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These are not from City Bakery (too crispy and marzipan-y). Nor Jacques Torres (too sweet). Not Bouchon (too buttery) either. After making Levain Bakery copycats, eating the real deal and amassing 310+ comments, those are close but no cigar.
My favorite chocolate chip cookies are not from a bakery per se. I’ve been telling people about them for years, but it hasn’t caught on. So now I’ll shout it out for everyone to hear.
First, some criteria. Chocolate chip cookies should not be the size of your face. Bouchon, you sophisticated French bakery, what were you thinking? Maybe you can take a page from French Women Don’t Get Fat about portion control. Second, CC cookies should not be crispy. Then they’re just like crackers and what’s the point? Lastly, CC cookies cannot have nuts. It totally disrupts the texture. Okay, I’ll let the nut people put nuts in their cookies, but not mine.
The magical place I speak of is Times Square Hot Bagels on W. 44 St. and 7 Ave. (Update: they closed in Nov. 2012. RIP!) They’re one of the few places in New York that makes traditional bagels, but never mind that, we’re talking cookies here. They’re pliable, toffee-esque (probably from brown sugar) and chock full of chocolate CHUNKS. One will set you back about 80 cents (they’re $12.50/pound). You can eat one or two and be satisfied without feeling gross afterwards. Since they’re at the crossroads of the world, you don’t have an excuse not to try them.
I first heard about these through church. After service, there was a huge table of humble-looking cookies. I was wowed and only had these clues: a checkerboard logo and some name with “Times Square.” Eventually, I tracked down the store.
A little caveat: sometimes the cookies from the shop are a bit hard. They can easily be fixed with a sprinkle of water and 10 seconds in the microwave. The only guarantee of getting a fresh cookie is to attend the evening service at Redeemer church. Try it: you might like the cookies. And the service. Senior pastor Tim Keller is like a modern day C.S. Lewis. He randomly speaks throughout the day, but he’s always at the 6:00 service at the Hunter College auditorium (69 St. between Park and Lex). Well actually he’s on vacation (no doubt reading more philosophical material) till Aug. 16, but you get the idea.
Times Square Hot Bagels
200 W. 44 St. (by 7 Ave.)
New York, NY 10036
Like most ingredients, butter undergoes a beautiful transformation when it’s heated. I would never dream of using nuts or whole spices without toasting them first, and caramelized sugar intensifies the flavor of homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread. Likewise, brown butter adds another dimension to otherwise familiar foods. There’s a reason why it’s called beurre noisette (hazelnut) in French: it has a seductive, nutty flavor.
Brown butter is already in financiers, icing and shortbread. It might as well be the new bacon. But I never had a proper application until trying the sea salt cookies from the Brown Butter Cookie Company. (I’m not being facetious. That’s the name of the company.) Holy goodness, they smelled intoxicating. They tasted even better.
Since pound cake is all about the butter, I thought it would be an excellent vehicle for beurre noisette. As the old tale goes, take a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour, and “beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon.” There you have it: pound cake. Thankfully, the method and the ratios have changed over the years.
The recipe I tried is traditional in that it doesn’t call for chemical leaveners (ie baking soda). Therefore, don’t cheat on the creaming stage: it’s your only chance to aerate the batter.
My cake had an inviting tan color and a crackly crust, but it was very firm. I don’t know if it was the recipe (I forgot to adjust the liquid. As butter boils down, 25% of it evaporates. No worries though—the version below should be correct.) or my temperamental oven. But it was a good launching pad and as expected, irresistably buttery.
Brown Butter Pound Cake
Adapted from Flo Braker in The Joy of Cooking
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sifted (before measuring) cake flour*, or weigh out 196 grams
5 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
heaping 1/4 tsp salt
*In a jiffy, here’s how to substitute 1 cup unsifted cake flour: measure 2 tablespoons cornstarch and add enough all-purpose flour till it equals 1 cup. Some people think cornstarch tastes chalky, so you can also substitute 7/8 cup (that’s 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour.
More on brown butter:
San Francisco Chronicle tutorial
Brown Butter Cookie Company
Pastry chef Michael Laiskonis’s financiers
Lottie + Doof’s shortbread
Martha Stewart’s brown sugar pound cake with brown butter icing
The first time I tried avocado in a dessert, it was in a milkshake at an eclectic restaurant. I loved avocados; I loved sugar. Why not? Then my cousin pointed out, “Ew! You’re going to drink pure fat!” By the time the shake came, I could only muster a sip. My mom, ever the good sport, finished it for me.
