Apr 24, 2013

The Great Cookie Quest: Round 1 Results

The moment we've all been waiting for. Ladies and gentleman: the results are in.
 As you may recall, the cookielympics I attempted to orchestrate had 4 contenders: chewy, giant, fluffy, and brown butter. The feedback I revived was not as unanimous as I'd expected, but it showed me that I might be able to combine different elements of each cookie into one ultra cookie. Here's what I gathered from the opinions of my first-class tasting squad and myself:
Brown butter: the brown butter cookies seemed to get the short end of the stick- it was not as traditional a cookie as some expected, but for some that was what made it the winner. They didn't spread as much, and they rose more than others. The word crumbly comes to mind, but not as much hard and crisp. The brown butter contributed to an overall deeper, almost "butterscotch-y" flavor.
Chewy- The chewy cookies received the best overall feedback. They’re definitely the best for fans of the under-baked center (such as myself) but the flavor wasn’t as developed as, say, the brown butter cookies. The consistency is decadent and their size offers the perfect small snack (and it means you can have more without being called out).  
Giant- Hands-down this would be my personal choice as the perfect big cookie- even, the edges not too crisp the center not too under baked. Probably my personal favorite and a tie with the fluffy cookie for the best milk-dipper- A perfect after-meal snack.
Fluffy- For a more “gourmet” genre of cookie, this would be the best. The lightness of the ingredients offers a great texture that allows you to taste each flavor without it being too strong. Also great for milk-dipping, and has a nice a crisp edge, if that’s your thing- The best contender for a midnight snack, if you ask me.
I’m now working on the touch-ups for round two, basically a combination of the giant and chewy genres, I’ve got some high hopes for these… stay tuned boys and girls.

Apr 15, 2013

The REAL Pursuit of Happiness

We all dream of it; late at night, in our fantasies, life’s ultimate offering: the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I know this isn’t the first chocolate chip cookie investigation, nor will it be the last, but it is a quest I’ve always dreamed of venturing on. I know this is something a teenager should not be this excited about, but my lack of a social life makes this all the more thrilling. I’m planning on doing a two-part experimentation ultimately pursuing the ultimate, perfect, milk-dipping worthy chocolate chip cookie.
Part A of the testing will include four different recipes from around the web, adapted when needed, that exploit, in my opinion, the four genres of cookies: flat and crispily caramelized, chewy and bordering under-baked,  fluffy and soft-textured, and lastly... the giant, crunchy yet chewy, chocolate chunk  cookie.
After condensing my research and adapting where necessary, I’ve got my four base recipes:
1.        For the first, I’m using a brown-butter base, melted instead of the traditional creamed butter, more white sugar than brown (white sugar makes it crispier, brown sugar chewier), and less flour .
2.       For the chewy, I’ll basically the opposite- more brown sugars, creamed butter, drop the baking temperature to 325 and most likely the normal amount of flour.
3.       For fluffy, bakers advise using cornstarch instead of baking soda or powder as the leavener, and I’m also going to use one extra egg along with cake flour in place of all-purpose.
4.       The giant will be a mix of the crispy and chewy, large amounts of chocolate (always a good idea) and 1/3-cup scoops of dough.
Part B will take the winner of this experiment and delve into the deep roots of the ingredients, hopefully yielding the perfect and most incredible chocolate cookie ever made…. But we’ll get to that part later.
I’m way too excited for this. I know, I need to get out more, blah, blah, blah, but hopefully my passion for fantastic chocolate chip cookies (and cookies in general) will jumpstart the revolution that could make or break my entire career- based on this one recipe. You never know.
Stay tuned, kids. Wish me luck!

Apr 6, 2013

It's Carrot Cake Time

   Spring means Easter...Easter means bunnies… bunnies mean carrots… and carrots mean carrot cake. Carrot cake is one of my favorites if not for the moist and deliciously flavorful cake, for the decadent cream cheese frosting that traditionally envelops it. I’ve been so intimidated by the (legacy) of carrot cake, that I’ve never looked at an actual recipe to try and make it. I knew about the pineapple, coconut, walnuts and (believe it or not) carrots that most people don’t realize are used in the cake, but I’d always assumed that making carrot cake was a tedious and challenging task manageable only for the greatest southern chefs. Little did I know, carrot cake is really not as unwieldy of a task as I’d imagined. It was actually quite simple.
    I found a great recipe from AllRecipes, and with a few minuscule changes I’m sharing it with you. The frosting is a pretty traditional cream cheese frosting, except I subbed the seeds of one vanilla bean for 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, go ahead and do the extract, it won’t change a thing (except you don’t see the flecks of the seeds in the frosting, which looks pretty cool).
    Honestly, the only thing you can do wrong is to do it half-heartedly- if you want the real deal, peel and shred the carrots, toast the almonds, use fresh ingredients, and do every step, there really aren’t that many. For the carrots, a 2-lb pound bag of carrots was just enough- I peeled them and shredded them in my food processor, but a grater would work just as well. Use fresh carrots- trust me it’s worth it! If you wish to have a smoother-textured cake, you can puree the pineapple before mixing it in, but I Prefer them as they are in the can. And last- please, PLEASE, make sure the walnuts cool completely before adding them.
     If you like a lot of frosting, I’d do 1 ½ of the frosting recipe (that’s 2 ½ packs of cream cheese, 1 ½ sticks of butter, etc, except stick with 1 vanilla bean), but I like to coat the outside with walnuts, so it wasn’t really necessary. If you’re not sure if you want more or not, go for the 1 ½, it can’t hurt to have more!
Carrot Cake
2 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
3 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
2 cups (tight-packed) shredded carrots
1 ½ cup chopped walnuts (plus extra for garnish-optional)
1 (8-oz) can crushed pineapple with juice
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease and flour two 9-in rounds.
  2. Spread the walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast in the preheated oven, about 8 minutes, or until you can smell them in the kitchen- check every few minutes, they go from browned to burned in no time! When they’re done, remove them from the pan (dump them onto a paper towel or a dish cloth) to cool, and set aside.
  3.  In a large bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar, and vanilla, mix well, then add to the bowl of dry ingredients. Beat until smooth and combined.
  5. In separate bowl, combine carrots, coconut, COOLED walnuts, and crushed pineapple.
  6. Use a large wooden spoon to fold the carrot mixture into batter.
  7. Pour into prepared pans, bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until the center is form and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Cool and layer with cream cheese frosting (or whichever frosting you wish).
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
2( 8 oz) packages cream cheese softened
1 stick butter
2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean
1. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean and beat in, then gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.