Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seven Tips and Tricks For These Fantastic Cookies

 I posted the link to this recipe on Facebook a couple of weeks ago (if they ask for a login, it's free to sign up or you can go to the Ivory Hut) and apparently inspired EVERYBODY I know to make them.  No joke.  At least ten people have told me that in the time since they first saw this recipe they've made these cookies.  Why not?  I made them sound irresistible... and well, they are irresistible.

I've heard that some people did not have quite as fantastic a time with this recipe as I did.  Some have said that the cookies tasted good but looked weird.  Others have said that they didn't quite get the toffee flavor that comes with the nuttiness of the melted butter.  I'm hoping to address some of those concerns in this blog post.
Perhaps they were a little less meticulous.  Maybe the instructions were a little unclear for their taste.  I bake a lot (a LOT) and I very rarely do I actually tweak recipes... at least on the first go 'round.  I do, however, make mental notes about things I would change next time or ways I wish the instructions were clearer.  Part of why I am such a big fan of the Test Kitchen is they tend to be pretty explicit about the way to do things.  When they say to combine sugar and butter until fluffy, there's three pictures that show you what underwhipped, overwhipped, and perfectly whipped look like.  When they says sautee until the vegetables are soft, they tell you it'll take about three minutes.  This friends, is amazing.  Especially when you've never done some of this stuff before and you have no idea how soft is soft enough or how whipped is whipped enough.  I am always second guessing myself and wondering if I've done it right and it's so reassuring when there's pictures or some sort of way to know that I have.

I think that's where some have stumbled with this cookie recipe.  It's where I myself was second guessing myself because some things are just so unfamiliar.  How do you know when the butter is brown enough?  What exactly does nutty smell like?  Is it okay that some of the butter is burning and creating browned bits in my butter?  Do I really need to make them 3 tablespoons big because that sounds ginormous?
Here are the answers to your questions and some thoughts to questions you probably didn't think to ask.  To be quite frank, when I was making this recipe I was pretty sure after the butter part that I'd screwed it up because of the dark color of my butter and the little burned bits that had resulted from me trying to get the butter so brown.  But I found that the longer I let it brown, the nuttier it smelled and it wasn't creating a burnt smell, so I just let it go.  Then after I combined the brown sugar in the browned butter I tasted it to make sure it wasn't yucky, or I would've started over.  It tasted delicious and like toffee, so I decided to proceed.  Sometimes experimentation isn't such a bad thing.

Without further ado.  Here are some thoughts that will helpfully put your mind at ease as you hit milestones in the process of making this recipe.

1.  BRING your butter to room temperature or at least let it sit out for a little bit so it's not refrigerator cold or frozen.  This is a standard practice for cookie making, and even though the recipe doesn't say to and you end up melting the butter anyway, I wouldn't abandon it here.  I accidentally melted all of the butter (which didn't ruin the recipe, but next time I will pay closer attention to the instructions) so I didn't have this problem, but a friend mentioned that she was using frozen butter and it took a long time to melt in the hot butter and brought down the temperature of the melted butter so it didn't quite carmelize the sugars when they were added to it.  Because you do want the hot butter to break down the sugars, make sure your reserved 1/4 cup of butter is of an easily meltable temperature when you're adding it to the hot butter.

2.  DON'T be scared of the brownness of the butter or of the little burned bits in the brown butter.  The dark brown nutty goodness of the butter is what lends to the toffee flavor.  Believe me.  The little burned bits will get lost in the brown sugar mixture and your cookies won't look weird.  Mine didn't!

3.  BE GENTLE when you're combining the flour mixture with the liquid mixture.  When you're stirring and resting you want it to be rather vigorous because the process is partially getting the mixture to cool down so it doesn't cook the eggs, and partially getting the eggs and the butter to combine.  When you're combining the flour you want to be gentle in folding in the flour because the gentle touch will put air into the batter which will make your cookies fluffier and less flat/dense.  At least I think that's the purpose.  It's why you do it with cakes, I'm sure it's the same here :)

4.  DON'T skimp on the size of the cookies.  They give you a specific size for a reason.  Any smaller and they won't spread out as much or be as chewy on the inside.  The beauty of these cookies is the crunchy crust and chewy inside.  Don't rob them of that.  I actually bought a #24 size ice cream scoop for the purpose of cookie making and it makes it that much easier.  Seriously, scoop, plop, voila!

5.  DON'T be afraid of slightly underbaking your cookies.  If you cookies tear apart with no gooey in the middle when the come hot out of the oven, they're probably perfectly cooked and will be amazing that first day or two.  However, the gooey in the middle when they're hot is what makes the chewy in the middle hours later when the cookies are no longer warm.  All I'm saying is they'll continue to cook while they're cooling down, so they don't need to look perfect or be perfect when they come out of the oven.

6.  DON'T grease your pan.  It will increase the spreading.  Use the parchment paper to prevent stickage to your pans.  I didn't have parchment paper so I used tin foil.  Still worked like a charm.

7.  DO double the recipe.  So much work and love are put into these cookies and the result is only 16-18 cookies!  Doubling the recipe requires minimal extra work and leaves you with plenty of cookies to share!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So Good You Can't Have Just One

There are few things I feel this way about.  Pringles are one of them.  Cookies usually aren't another.  I love to bake, but I rarely consume more than one serving of whatever I bake.  Ironic, since I normally make large quantities of baked goods (for example, tonight I doubled a recipe)... but it's almost always to share.  I find that I find the most joy in the actual baking process and tasting is just to make sure I'm not giving away something that tastes gross.  This is especially true when it comes to cookies.  I can't resist a single hot-out-of-the-oven-gooey-goodness cookie, but I don't normally want more than just one.  More than that, I normally don't eat raw cookie dough.  It drives me CRAZY when others try to stick their spoons, or even worse, fingers (gross) into my cookie dough and try to eat it and I don't do it myself. 

Except tonight.  There was something irresistible about this cookie dough and the cookies themselves.  Perhaps it was the nutty aroma (how do you even know if it's "nutty"?  I think I know the smell but I'm never sure until someone states that it is) of browned butter (who knew that butter, when browned, would smell nutty).  Perhaps it was the tempting pictures that Ivory Hut posted earlier today.  Maybe it was simply that this recipe was so entirely different from any type of chocolate chip cookie that I've ever made that I just HAD to know what the raw cookie dough tasted like.  FOR SURE it was the sweet carmely taste that resulted from cups of sugar in that hot browned butter that made me eat not one, but two and a half cookies tonight.  And probably about four tomorrow.  Just a guess.  What is was is irrelevant.  What it is is important.  It is AMAZING.  Hands down the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had.  Better than the regular Test Kitchen recipe (which is saying something because I usually swear by TK recipes - although it must be said that this is one too), better than a Specialty's cookie, and not even close to the Tollhouse recipe on the back of the bag.

I wish I had pictures for you, but alas my brother was the one taking pictures and so they are therefore floating around on his computer.  It's okay, the amount of butter I melted this evening would probably deter you from making this recipe... and you NEED to make this recipe.

I don't see the point of typing the entire thing out when I can just link you to Ivory Hut's recipe, which is a wonderfully summarized version of what Cooks Illustrated put together.

Friends, your chocolate chip cookie cravings will never be the same after you've had these.