Ten or so years later, I encountered an avocado Popsicle at the New Orleans farmers market. By now I knew that avocados were common in Southeast Asian and Latin American desserts and wasn’t grossed out. This Popsicle was like ice cream on a stick; it was refreshing on that blistering day.
When my aunt recently visited me, she brought along gifts: Harbor Sweets chocolate, Trader Joe’s freeze-dried mangosteens, lettuce and avocados. (She was just being practical with the veggies.) That avocado was getting softer by the day, and like all surplus food, I had to turn it into dessert. I almost went with avocado pancakes, but they’re savory. So I went with this tender cake from Accidental Hedonist. As Kate says, “Done correctly, it’s a cake that can sit with pride next to your zucchini bread or pumpkin cake.” It doesn’t taste gross, but it’s faintly vegetal in a good way, like carrot cake.
It’s so good that I might substitute puréed avocado for butter in other recipes. It’s kind of healthy too: avocado’s high in omega 3s, vitamin E and fiber. If you’re worried that people will be put off by the green color, just tell them you made a pistachio cake, which sounds far fancier. Trust me, it’s worth saving your avocados for.
Recipe is at Accidental Hedonist
You can skip the walnuts and dried fruit if you wish. To make 20 cupcakes, bake for about 20 min. in a 350° F oven.
More Vegetables in Dessert: Heirloom Tomato Cake, Chocolate-Potato Cake, Bean Brownies, Classic Carrot Cake and Potato-Chip Cookies
Gourmet’s Test Kitchen Challenge: Avocado Marshmallows v. Avocado Crème Brûlée
More on my Trip to New Orleans and the Relief Work That We Did
The last time I hoarded leftovers, everyone must have laughed their faces off.Some people bring home entrées; others take home french fries. I do both and then some, like the time I doggie bagged bread cubes that were meant for the fondue pot. I had the last laugh when I turned them into Nutella bread pudding and made everyone jealous.
It gets even better: the other day I used leftover saltine crackers (from Hill Country barbecue) for chocolate-caramel bars. I’m not one to relish in packaged foods and refined flour, but the saltines are key. I tried a similar recipe with homemade graham crackers, but you really do need a flimsy base to soak up the toffee. A fancy “crust” will only break your jaw. I haven’t gone crackers: these are even surpass the chocolate matzoh crunch that’s become popular of late.
Bittersweet Chocolate-Caramel Cracker Cookies
Adapted from Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, divided
35 saltine crackers
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
10 ounces premium dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 cup toasted unsalted nuts, chopped medium coarse or
1/2 cup cacao nibs or
5 teaspoons fine salt (such as fleur de sel or gray sea salt), turbindado sugar, finely ground espresso, pepper, spice blends/rubs
Special equipment: a 10-by-15-inch pan
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). To make the cookies easy to remove, line a 10-by-15-inch pan with a sheet of foil, shiny side up, leaving a few inches hanging over the longer edges. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter onto the foil-lined pan, and brush to cover the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with the crackers (don’t worry if there are small gaps).
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup butter and the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick syrup (248°F/120°C on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the condensed milk until blended. Pour the mixture over the crackers, making sure all the crackers are covered.
3. Bake until the syrup layer bubbles, for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter the chocolate over the topping, and allow them to melt for 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread the chocolate over the surface and sprinkle with the nuts, cacao nibs, salt, spices, etc. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the nuts into the chocolate. Freeze until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the freezer and invert the pan onto a clean surface (don’t worry if you lose some nuts from the surface; they’ll be great for topping an ice cream sundae or for adding to cookie dough). Carefully peel back the foil to reveal the soda-cracker underside of the cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut the cookies along the cracker outlines. This is easier to do when the cookies have begun to thaw slightly. Invert and cut the squares into quarters for bite-size pieces or thirds for finger-size pieces.
Buy Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry
The idea hit me like a stroke of genius. If everything tastes better with bacon, surely dessert does too. A handful of them get it right, like Roni-Sue’s bacon buttercrunch. (Save yourself from Vosges’ bacon bar though.) But I wanted to try something new: “double” bacon cookies.
A couple years ago, The NY Times ran a recipe for bacon-dripping cookies, but there was no bacon in them. Other recipes have bacon bits, but they make no mention of drippings. Why oh why would you waste pork fat?
