Archive for Cookies

Cookies from the Sea

olive shortbread

This shortbread has such a short ingredient list that you might be tempted to overlook it. There’s no chocolate or vanilla. Not even eggs or baking powder/soda. There’s just flour, sugar, butter, and salt (and a secret flavoring agent).

Despite its simple nature, there’s an amazing number of things that can go wrong with shortbread: it comes out too plain, hard, dry, doughy, greasy, or stale-tasting. But you can’t mess up shortbread if you make olive cookies (scourtins) from the reputable French chef, Susan Loomis. The dough is crisp yet delicate. Every bite melts in your mouth. The olives don’t overpower the cookies, either. Whether you can taste it or not, every dessert has a pinch of salt to round out the flavors. In this case, the salt predominantly comes from the olives. (For more olive oil desserts, try making chocolate mousse, truffles, or gelato.)

The first time I made these cookies, they were supposed to be a birthday gift. Then I ate 10 in one sitting, and I eventually had to re-bake an entire batch. They were so addictive that I made about six more batches after that (as gifts, of course). They’re the most repeated dessert I’ve made all year.

Since the genius of these cookies is their unusual source of salt, I thought of another savory substitute: seaweed. I know vegetables don’t sound appetizing in cookies, but just think of seaweed as the complex version of sea salt.

seaweed cookies

When I thumbed through my pantry last night, I saw furikake (a mix of soy-glazed bonito flakes, sesame seeds, and nori) and thought, “Hey, why not? Fish come from the sea, too.” So I made two batches of cookies (which you should always do with this recipe, because you will run out!).

While the furikake tasted great in the raw dough (I loved the sweet-salty combo of the fish and the soy sauce), the fish flakes didn’t keep their crunchy texture, and the flavor became too distracting. It was still tasty, but I preferred the seaweed version.

PS-I conceptualized these cookies a long time ago, but that darn David Lebovitz scooped me. But my adaptation is different, as there’s a lot more seaweed but no egg. For another sweet-savory twist, I bet bacon would be good, and you could substitute some rendered bacon fat for the butter.

Seaweed Shortbread Cookies

This recipe doubles easily (trust me, you will need to double it), so you can munch on the cookies and still have some left for gifting. They stay delicious for weeks and hold up well in the mail.

Adapted from Susan Herrmann Loomis and The Traveler’s Lunchbox
Yield: about 34 cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, whizzed in a food processor until fine
1 Tablespoon roasted sesame oil (recommended brand: Kadoya)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crushed wakame flakes

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is soft and pale yellow. Mix in the sugar until blended, then drizzle in the sesame oil and mix until combined. Add the flour and the salt, and mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth, then add the wakame flakes and mix until they are thoroughly incorporated into the dough.

With your hands, press the dough into the pan until it is 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours. Score the dough into rectangles with a knife.

Bake until the cookies are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately cut the cookies while they are still hot. Cool on wire racks.

If you find that the middle pieces are still doughy, re-bake them in a preheated 300° F oven for about 10 minutes.

Variation: Substitute 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bonito-flavored furikake for the arame seaweed. (Furikake is like rice confetti. It’s also a delicious seasoning for cold silken tofu, eggs, noodles, popcorn, and salad. If you want to make your own, Gourmet and Egullet have recipes.)

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Testing the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

homemade Levain chocolate chip cookies

Two years and 262+ comments later, I finally decided to try the recipe for Levain Bakery’s monstrous chocolate chip cookies. Weighing nearly half a pound, I lusted after them but never dared make them. When they were featured on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown, a torrent of commenters asked me how the recipe was. I shrugged my shoulders but gave educated guesses.

Then, more commenters swooned over the tweaked recipe. With high expectations, I attempted this new version. Sadly, they tasted plain (even after I added 2 tsp vanilla) and had a sandy texture. Sure, there was a nice contrast between the crisp outside and doughy center, but if you piled any chocolate chip cookie dough into a 1/4-cup mound, you’d probably get the same result. My favorite recipe is still the one I’ve been using for nearly 15 years, and it has whole wheat flour. The whole wheat gives it extra flavor, and combined with the brown sugar, a good chew.

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Caramel surprise chocolate chip cookies

garlic brittle chococlate chip cookies

Before you think I’ve gone nuts for pairing chocolate with garlic again, I have an excuse. These cookies were a birthday present for my roommate, who loves garlic. She stores several cups of garlic in the fridge and even pre-minces it so it’s ready when the moment strikes.

Since my idea of a gift always involves sugar, I made garlic brittle chocolate chip cookies, inspired by the Gilded Fork. The garlic is pre-cooked and added to caramelized sugar, so it has a sweet, nutty flavor. If you’ve ever had roasted garlic, you know that garlic loses its bite after a long period of cooking.

