Tag Archives: cookies

When Coffee Met Chocolate: A Maillard Love Story

2 Feb
It's All About the Chemistry

Coffee and Chocolate: It's All About the Chemistry

When coffee first fell into chocolate, or vice versa, nobody wasted time whining, “Hey, your coffee fell into my chocolate!” or “Oh, no!  Your chocolate is all up in my coffee!”  No, friends.  There was none of that.  Rather, angels sang, music swelled and the world became a much brighter place.  As much as you may love your Reese’s, the happy union of coffee and chocolate is much more profound.

You guys ever heard of Maillard reactions?  Well, it’s all kind of technical, but here’s the Very Basic Idea.  Back in 1912, Maillard the Chemist (for real) began studying the way foods brown.  Not the oh-no-my-guacamole-is-all-gray kind of browning.  THAT kind is caused by enzymatic voodoo.  No, Maillard was interested in non-enzymatic browning, in how and why it happens and in why stuff tastes so much better because of it.

He began doing all sorts of chemistry set type experiments with foods, and he discovered that foods brown when amino acids react with certain sugars at different temperatures.  No, don’t fall asleep–it’s really cool stuff.  He also figured out that each of these specific reactions (amino a+sugar b+temperature x) created specific flavors.  Now, take into account that foods can contain up to 20 amino acids and several types of sugar that can combine in all sorts of ways at temperatures from warm-ish all the way up to smokin’ hot, and it becomes clear that there’s a whole lot of Maillard going on.

So, now, back to our lovers, coffee and chocolate.  Coffee beans and cocoa beans are both roasted.  They both contain similar amino acids and sugars.  So, there tends to be a lot of similarities in the Maillard reactions that occur.  In the Venn Diagram of coffee and chocolate, there is a lot of overlap.

And this little explanation brings us, logically, to Trader Joe’s.  Thank you, Trader Joe’s, for making “Cookies with Perks.”  No, they aren’t like “friends with benefits.”  Perks….coffee?  Get it?  Those TJ’s folks sure are funny.    Anyway, more specifically, dear Trader Joe friends, thank you for Espresso Cookies with Dark Chocolate Chunks.  I am staring at some right now.  I will not eat them for breakfast.  I will not eat them for breakfast.  I will not eat them for breakfast…..

Where was I?  Oh, right.  When I saw them on the shelf yesterday–and incidentally, TJ’s was almost empty during the pre-game which is why we went at 4:50pm on Superbowl Sunday–I thought, “Hmm.  These are probably pretty good,” and I threw them in our jaunty red TJ’s cart.  I got them home and put them away like a good girl.  You know, like someone who has will power and stuff?  My will was like iron until 10:24pm, at which point, the cookies began calling to me in a most alluring voice right from my cupboard!

At any rate, I caved pretty quickly–you would have, too–and I literally stopped in my tracks and called to the Beloved.  He thought that something was wrong as I stood, transfixed, chanting “Oh. My. God.” over and over.  Friends, these little cookies are Ridiculous.  Strong, not-too-sweet, espresso flavored cookies with just-sweet-enough chocolate chips.  They’re like little biscotti in their crunchiness, but they aren’t twice baked.  They’re biscookies.  I just made that up, but that’s what they are.  I think I need to meet with the TJ’s cookie naming committee.

I know that some of you do not have access to a Trader Joe’s.  Not wanting to rub your little noses in the fact that you can’t get Cookies with Perks where you live, I decided to whip up a little recipe for you.  It’s based on a couple of recipes from Rosie’s Bakery Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book by Judy Rosenberg.  Really, people, how can anyone resist a book with a title like that?   And don’t even try.  Just give in; it’s easier than being all self-denying and sad.

Back to the recipe:

When Coffee Met Chocolate Biscookies

  • 8 oz. all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2TBSP (4 1/2 tsp) espresso powder (or 2 TBSP instant coffee powder)  This is kind of to taste, depending on how coffee-y you want your cookies to be.
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • more than 1/2 tsp but less than 3/4 tsp salt
  • 7 oz. butter at cool room temperature
  • 3.5 oz. light brown sugar
  • 1.75 oz. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 oz. milk chocolate chips (or use any combination of chips as long as you have about 4 oz. in total)

Make these using The Creaming Method:  Whisk all dry ingredients together.  Cream softened butter and sugar to a paste.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Mix in dry ingredients until the dough comes together.  Stir in chips at the end.  Of course, scrape the bowl as necessary.

This dough will be waaaay better if you refrigerate it for a couple of days, but you won’t be able to wait that long, prolly.  So, make sure your oven is preheated to 400 degrees, F, and you have lined some cookie sheets with parchment.

Make the cookies in whatever size you want, just make sure they’re all the same size, so they’ll bake evenly.  Since they’re baking at 400 degrees, I wouldn’t get too crazy–maybe no larger than rounded tablespoon size.  Leave a couple of inches between the cookies, and bake until they are very firm and a bit darker around the edges than they are on the tops, about 15 minutes or so.  Watch them carefully, since it will be harder to see the browning because of the color of the dough.

Let these guys cool on the cookie sheets (or slide the parchment off onto a cooling rack after they’ve been out of the oven for a couple of minutes).  If you’re going to reuse the cookie sheet, rinse it in cold water to cool it off.  You don’t want to put this dough onto hot sheets or they’ll spread too much.  Keep them in an airtight container for up to two days.  If you need to keep them longer (yeah, right) they’ll freeze just fine for two weeks or so.

PS If your will is made of titanium and you are able to refrigerate this dough for a day or two before cating baking, you can flatten the dough a little so they will bake evenly.  Or, you could let the dough warm up to cool room temperature before baking.

