Brown Butter, Salted, Chocolate Chip Cookies - Part 2

I'm not sure that I'll ever have enough chocolate chip cookie recipes. For me, the chocolate chip cookie platonic ideal has remained unchanged: crisped on the outside, soft on the inside, with lots of caramel flavor and a touch of salt.

Each time I make a batch of cookies I learn something new. The other day I was helping my friend cater a small event and we were serving chocolate chip cookies as part of the desert. I am always picking up great tips from her, and she often figures out how to make recipes as simple as possible. She said she uses 3 sticks of 100% browned butter, and she mixes everything up without a mixer. I took a cue from her, and revisited my cookie recipe.  I used more butter (but also more flour), cut out any electric mixers, and I added some molasses (just a touch) to the batter to add another layer of caramel flavor. 

Here's a few things I've learned about making soft/crispy cookies:
  1. The darkness of the sheet pan matters. I prefer a lighter pan because it will keep the cookies from getting too hard/crisp. Darker pans make darker cookies (seriously).
  2. Don't over bake. Take these guys out as soon as they start to color but still look a little underdone.
  3. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for a few minutes, but not for too long... 5 minutes max.
  4. Using more brown sugar than white sugar helps with the gooey texture/caramel flavor. Molasses helps, too.
  5. Use really good chocolate... I like 60-70% dark or bittersweet chocolate Guittard or Guirardelli for chips... You could use a good quality dark chocolate if you want to do chunks instead.
I'm sure this won't be my last round of chocolate chip cookie testing... but for the time being this recipe will definitely do the trick.

Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies

cups unsalted butter (3 sticks)
1 cup light brown sugar
 ½ cup granulated sugar

2¾ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
 ½ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons molasses
2 eggs
1 10-12 oz. bag chocolate chips (238-340 grams) different brands come in different weights
flake salt to sprinkle at the end

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the racks in the top 1/3 and lower 1/3 of the oven. Line your baking sheet(s) with parchment paper. This recipe will make about 4 sheets worth of cookies.

In a saucepan that is light in color (like stainless steel or ceramic... you want to make sure you can see the color of the butter) make the brown butter. Start by melting the butter over low heat. Once the butter is melted you can raise the heat to medium. The butter will start to get foamy, swirl it around or stir; this will help make sure all the moisture and bubbles get released. Watch the butter closely, once it turns brown with little sand-like flecks you have brown butter. It will smell very nutty and aromatic. Remove it from the heat, transfer it into a heat proof mixing bowl and add the sugar to the brown butter. Stir and let the mixture cool a bit while you prepare the other ingredients. 

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Once the butter sugar mixture has cooled slightly, add the vanilla and molasses. Stir until incorporated. Add two eggs. Stir until the eggs are fully incorporated. Slowly add in the the flour mixture. Stir until the batter just comes together, be careful not to over mix. Add the chocolate chips and stir until they are evenly distributed. Let the dough rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or even overnight. You can also scoop out the dough, freeze it on the tray, transfer it to the bag, and save for when you're ready to bake cookies.

Using a 1½ tablespoon ice cream scoop, or using a heaping tablespoon, scoop out the dough onto the parchment-lined sheet pan. Make sure each scoop is at about 2 inches apart from each other. The cookies will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the dough with flake salt.

Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until the cookies just start to turn golden but still appear soft. Let the cookies sit on the sheet pan for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack to cool.

Eat warm or at room temp and enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I love happy accidents in the kitchen. The other night, I was testing out apple crisp topping recipes. I was playing around with ratios for the perfect, crumbly, buttery, lovely crisp topping. One batch of topping felt more like cookie-dough than the crumbly mixture I was looking for. I could have tried to salvage the mixture by adding more flour, but instead I thought, "what if I add an egg, some baking soda and some chocolate chips to this... will it make a cookie?"

The answer is a BIG yes. Not only did it make cookies, it made delicious cookies. It made the kind of cookies I'm always going for: crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.