Because I’m a sucker for new recipes, I made the cookie dough from a review copy of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts. The first chapter is devoted to chocolate chip cookies. (The premise sounds better than it is. I hoped for a chocolate chip cookie primer, giving variations on chewy, cakey and crisp cookies, like Alton Brown did so well in Good Eats. Elizabeth’s chapter is a compilation of really different cookies, like traditional chocolate chip and chocolate-chocolate chip, without a thorough explanation.)

These cookies didn’t turn out, and it had nothing to do with the garlic (they didn’t taste nasty, but I don’t think the garlic was necessary). They were as thin as credit cards and extremely floppy. The dough didn’t seem to cook.

Lessons learned:

  • When adding hard candy to cookie dough batter, reduce the sugar in the dough accordingly. Elizabeth’s dough had 3/4 cup more sugar than the Gilded Fork recipe. Too much sugar prevents the dough from setting up. You’ll burn the sugar before the dough’s done.
  • Corn syrup creates a pliant, chewy cookie. I found this out because the brittle had a little corn syrup. Finally, the secret to chewy cookies is revealed!
  • For the deepest flavored brittle, cook the sugar just before it burns. My caramel never registered hot enough to reach the “hard crack” stage, so I kept cooking it. I only pulled it off the heat right when I smelled a little of it burning. Luckily, I got a smoky, molasses-flavored brittle.
  • Grey sea salt rocks. I used salt from Guérande in Brittany, France, which has a deep, almost smoky flavor. The large, irregular crystals melt on your tongue slowly, so the flavor pops. From now on, I’ll add it to all my cookie doughs. At $8 a pound it’s seems frou frou, but if you use it strategically, the canister lasts you a while.

garlic brittle

The idea of brittle in cookies is promising, but this recipe needs some work. Next time, I’ll use cacao nibs instead. No more garlic and chocolate for me. If you’re feeling adventurous, maybe diced fried bacon would go well in the brittle, too.

Garlic Brittle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Garlic Brittle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

For Garlic Brittle:
8-10 garlic cloves, depending on size
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon fancy coarse salt, such as grey salt
For Cookies:
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 batch garlic brittle

Instructions

    Make Garlic Brittle:
  1. Blanch the garlic in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain, peel, and mince the garlic. Cool completely. (This step mellows the taste of raw garlic.)
  2. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat, parchment, or wax paper. In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300° F (hard crack stage) on a candy thermometer and is dark golden brown.
  3. Immediately remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla, stirring until the butter melts and is completely blended. Add the garlic, and stir to coat completely.
  4. Carefully pour the hot mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and spread evenly with a heatproof, rubber spatula. Sprinkle with salt. Cool completely, about 1 hour, and break into small chunks.
  5. Make Cookies:
  6. With an electric mixer, beat the butter with the granulated and brown sugars until just combined and sandy (do not whip). Mix in the egg until just combined, about 3 seconds. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips and garlic brittle.
  7. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 min., preferably overnight.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat (do not attempt with greased foil, which makes the cookies spread, or wax paper unless you like the taste of crayons). Drop one-inch balls of dough a few inches apart. Bake until just golden around the edges, about 13-17 min. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back after 7 min. Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack to cool completely.

Notes

Brittle adapted from Gilded Fork; cookie dough adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts

http://www.sugoodsweets.com/blog/2007/10/caramel-surprise-chocolate-chip-cookies/

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The Treats Truck: No Tricks, Just Sweets

Treats Truck crispy squares, oatmeal jammies, brownies, creme sandwich cookies and chocolate chip cookies
Photo: Robyn Lee/Serious Eats

As a dessert lover, I get hankerings for cookies a lot. The only thing is, I don’t want to bake a batch and finish them all by myself (which happened when I recently ate my friend’s homemade birthday present). The other option is going store bought. In New York, that means getting something affordable but disturbingly unnatural from Au Bon Pain, Pepperidge Farm and Entenmann’s. Or, spending $2 to $3 for a cupcake at Magnolia, Buttercup and all those other retro bakeries. But seriously, a cupcake for $3? They’re not that good…

Enter the Treats Truck, a bakery on wheels! They started dispensing fresh goodies from their environmentally friendly truck, Sugar, this June. A portion of their proceeds also goes to charity.

The early reviews on the Midtown Lunch blog sounded suspicious:

“It’s true, the peanut butter cookie is not very good. Sure, it looks tasty and delicious but it’s actually POISON! So, um, don’t buy any ok? Thanks.”

“I can confirm that the PB sandwich cookie is just awful. And the standard chocolate chip cookie and the sugar dots were also quite heinous. I hated every luscious, highly caloric bite.”