The draw of bacon cookies is the balance of sweet and salty, and I know of no other recipe that epitomizes the two like olive shortbread. I love them so much that I used them as a base for these experimental cookies. Of course I substituted the olives with crumbled bacon, and instead of butter, I used the drippings. After all that work, I expected to hit the jackpot. But my flash of genius was more like a flash in the pan. The cookies were nauseatingly rich. The texture was literally like sand; they wouldn’t hold together. Maybe I didn’t render enough fat (more on that later), or maybe you can’t make all-lard cookies. I think the bacon-and-lard idea is better suited for savory crackers. Not so avant-garde, I know.
Why did I even bother sharing this idea then? Because I kick myself when someone beats me to it. Like the time I made the crispiest pizza without a wood-fired oven or a pizza stone. A cast iron skillet did the trick. By the time I made it known, it was too late: Heston Blumenthal was credited with the idea. Never mind that I did it more than a year before he documented it in his book, In Search of Perfection. See what procrastination does?
Or sometimes I do start a popular idea, and it gets passed down so much that people forget the source. More than three years ago, I created a knock-off recipe for Nutella. One that had cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, just like Nutella itself. At the time, I couldn’t find any such recipes on the Internet, so I shared it here. This Feb., the L.A. Times ran a similar recipe, citing the same book that I did. Heck, even the title was similar. “Nuts for Nutella” vs. “Nutty for Nutella.” Perhaps I’m paranoid, but in the past people have copied my recipe word for word and passed it off as their own.
Let this serve as a marker. If three months or three years from now, someone comes up with a great bacon shortbread recipe, perhaps a seed was planted here. For those who are wondering, here’s the recipe I used. I didn’t like it though. Sorry, no pictures, as I only had a pile of crumbs. These would probably be better with butter instead of drippings. Too lazy to try it again though.
P.S. – this dough is also good with seaweed or furikake.
Bacon Shortbread Cookies
1 to 1 1/2 lbs uncooked bacon, to yield 1/2 cup drippings and 1/2 cup bacon bits
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, whizzed in a food processor until fine
1 Tablespoon neutral-flavored oil (Don’t get smart and try olive oil, peanut oil, etc. Your tastebuds will go into shock)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cook the bacon. The cleanest, unfussiest way is to bake it at 400° F in a large foil-lined baking sheet for about 20 min. Turn the bacon over half way through cooking. Don’t put the bacon on racks. The little grates are a pain to clean. Also, don’t be like me and bake it at 200° F for 3 hours, no matter how good it sounds. The fat won’t render all the way.
Reserve 1/2 cup of bacon fat and let it cool to room temperature. Crumble 1/2 a cup of bacon, and save the rest. It keeps for a long time in the freezer.
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 bacon fat until it is soft. Mix in the sugar until blended, then drizzle in the oil and mix until combined. Add the flour and the salt, and mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth, then add the bacon bits 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.
Goji berries used to be one the best-kept secrets in Chinese herbal medicine. Oddly enough, they’re usually used in savory dishes; my mom drops a handful into chicken or abalone soup. You can also make fruit “tea” by steeping dried gojis, Asian red dates, and logans in hot water. As the fruits reconstitute, they also infuse the water with their sweetness.
Now that gojis have gone mainstream in energy bars, chocolate, and cereal, I look at them not so much as medicine, but as dessert. Since they’re like a cross between raisins and cranberries (but with a slight medicinal aftertaste), why not put them in oatmeal cookies? And while I’m on that route, why not replace cinnamon with Chinese five-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cloves)?
Since I’m not fond of fennel and anise, I made a back-up batch of six-spice cookies (with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cayenne), just in case I couldn’t stomach the five-spice powder.
For the base cookie dough, I used a recipe from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts (thanks to David Lebovitz for the find). As promised, they were chewy but not tough, cakey, or soggy (things that characterize most low-fat cookies). They obviously don’t taste as buttery as traditional cookies, but no one will know they’re “healthy.” BTW, my favorite low-fat oatmeal cookies are the florentines from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich, but that’s another post. Now those taste buttery.
In the end, the six-spice cookies were good, but the five-spice ones were better. The latter reminded me of my childhood: dim sum with my grandparents and my mom’s home cooking. They had an earthy taste, and five-spice powder works so well in desserts that I’m going to keep substituting it for cinnamon. It’s really good in coffee fruitcake, for example. Next experiment? My morning oatmeal.