Usually I make cookies by creaming room temp (or melted) butter and sugar together, then adding dry ingredients to that. What I discovered with these cookies is that you can actually use super cold butter, and make the dough similarly to how you make pie or biscuit dough. No creaming of sugar and butter first. No waiting for butter to come to temp. No stand-mixer. This recipe doesn't make a huge batch of cookies, but because the recipe is so easy, it's the perfect thing to whip up for a small group of friends or family when you're craving cookies and want them fast. Of course, you can also double or triple the recipe.

One note about my brand preferences - I'm a big fan of Ghiradelli's semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips. They're a little larger than most of the mainstream brands of chocolate chips. I think they have deeper chocolate flavor, and a silkier texture. I'm also a fan of Guittard. I always pick up a bag when I see it on sale. Regular semisweet chocolate chips will do just fine. You can also swap dark chocolate for milk or white chocolate chip. I'm not a big fan of white chocolate, but if you are and want to make this recipe festive, you could also add dried cranberries to the mix. You can also add your favorite spices to the batter, or omit entirely.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 12-14 medium-large cookies

1¼ cup all purpose flour (can substitute with gluten free flour)
½ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
good pinch of kosher or flake salt
8 tablespoons (½ a cup or 1 stick) of COLD unsalted butter, cubed small
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup good quality dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, oats, sugars, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir until evenly mixed.

Cube the butter into small pieces. Add the cubed butter to the dry ingredients. Using your hands, combine the butter and dry ingredients together until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture resembles a coarse pea-sized meal.  Don’t worry too much about perfection here… you’re looking to just break apart the butter as you mix-in the dry ingredients. It takes a little elbow grease, but it’s not hard. If you are nervous you can use a pastry cutter or a food processor instead.

Next, add the beaten egg and vanilla extract. Mix until just combined (be careful not to over mix at this point). Fold in the chocolate chips. 

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out heaping spoonfuls of dough. Flatten slightly so the dough is2-3 inches in diameter (as shown below). Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the sheet pan for 2 more minutes, than transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

If you prefer smaller cookies, you can use heaping teaspoons and bake the cookies for 8 instead of 10 minutes.

The cookies should be crispy on the edge and chewy on the inside. They will look a little undercooked when you first take them out, but don’t worry, they’ll harden and firm up as they cool.

Edith's Chocolate Babka

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the great pleasure of learning how to make babka.

At 87, Edith still loves to bake and cook in her kitchen for her children, grandchildren, family and friends. Edith has more spunk than most people have at half her age. Her baking, like many talented cooks, is imprecise and relies on experience and feeling. I was deeply inspired by Edith, her food, and her stories.

That afternoon, Edith taught me her recipes for chocolate babka and walnut cake (both use the same dough) while telling me me stories about her family and her life. At first I was concerned about asking Edith difficult questions about her past. Her daughter, who was with us, assured me that Edith was happy to talk about her experiences. That's one of the many amazing things about this woman - she is incredibly open about her life. She will tell you like it is or like it was, but she does so without anger or hostility. She is aware and grateful for her fortunes even in the context of unfathomable unfairness and inhumanity. I only got to spend one afternoon with her, but it was clear that this is a woman who has an incredible sense of humor, sharpness, wit, and a deep understanding of humanity and the complexities of life. The Shoah foundation recorded Edith's holocaust survival story in full; I'm happy to help you locate it if you want to hear more about her story.

This short synopsis will hardly do justice to her full story, but nonetheless...