Hmm, it was worth an investigation. An undercover reporter at Court TV brought back the bounty to our office. Read the blog for the verdict and a blurb about yours truly. (Full disclosure: one of the bakers is a fan of Court TV, but I’ve never met her.)

savoring the Treats Truck goodies
Photo: Susie Felber/Court TV

If you’re too lazy to click there, here’s my thoughts. What I like about the Treats Truck is they don’t pretend to be something they’re not. If I were to describe them in one word, it would be honest. “Not too fancy, always delicious!” proclaims their slogan. Their $1 cookies aren’t gourmet, but they’re satisfying. There’s none of that $3 “Oreo” madness (for one cookie!), like at Bouchon Bakery. Their peanut butter cookies actually taste like peanut butter, and their other goods are buttery and tender. I don’t know how their “competitors” manage to make cakey, shockingly sweet or biscuit-like cookies.

It’s worth a stroll to make a purchase or try one of their many free samples. Their staff is super nice. Check their web site or call for their locations. Since there’s only one truck, it can be difficult to pin them down. Twice, their site said they’d be near my work, but they weren’t. 🙁 Now I programmed their number into my cell phone for the latest updates. Hopefully they’ll develop a regular schedule.

Treats Truck
212-691-5226

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Gingerbends

Elle and her hairstylist

In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods shows her bumbling stylist the sure way to get any man.
“Whoops, I dropped my pencil,” Elle demonstrates. Then she bends down and snaps up. “Bend and snap! Works every time!”

Some would argue that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In that case, the bend and snap also works. For the holidays (I am way behind in posts), I made the famous Chez Panisse gingersnaps. Although they’re gingerSNAPS, they’re bendy and chewy if you underbake them.

Why are these cookies so famous?  Renee at Feeding Dexygus Seconds once applied to be a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, the restaurant pioneered eating seasonal, local produce (30 years after it opened, the rest of the country finally caught on with the food politics/organic/vegetarian craze). Renee didn’t get the job, but she walked away with one of their recipes. Since sharing this heartwarming story, the recipe spread like wildfire at The Amateur Gourmet, Chocolate & Zucchini, Kottke, The Baking Sheet, Tarting it Up, The Recipe Box, Simply Recipes…you get the idea. I compulsively clip recipes, so it took me a good two years before I had a chance to try it out.

They are one of my favorite non-chocolate cookies, the other being potato chip cookies. Although they look like mis-shapen blobs (the dough is very soft), no one can say no to butter, sugar and warm, tingly spices. If you want them to live true to their name, bake them till they are dark brown. Forget the rule of pulling cookies out of the oven just when the edges brown and the middle is still soft set.

I cheated and actually like the cookies chewy. There’s so much molasses that they’ll be “gingerbends” unless you bake them to death.

They’re more presentable if you slice the dough from a log. Forming it in a loaf pan makes for really big cookies that squish under the knife. If you make rounds, decrease the baking time to 8-9 minutes. I would send you over to Feeding Dexygus Seconds for the recipe, but it doesn’t work now. So here it is in my words. You can actually make the cookies without an electric beater. In Into to Fine Baking at The New School, we didn’t use machines for any of the doughs!

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 small eggs or 1 1/2 large eggs
1/3 cup molasses
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, cream the butter until soft. Beat in the sugar, then add the vanilla and eggs. Add molasses and beat until well-incorporated. Sift the dry ingredients, and add to the mixture. On low speed, mix until it all just comes together.

Line a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with plastic wrap, so that some hangs over the edges. Firmly press the dough into the bottom of the pan, making the top as level as possible. Cover the dough with the plastic overhangs. Freeze until very firm, preferably overnight.

Unwrap and remove dough from the pan. Slice the brick into thin slices, no more than 1/8″. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or ungreased foil. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven until the edges turn dark brown, about 12 minutes.

Notes:

  • Alternatively, you can form the dough into a couple logs that are 1 1/2″ in diameter. Slice as directed above and bake for 8-9 min.
  • The dough gets soft quickly, so work quickly.
  • Because the cookies are thin, there’s a fine line between underbaked and burned.

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Levain Bakery Cookie Recipes

Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookie
picture courtesy Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

When it comes to my stomach, I like to walk on the wild side. I don’t mean eating exotic foods like iguana or chicken feet (which I’ve enjoyed), but foods that border on sanitary. I’m talking about raw eggs in the form of cookie and cake batter. I’ll risk getting sick if food tastes good.

That’s why the chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery appeal to me: New York magazine dubbed them “borderline raw.” Yum. Sounds like a cookie that’s soft and chewy.

I’m not one to spend $3.50 on a cookie that weighs nearly half a pound (it’s deadly for my wallet and waistline), so I dug up Levain’s legendary recipes from Art Culinaire magazine. Note: I approximated the weights into volume measurements.

