Friday, February 25, 2011

Flat or Fat?

I’m picky about chocolate chip cookies. I’ve perfected my system (which I learned at Star Provisions) of scooping the dough, rolling it into even-sized balls, placing them in neat rows on a parchment-lined sheet pan and storing them in the freezer. Those cute little balls go straight from the freezer to the oven and this technique keeps the cookies from spreading too much and flattening out while baking.

Well, usually. But when I made a chocolate chip cookie recipe from one of my favorite cookbook authors recently, they flattened out, despite my efforts. To the point (no pun intended) that the only that the only high spots were the chocolate chunks.  Perfectionist that I am, I made the recipe a second time, made sure the dough was fully frozen and tried again. It still didn’t work. I gave up, put the dough balls back in the freezer (labeled “Flat Chocolate Cookies”) and baked them up for the neighbors that day a few weeks ago when we were all down at the bottom of our hill shoveling snow and hacking up the ice that trapped us in the hood. No one except me cared what they looked like.

Remember that crème brulee I wrote about in a recent post? I gave most of it to my friend Dena, who lives down the street (she’s the mother of those amazing little red-headed girls Henry and I are so crazy about).

I walked into her kitchen to make my delivery and saw a cookbook opened to “that” chocolate chip cookie recipe which didn’t work for me. I told her about my experience and she reminded me she had asked me some time ago how to avoid flat cookies. Little did I know she was using the same recipe that failed for me!

So here is a recipe that does work. These are crispy and crunchy (but not flat) and they are loaded with chocolate feves. In case you are unfamiliar with them, they are flat chocolate disks which will elevate your chocolate “chip” cookies to an entirely new level.

This recipe comes from the esteemed chocolatier Jacques Torres and was published in the New York Times, which is where I foumd it.  Normally I would be terrified to try anything from him (a chocolatier, I am not), but this one is a winner and anyone can make it.  Even me!  You too, Dena.  Ditch that other recipe!

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES THAT WORK (adapted from Jacques Torres)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or feves (60% cocao content)

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 8 minutes, scraping down bowl several times. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract then reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients. Mix just until combined, 5 to 10 seconds. By hand, stir the chocolate pieces in and blend gently.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least one hour then scoop out dough with an ice cream scoop. Roll with your hands into uniform balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in freezer and leave them in overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees. Place frozen dough balls on a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each ball. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate pan. Continue to bake for another 7 to 8 minutes or until just golden brown. Do not overbake. Remove to a baking rack to cool completely.

Yield: 70 cookies (if using a 1 ½-inch ice cream scoop)

*  Now if you want to use chocolate chips or chocolate chunks, no biggie.  I just like the way these present themselves with the feves.  "Thin streaks instead of gooey chunks," as Jacques says.  I concur.
*  Jacques also suggests sprinkling the cookies with sea salt before baking.  As much as I love salt, I resisted the impulse and decided to stick with the traditional version.  Bet they would be good with salt, though!
*  I used a 1 1/2-inch scoop, which resulted in smaller cookies, hence the yield of 70.  Obviously, if you want a bigger cookie, use a bigger scoop.  Just pay attention when you bake them as this may extend the baking time slightly.
*  Whole Paycheck Foods usually carries Valrhona feves.  For the batch of cookies I made, I used half bittersweet and half milk chocolate because that's what I had on hand and I like the contrast between the two.  Mix it up anyway you like!
I baked these off so Henry could take them to a co-worker in his office the next day (in exchange for a dozen farm-fresh eggs).  Just as I pulled them out of the oven, Henry suddenly remembered that the co-worker would not be in the office.  Are you kidding, Henry?  Now what am I going to do with these things, especially since they are stored in the pantry and calling my name?!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gone Fishin'

Note to self (and Henry):  must remember to stay to the left!

Nope, I'm not in the states.  Anyone want to guess where we are?  Suffice it to say, no snowstorms here.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Betcha Can't Eat Just One

As I mentioned in the last blog entry, I made drop biscuits to go along with that Broccoli Rabe, Black-Eyed Pea, White Bean and Sausage Soup. While I try to limit carbs around here during the week, that soup kept calling out for something “bread-ish.”

Soup and salad without bread just doesn’t sound right.

So, I caved. Since I was deep into perusing Lee Bailey’s “Soup Meals,” it didn’t take long to stumble upon his recipe for Mozzarella Biscuits. Since I didn’t have any mozzarella on hand, it didn’t take long to adapt the recipe to what I did have in my fridge.  Here is the delicious result:

CHEESE-Y AND PEPPER-Y DROP BISCUITS  (Adapted from Lee Bailey’s “Soup Meals”)

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne (or more to taste)
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cubed
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450-degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, black pepper and cayenne into a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or, better yet, your fingers until butter is incorporated and is the size of small peas. Add buttermilk and stir to make a thick dough. Stir in cheese. The dough should be thick enough so that it will just drop from a spoon with a little nudge (Lee’s words, not mine. Gotta love that).