PPS I made the picture really big so you can see how beautiful they are.

PPPS You’re welcome.

Why, These Are the Best Oatmeal Cookies I’ve Ever Had!

15 Nov
Mmmmm...plump, juicy raisins!

Mmmmm...plump, juicy raisins!

I love raisins.  I love most dried fruits, actually:  dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries, apricots, dates.  They are wonderful and full of concentrated sweet fruity goodness.  The problem with dried fruits is that sometimes they can be too dry.  And that’s when you have to step in.  Measure must be Taken.  Even if your dried fruit is still relatively moist, this technique allows you another way to add some extra flavor to your muffins, pancakes, cookies, breads–whatever you’re using the dried fruits in.

Maceration, friends.  Maceration is when you soak fruits in a flavorful liquid so the liquid adds some flavor to the fruit.  You can macerate at room temperature overnight (if the liquid you’re using won’t spoil) or you can speed things up by bringing the fruit and the macerating liquid to a simmer and then letting the fruit soak for ten minutes or so, until it plumps up a little.

What liquids can you use?  Well, you can use plain old water, of course, but there’s no reason you can’t use wine, liqueur or fruit juices.  Why not macerate raisins in apple juice, or dried cranberries in cranberry juice cocktail?  Macerate dried cherries in Amaretto, or dried blueberries in Chambord.  Wow–the possibilities are almost endless.

So, the next time you plan on baking with dried fruits, plan ahead just a little and take the time to macerate your fruits.  It’s not hard to do, you don’t need a recipe, and people really will say “Why, these are the best (whatevers) I’ve Ever Had!”

The Wonder of Parchment Paper

3 Nov
Magical, magical parchment paper!

Magical, magical parchment paper!

There’s usually a few tricks that professional chefs know and use to make their food a little better and their lives a little easier.  They usually don’t tell home cooks, otherwise, they might not ever go out to eat.  One of the tricks on the “hot side” is using shallots.  A trick on the pastry side is using parchment.  Not to eat.

You probably know what parchment paper is–it’s basically thin paper treated with silicone so stuff doesn’t stick.  We went through boxes of the stuff at the restaurants I worked at.  But there are sneaky uses, too, aside from just lining a sheet pan.

You know how when a recipe tells you to roll out your pie crust or cookie dough on a lightly floured surface?  Yeah, don’t do that.  You’ll just make your crust or cookies tougher and drier than they need to be.  Roll your dough between two sheets of parchment, and you’re good to go.  But here’s the really tricky part:  once you roll the dough, refrigerate it (or even freeze it) before you try and use it.  This will give your dough a chance to firm up and make it way easier to handle.

Here’s a bonus sneaky trick:  if you’re making pie dough, make a bunch, roll out enough between two sheets of parchment to make a bottom (or top) crust.  Stack up all your dough circles and store them in the freezer.  Now, just bring out one or two whenever you’re feeling like pie.

So, any time a recipe tells you to roll dough out on a floured surface, just mentally scratch out that direction and use parchment.  You will be very happy that you did.  Come back by and thank me:-)

The Creaming Method

3 Nov
You really need a stand mixer to do the creaming method.

You really need a stand mixer to do the creaming method.

The creaming method:  probably one of the most referenced cooking methods in baking in the US.  You’ve seen it, whether you know it or not:  “Cream together butter and sugar.”  Or “Cream together shortening and sugar.”  Seems like an easy enough method, really, but as with all easy stuff, it’s rarely simple.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Cream together fat and sugar.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients.
  4. Mix wet ingredients(milk/water/cream/sour cream/extracts)
  5. Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with dry.

Sounds straightforward, yes?  There are a couple of things to remember about it, though.  Here’s the most important one:

The speed at which you cream the ingredients and the length of time you cream your ingredients and the temperature of your ingredients will all effect the final product.

And that, friends, is the fly in the ointment, the raisin in the peanut butter cookie, the clove in custard.  When making cookies, make sure you cream slowly–low speed is great.  Stop the mixer as soon as you no longer see butter and sugar, but a homogeneous paste.  Unless you’re making a cakey cookie, you’re not looking for “light and fluffy” here.

If you’re making a cake, make sure you cream on a higher speed for a longer period of time.  You want “light and fluffy” here.

So, what’s the big deal?  What happens during creaming is that the sugar crystals cut into the fat, making wee little pockets full of air.  The air in the pockets expands in the oven, assisting with rise.  The more pockets, the lighter and fluffier the mixture.  The lighter and fluffier the mixture, the more air.  The more air, the more rise.  Get it?  Cool, huh?

Now you can troubleshoot.  Were your cookies too puffy the last time you made them, try creaming at a lower speed for less time.  Was your cake kind of leaden and sad last time?  Try creaming longer at a higher speed.

So, Jen–what’s this about the temperature?  All your ingredients should be at cool room temperature.  That means milk, butter and eggs (and any other refrigerated ingredients) should be taken out of the fridge well before baking time.  Cool room temperature–about 68 degrees–is the magical temperature at which butter (a very yummy and useful fat) is soft enough to blend easily with other ingredients but still firm enough to keep its shape.  It’s “plasticity,” if you will.  That means that the butter can “stretch” to hold a lot of air.  In the creaming method, this is a Very Good Thing.

Why does the milk and eggs have to be at room temp, too?  Well, you’ve worked so hard to keep your butter plastic, the last thing you want to do is have it seize up again and get hard when you add 40 degree milk or eggs.

Now, go forth and cream away!

For an even more in-depth look at The Creaming Method along with my recommendations for some essential kitchen tools, please see my Squidoo lens:  The Creaming Method.

Here’s my Creaming Method video from my PMAT Live! video series:

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