Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate Chip Cookies’

Classical Education

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have an easy answer to the question, “If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only choose one food what would it be?”

My answer is chocolate chip cookies. I don’t even have to think about it. I am known within my family circle as “the cookie monster”. Do you require further proof?

Warning: this means that I am no pushover when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. I have tasted them all—indeed, with a sense of duty—and have developed a vocabulary of preferences. My choices may not agree with yours, but hey, this is my sun-parched trip to the deserted cookie jar.

My grandmother used to reward my angelic behavior by asking, “Mikey, do you want a cookie?” The singularity of this offering makes me laugh now, but the fact is, that’s how we used to roll. If I was particularly good (always!), I was offered a second cookie. I never felt cheated or deprived; in those days I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone to feed a five or six year old more than one or two cookies at a throw.

Those cookies were grueling for my Grandmother to prepare. But her hard work was my first bit of kitchen education. Granny taught me just the right way to use your thumbnail to cut through the waxed paper that wrapped the box, without having to remove the entire wrapper. (Those were the days before cookies and crackers were packaged to survive Armageddon.)

(Uh-oh. I imagine my Grandmother is looking down at me right now, peeved that her bit of kitchen magic has been revealed. For free.)

Oh, I kid Granny. Actually, I grew up at a funny time. Moms still baked, but convenience foods presented such an undeniable novelty that folks naturally gravitated toward them. The first home baked cookies I actually remember eating were the Pillsbury “slice and bake” cookies. As a kid I liked them, and why not? You smelled them baking. They were warm and a little gooey. As they cooled they set up and got a bit crispy.

Then all heck broke loose. Chocolate chip cookies became big business. Companies opened chains of store-front cookie-only bakeries. My favorites were the freshly-baked Famous Amos cookies they used to sell at Bloomingdales. These were a universe away from the packaged ones sold under that name now. (Wally Amos lost control of the company early on via a bad business deal. Sad for him, sadder still for me. Yes, when it comes to chocolate chip cookies it’s all about me.)

Peggy Lawton Choco Chip cookies

Peggy Lawton Choco Chip cookies

Up in New England we had a great regional brand of packaged cookies. Peggy Lawton Choco-Chip cookies were—are— a deli and convenience store staple. The ubiquity of Peggy Lawtons causes folks to take them for granted. Are they a great cookie? Let’s call them “best in class.” Yes, Peggy Lawtons are a factory-made cookie. But allow me to answer the “great cookie” question thusly: whenever I make chocolate chip cookies I think of them. I begged a friend visiting Massachusetts to smuggle some back to New York for me. Your taste buds sometimes trump logic. Granted, some folks may bite into a Peggy Lawton and say, “I don’t get it.” I simply shrug my shoulders and say, “De gustibus non est disputandum, baby.” (There’s no use arguing about taste…baby.)

As I got older and my knowledge of ingredients, baking (and latin) increased I, like most home bakers, went through my Toll House cookie phase. I consider this to be baking adolescence, for one soon learns to rebel against the Nestle recipe. It starts slow: a few walnuts here, a little coconut there, and soon you’ve created “your” cookie.

I’m not a big fan of the basic Toll House recipe—too soft and too cakey for me—but it does represent a really great jumping off point. Over the years I’ve added all sorts of extra ingredients to make my own version—always with Peggy Lawton and Famous Amos in the back of my head. I’ve added walnuts, or almonds, sometimes peanuts. I’ve used different types of chocolate, including chopping my own from a big block. The really good news is that you can’t mess up the basic Toll House recipe unless you burn it.

These past few weeks I have started presenting a series of basic recipes that do not require a stand mixer, just a bowl and spoon. The further good news about homemade chocolate chip cookies is that they fit the bowl and spoon profile. Of course, mine are a bit different than what you may expect.

The first difference is that I do not use butter, I use butter substitute. Note that I have not used the “m” word—margarine. I use the term butter substitute because many margarine products have less fat and more water, which may cause cookie failure. So, look for products that, like butter, have 11 grams of fat per tablespoon. (I like Earth Balance which is made from healthy fats. My aversion to butter? It gives me a tummy ache. I’m being delicate.)

You can use butter, but there will be some differences, the most notable being that cookies made with butter do not spread as much as they bake.

My biggest variance from the basic Toll House recipe is that I use exactly one half of the butter called for. This takes the focus off of the butter and puts it onto the sugar, resulting in a crisper cookie.

The only real adjustment you must make to the basic Toll House recipe when preparing with bowl and spoon is that that butter or butter substitute must be warm and soft, otherwise you’ll never be able to mix all the ingredients into a cohesive dough.

For the cookies in the picture above, I used milk chocolate chips and slivered almonds. Milk chocolate chips make a big difference: they are so mellow that they blend with the strong caramel flavors of the cookie dough. Feel free to use the expected semi sweet chips, but invest the extra dollar or so in really good chocolate. I used Ghirardelli chips. Whole Foods also sells Guittard, another premium brand. You’ll taste a difference.

Semper chocolatum!

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Click here for the recipe for Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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