Drop onto the baking sheet by the tablespoonful and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden. Remove to a baking rack to cool slightly before serving.

Yield: 20 – 40 biscuits, depending upon how big you make them

*  As usual, I used an ice cream scoop to drop these onto the baking sheet.  (Alright, I will admit to having a ridiculous assortment of the things).  For this recipe, I used the 1 1/2-inch scoop.  Worked like a charm!

Oy veh.  What's wrong with me that I have this many scoops, anyway?
How.  Ridiculous.

*  These are cheesy, savory little morsels that are crunchy on the bottom and absolutely addictive.  My no-carb scruples were totally thrown out the window once these biscuits came out of the oven.  Damn!

*  In fact, they are so good, they don't even need butter.  Can't believe I said that.

*  Lee says you can bake, then store these for a couple of days.  To reheat, place them directly on the oven rack so the bottoms stay crispy.  If it works for Lee, it works for me!

*  As I was about to close the book, I noticed Lee's recipe for Pecan Snickerdoodles with Mandarin Oranges.  What?????  Guess that's showing up soon on my recipe agenda......

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hot Soup on a Warm Night

If you're planning a trip to Atlanta anytime soon, you have my sympathy. I can’t tell you how to pack because the weather here is crazy up-and-down. Several weeks ago we were iced in for five days and today it’s almost 70-degrees and gorgeous. Really? Guess the only advice I can give is to pack for both spring and winter, which means the airlines will charge you for overweight luggage … but don’t get me started on how they nickel and dime everyone. I’ll spare you that particular rant!

Meal-planning these days can also be challenging. You run out on a chilly day and purchase ingredients for a nice, soul-warming soup that you are going to make for tomorrow’s dinner. You soak and cook the beans, chop up all the vegetables, put it all together, then store it in the fridge to “cure” for the night. You head to bed and turn on the 11pm news, only to discover that temperatures will be in the tropical range the next day. Really?

That’s exactly what happened recently. It started when I dusted off my ancient copy of Lee Bailey’s Soup Meals. Remember him? Back in the day (late 70’s and early 80’s), he was the quintessential expert on food, style and entertaining. He had homes both in New York City and Bridgehampton and loved to entertain in both. I wish I could have been on his guest list and tend to think of him as an early (gay) version of the Barefoot Contessa. (Now, I have no idea if he was gay or not but c’mon – how likely is it that these fabulous books came from a straight guy?)

Sadly, Lee Bailey died in 2003 at the age of 76, but not before he published 18 books. I own 5 of them and they are all still relevant, even by today’s standards. When I was casting around for soup recipes recently, this one made the cut. Delicious, even on a not-so-chilly night.


1 cup dried black-eyed peas
1 cup dried white (navy) beans
12 cups chicken stock
4 medium onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
3 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound bulk sausage
2 bunches broccoli rabe, tough stems removed, chopped
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving

Place black-eyed peas and white beans in a large pot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cover and turn off heat; let stand for one hour, then drain well.

Return drained beans to the pot.  Add stock and bring to a boil over moderate heat.  Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper.  Reduce heat until mixture just simmers and cook until beans are tender, skimming as necessary.  This will take between 30 - 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350-degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Form sausage into 1-inch balls (a small ice cream scoop is helpful for this task). Place balls on prepared baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned.  Set aside.

When beans are tender, add broccoli rabe and return to a simmer.  Continue simmering until rabe is tender, skimming if necessary.  Stir in sausage balls.  Heat through, then taste to adjust seasonings.  Remove bay leaves before serving and top with a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serves 8 - 10

*  If, unlike me, you have the foresight to plan ahead, you can soak the beans the night before.  Just place them in a large pot, add cold water to cover, place lid on pot and let sit overnight.  The next day, drain well and proceed with the recipe.

*  Use whatever type of sausage you like.  I used mild Italian, but you could also use chicken or turkey sausage.  If you can't find it in bulk, simply buy links and remove the casings, then form sausage into balls.

*  Don't let the broccoli rabe deter you from this recipe.  It adds depth and texture, not bitterness, to the soup.  If you've never tried it before, this is a good introduction.

*  You can certainly serve this soup the same day you make it, however, I am a firm believer in letting it "cure" for a day in the refrigerator.  To me, soup always tastes better on the second day.

*  I served this with "Cheesy Drop Biscuits" which I adapted from another one of Mr. Bailey's recipes.  Yum, they were terrific and I will post the recipe for them next.

Here's to you, Lee Bailey!  You may no longer be with us in person, but your memory, recipes and extraordinary style continue to live on.  We thank you for that legacy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The "V" Word

No, not that one. I’m talking about the other one … you know, that annual event which shows up in the aftermath of the “S” word (i.e., Superbowl, as I mentioned recently). In other words, that great Hallmark holiday known as “Valentine’s Day”. Oy veh.

I already shared my thoughts about this last year:

Suffice it to say, Valentine’s Day is not something I celebrate. Do I really want to go out for an overpriced, limited choice dinner in some overcrowded restaurant that is probably overwhelmed and in the weeds? Do I really need to destroy trees just so I can give Henry a couple of cards that he will read once and throw away? Do I really need to receive a bouquet of flowers or a blue box from Tiffany? (Well, “yes” to that last one, but we won’t go there). You get where I am going with this.

