Thursday, July 22, 2010

Salt Can Fix Anything

My kitchen has been the scene of barely ordered chaos this week as I've been testing cookie recipes.  My counters are still slick from countless unwrapped sticks of softened butter and there is that sweet smell in the air and in my hair that doesn't quite go away.  You clean up as best you can before you stagger off to bed, then you stumble into the kitchen the next morning to pour a cup of coffee, only to discover dried bits of cookie dough and greasy handprints all over the faucet, refrigerator handle and oven door.  Yuck.

I'm a pretty good baker.  I'm willing to tackle just about anything, usually with some success.  I can make killer pastry and while my decorating skills suck (we've addressed this before), my cakes rock, at least as far as taste goes.  While I will occasionally burn a pan or two of something, failure in the kitchen is not something I experience often.  Even in my crappy kitchen.

Until (drum roll, please)...........THUMBPRINT COOKIES.  Seriously.  Now I could understand it if we were dealing with some complicated recipe involving tempered chocolate or even a dessert souffle (which I always seem to nail).  But no, we are talking about simple, basic thumbprint cookies.  Can it get any more humbling?

I found a recipe in one of my old cookbooks and decided to try it since it included the addition of oatmeal.  I thought it sounded interesting.  What I didn't notice was that the recipe did not call for eggs.  Well, I didn't notice it until after I baked the things.

Hmmm .... I rolled them, indented the centers and even stuck them in the freezer for an hour before baking.  Popped them into the oven for 10 minutes, then pulled them out to fill the centers with raspberry jam before returning to the oven to set.  Simple, right?

They started out like this

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.  I looked at them after 10 minutes and THEY WERE COMPLETELY FLAT.  Like little silver dollar pancakes.  Not what I was looking for.

But they ended up like this.  No thumbprints in sight!

As much as I wanted to drag that pan out of the oven and fling it across the room, I didn't.  I left in in until they were just golden then set them out to cool.  My eyes narrowed as I comtemplated them.  Wait a minute.  Maybe all was not lost.  I grabbed my container of pink Hawiian sea salt and hit them with it while they were still warm. 

Pure.  Genius.  They were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and the salt gave them just that little extra kick that pushed them over the edge.  I gave one to Henry (no food police in sight) and the response was "can I have another one?"  Well, maybe those food police weren't so far away after all......


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 1/4 cups oatmeal (regular, not quick-cooking)

In electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping bowl down several times.  Add vanilla.  Add flour and mix briefly on low speed to blend.  Scrape bowl, then add oatmeal and beat on low speed until mixture is just combined.

Remove dough to a sheet of plastic wrap.  Form into a disk, wrap well and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.  Use a small ice cream scoop to form into 1-inch balls, then flatten slightly and place on a parchment-lined tray.  Freeze until very firm.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Place balls about 1 1/2-inches apart on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet.  Bake until lightly golden, about 13 minutes.  Sprinkle with Hawiian pink sea salt and cool completely on a baking rack.

Yield:  about 36 cookies

So I guess this is the perfect example of making lemonade when life gives you lemons.  At least you get to learn from my mistakes!

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