Ginger Valrhona® Cookies (Yields 1 dozen cookies)

by Connie McDonald & Pamela Weekes

For a copycat of Levain’s famous chocolate chip cookies, omit the ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Add one cup of toasted walnuts. Several people have asked about the molasses and the high proportion of white sugar. One cup of brown sugar is actually equivalent to one cup of granulated sugar and 1/4 cup molasses. Lisa, a faithful commenter, also developed a popular recipe with slightly different measurements. I tested the recipe and still prefer my old standby.

Ingredients

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
3 ounces (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) brown sugar
2 eggs
4 ounces (1/3 cup) unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
18 ounces (4 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces (2 cups) Valrhona® extra dark bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugars until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well incorporated, then add molasses, flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chunks. Transfer dough to clean work surface and divide into 12 equal portions. Place each on sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake in oven 12 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Let cool on rack and store in airtight container.

Dark Chocolate Coconut Cookies (Yields 1 dozen cookies)

by Connie McDonald & Pamela Weekes

For Levain’s Chocolate-Peanut Butter Chip cookies, try the recipe that Lisa, a commenter, adapted.

Ingredients

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
10 ounces (1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 ounces (1/2 cup) Dutch-processsed cocoa powder
10 ounces (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
Pinch of Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 1/2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
3 ounces (1 cup) large walnut pieces
3 ounces (1 1/8 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugar until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well incorporated, then beat in cocoa powder. Mix in flour, salt and baking powder until just combined. Gently fold in remaining ingredients. Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients. Divide into 12 equal portions and place each on sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in oven 12 minutes, taking care not to overbake. Let cool on rack and store in airtight container.

For true Levain fans, here’s their recipe for oatmeal raisin scones, provided by the Food Network. They are not half raw.

Levain Bakery
167 W. 74th St. (near Amsterdam Ave.)
New York, NY 10023
212-874-6080

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The Amateur Gourmet’s 2nd birthday party at The City Bakery

Rebecca, her boyfriend and Adam
The Amateur Gourmet, right, entertains his guests

The Amateur Gourmet, arguably the most humorous food blogger, celebrated his site’s second anniversary this Saturday at The City Bakery.

Ever since reading Adam Roberts’ “Condoleezza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction” entry, I fell in love with his writing. Since then, he’s been featured in the Sacramento Bee, Boston Globe and even has a book due out spring 2007.

I sweated up a storm while talking with Adam, but not because he’s intimidating in person. Actually, he was a gracious host, making sure to say “hi” to everyone, remember their names, and sharing a delicious tart that he now claims I stole.

No no, everyone’s pores opened up wide because The City Bakery was like a sauna. Their ovens must be on all day, constantly churning out fresh desserts.

City Bakery chocolate chip cookie

I finally tried their chocolate chip cookie, which was revered by New York magazine, NY Daily News, Words to Eat By, and The Wednesday Chef. The cookie was still warm, with swirls of chocolate melting on my fingers and lips. There was a high crispy to chewy ratio; a thick brown crust and pale interior that suggested a high proportion of white to brown sugar (or maybe no brown sugar at all). The giant brown blob on the bottom left suggests that chocolate discs, in addition to chips, were used.

The City Bakery makes a great case for a crispy cookie. Usually, crispy means biscuity, like the Original Chips Ahoy cookies. Crispy at The City Bakery means buttery and crunchy. There was also an extra flavor to these cookies. Words to Eat By called it toffee-esque, but I think it tasted of almond paste.

It was a fun eating experience, but I honestly prefer my own. Chocolate chip cookies are typically described as cakey, chewy and crispy, but there’s a fourth characteristic: soft. Soft and chewy are often used interchangeably, as they tend to occur together. However, the City Bakery’s cookie did not have a hint of softness. The chewy middle required a bit of a workout. My favorite chocolate chip cookies are soft, where one bite can sink your teeth all the way down to the bottom.

City Bakery autumn tart

Adam’s autumn tart was the best tart I’ve ever tasted. Tart cranberries and caramel-covered almonds came together harmoniously in a crispy crust. Too often, tarts have thick, soggy crusts (from soaking up fruit juices over several days). Everything is fresh at The City Bakery, so there’s no need to compensate with brick-like crusts. The tart would have been even better if it was combined with Johnny Iuzzini’s pate sable recipe. Yes, you can make City Bakery tarts using their book, The Book of Tarts!

City Bakery chocolate tart

The chocolate tart was another winner, with its silky, dark chocolate custard. The crust was a little too much like shortbread than a chocolaty crust. Once again, I’d sub Iuzzini’s tart dough but add a little more sugar and some cocoa powder.

City Bakery French toast with hot chocolate

You want a meal? How about a thick slice of French toast with the syrup built in? The burnt edges were crispy, chewy and caramelized. The inside was very eggy, like a dense sponge. The whole thing was sweet, buttery and delicious.

