Wednesday, December 30, 2009

cook's illustrated chocolate chip cookie - revisited & dissected

cook's illustrated chocolate chip cookie - 40My tried-and-true chocolate chip recipe, the Cook's Illustrated Thick and Chewy, has never let me down thus far. He has won the cookie throwdown, he has been baked into numerous different versions, and he is probably the only reason why my boyfriend has kept me around. Truthfully, I almost hate that cookie now. The texture has grown old for me, the flavor appears more muted each time I taste it, and it honestly gets dull after you eat the same cookie 100 times. Needless to say, I hate baking this cookie. Although I have the recipe memorized, it is basically a chore for me to bake it. It has gotten to the point where I refuse to bake it for my boyfriend, and I ended up giving him and his family the recipe on a piece of paper. But- now that I am at my parent's house, I need to show them my new baking skills, and the best way to do so would be showcasing my most famous cookie- the dreaded Cook's Illustrated.

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I wanted to dissect the recipe- and find out what makes it so appealing (or not so appealing, in my case). The ingredients are average by most means, and there are no secret spices or anything.

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The melted butter is the only odd thing of the whole recipe, but it seems like more a convenience for the baker. Apparently by melting it first, it can dissolve with the sugars better, ensuring a more thorough spread of the butter (apparently, that is).

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The ratio of brown sugar to granulated is just about the same with other recipes.

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The recipe uses 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk- which isn't unfamiliar as I recall baking cookies which use egg yolks as well.

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The dry ingredients also seem similar to other recipes.

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I have grown to love this step in baking- the mixing of wet and dry ingredients. It becomes almost like a test for me, to see if I can blend the ingredients as quick as possible without over-mixing.

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I pretty much have it down to an art.

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So since this batch was for my parents, I chose to use only 1 cup of chocolate chips opposed to 2 cups. They don't really like too-chocolaty things.

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My ultimate dream in life would be to be able to eat this dough every day for the rest of my life and never gain weight.

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No, seriously, I don't think you know how good this tastes. And if I recall correctly, this was one of the best tasting cookie doughs during the cookie throwdown (which we ate tons and tons of dough that day and so we can actually make this judgment).

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Although their recipe doesn't state to refrigerate dough before bake, I make it an official rule to do so for all cookies. I've seen firsthand how this can greatly benefit the results of cookies, and so I continue to follow this rule as well as enforce it when I'm baking with others.

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Okay, so this is where the instructions get a little funky- they tell you to grab a ton of dough, and then separate it, and then something about a jagged edge?- honestly I don't understand and I don't care. Instead, I usually make my typical sized cookies- small palm-fulls which I roll into a ball (to allow for a slow spread ensuring chewiness).

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And so this is the famous cookie.

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These are really best eaten within an hour after baking. The reason I don't really care for these cookies anymore is that probably since I bake an entire batch, there are a ton left over, resulting in me eating them in the following days (thus, not being as chewy, not as good, etc.)

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But honestly, what is so special about these cookies?

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Okay, putting my bias aside, let me describe these cookies (when they're fresh): The exterior has a nice firmness that isn't too crispy and isn't too soft.

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The inside of the cookie remains moist and chewy (a good type of chewy) and has the perfect texture while biting into one.

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The only lacking is the actual taste of the cookie. Although it seems perfectly fine by itself, if you were to compare the taste among other cookies (such as the New York Times cookie as we did in the cookie throwdown), the taste might be lacking in comparison.

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Overall, I think this cookie is a good bake for things where I need a quick go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I would also like to try other recipes in the future. And I also probably shouldn't be so harsh on this cookie just because I ate too many of them. I mean, it's not like it's their fault that I got sick of them because I ate too much of them.

Taken from Cook's Illustrated

2+1/8 cups bleached all-purpose flour (I love their inclusion of a 1/8 cup of flour; it makes me feel like they really did try the recipe hundreds of ways)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (semi or bittersweet) (I used 1 cup semi-sweet, but I would usually use 2 cups of mixed chips)

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
2. Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in chips.
3. Form a scant 1/4 cup dough into ball. Holding dough ball using fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves ninety degrees and, with jagged surfaces exposed, join halves together at their base, again forming a single cookie, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface. (like what the fuck? Actually- after I signed up for Cook's Illustrated, I looked back on this recipe and saw they included a picture explaining this part. It makes complete sense now, but still seems stupid.) Place formed dough onto one of two parchment paper-lined 20-by-14-inch lipless cookie sheets, about nine dough balls per sheet (way too specific for me. how about I use the pans I already have and fit however many dough balls I please). Smaller cookie sheets can be used, but fewer cookies can be baked at one time and baking time may need to be adjusted. (Dough can be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month—shaped or not.)
4. Bake, reversing cookie sheets’ positions halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes (start checking at 13 minutes)(I always take them out at 13 minutes. Maybe it's because I make smaller dough balls, or maybe I like chewier cookies). (Frozen dough requires an extra 1 to 2 minutes baking time.) Cool cookies on cookie sheets. Serve or store in airtight container.

