Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TWD: Honey Wheat Cookies

I actually made this week's TWD recipe, Honey Wheat cookies, several months ago, when I was trying to use up what was left in the gimormous jar of wheat germ that I purchased for my very first TWD recipe, Granola Grabbers. Wheat germ makers apparently believe that if you eat wheat germ, YOU REALLY EAT WHEAT GERM. You just can't find a small jar of this stuff (at least I can't). I foolishly did not take pictures of these when I made them before, and I almost did not make them again because I did not want to have to buy another monster jar of wheat germ that I later needed to use up. But my husband really liked these when I made them the first time, and I'm trying to be on my best TWD behavior these days -- so I decided to march into that grocery store, hoist that wheat germ into the cart, and go home and make these suckers again.

What I remembered most about these cookies from the first go-round was that they were mighty wheaty, but I remembered nothing about the process. The recipe calls for a full cup of wheat germ, half of which gets mixed in with the flour, and half of which is used to roll the dough balls before baking. This time around, as soon as I dumped the full cup of wheat germ into the flour mixture, it all came flooding back to me - that's EXACTLY what I did last time! I used all of the wheat germ *in* the cookies, rather than saving half of it to go *on* the cookies, which no doubt accounted for their epic wheatiness. This time, I was able to fish most of the excess half cup of wheat germ out of the flour. Repeat disaster averted!

These cookies, when made in accordance with the recipe, have a very pleasant, tangy honey wheat lemon flavor. They're fantastic with a cup of hot tea, but they would also totally work as a "summer" cookie, if you are one to assign seasons to your cookies.

My husband was really excited to see these cookies show up in the cookie jar again --you would have thought they were World Peace Cookies or something -- and seemed to enjoy the cookies as much as he did the last time, even without the excess wheat heat. I enjoyed them much more this time around. And now that I have a bushel of wheat germ in my freezer, I'm sure I'll make them again!

Michelle of Flourchild chose this week's recipe. Michelle has a great blog, and you can find this recipe, along with many other goodies, over there!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

TWD: Dorie's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies - The Challenge

Most evenings, you'll find the television on in our house, and it's almost always turned to ESPN or Fox Sports World. I don't really pay attention; I mean I like sports and all, but I can't really sit still for too long or I fall asleep. But every once in a while a sports story will catch my attention, like the hair pulling soccer player, or the Krispy Kreme Challenge. And of course every year come late fall, I look forward to watching someone on TV rant about college football's BCS system:

{on the TV}
Bob: All I'll say is this Dan - the BCS is a mess. It's a complete travesty and it is hopelessly broken. And until we fix it by instituting some kind of playoff system, we will never be able to crown an Undisputed National College Football Champion!
Dan: I agree Bob.

{in the living room}
Cathy: Um, David? WHY do we have to crown an Undisputed National College Football Champion? Didn't it just used to be like somebody won the Orange Bowl, somebody won the Cotton Bowl, and then it was New Year's Day and the sun came up anyway?
David: Yes, but that was that a very dark era in sports history, even though nobody knew it at the time.

Recently, however, I've become unsettled by the fact that I don't really know which chocolate chip cookie is the Undisputed Chocolate Chip Cookie Champion. I've become borderline obsessed with finding the best chocolate chip cookie -- and suddenly I understand where the football people are coming from. No, it's really NOT good enough just knowing that there are lots of swell CCC recipes out there. I want to know which is THE BEST, dammit!! And there are a lot of other people like me out there. Be afraid, be very afraid.

On my quest for the perfect CCC, I decided to have a cookie taste-off.

Despite what the lighting in these pictures would indicate, I did not actually hold my chocolate chip cookie taste-off at 3 a.m.

The contenders:

(1) This week's TWD recipe, Dorie's Best Chocolate Chip cookies
(2) The New York Times CCC.
(3) Alton Brown's The Chewy.

Notes and disclosures:

(1) The NYT CCC and The Chewy are both famous among those of us who frequent chocolate chip cookie chat rooms (just kidding) (kind of). I've made both of these cookies before and am in crazy love with both of them. I was really looking forward to making them again and tasting them head to head so I could figure out which was better. Because not knowing was really bugging me, even more than that year that Auburn went undefeated yet got shut out of the National Championship game.

(2) Dorie describes her CCC as being a "Toll House cookies' kin," but with her own tweaks. While I love Toll House cookies -- they are probably the only thing I ever baked from scratch until I started baking from scratch maniacally last year -- I felt like recipes such as the NYT, The Chewy and others, with their unusual techniques and somewhat different ingredients, were created in an attempt to improve on the Toll House Cookie, and I personally like them better than the original Toll House. Therefore, based solely on her description of the cookie -- and this has never happened before -- I bet against Dorie. I really went into this thinking either the NYT or The Chewy would win.

