Wednesday, March 4, 2009

a cookie for a long road home

I moved to New York almost six months ago and hadn’t made cookies in my apartment until today. Sure, I bake three days a week in class; am constantly testing and baking for PattyCake; and spend my free time devouring desserts and sweet treats around the city. But to bake at home - in that kitchen?

Let me back up…

When I lived in Wisconsin (my home state), I had a fabulous kitchen – open and spotless with hardwood floors, high ceilings, skylights and two-year-old appliances. My gorgeously worn-in Boos butcher block took center stage during weeknight meals, weekend dinner parties and spontaneous baking sprees. To that effect, there was a constant supply of cookies in the designated jar, dough resting in the fridge before its final baking and raw dough in the freezer for a quick and easy weeknight dessert (baked or unbaked).

However, when New York came a-calling, I traded in my clean, bright space for, well, a New York kitchen: small, dirty, ill-lit and old (except for the fridge which broke two months into my life here; that's new, and yes it makes me smile). Also, it doesn’t help that I live with three boys, who while relatively tidy, are still boys who enjoy copious amounts of burritos on a daily basis. A major deviation from my old (female) roommate whose boyfriend was a chef and thus knew the merits of a clean kitchen. Regardless to say, when I traded states and kitchens, I traded my kitchen habits. I opted for eating out, baking out and staying out - of that kitchen.

Consequently, I didn’t really start baking at home in New York until today, when the urge to eat my favorite chocolate-oatmeal cookies couldn’t be satiated by any one of the many fantastic bakeries New York City has to offer. Although my oven surrendered a shroud of smoke as it preheated, forcing me to force open windows and stifle coughs, the cookies turned out just as splendid as I remembered.

Throughout the years, I’ve perfected these little nuggets of joy – mildly sweet, slightly salty with fabulously large nuggets of chocolate mingled with the nutty flavor of rolled oats and toasted walnuts. Perhaps these cookies can persuade you to take your oven out of hibernation – or merely warm it up from the last use (if you’ve been doing any small bit more of baking at home than me in the last six months) – and enjoy a little taste of (my) home.

Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 50-60 small cookies

Unsalted butter 16 Tbsp/8 oz/225 g
Granulated sugar 1 cup/8 oz/228 g
Muscovado sugar 1 cup/8 oz/225 g
Eggs 2 large
Vanilla 1 tsp
All-purpose flour 2 cups/16 oz/450 g
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Old fashioned rolled oats 1½ cup/12 oz/340 g
Chopped 61% chocolate 1 cup/8 oz/226 g
Chopped 70 % chocolate ½ cup/4 oz/113 g
Chopped walnuts; toasted 1¼ cup/10 oz/288 g

Beat together butter, granulated sugar and Muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and vanilla and beat gently to combine. Add gradually to beating butter-sugar mixture in three additions, allowing each addition to be fully incorporated before adding the next.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add all at once to butter mixture and beat slowly till almost combined. Stir in chocolates and walnuts. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 12 – 36 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350˚F. Use a small ice cream scoop to measure out 1–inch balls. Place dough balls on parchment lined baking sheet, staggering to allow for proper air flow during baking. Bake cookies 12 -15 minutes, turning half-way through, until the cookies are medium brown and the edges have begun to set but the centers are still soft. Allow cookies to rest on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

*Chef’s note: I love to “age” cookies, a process that has made me a bit weird in the eyes of the common man (aka: non-bakers) and a bit of a tease in the minds of my roommates (“What? We don’t get to eat them tonight?”) Nonetheless, I can promise you it makes a huge difference in the flavor and texture of the final product. Letting the cookies to sit in the fridge for 12-36 hours allows the eggs to slowly distribute themselves completely into the dough, producing a firmer, drier dough, which, in turn, bakes more evenly. Even more important, aging helps to create the trinity of texture that I find so irresistible in a good cookie: a crunchy outside, a chewy middle ring and a meltingly, soft center. Finally, the process develops the flavors of the cookies, allowing that delectable brown sugar, caramel-toned sweetness to become more pronounced.
*Chef’s note: I use chocolate discs or pistoles in addition to chocolate chips to vary the texture, size and flavor in my cookies.

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