The City Bakery is pricey: $12/lb salad bar, $6-tarts, $2-cookies, $3-French toast and $3.50-hot chocolate, but it’s worth a treat once in a while.

group shot

Oh yeah, on to the people, the reason why I sampled these desserts in the first place! About 20 showed up, including but not limited to Molly (Orangette) Gerald (Foodite), Stacey (Just Braise), Rebecca (who hosted the last NY food bloggers potluck), Anne (of Houghton Mifflin), The Anonymous Lawyer, Lisa (the infamous vegetarian who has posted while Adam was away) and Adam’s real-life friends. If I didn’t mention you, please say hi and remind me!

more guests

Ricky (I think) and Lisa

Adam wows some more of his guests

There was a pop quiz when Lisa asked me why American macaroons were made out of coconut and mine (which I brought along) were made of almonds. Off the top of my head, I explained that traditional French Italian macaroons were made with ground almonds and egg whites. When they came to the U.S., Jewish people substituted coconut and sweetened condensed milk. In short, macaroons are chewy cookies made with nut meat, lots of sugar and some type of binder. I felt unqualified to answer the question, as my macaroons have French ingredients, but they are domed and crackly like American macaroons. It’s something that I haven’t bothered fixing, because they taste so good anyway. Phew, everyone believed me, so I passed the test!

Now that I’ve talked to Adam in person, I know his dirty little secrets, like how he grossly exaggerates his blog. 🙂 He’s made Lisa out to be a mean, picky eater, but she was nice on Saturday! In Adam’s recap, he claims that I hogged his tart, but I had two pieces that were the size of my thumbnail. This was after he passed his tart around to everyone, and he still had half of it left when the party was over. Honest!

Buy the Book of Tarts: Form, Function, and Flavor at the City Bakery

The City Bakery
3 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414

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L.A. Dessert Crawl

The Adamson House in Malibu in the dead of winter

Los Angeles may be paradise when it comes to the weather, but is it a haven for dessert lovers? In a large city with a slew of celebrities to please, there’s bound to be at least one place that does dessert well. However, L.A.’s size is also its downfall: at 465 square miles (L.A. County is more than 4,000 square miles), you’ll spend much of the day driving and parking when exploring the area. When tackling L.A., stick to one of the various neighborhoods at a time and plan accordingly.

On the Westside of L.A. is Amandine Patisserie, a French-style bakery that serves croissants, tarts and sandwiches. I tried their pumpkin “pie” during Christmas, and it was delicious! The large pie is about one foot wide, but it’s very easy to eat two slices. The filling is stringy enough so you know it has fresh pumpkin but not so stringy that it gets stuck in your teeth. It’s completely covered with stiffly whipped cream and a generous dusting of cinnamon. I normally don’t like whipped cream because it often wheaps or tastes like whipped nothing. However, this whipped cream is as close to room-temperature ice cream as you can get. The pie already has a la mode built in! For even more decadence, the pie would also be delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Adding to the untraditional nature of the pie is its cookie-like crust. There are no crimped edges. Instead, the crust is formed in a deep cake pan. I prefer flakey pie crusts, but in this case the sum (fresh pumpkin filling, whipped cream, cookie crust) is greater than its parts.

A minor complaint that I have is that the filling tasted like it had too much cream. Fat carries flavor, but it can also coat the tongue and deaden flavors. That’s why gelato, made with milk instead of cream, is more flavorful than ice cream. Using less cream or lightening up on egg yolks would make the pumpkin flavor brighter. But now I’m nitpicking; most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

Diddy Riese Cookies logo

If you catch a movie at the Mann Village or Bruin theaters (where most L.A. premieres are) in Westwood, be sure to stop by Diddy Riese Cookies for a $1 ice cream sandwich. Yes, for the same amount of money it costs to call 1-800-COLLECT, you can get a scoop of Dreyer’s (known as Edy’s on the East Coast) sandwiched between two soft-baked cookies. You can mix and match between the usual drop cookies, like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle and sugar. Ssh, they are made with a mixture of butter and margarine. Tsk, tsk. I will fight to the end for butter-only baked goods.

Chain restaurants are infamous for serving cloned, commercial food. In New York, for example, the Au Bon Pain bakery cafes sound like they serve gourmet French fare, but in reality they’re a pain to dine at. I’ve witnessed a clerk mistake a jalapeno cheese bagel for a danish, and my co-workers have seen them use the same broom the brush the food shelves and floor.

Corner Bakery dessert

On the flip side, the Corner Bakery in the L.A. area and various other states serves delicious, dependable food. They have brownies, cookies, bread and even muffin tops in the Calabassas Commons location! As Seinfeld can attest, the best part of muffins are the tops, with their extra crust and crumb coating. How does a chocolate muffin with fresh bananas sound? Delicious, right?

