Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Perfect Recipe

I am always in search of great recipes. When I was little, and I would say probably somewhere between 6 and 10 years old, I accompanied my mom to an open house for a little shop in what was once a sleepy village called Montrose. Once upon a time, no one knew about it, and then Dolly and the girls in 9 to 5 hitched a ride on its streets and the adorable retro bowling alley became a popular filming site for movies and one or two "very special" Blossoms. Now what was once small neighborhood shops, a movie theater, a bakery or two, is now restaurant row and and a "hang" for teenagers. But it used to be a place that my folks could trust as safe.

I remember the open house as one for Halloween. Why anyone would have a Halloween open house is beyond me, but I distinctly remember someone in a witches hat, and I don't think it was me. Now, I caution that some of the details may not be true, as I remember it all happening in a book store, while my mother says it was another store that I don't remember existing at all. After tasting a cookie (or maybe it was perhaps more like 3...I was stocky even then), I had to have the recipe. I found the baker of these cookies and said to her, in my best Laura Ingalls impersonation, "these cookies are absolutely delicious, do you think I may have the recipe?" I made those cookies year after year. They were my entry in my grammar school bi-centennial cookbook, of which I still have a copy. It had been years since I had made "chocolate delight bars"--not sure if I made that name up , or if that was the original name...those details are blurry, but a couple of years ago I was feeling nostalgic, so I pulled out my od recipe book and baked up a batch.

These cookies are not meant to be eaten warm, so I waited for them to cool. As I lifted the delight bar from the pan, the memories flooded back. How wonderful to finally eating this treasured cookie again. How come I hadn't made them in so many years? Won't everyone be excited to taste these and hear the story!...And then it happened...I took a bite..and realized that these cookies, these chocolate delight bars...sucked.

We can chalk that up to taste buds changing, or maybe I transcribed the recipe incorrectly, or maybe I was just a kid who loved chocolate and figured I could stomach the rest of the cookie as a sacrifice, just like I stomached all of "Little Miss Sunshine" because the payoff was in the ending. But lately, I am finding that there are some really bad recipes out there.

I teach cooking classes. Mostly to people who don't really love to cook, but they like to eat decent food...and they watch the food network for fun. They see, and I won't mention any names here "chefs" who seem more like hopped up college kids whipping up sambies and soupinis...yumm-o and figure anyone can cook. Before I go on, let me say this. I used to think that a TV station for cooking shows was a great idea. I was wrong. Honestly, does anyone need to know how to take a cake mix and turn it into a roast duck?'s an idea for a show...let's go on a road trip and film us eating at all these places that are already famous. No...better...let's have 4 different shows of people on road trips eating at places that are already famous...that is good TV. Bring back Justin Wilson, the Galloping Gourmet, Jeff Smith, Julia. That's my plea. I'm not bitter, I'm bored.

The most important lesson I can teach is that just because it's in a recipe book, doesn't mean it is good. Everyone's taste is different (the only way to explain the success of the Olive Garden), and if you don't know what flavors work together for you, you will waste time and energy producing bad results.

I have been working on recipes for my holiday cookies. I like to create my own recipes either by tweaking ones I already have or starting from scratch. I find that "American" cookies are very sweet and "one-note". Meaning they don't completly satisfy. So, I usually will use a better grade of chocolate, or reduce the sugar content, or eliminatge something that I think will make the pastry sticky-sweet. I recently came across a recipe in a magazine. It's one of those magazines that takes write in boyfriend and I went to France...blah, blah, blah...This story is about a woman who makes a special detour in an airport for thse cookies. I thought to myself...these must really be something. I read the recipe and I was a bit skeptical, but I rolled up my sleeves and went for it. The recipe is basically a chocolate cookie with toffee chips. On top of this cookie (which is apparently the size of a child's head), is a mixture of marshmallow and crumbs. I did it their way, and I hated them. I thought the cookies were really ugly. They couldn't be made smaller, because of the marshmallow melange on top. The appeal of the marshmallow was that it basically exploded and melted and caramelized on top of the cookie, giving it a sugary crust. So, I went back to the drawing board and made the cookie smaller, baked it off, and ten applied a layer of sugar on top. I torched the sugar. I got the affect of burnt sugar, but I also got the affect of burnt cookie. No go. I placed sugar on top before baking. I got sugar dusted cookie. I placed a marshmallow on the top of each cookie, I got a small puddle of ugly. So I scrapped the idea. The sugar wasn't the star of the cookie was a side show. So, I started over. I think I have a nice cookie that is versitile and tastes like an Oreo. I thought I would share the recipe with you, as well as some fun variations.

My Now Worth a Detour Cookie
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder--the darker the better
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter--room temp
1/4 cup crisco or other solid shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar--lightly packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together all the dry ingredients. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. A dd the egg and vanilla and beat again until it is all incorporated and the batter looks like frosting. Mix in dry ingredients just until fully incorporated..don't over mix. Take the dough and roll it into 2 logs, about 1 1/2" in diameter. Refrigerate until cold, about 6 hours or overnight. When ready to bake, slice crosswise in 1/4" thick rounds. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 until done (check in 12 minutes). These cookies will spread, so leave some room.
These are good as is, but not pretty.
The original recipe had toffee bits mixed in. It's a nice option. Add 8 oz of toffee bits just before adding dry ingredients. For the holidays you can also add crushed peppermint candies, and then sprinkle a bit on top before baking. Other standard adds are mini chocolate chips, mini white chocolate chips, or even coconut flakes. You can add just about anything, but keep the bits small as the cookies are also small and thin. Once baked you can do lots of great things with these. make a ganache (equal parts cream and bittersweet chocolate---heat cream and melt chocolate in it) and pipe a design on the cookie, or dip half into it. Add some flavor to the ganache, grand marnier or orange flavoring...or any flavor that is complimentary to chocolate. Use the ganache to make a sandwich of the cookies. Place one side of the cookie back on the baking sheet upside down, place a peppermint patty on top, pop it in the warm oven for a few minutes, until the chocolate begins to melt, but doesn't completely melt, place another cookie on top and you have a minty sandwich cookie. Try the same with peanut butter cups or marshmallow. My current favorite option is to take the plain cookies, sandwich in some ice cream, pour myself a cup of coffee and read your comments.

Only 5 more days until Christmas...get baking.


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