Makes 1+1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies

Monday, December 28, 2009

brown sugar cheesecake (again) - certified organic

brown sugar cheesecake - 39I have made my brown-sugar-cheesecake three times by now (this being my third, my first being the pecan-pie cheesecake) and I am proud to say I am the official-brown-sugar-cheesecake-master. I can make graham cracker crusts in seconds flat and I can mix cream cheese with effortless ease. It really is remarkable how I stumbled across this little gem, but I sure am thankful. My parents as well, were thankful I learned how to bake/cook since the last time I saw them. Being that today was my first real day at their house (since I arrived last night from my grandmother's), I wanted to show them my new baking skills. What other fool-proof way to impress the 'rents other than my famous cheesecake?

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My crumbled graham crackers are never precisely measured, but I tend to stop right around the 2 cup mark.

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The graham crackers get mixed with butter and brown sugar, then patted into the spring form pan to bake for a few minutes.

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I can never get the cream cheese at room temperature- I'm afraid of leaving it on the counter too long, and I'm afraid cold cream cheese won't mix thoroughly. This is why I usually cut them into little cubes and nuke them for a few seconds. Finally, the consistency that I want.

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And now where the brown-sugar-cheesecake gets its name - the brown sugar.

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The brown sugar opposed to regular sugar gives it just enough sweetness without having to add chocolate or other flavorings. The most common compliment I get on this cheesecake is that it "is not too sweet".

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Once mixing the brown sugar and the cream cheese, the batter begins to have this light brown tint to it which I love- Almost signifying to the unfamiliar-cheesecake-eater that this cheesecake is different.
Oh- and yes, that utensil here- it is a rice paddle. I couldn't find my mom's spatulas (as I am new to her new house) so the rice paddle had to do for the time being.

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Eggs are the next important factor in this cheesecake (as well as most cheesecakes) as it acts as the binding factor for it all. Luckily for me, my parents are into this whole "locally-grown" / "organic" crap- so here are organic brown eggs making their appearance in my cheesecake (which I guess I can officially call a partially organic cheesecake).

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Heavy cream (also organic) adds the lightness and liquid-ness needed for the perfect cheesecake texture. What also helps in cheesecake (or at least I think so) is a recipe that includes a tablespoon or so of flour. For some reason that little amount helps with the perfect consistency. (And yes, the flour was organic too.)

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The final mixture then gets poured into the spring form pan and baked for an hour. On the right is the cheesecake after the final hour. A lot of recipes warn of opening the oven door because it can cause crackage- and since I'm not using a water bath, I have to be as careful as possible. See how high the cheesecake has risen- well it will soon sink dramatically once I take it out of the oven, thus possibly causing cracks.

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Just what I expected- cracks. For some reason, this cheesecake cracks every time, regardless how I make it or how I cool it down. I guess there had to be a flaw in this recipe somehow, because it for sure was not in the taste department. Anyways, I usually slather whipped cream over the top to cover my cracks; but since this was for my parents, I thought I'd just leave it visible. (I figured I'd impress them with the delicious-ness instead.)

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Even though there were huge craters down the center of the cheesecake, and even though the graham cracker crust began to fall apart (because I cut the knife too deep), my parents absolutely loved it.

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What they were really impressed with was how I learned how to bake (and actually enjoy baking) dramatically since the last time I saw them.

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The comments I got were "it was the perfect mixture of light and dense" and "it was the perfect amount of sweet- not too sweet but just enough"... So basically it was just perfect.

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My version (original recipe derived from Taste of Home, recipe found here)

2 cups (about) graham crackers crumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crumbs and brown sugar. Stir in melted butter. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9" spring form pan.
2. Bake for around 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

cheesecake filling:
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1+1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons AP flour
4 eggs
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Reduce oven to 325 degrees.
2. With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Add brown sugar and flour and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Stir in cream and vanilla. Pour into pan.
3. Bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake in oven with the door closed for 1 hour.
4. Remove from oven and run a knife along the outside edges to loosen cheesecake from sides of pan. Let cool. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving.