Friday night, I hosted the first meeting of a newly-formed book club. Our book was Water for Elephants, which about a travelling circus in the 1930s. I got an idea that it would be fun (and easy) to serve Mother’s Circus Cookies, and so a menu theme was born: circus food. Mother’s cookies are those iced animal cookies in the pink and purple bag that you could buy in just about every grocery store in town. Well, after visiting three stores on Thursday night and coming home empty-handed, I decided to search the internet in the hopes of finding a vendor in town who had them. Instead I found this article.
The cornerstone of my circus menu was gone:
Mini turkey burgers (sliders)
Carrot and celery sticks with blue cheese dip
Mother’s Circus Cookies
IBC sodas (BYOWine)
I had already bought groceries for all the other items, so I couldn’t change course at that point. But I was really having trouble coming up with a finger friendly, easy, circus-type dessert. Then I found half a bag of bright colored M&Ms in the pantry. I decided to continue my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, figuring the bright colors from the candy could look sort of circusy.
Some background: I had become quite unsatisfied with the chocolate chip cookie recipe that I have been using for years. It is from Martha Stewart Living, but is basically the Tollhouse recipe. My kids love it, but I do not. The cookies always spread too much and would disintegrate in to blobs of bent, stuck-together cookies after just a day or two in the cookie jar. Here is a recent batch of that recipe:
This isn’t a good picture, but trust me when I say that these cookies are too flat and flimsy. I had followed a series of tips that included starting with cold butter, reducing the amount of chips, and cooking them longer. But none of these made a difference. I like my cookies to be soft and chewy, but I still need to feel like I have taken a bite out of something. These were so flimsy your teeth had nothing to grab onto.
I had read in one of the few cookbooks we have at work that a too cold oven can contribute to cookie spread. So I bought a new oven thermometer and low and behold my oven is about 20-25° colder than what it says it is. Now I adjust my oven setting. (Eventually I might even try to recallibrate the thermostat myself, but no time for that now.) I also had decided that perhaps there is too much butter in the recipe I’ve been using.
Back to the circus menu cookies. After searching the Internet and various cookbooks from the shelf, I pulled out a recipe that a cook I worked with a few years ago gave me. It almost the same as the one I had been using, but with half the amount of butter and a higher oven temperature. The last time I made the cookies using this recipe I wasn’t pleased, but I don’t think I realized at the time how off my oven has been. Armed with my new knowledge and a new determination, I tried the recipe again.
I used half M&Ms and half chocolate chips (I didn’t have enough M&Ms to make the full batch). I baked them for 10 minutes at 375° and voila!
I think I have finely found a recipe and method I’m happy with! Still a chewy cookie, but thick enough to actually give you something to bite into.
It’s now Sunday, and I’m happy to report that the cookies are holding up great in the cookie jar. I think I have completed my quest.