Corner Bakery breakfast

For breakfast, I opted for the healthier Swiss oatmeal. Rolled oats are naturally sweetened with fresh apples, banana chunks, dried currants, dried cranberries and bound together with yogurt. The whole thing is accompanied by a “sweet crisp.” The crisp, made from toasted raisin pecan bread and sprinkled with coarse sugar, is like bread in biscotti form. It’s excellent when dipped in the oatmeal or eaten plain as a sweet chip. Corner Bakery sells packaged crisps to go, as well.

Corner Bakery sweet crisps

Corner Bakery also has savory fare, such as sandwiches, panini and salad. The Uptown Turkey sandwich comes with hickory smoked turkey breast, avocado and bacon on whole grain bread. It’s expertly layered so the cool tomato goes up against the creamy mayo and hot, toasted bread. The sandwiches also come with homemade potato chips and a crisp pickle. They’re not artisan sandwiches like the ones at ‘Wichcraft in New York, but at $6.29 for a large plate, they’re a much better value.

I may pretend that I’m a sophisticated New Yorker, but I grew up closer to the San Fernando Valley. Like totally, I’m a valley girl. Love’s Cool pointed me to the homey Bea’s Bakery, known for its Jewish specialties such as babka and chocolate chip challah (which is only available on Fridays, according to Nic at The Baking Sheet).

Bea's Bakery sign

The space is bustling with customers, but the nice ladies behind the counter move everyone quickly. Their goods are reasonably priced: $1-cupcakes and $4 per pound of chocolate chip, apple, cinnamon, cinnamon raisin or apple babkas. With other products such as Yum Yum Cake, it’s hard to choose what to get. Because of Love’s Cool’s recommendation, I chose the chocolate chip babka and added the pumperknickel raisin bread on an impulse buy.

whole babka

The babka is slathered with wine-y chocolate icing (imagine what doughnut glaze would be like if it never hardened). Inside are beautiful swirls of tangy chocolate chips and brown sugar streusel. The bread portion is colored yellow from eggs and reminded me of an Entenmann’s danish. I thought the bread was on the dry side, but when toasted, the chocolate chips get melty and compensate.

The pumperknickel bread has plump raisins and a soft interior. My favorite part is the crust. It borders on overdone, but it’s all the more better to make it chewy. The bread can be eaten plain out of hand, but I think the crust develops more bite when toasted. The crumb could be more elastic and have more of a fermented flavor.

Pastries by Edie, also in the Valley, has elaborately decorated cakes. Gleaming behind the display cases are two sizes of mini-pastries. The smallest size is just enough for one person to sample, while the larger variety is big enough for two to share. At $1.50 each, the minis are a great value for all the handiwork involved.

Pastries by Edie mini cakes
Photo courtesy Pastries by Edie

Pastries by Edie chocolate raspberry cake

The chocolate raspberry cake has layers of sponge cake, chocolate mousse and raspberry filling topped with a clean-tasting raspberry glaze. The decorations include gold-frosted chocolate, both on top and on the sides of the cake. While Pastries by Edie doesn’t skimp on the presentation, the pastry has a muted flavor. I would argue that if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t know what you were eating. Raspberry and chocolate are a classic combination because of the fruit’s tanginess; there is no contrast between the raspberry and chocolate here. The chocolate garnishes have a nice texture though. It’s not too hard because of the coldness, nor is it greasy (bakers often add fat to refrigerated chocolate to combat the hardness). The flavor, however, is generic. It looks (err tastes) like someone skimped on the ingredients here.

Pastries by Edie also has homemade gelato. A sign in the shop informs customers that gelato has less overrun (whipped air) than ice cream and is made with milk so the flavors are brighter. The description promises authentic gelato, but the end product regretably resembles ice cream. The chocolate hazelnut gelato has a very strong hazelnut flavor, and the kiwi gelato is nice and tangy. It’s has too much dairy flavor to be called gelato though.

The biggest disappointment of the bakery, however, is its customer service. The woman who helped my mom and I gave us short answers when we inquired about the cake flavors and chided us when we asked if the cake had to be refrigerated. It’s a shame: the customer service could have redeemed the bakery for me.

Malibu beach

That’s the L.A. dessert wrap-up for now. On future visits, I’d like to go to La Brea Bakery (must try their granola and chocolate cherry bread!), Mani’s Bakery (known for their fruit-sweetened pastries), Susina Bakery, Clementine, and L’Artiste Patisserie.

