Category Archives: Cookies

Big Birthdays and Big Cookies

IMG_5914

It’s official — I am now the parent of a teenager. My son turned 13 last month. I know it is cliche to say it, but where did that time go? How did we get here so fast?! He had a small party at Blazer Tag, a local laser tag game place. For his cake, he requested a big chocolate chip cookie because he likes cookies better than cakes. So I took a Martha Stewart recipe and baked it in an 11-inch round tart pan. My tempermental oven didn’t totally cooperate so I had a slightly overdone cookie, but the birthday boy and his party guests didn’t seem to mind.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Tart
Source: Martha Stewart Magazine
Ingredients:
2-1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 c semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips (about 12 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 325°. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add the salt, vanilla, and eggs. Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

2. Press three cups of the dough into a buttered and sugared 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom or a 9-inch pie tin lined with buttered, sugared parchment.

3. Bake at 325° until edges are golden and center is almost set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes, and remove from pan.

Parchment-free Baking

Lately, my kids have been begging me to bake some cookies. Since we’ve been in the triple digits in Austin I think all month, I have been reluctant to do anything requiring the oven. But today I finally gave in. My daughter wanted oatmeal cookies; my son chocolate chip. So I decided on Chocolate Chip Oatmeal, otherwise known as Neiman Marcus Cookies.

As I was getting my mise en place,* I realized I was out of parchment paper. What?! How could I bake cookies with no parchment to line my baking sheets? I was tempted to scrap the whole effort, but the ingredients were measured, children would be disappointed, and the oven was preheated (no mean feat with my tempermental oven; more about in my post about the perfect chocolate chip cookie). So I pressed on without the paper. But I was skeptical — I’ve never baked cookies without it.

Now I had to decide whether to grease or not to grease the sheet pans. Most cookie recipes called for ungreased sheets, lest the cookies spread too much. But I was afraid that the cookies would stick and thus produce a dishwashing nightmare. So I chose to lightly spray with cooking spray. 

choc oat cookie

Well, what do you know? These cookies didn’t really spread, at least not that much. I think the oatmeal in the cookies provided some bulk to the dough and helped with the spreading issue. I’m sure most other cookies would have spread into one big glob.

Two lessons I learned (or re-learned): one, don’t be afraid to improvise even if you don’t have all the ingredients or equipment that you need for your recipe; and, two, you don’t always need parchment paper to bake cookies. That said, I ordered a box of half sheet parchment paper today. Even though today’s baking session was a successful, I still love my parchment paper.

*Mise en place is a French cooking term meaning “everything in its place,” which means gathering all your ingredients and supplies before you start cooking. It helps you stay organized and cook faster.

In Search of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

M&M Cookie batch

 

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)

Herbed popcorn

Spicy peanuts

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:

Flat chocolate chip cookies

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.

Circus cookie batter

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!

M&M Choco Chip Cookie

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.

M&M Choco Chip Cookie inside

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.