The six-spice cookies had a little bit of heat, and I like that concept too. The point isn’t to make dessert taste like hot sauce, but to give your mouth a little sensation. I have an idea for another cayenne pepper dessert (not with chocolate though; that combination’s been played out enough). Stay tuned for that, if I get a chance to bake more.
Asian Oatmeal Cookies
If the Chinese made oatmeal raisin cookies, these would be it. Goji berries have a sweet-tart flavor akin to raisins and cranberries, and they call out for Asian spices—in this case, Chinese five-spice powder.
For the best results, buy gojis from a reputable natural-foods store. They can cost $20/lb, which is sticker shock compared to the $6-lb bag in Chinese supermarkets, but we know better than to trust Chinese ingredients. I’ve heard horror stories of Chinese gojis that were dyed red. Besides, the better the berries, the more sweet (and less medicinal) they will taste. If you can’t find gojis, raisins or cranberries will work fine.
About 24 cookies
Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs
1 cup flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup goji berries
2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, greased foil, or silicone mats
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the rack on the lower and upper thirds of the oven.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and five-spice powder.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, then the egg, applesauce, and vanilla.
4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the oats and raisins.
5. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoons 2-inches apart on the baking sheets and use a fork to gently flatten the dough.
6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they “look dull on the surface but are moist and soft.” Rotate baking sheets during baking for even heating.
Storage: Once cool, store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
Six-Spice Variation: Substitute the five-spice powder with 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, plus a big pinch of cloves and cayenne pepper.
Tip: Dough can be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which should make the cookies even better.
What do you do with leftover frosting? If you have a little, you can lick it off your finger or spread some on toast. But when I have a whole cup left, I turn it into truffles. Because the filling is too soft to handle at room temperature, I freeze it prior to dipping. When you eat the truffles at room temperature, the filling explodes in your mouth. It’s so good that you’ll want to make frosting just for truffles.
You can probably use any frosting as the base, but ones with a high percentage of chocolate will melt in your mouth. I used Cook’s Illustrated‘s vegan ganache frosting. If you eat the truffles fresh, I swear no one will be able to detect the tofu. After a couple days, there is a slight spicy/beany flavor, but these are still some of the best truffles I’ve ever had.
These truffles require tempered chocolate, a process that involves heating, cooling and stirring chocolate. It’s laborious and virtually impossible to do without a thermometer. Fortunately, Alice Medrich developed a cheater’s method: Melt the chocolate at a low temperature and forget about the technical stuff. It requires chocolate that’s already in temper (one that looks smooth and glossy, not one with white streaks because it’s been sitting in your car).
This Valentine’s Day, make these vegan truffles or the simplest cream truffles ever (That recipe goes like this: Heat up cream. Pour over chocolate. Eat.).
Vegan Chocolate Truffles
For truffle filling:
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup hot brewed coffee
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/4 cup light coconut milk
2 ounces silken tofu (recommended brand: Morinu)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1 1/3 cup)
2 ounces extra chocolate, in 1 or 2 chunks
Melon baller scoop or a sharp knife
2 large sheet pans
Heatproof glass bowl with a 2 1/2- to 3-quart capacity
Roasting pan or large baking pan at least 2 inches deep
Tempering chocolate involves a sequence of heating, stirring, and cooling that stabilizes the cocoa butter and ensure that the chocolate becomes snappy and shiny. This method works only if it’s followed carefully. First, start with a fresh bar of solid chocolate. It should still be in temper if it’s glossy rather than gray or dull. The trick is to melt the tempered chocolate gently, so the temper isn’t destroyed. This method can’t be used for chocolate that is out of temper; been melted to an unknown temperature; or looks dull, spotted, or gray.
Use good chocolate, not chocolate chips or coating (which aren’t really chocolate). Don’t work in a hot room. Don’t let any moisture touch the chocolate. Don’t try to rush the process with extra heat, and DO chop the chocolate as finely as directed. Make sure that the inside of the bowl, the spatula, and the thermometer stem are clean and dry. Whenever you take the temperature of the chocolate or the water, wipe the stem clean and dry with a paper towel.
The lucky winner of La Maison du Chocolat’s box of truffles is…Samantha Hanley. Samantha, come on down and claim your prize.
The Menu for Hope campaign has been extended till Dec. 31! So far, we’ve raised $41,000 for the school lunch program in Lesotho. This is great, considering the state of the economy, but we still have a ways to go before matching last year’s $90,000. I know it’s difficult to give this year, but this is the time when people need help the most. You have the opportunity to make your donation go that much further!