(3) Dorie says her cookies are "thin and crisp and a bit chewy in the center." They certainly were thin:

In fact I pretty much had one large thin chocolate chip pancake on my silpat. I would not describe this as a "crispy" cookie, though (that's a good thing, in my opinion) - it had a little bite to it, but I thought the hallmark of its texture was its wonderfully chewy center.

We held the taste-off at David's dad's birthday party. The voters were provided with milk to cleanse their palates between cookie tastes:

One of our voters, Caroline, age 2, found the whole "Crowning of an Undisputed Chocolate Chip Cookie Champion" process to be a bit overwhelming, so girlfriend spent a lot of time on the floor:


The Chewy did not fare well in the taste-off -- it only garnered one first place vote. David's brother described it as a "pre-scone." I'm pretty sure that's not what Alton was going for. Don't worry, *I* still love you, The Chewy.

The contest between the NYT and Dorie's CCC was almost too close to call, but in the end, the NYT won by one vote. But several people said that they had a hard time deciding between the two and really could have gone either way. When I started to explain the differences (the NYT uses a combination of cake flour and bread flour whereas Dorie's just uses all purpose, etc), David's mom (who voted for the NYT) said that she would never go out and buy cake/bread flour just to make the NYT cookies -- Dorie's were almost as good, so she would just make Dorie's with the all-purpose flour that she was certain to have on hand.

I think what a lot of people liked about the NYT CCC was the sea salt that is sprinkled on the top before baking. Of course, nothing is stopping us from getting out the salt shaker before sticking any old CCCs in the oven.

In short, I should have known better than to bet against Dorie. Her chocolate chip cookie more than held its own in my taste-off. It is a delicious, classic chocolate chip cookie. While some people might prefer a cookie that's not quite so thin, it's hard to go wrong with her recipe.

Many thanks to Kait of Kait's Plate for choosing this wonderful cookie. I'm not sure I'm any closer to crowning an Undisputed Chocolate Chip Cookie Champion, but I'm sure having fun trying!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TWD: Milk Chocolate Mini Bundts

The thing about Dorie Greenspan's recipes is that they are so good, so professional, and so foolproof that you can end up being kind of lazy about things and still wind up with a good result. Such was the case with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt cakes. To start with, Dorie clearly specifies that you should use "premium milk chocolate." Well, my one grocery stop the day I made these was going to be Piggly Wiggly, where the best milk chocolate available was this:

My days tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) days when nothing will come between me and my Callebaut, and (2) days when the very thought of loading these three kids back into the van to drive to Whole Foods for fancy chocolate is the height of absurdity. I was having day #2, so I went with the Hershey's. I've also been known to make cupcakes from a box. But really, Hershey's is good enough to support an entire amusement park, so surely it could hold its own in a couple of mini bundts.

My pans weren't exactly mini, and they weren't exactly bundts. I can best describe them as smallish and bundtish:

I think I found the pans at Target - they were called "dome pans" or something like that. They annoy me every time I use them, because they are never exactly what I want. Anyway, the upshot of all that is that my baking times were a little off -- these really needed to bake longer than the recipe calls for. I lost count of how many times I stuck these back in the oven for another 2 minutes, another 3 minutes. In the end, I probably overbaked them by a few minutes. Nothing that a little Reddi Whip couldn't fix!

I intended to make the glaze, and even went so far as to melt some bittersweet chocolate (which overfloweth in my pantry, unlike milk chocolate) for the glaze, but then I realized I didn't have any corn syrup. So I ended up serving the first cake sans glaze, and I figured I'd pick up some corn syrup to make glaze for, and then photograph, cake number two.

The kids and I LOVED this cake warm out of the oven. I can't identify the flavor, but it sure wasn't chocolate. Just that magical combination of butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and Hershey Bar, I suppose (and mini chocolate chips, which I threw in there for fun). I immediately thought of my friend Amanda, who does not like bittersweet chocolate. I'm so making this cake for you, sister! This is really a great chocolate cake for people who prefer milder chocolate, or who don't like chocolate at all. I don't think anyone would know this was a chocolate cake if you didn't tell them (at least not if you make it with Hershey Bars and don't glaze it).

In keeping with the lazy theme, I never did make the glaze, and I never did photograph the second cake in natural light. I'll spare you my long boring list of excuses. But don't you love the twinkle of the incandescent light as it catches the glass cake stand under the overhead kitchen fixtures? Nope, you won't get that outside at 4 p.m.

I finally decided to eat the last (still naked) cake on Sunday night, several days after I made it. And it was still fabulous! But that's a Dorie recipe for you - you can use inferior ingredients, skip a major component of the recipe, and let it sit there for days getting stale, AND IT IS STILL DELICIOUS. So you can only imagine what her recipes taste like when you actually follow her instructions!

Thanks to Kristin of I'm Right About Everything for a great pick!
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