Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volkswagens, Daffodils, and Some Damn Good Cookies

I love that time in the spring when everything starts to green up, when the hedges and the shrubs and wild growth along the sides of the road begin to bud, so that from afar they look as though they have simply been dusted with the faintest hint of green.  Then, seemingly overnight, plants are covered with actual leaves, and it really feels as though spring has arrived.  The transition from brown to green means two (somewhat related) things.  I am ridiculously busy at work, and Daffodil weekend is approaching.  For my non-Nantucket readers, Daffodil weekend, which occurs in late April, is a festival of sorts for which locals and visitors alike turn out in droves to celebrate the simple daffodil.  (It's also the first time that many seasonal folks come to the back to the island,  hence the busy-ness at work.)  The highlight of the of the weekend is the Antique car parade, which starts in town and then crosses half the island to 'Sconset, where the cars park, their drivers set up tailgates, and then everyone proceeds to blatantly ignores open container laws and gets boozed up while dressed in all manner of ridiculously bright/preppy daffodil-adorned attire.  While I've gone out and spectated for the past two years, this will be my first year participating in the decorating of an antique car and being part of that spectacle.  The Nantucket Historical Association was the lucky recipient of a 1960s VW van, which is undergoing a major decorating effort and will be part of the parade this year.  I'm not going to spill the beans just yet, but it's going to be awesome.  But in order for it to be awesome, we needed to do some work.  And naturally, workers need to be fed, right?  So yesterday we gathered and sawed and drilled and taped and painted, and worked up an appetite, so we ate.

A stock-market-themed tailgate.  They only get more elaborate from here...

I use any gathering of people where food is being served (in this case, lunch), to try out new recipes and make yummy baked goods that I won't make just to have around the house (because that is just asking for trouble!).  Naturally my contribution to this gathering would be sweet in nature, because that's just how I roll.  My limiting factors were: a) ingredients, since I didn't do any shopping beforehand, and b) timing, since I only left myself about an hour to make something, and c) easy to serve and eat.  With that criteria, I figured my best bet would be cookies, since they bake quickly and are finger friendly.  The one catch with cookies, however, is that they often use room temperature butter, which I didn't have on hand (and didn't have time to wait for!)  For inspiration I turned to Brown Eyed Baker, which has a wealth of basic yet fantastic baked-good recipes.  I quickly stumbled across one incredibly indulgent "Thick and Chewy" chocolate chip cookie recipe that called for melted butter instead of room temperature--timing problem solved!  I got to work immediately, and about an hour later I was packing the cookies, still warm from the oven.

As you readers have probably guessed, I always like to try new recipes.  Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're just so-so (obviously I don't write about those), and sometimes they're so great they're an automatic keeper, and let me tell you, this one is a keeper!  There are about a million chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, but as far as I'm concerned, I've found my winner.  And I'm not the only one.  My first assurance that these cookies were in fact as great as I thought they'd be was when my friend Beth nabbed one before lunch and declared "these cookies are amazing!" (or something like that).  When we all broke for lunch the praise kept rolling in, and it was impossible for people to eat just one (despite their hefty size!).  Here's what makes them so amazing:  the fact that they stay chewy, even after cooling (thanks to the butter plus and extra egg yolk).  Enough vanilla so you could actually taste it.  A perfect sweet-salty balance.  The aforementioned hefty size (and I even down-sized mine a tiny bit!).  The thick-and-chewiness...oh wait, I already said that.  The key to the chewiness is pulling them from the oven when the centers are still soft and puffy looking so you don't run the risk of over-baking them.  Apparently cooling the cookies on the sheets also enhances the texture--as I was a bit crunched for time I didn't have an opportunity to let them cool all the way before packing them, and as far as I can tell, they didn't suffer too much because of it.  We consumed most of these cookies about 2 1/2 hours after they were pulled from the oven, so not only were they soft, but the chocolate chips were still partially melted, which no doubt contributed to the overwhelmingly positive response. Still, 24 hours later they're still awesome (don't worry, I just ate another, just to be sure), so don't delay, makes these cookies today, and you too will be singing their praises. 

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and Baking Illustrated)
Makes 18-22 large cookies

This recipe's original source, Baking Illustrated, gives ingredient measures in weights as well as cups.  Armed with a trusty kitchen scale, I measured the dry ingredients by weight.  To satisfy my own curiosity I compared the weigh and volume measurements, and found that when measuring by volume I always ended up with more flour and sugar.  So, if you have a scale, use it, and if you don't, be sure not to overfill your cup measures.  When you're going for soft and chewy you don't want to dry out your cookies with too much flour, or over-sweeten with too much sugar!

* 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
* 1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
* 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
* 1 large egg plus 1 additional egg yolk
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* About 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper, a silicone baking mat, or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer or just a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the melted butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until just combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

4. Roll the dough into ping-pong sized balls--a scant 1/4 cup or so of dough.  Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

5. Bake until the cookies are light golden grown and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 14 to 17 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets before removing with a metal spatula.  Enjoy--I know you will!!!


  1. These cookies are perfect to share with friends on a winter day with a cup of hot cocoa! We added some dried cranberries which made the cookies extra delicious!