Westside L.A.
Amandine Patisserie 12225 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025-1105 (310) 979-3211
Diddy Riese Cookies 926 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024-2802 (310) 208-0448

San Fernando Valley
Bea’s Bakery 18450 Clark St, Tarzana, CA 91356-3504 (818) 344-0100
Pastries by Edie 21608 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303 (818) 716-7033

Various locations
Corner Bakery

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Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies and Chocolate-Covered Macaroons

Traditionally, cookie swap parties are held shortly before Christmas and allow people to sample a plethora of cookies. Each participant brings several batches of their favorite cookies and distributes them. The more people the better: you can potentially go home with 10 varieties! This month’s Is My Blog Burning, has the same concept, but it’s gone online. If you need holiday baking ideas, check out Jennifer (of The Domestic Goddess) and Alberto’s (of Il Forno) round-up.

I’ve decided to combine a bit of the old with a bit of the new. First is a chewy chocolate chip cookie that has been a family Christmas tradition for a decade. The second cookie is my signature macaroon, enrobed in chocolate.

As I’ve said before, chocolate chip cookies spurred my love for baking. When I was around 12, my mom and I whipped up a recipe that a co-worker had given her. It called for a half-half mixture of butter and vegetable shortening. Our kitchen was sparse and we didn’t have shortening. But we saw the word “vegetable” and figured we could substitute vegetable oil. (I still don’t use vegetable shortening for health, texture and taste reasons.) Because of the oil, the chocolate chips slipped of the dough, which we accepted.

At the time, we also didn’t own baking sheets, so we made our own by cutting up paper grocery bags. To place them in the oven, we slid them off a giant piece of cardboard, much like a cook uses a pizza peel. We didn’t know that cooling racks existed either, so we lined the stove with newspaper and laid the “cookie sheets” on top.

Despite these untraditional techniques, the cookies were delicious. Because they were made with 100% whole wheat flour, they were different from the traditional Toll House variety. But they were good in their own right: chewy, soft and satisfying. We’ve made these year after year for the holidays.

Below is the adapted version (I believe cookies should be 100% butter), and you can use a mixture of flours to lighten the texture (but I can’t tell you the ratio because I want to keep my secrets!).

Chewy Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c chopped toasted nuts (optional)
1 c chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375° F. In a medium bowl, mix the sugars, butter, egg, and vanilla with a wooden spoon until smooth. In a separate bowl, stir the flour and baking soda. Add the flour mixture, chocolate chips and nuts to the wet ingredients. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 8-9 min, or just until edges begin to brown.

Notes:

I recommend these chocolate chips:
Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value-Outrageous semisweet flavor. At 1.99 for 12 oz., it’s actually cheaper than the brands below and better! It has only the real stuff: cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and soy lecithin (an emulsifier). Chocolate manufacturers often cheat by substituting vegetable or milk fat and vanillin.
Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Morsels-classic semisweet flavor with a bit of an acidic edge (which I like). The chips soften after baking, so they melt right in your mouth when you bite into them.
Mrs. Fields-slightly more multi-faceted flavor than Nestle’s.
Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips-a dependable brand with a smoother flavor than Nestle’s. Despite the fancy name and packaging, they’re at the bottom of the “recommended” list.

Not recommended:
Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips-flat flavor that resembles milk chocolate.
Guittard Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips-they may make gourmet chocolate, but their chocolate chips aren’t as rich as Nestle’s.
Pathmark supermarket brand-an ideal ingredient list (cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and soy lecithin) and cheap price attracted me to the product, but it was waxy and fake tasting.

Chocolate-Covered Macaroons

chocolate-covered macaroons

Although everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, the cookie that most people ask me to make is the French-style macaroon. While the American version consists of coconut and is often dry and mealy, the French version uses ground almonds and has a chewy bite underneath a crisp shell.

My only complaint is that macroons have a short shelf life. I can’t ship my them, lest someone wants to pay for overnight delivery. In my latest attempt to prolong the shelf life, I dipped my macaroons in chocolate (thanks to David Lebovitz’s blog for the idea!). I figured the chocolate would create a barrier to keep the cookies moist.

In my experiment, I ate one cookie a day and studied how the texture degraded over time. Sadly, the cookies still dried out after two days, but fresh chocolate-dipped macaroons are as decadent, if not more addictive, than truffles!

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies

Makes 3 dozen sandwich cookies, about 1 1/2-inches wide

Ingredients
7 ounces blanched almonds (1 1/3 cups whole or 1 2/3 cups slivered)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 to 4 large egg whites
A variety of jams, frosting, lemon curd, caramel sauce, Nutella, fudge sauce or ganache
12 oz. of dark chocolate (chocolate chips are not recommended, as they don’t melt as well)

Equipment
2 cookie sheets, greased, or lined with parchment paper

In a food processor with a steel blade, process the almonds and sugar until the almonds are very fine and the mixture begins to pack together around the sides of the bowl, at least 3 minutes. With the processor on, slowly drizzle only enough of the egg white to form a ball of dough around the blade. Keep the processor on. Add only enough additional egg white so the dough has the consistency of very thick, sticky mashed potatoes and no longer forms a ball.

