Friday, April 10, 2009

All the small things - like warm fresh cookies


It's tough work keeping a group of 12 year old musicians satisfied through a long band practice. It's even tougher work keeping them focused. They will typically run through one or two covers and an original before they lose their direction and are off running around in the back yard, shooting airsoft guns, swinging on the swing set or emptying out the pantry. Today after exactly 2.5 songs they were off working on their myspace page. My lame attempt to pull them back to rehearsing for their spring break concert (a free show on a band member's lawn for their Jr HS buddies) was to entice them back to practice with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. They lit briefly to devour a dozen or two, then one song and they were gone.

I am a firm believer that the recipe on the back of the Nestle's Chocolate Chips is infallible. I did however, add a chopped bar of Ghiradelli Bittersweet chocolate in place of half the chocolate chips, just to mix it up a little. When I look back at my baking history, I realize that it actually took me a long time to get these cookies the way I like them - golden, slightly crisp on the edges and soft in the center. The road to the perfect cookie was littered with burnt bottoms, mushy undercooked middles and flat, hard cookies that could be used as Ninja Stars. Here's my personal list of "always" and "never" that was culled from my litany of mistakes. They may not be the most scientific of tips, but they have lead me to a cookie that I am happy with.

ALWAYS
  • Pre-heat the oven.
  • Set the oven to 350, not 375. This has served me across multiple oven types.
  • Set the timer 2 minutes short of the recommended time and visually watch them finish.
  • Follow your nose. If they smell done, they probably are.
  • Use a non-stick pan. It's just easier.
  • Bring your eggs to room temperature before adding them to the creamed butter.
  • Cream the butter and sugar more than you think you need to.
  • Scrape down the bowl through out the process.
  • Add in anything else that you like. This is a drop cookie and can take on whatever mix ins you can imagine - walnuts, raisins, M&M's, other flavored chips, rice krispies (surprisingly good), peanuts, craisins, it's your world paint it the way you like it.
  • Scoop and sweep flour. Rounded measurements are the sure way to a cookie that doubles as a deadly weapon.
NEVER
  • Use cold butter or eggs.
  • Mix the flour into the batter any more than just enough to incorporate.
  • Forget to time the cookies.
  • Use a lowfat butter. The water in these "spreads" will throw off the texture of the cookie.

These are just my rules. Take 'em or leave 'em. But if you're having trouble with your cookies, you might want to cross check them against my list. It is borne out of a whole lot of mistakes. And by following these rules I can magically get 7 minutes of focus from five 12 year olds. If that's not magic then I dare you to pull off a better trick.

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