Born in 1926, Edith grew up in Lastovce, Czechoslovakia. In 1942, Hitler decreed that all Jewish girls 16 years of age and older had to be reported to the Slovakian government. At that time, 16 year old Edith was sent to live at her aunt's house in Hungary. Many Slovakian Jewish girls fled to Hungary at the time, and the Hungarian police were instructed to hunt them down. Edith hid in the basement of her family's home during that time. After six months, Edith was sent to Budapest; her family felt her chances of survival were better in a big city where she could get lost. Edith worked at an undergarment factory where she somehow managed to get her hands on the birth certificate of a Hungarian non-Jew. She also dyed her hair blonde. One day on a train, Edith was caught by two detectives. Unimaginably, during a time of war and bloodshed, not one but two detectives were on the case of tracking down a single Jewish girl in Budapest. Edith was sent to what was essentially a holding camp. She was there for about 6 months. Whenever the Germans were bombing, all the Jews were sent upstairs to the upper level of the building so that if the building were to be bombed they would perish. After 6 months, Edith was sent to Auschwitz. From Auschwitz, Edith was sent to the Liebau concentration camp. At the camp, there were approximately 200 women and 200 men that were kept separate from each other. The men and women were mostly young, and were forced to do excruciatingly hard labor. When Edith speaks of this, she talks about how impossible it is to explain the pain of hunger, the pain of the particularly horrible lice, among all the other types of pain. Edith managed to survive, and her camp was liberated by the Russians. In fact, Edith was liberated by a Russian Jewish general who made it his mission to protect the girls from being raped by other Russian soldiers (something that was happening), and made sure that they did not eat the food the Germans left behind (which was often poisoned).

After the war, Edith returned to Czechoslovakia. Two of her brothers had also survived the war. Back in Czechoslovakia, Edith was set up on a blind date. Edith and her future husband clicked right away. They were married for 65 years (what's the secret? there's no secret. But don't go to bed angry, don't think relationships are a perfect 50/50 partnership, be willing to ungrudgingly compromise, and it helps if your husband tells you you're beautiful in the middle of an argument). Her husband passed away a few years ago at the age of 90. In 1948, Edith and her husband left Czechoslovakia for Israel where they lived for 10 years before immigrating to the United States to start a new life with their two daughters.

Edith originally got this recipe from a friend of hers. To the delight of her family and friends, Edith has been making this babka for many years. I have never seen babka prepared in a bundt pan, but it's pretty genius (and beautiful). This is a dense, chocolate-y, rich dessert with a lovely dough. If you need an exact recipe, I recommend you google "babka." If you're looking for a recipe with room for error and customization, see below.

I am so grateful to have heard Edith's stories and to have learned this recipe.

(The above recipe is for the dough for both the babka and a walnut cake. The filling is for the walnut cake. Edith has altered this recipe slightly. See below.)

Edith's Chocolate Babka

for the dough-
3.5-4 cups of flour
1 packet yeast (or 1.5 tablespoons)
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
2.5 sticks crisco or margarine, at room temp, cubed
5 egg yolks
1 cup seltzer water (secret ingredient)

for the filling-
finely ground walnuts
unsweetened cocoa powder
vanilla extract
strawberry jam
mini-chocolate chips

for the dough-
Combine the yeast with 1 tablespoon of sugar and a 1/4 cup of warm tap water (no more than 110°F). Let the yeast activate for 10-15 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 3.5 cups of flour (you can add more flour later if the dough feels too wet). To the flour, add the cubed crisco. On level 1 or 2, mix the crisco and flour together until pea sized pieces form and you have a coarse meal.

Add the egg yolks, sugar,  activated yeast, and seltzer water to the mixer.

Mix on low until a dough forms, this will take a few minutes. Scrape down the sides periodically to make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated with the wet ingredients. If the dough seems too dry, add more seltzer. If the dough seems too wet, add more flour. You want a sticky silky dough (similar to challah dough in texture).

Add a little oil to a mixing bowl (either olive or vegetable is fine). Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Kneed the dough 5 or 6 times in the bowl. Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap, place a towel over the bowl. Let the dough rest overnight in the fridge.

 for the babka-
Dust a flat surface with flour, and place the dough on the flat surface. Cut the dough in half, and roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 15 inches long and 1/4-inch thick.

