Friday, July 25, 2008

It's the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I have a sweet tooth. I have never tried to hide this, nor have I ever felt any guilt or shame surrounding it, although I do recall sympathizing with Miranda on Sex and the City when she squirted Windex at a cake she had thrown in the trash, after creeping back to the bin for one more bite. I manage my tooth well. I succumb to it, but only with the best sweets available. If I am going to heed the siren call, I had better make it count. Quality is paramount, friends. That is how I am able to fend off advances from less desirable suitors, like candy bars or bagged candies in Willy Wonka shades, or things like "Peeps." I'm willing to wait for the hand-made goodness, either coming from my kitchen or a trusted one with a proven track record.

After a recent stint baking for my mother's short but sweet-lived bakery (R.I.P. Sweet Blessings!), I've been more consumed with baking fever than normal, which, honestly, makes next to no sense at this time of year. Cranking up the oven to 375 degrees in the middle of July is a form of self-inflicted torture only appreciated by the truly committed/dedicated. However, duty calls, as it did after coming across a recent
New York Times article on the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Then, my favorite food blog, Orangette, covered the topic. Believing it important to pay attention to coincidences, I saw this as a sign. Who am I to get in the way of celestial forces? Not that I believe in celestial forces, but we'll stay with that notion for point-proving's sake. So, on came the "Bake" light, out came the cookie sheets, and soften the butter I did.

This recipe's uniqueness owes to two distinguishing traits: 1) the dough must be allowed to rise for a minimum of 24 hours, 36 being preferable (which is what I did) and 2) it calls for adorning the tops of the cookies with Sea Salt sprinkles just prior to baking. In full disclosure, the recipe had me at "sea salt." The marriage of salty and sweet renders me utterly defenseless, even more so when the players in question are of the
chocolate and salty ilk.

When I was growing up, my mom had a riddle of sorts she would have my brother or I say if we were getting impatient. It went, in a call and response fashion:

"What is patience" (Mom)?
"Patience is a virtue" (Kids).
"What is a virtue" (Mom)?
"A virtue is good" (Kids)
"So what are you going to be" (Mom)?
"Good" (Kids)

Repeat this often enough, as I did, and you cement it to memory and take it permanently to heart. On account of this, I have the patience of
Job. I can, most of the time, watch and wait patiently. Sometimes when Dexter is barking at one of the cats and Kali the cat is meowing because its 5:35 and she ALWAYS gets her dinner at 5:30 (!!!!-cat emphasis punctuation) and another cat suddenly barfs, I get a wee bit impatient and often resort to uncorking the rose.

This patience comes in handy when waiting for things like 36 hour chocolate chip cookies with SEA SALT!!! But boy, is the virtue profound! These are, without exception, the best chocolate cookies I have ever baked. The extra rising time allows the dough to hold its shape gloriously when baking, not squat and spread out all over the cookie sheet, as has many a time been my misfortune. The texture is perfect, crunchy upon first bite, then meltingly perfect as the little oven in your mouth liquifies the chocolate chips.

The crowing glory, though, has got to be the sea salt. Glenn suggests eating the cookie upside down so as to maximize the tongue-to-salt ratio, seamlessly fusing the salty and the sweet in one unctuous bite. A perk of the recipe is that it makes a good bit, about 4 dozen. You can either bake off half and freeze the remainder of the dough or engender good will from your family, friends, neighbors, grocery store clerk, waiter, etc. by baking the whole lot and giving them away liberally.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Jacques Torres

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

-2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
-1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

***I actually just used organic all-purpose flour for both the cake and bread flours with great results; this would combine to a total of 3 2/3 cups minus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour***

-1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
-2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
-1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
-1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
-2 large eggs
-2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
-1 1/4 pounds bittersweet
chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)

***In lieu of the chocolate disks, I used Ghiradelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips, easily found at most grocery stores.***

-Sea salt

1. Sift flours (or just AP flour, if substituting), baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside. (The recipe neglected to mention it here, but I found removing the dough from the fridge at this point helped it to be more scoop-able in the next step)

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie.

***I used a regular ice cream scoop here, forming the dough just to fit the inside of the scoop. Doing so might explain why the recipe produced almost 4 dozen cookies for me while the recipe indicates a yield of 1 1/2 dozen.***

Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.


Sarah Ryhanen said...

eric made these a few weeks ago for us and I am with you...they really are the best. like ridiculous. love your blog!!! pleased to have a new daily read.

Unknown said...

i too have the curse of the sweet-tooth but alas- not the patience!! if i ever do get suddenly patient this recipe sounds divine. i love your blog- an NC girl living in LA needs ways to stay connected to her roots and the natural environs- your blog helps me do that! kudos to you and your chickens, you lucky girl! love, nikki

jane said...

you're an inspiration!!! the cookies were the best of yum.

Lacey said...

Chocolate chip cookies are my most favorite comfort food. I am constantly trying to find THE perfect recipe. The one that's perfectly gooey on the inside and just slightly firm with the right amount of sweetness and salty. I think this might be it. I have the oven warming as we speak, and I'm salivating in anticipation. Add my last week of pregnancy to this combination, and this might be the perfect way to prepare for labor!!! I'm excited to have found your blog, you have lots of great posts!