthest I went was 87 hours.

Lastly, you’ll find the dough hard to be scooped initially, so put in a bit more effort. It’ll soften gradually in room temperature (faster in the heat and humidity of Malaysia). If it gets too soft to handle, chuck it back into the fridge until it’s firm enough. Cold dough tends to crumble, too. Simply press the bits and pieces together, and that should solve the problem.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Dough at 72 Hours; to Be Scooped Out, Shaped, and Baked

241 grams cake flour
241 grams bread flour
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt

284 grams unsalted butter, softened
284 grams light brown sugar
227 grams granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

567 grams bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, of at least 60 percent cacao content
Fine sea salt, such as fleur de selor other pure salt

Sift (A) into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the coarse salt and whisk everything together to ensure an even distribution of the ingredients. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, cream together (B) until light and fluffy on high speed. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Then, using a large, sturdy wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix in the flour mixture by hand, until just combined. Drop the chocolate pieces in and mix everything together gently without breaking them. Press a sheet of cling wrap against the dough and chill for up to 72 hours. Dough may be used in batches.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment or nonstick baking mat(s). Set aside.

For each cookie, scoop about 99 grams of dough and, working quickly, roll between your palms to form a ball and place onto baking sheet. Turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; this will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with fine salt. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown but still soft. Remove sheet from the oven and let sit on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then transfer the cookies onto the wire rack to cool a bit more if you like yours served warm, or completely if you, just like me, prefer to have them at room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking the next day.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Baking in the Oven

Yield: about 20 pieces of four-inch cookies

P.S. Gary, Veronica, Ryan, and Becky, if you guys are reading, the chocolate chip cookies that you ate and got you oooh-ah were made with this recipe!

May 9, 2012

Landed by Accident

For a few days I’ve been out of job. Hopefully this condition won’t persist for long. While I’m on a job hunt and taking time off to recuperate, I’ve also been thinking about the things I missed out on in blogging. Then I remembered I have yet to share with you my absolute favorite recipes for chocolate chip cookies.

(Note: I mean the hunkier, tender and chewy, crisp-at-the-edges, much-sweeter American variety. I prefer this to the dwarfed, baked-till-dry, crunchy, sometimes-shortbready, less-sweet variety that many Asians are accustomed to. Now that I’ve made my preference clear.)

About two years ago, I proclaimed, boldly, that I possessed an out-of-this-world chocolate chip cookie recipe, courtesy of our friend Ms. Betty Crocker, and that I’d thus stopped my search for the recipe. Well, I was proven wrong one-plus years ago, while reading through the archives of Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette blog. I landed on TWO chocolate chip cookie recipes by accident.

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first of the two I chanced upon was for Kim Boyce’s Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. At the point of “discovery,” a sudden urge to bake surged in me, because (1) it’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe (duh); (2) it calls for whole-wheat flour. I was quite hung up on the notion of homemade junk food made wholesome, but then I realized it was misleading sugary and fatty food can never be good for you. And just when I’d made the cookies, I was convinced that albeit a minor twist, whole-wheat flour is here to add a wonderful nuttiness to your otherwise everyday chocolate chip cookie.

One thing I feel sorry for Boyce is that: The amateur baker in me couldn’t fight the itch of modifying her recipe. I merged hers with the technique used in the other chocolate chip cookie recipe; however, not much change to the ingredients. I prepared the dough on a late Thursday night to bake on the following Sunday afternoon. At that juncture, I was darn excited. But as much as I’d hoped mine to turn out exactly like Molly’s, they did not. I wasn’t disappointed nevertheless; I had to lick my fingers, because they were this good:

When freshly baked and, of course, cooled (I associate eating warm, soft cookies with eating cookie dough), these chocolate chip cookies were tender, with teeny pockets of gooey chocolate and the earthy nutty flavor of the whole-wheat flour shone through from within. Which reminded me of the digestive biscuit. So in this case, Molly has got it right.

Boy, am I glad to have stumbled upon Boyce’s recipe for her Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, or what.

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce, as well as Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, Jacque Torres, and David Leite

To ensure the highest of standards, I used Bob’s Red Mill stone-ground whole-wheat pastry flour and fleur de sel. Also, if you happen to have dark brown sugar, which is, for me, harder to come by, use it in place of its “lighter” counterpart.

Instead of baking right away, I let the dough “age” in the fridge for about 67 hours. This is the revolutionary technique I learned from the second chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I’ll soon be telling you about.

3 cups whole-wheat flour
1½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt

227 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
227 grams good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips

In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together (A); set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, cream together (B) until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even mixing. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla next. With a rubber spatula or large, sturdy wooden spoon, mix in (A) mixture by hand. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure thorough mixing. When the flour mixture is almost incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips and mix until combined. Cover the bowl of dough with cling wrap, and let the dough rest and “age” in the fridge for up to 72 hours.

When it’s time to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove the dough from the fridge. For each cookie, scoop three tablespoons of the dough onto one of the prepared baking sheets. If you want perfectly round cookies, roll the dough between your palms, working quick before it yields to the heat of your hands. Leave about three inches in between for the cookies to spread. If the dough, especially when right out the fridge, feels hard, work a little harder to scoop it out. It’ll soften gradually in room temperature (actually, faster in the hot Malaysian weather, so I had to work faster, too); if it’s gotten too soft to work with, chuck it back into the fridge and let it harden up.

Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are evenly browned. Remove from the oven, and let the cookies sit on the sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Yield: about 20 cookies

P.S. Watch out for the second chocolate chip cookie recipe in my next post, which, hopefully, won’t be long from now.
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