Pipe or drop rounded teaspoons (equivalent to 2 level teaspoons) 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Gently press down on the top of each cookie to smooth it out. Let the cookies stand for 30 minutes .

Preheat the oven to 300° F. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies barely begin to color. Rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom about halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Slide the parchment onto racks. Cool the cookies completely before detaching them.

Spread the filling on the flat side of half of the cookies and top with the remaining cookies.

Drop the cookies into melted tempered chocolate. Couverture, or covering chocolate, is easiest to use because the extra cocoa butter makes the chocolate more fluid. It’s NOT confectionery or compound chocolate, which has vegetable fat and is not as rich. One way to temper is to melt 3/4 of the chocolate (9 oz. in this case) on top of a double boiler and add in small pieces of the reserved chocolate until the mixture registers 88° F on an instant-read thermometer. Use an immersion blender to smooth the mixture and circulate the good crystals. Tempering is done so that the final product has a good gloss and snap. To test the temper, spread some chocolate on the tip of a knife—it should set up within a minute.

If you plan on consuming the cookies right away or don’t mind occasional white streaks in the coating, simply drop the cookies into melted chocolate.

Roll the cookies around until all sides are coated with chocolate, and fish them out with a fork. Place on wax or parchment paper to harden. Consume within two days.

If you have leftover chocolate, grab everything in your cupboard and start dipping! Or, mix with milk to make hot chocolate. Or, pour it onto parchment paper to harden and use for another time.

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Back-of-the-bag M&M cookies

M&M cookies

What would you do to find the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies or whatever your heart desires? Consult an obscure cookbook? Experiment with endless variations? Take the modern route and see what the bloggers are cooking?

How about looking on the back of the bag of your star ingredient? “No no, if a good recipe were so readily available, surely everyone would be able to cook well,” you say. Besides, back-of-the-package recipes often trick you into buying other products from the same parent company. For example, to make “authentic” Philadelphia cheesecake, you must use Honey Maid graham crackers. Nice try, Kraft.

But think about it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the classic Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie. The Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe on the back of every cocoa package produces a delicious, moist cake. All pumpkin pie recipes that I’ve seen are only slight variations from the one on Libby’s pumpkin label (15 oz. of pumpkin puree, 1 1/2 cups of dairy, two eggs and sugar and spice to taste). Manufacturers know that back-of-the-package recipes better be good, or you won’t be buying their product anytime soon.

The M&M oatmeal raisin cookie recipe is no exception. I’ve seached high and wide for a good oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. I was convinced that it simply didn’t exist. In my cookies, the chunk of chocolate interfered with the chewiness of the oats. It was a completely different mouthfeel. I figured only raisins could go with oatmeal because both were chewy.

It turns out a trusty oatmeal chocolate cookie recipe was right under my nose, er, in my hands.

M&M Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

adapted from the M&M Gift Jar Cookie Mix recipe on every Mini bag

Ingredients:
1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (169g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon (3.75mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (169g) whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups (281g) uncooked oats (quick or old-fashioned is fine)
1/2 teaspoon (2.5mL) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2.5mL) salt
1/2 teaspoon (2.5mL) ground cinnamon
1 cup (225g) M&M’S® Chocolate Mini Baking Bits
1/2 cup (113g) raisins
1/2 cup (113g) chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla until well blended.

In a medium bowl combine flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; blend into creamed mixture.

Stir in M&M’S® Chocolate Mini Baking Bits, raisins and nuts.

Roll into 1-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or just until edges begin to brown. Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheets; cool completely on wire racks. Store in tightly covered container.

Makes 4 dozen cookies

Notes:

  • As usual, I reduced the butter. The original recipe called for 1 1/2 sticks, but you won’t miss it.
  • Also as usual, I swapped out all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour for health reasons. I think whole wheat flour gives the cookies a heartier flavor and texture.
  • To reduce spread, refrigerate the batter for at least one hour to solidify the butter and let the flour/oats soak up moisture. If chilling for more than a couple hours, roll the dough into three or four logs and slice off a chunk to bake. By then, it will be too hard to spoon. The logs can also be frozen, double-wrapped, to satisfy later cookie cravings.
  • The dough was uber flavorful for my tastes. Next time I will use 3/8 tsp salt and 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar. It’s all a matter of taste though. Nic at The Baking Sheet thinks salted butter (which already has 1/2 tsp of salt per stick) plus 1/2 tsp salt per 2 cups of flour is perfect.
  • Why use unsalted butter if you’re adding in salt anyway? First, unsalted butter is often fresher than salted butter. Second, you get to control the flavor. Regular butter is often too salty for cookies.

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