Speaking of cards, my parents had the best idea. They would go to the drugstore together and stand in front of the cards, reading them until they found “the right ones.” They would then read them to each other, put them back, wish each other a happy Valentine’s Day and go on their merry way. No muss, no fuss, no cost and no waste of trees.  If I were the card-giving sort, that is exactly what I would do.

So Henry and I will be staying home on Valentine’s Day (as usual) this year. I might cook something a little more special than the usual weekday “slop the hog” fare.  I might even make a special dessert, like chocolate mousse or crème brulee.  Hell, I might even make both of them!  But I won't be giving out any cards or gifts and I won't be making any reservations! 

(Oh, and Henry, how lucky are you anyway?  This lets you  totally off the hook.  Care to show your appreciation with something blue from Tiffany?)


4 cups (1 quart) heavy cream
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
9 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
9 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 cup mini chocolate chunks or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 250-degrees.

Place cream and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, stirring frequently. When mixture is gently bubbling, turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch, salt and egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add about ¼ cup of the hot cream mixture to this and whisk until blended. Return everything to the hot cream remaining in the pan and let stand (off the heat) for 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract (or vanilla paste).

Divide the chocolate chunks evenly between 6 crème brulee dishes (about 2 tablespoons each). Strain the custard mixture into a large pitcher or pouring vessel and pour over the chocolate in each dish. Chocolate should be barely visible.

Place the custards in a shallow pan and add hot water to come halfway up sides. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until just set. Custards should still be slightly wobbly in the center.

Remove from water bath and cool slightly, then wrap each dish in plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

To serve, sprinkle 1 ½ tablespoons of the turbinado sugar over each custard and smooth into an even layer. Use a blowtorch to caramelize the tops so they become golden and crunchy. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Tempering the eggs

Straining the custard

Vanilla specks!

Cute blowtorch!


One down, another to go

*  I used crème brulee dishes, but you can use custard cups, small gratin dishes or whatever you have.  The advantage of the crème brulee dishes is that they are shallow and have a greater surface for the caramelized sugar, which is not a bad thing if you ask me.

*  I have one of those kitchen blowtorches which is ideal because it's small and easy to store, but one of those regular old big blue blowtorches from the hardware store will work just fine.  In fact, that's what we used in the bakery at Star Provisions.  If all else fails, you can run them under the broiler, just keep a close eye so they don't burn.

*  Chocolate chunks not required for this recipe.  If you omit them, you will end up with a classic and lovely crème brulee, which is sometimes my preference.  Feel free to tinker with this - you could add raspberries, candied ginger or anything else you can think of.  You could also add liqueur to the custard or any other flavoring of choice. 

*  I use turbinado sugar because I think it adds a lovely depth of flavor (which is also why I prefer vanilla paste to vanilla extract).  Nonetheless, you will be just fine if you use granulated sugar and pure vanilla extract.

DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE (from Thomas Keller’s “Bouchon”)

4 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate (at least 60%)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons espresso or brewed coffee
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
3 eggs, separated (recipe specifies “large” but I used “extra-large”)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine the chocolate, butter and espresso in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not simmering water. Stir frequently until smooth and remove from heat. Let cool slightly, but make sure chocolate is still warm to the touch. If it is too cool, the mixture will seize when rest of ingredients are added.

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks. Whip the egg whites in an electric mixer until they are foamy and just hold their shape. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat until soft peaks form.

Stir yolks into the chocolate. Gently stir in about 1/3 of the whipped cream. Fold in half of the egg whites until just incorporated, then fold in remaining whites. Fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Spoon or pipe the mousse into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Chill for at least 8 hours before serving.

Serves 6

*  I have a lot of confidence when it comes to melting chocolate, so I rarely use a double boiler, relying instead on low heat and a keen eye.  Nonetheless, for this recipe, I decided to follow Mr. Keller's advice.  It didn't let me down.

*  Be careful not to cool the chocolate mixture too much or indeed it will seize, as it did on me the first time I tried this recipe.  You don't want it piping hot, but it does need to be fairly warm.  Follow that guideline and you will meet with success.

*  In a perfect world, it might be nice to pipe the mousse into individual serving glasses, but to heck with that.  I certainly don't want to screw with it and personally, I like the more rustic look when it is simply spooned into whatever serving dish(es) you are using.

*  Mr. Keller serves this at his restaurants in individual dishes, accompanied by Langues de Chat, which are also known as Cats' Tongue Cookies.  Edna Lewis was famous for hers; here is the link to her recipe:

Now I know these aren't complicated recipes, but that's exactly what is right about them.  They are both simple and stunning.  What else do you need in a dessert?  It doesn't need to be overly complicated to be delicious.  I mean really ... who doesn't like crème brulee or chocolate mousse? 

Happy "V" day, everyone!  Or not.