Spread a thin layer of jam onto the dough leaving a 1-inch border around the sides.

GENEROUSLY top the dough with the cocoa and nut mixture. (I do not have amounts for this. Edith combines cocoa powder with sugar, walnuts and vanilla extract. I would blitz all of this in a food processor until it's finally ground. You could do: 1 cup nuts, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 tsp vanilla - taste and adjust to your liking).

Don't be stingy! Add a handful of chocolate chips on top of the cocoa and nut mixture. Edith prefers mini-chocolate chips, but we had regular-sized that day. Once you've topped the dough, wrap it tightly into a roll.

You're almost there. Place this rolled up dough, into the bottom of a greased Bundt pan in a ring formation. 

Now, repeat that process with the second half of the dough. Once you've made a second roll of chocolate and jam filled goodness, place it on top of the first ring in the Bundt pan. Press the edges together with your fingers. Make sure the dough is sealed.

Now, your  babka is ready to go in the oven. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 45 minutes uncovered, and then cover the pan with foil and bake for another 45 minutes.

Let the babka cool on a rack in the Bundt pan for at least 20 minutes. Then, hope and pray that it will easily come out of the pan when you try to pop it out onto a serving plate. It seems to be easier to get the cake out of the pan after it cools for a bit.

Dust the babka with powdered sugar, slice, and serve with a hot cup of coffee or tea!

This babka freezes well. It can be baked, then frozen and reheated when ready to eat. 

Flourless Chocolate Brownie Cookies (gluten free)

I stumbled across this recipe for Chocolate Brownie Cookies in the January 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. The picture of the cookie looked great, and the recipe seemed as simple as any cookie recipe could possibly be.

Well done Bon Appetit test kitchen!  This is a stellar cookie, and an excellent gluten free dessert.

Look, I'm a big fan of gluten.  I don't have an intolerance to it, and I have nothing against it from a nutritional perspective.  But, I know many folks that do have difficulties with gluten; and it's nice to have more recipes I can serve those friends.

Plus, the omission of flour is texturally significant in these cookies. They are crispy and light on the outside, and gooey in the center.  They remind me of a cross between a meringue and a french macaron.  What could be bad about that?

I only made a few changes to the recipe. Next time, I might add cinnamon or cayenne to the batter. But really, it's pretty perfect as is.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies 
Makes 2 dozen cookies

3 cups gluten-free powdered sugar (you can also use regular powdered sugar if you aren't gf)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the better the powder, the better the cookie)
1 tsp. kosher salt (essential)
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
4 oz. (1/2 cup) bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead)
3 tbsp. cacao nibs (I did not have these on hand. Instead, I added 3 extra tablespoons of chocolate chips)

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F.

Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg; fold in chocolate and cacao nibs.  You don't have to be perfect about any of these steps. This batter is very forgiving.  Just don't overmix the batter once you add the eggs; err on the side of clumps.  

Your batter should look glossy and almost like melted chocolate

Spoon batter by the tablespoonful onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2" apart.  I used an actually measuring tablespoon.  The batter is very very sticky, so I scooped up spoonfuls, and needed to use my hand to release the batter from the spoon.  

Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and set just around the edges, 14-16 minutes. Mine took 14, I always prefer cookies just under, and they continue to cook even out of the oven.

Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan (they'll firm up). Okay, here's the ONLY tricky part of this recipe.  My cookies needed to cool in the pan for a minute or so before they would unstick from the bottom. The first hot cookie I tried to move with a spatula broke apart.  After a minute, it was easier.  It also helped to lift up the parchment off of the hot cookie tray, transfer the parchment to the counter, and lift the cookies off the parchment once they were not in the pan. This is still a delicate process, and you'll want a good spatula for the operation.

Do ahead; Cookies can be baked 3 days ahead.  Store airtight at room temperature.  

And this is what you get!