Monday, October 20, 2014

A Tale of Two Cookies

Last week, Jeff had a bake sale at work, so I was called upon to whip up something tasty. I haven't baked as much since quitting my brief stint at going pro, but I've been getting back into it little by little, plus this is the time of year that I feel like baking (and cooking) constantly, no matter what.

My favorite way to bake is to take recipes that are already great and tweak them to my personal taste. The only problem with this is that I often have people ask me for recipes, and I usually forget the tweaks that I'd made, so I'm never able to give a very accurate representation of the recipe I used. I've been trying to get better at that, both because it's annoying if I want to replicate something awesome I made and I can't remember how I made it, and because if I ever decide to open my own shop I'll obviously need accurate recipes!

I decided to make two cookies for the bake sale: nutmeg maple butter cookies, which I snagged from my all-time favorite source for baked goods, Smitten Kitchen (who doesn't love Deb?) and honey chocolate chunk cookies from Pastry Affair, which I found on Pinterest.

As far as the actual recipe for the nutmeg maple butter cookies goes, I didn't have to do a whole lot of tweaking, as Deb's recipes are usually pretty close to flawless. The main thing that I changed with these guys was that Deb rolls them and cut them into adorable shapes, and I'm lazy, so I decided to make them slice-and-bakes. Also, I had received a bottle of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Sugar as a housewarming gift that I hadn't gotten a chance to use yet, so I sprinkled some on the top of these babies, and it was perfect.

With the honey chocolate chunk cookies, I made a couple of different tweaks. The recipe called for dark brown sugar and I didn't have any, so I used light (which usually doesn't make a HUGE difference, but I'd probably still use dark if I had it since it brings a deeper molasses flavor to the table), and it called to replace some of the flour with whole wheat flour. I don't really like whole wheat flour in desserts; I prefer to use it for breakfast type breads or muffins, so I nixed it and replaced it with an equal amount of bread flour to up the chew factor. I also figured the cookies would be on the sweet side since they called for both honey and sugar, so I sprinkled them with flaky sea salt and used bittersweet chocolate (the original recipe doesn't specify what kind of chocolate to use, but the pictures make it look like she used bittersweet in the originals as well).

Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

1 Cup unsalted butter, softened
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup maple syrup (*see note)
1 egg yolk from a large egg
3 Cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 tsp coarse salt
Vanilla bourbon sugar or muscovado (raw) sugar for topping (optional)

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and mix until combined; drizzle in maple syrup. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and slowly add to butter mixture. Mix until just combined. Dough will be on the dry side.

Gather dough on to a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a log (at this point, I had planned to form it into a disc to roll but decided at the last minute to make it into slice and bakes, so it would actually probably be ideal to form two shorter logs, but I made one long log). Wrap log in plastic wrap. I find that once my log is wrapped, it's easier to perfect the shape of the log - I try to get it as close to a cylinder as possible, but since it'll be sitting on a flat surface it won't be perfect. Don't worry about it. The cross-section of your cylinder will the the size of your cookies, so keep this in mind. Chill log in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Remove log from refrigerator and unwrap; slice into 1/4 inch slices. At this point, I cut the edges off of mine to form rectangles, but you can leave them a more rustic shape. I also used chopsticks to create four indents on each cookie, but this was just decorative; you can skip this step entirely. Dust with sugar if using.

Arrange on parchment lined cookie sheet (these cookies don't really spread, so you can get quite a few on a sheet - it depends on how large your cookie sheet is, but I was able to get 15 per sheet). Bake from 8-12 minutes at 350, or until golden. Baking them longer will make them crispy, baking for shorter will leave them a little chewy in the center. Transfer to racks to cool.

*Note - Grade B maple syrup is ideal for these cookies, because it has a much more pronounced maple flavor. I have a heck of a time finding it unless I order it online, so I also have a bottle of maple flavoring lying around and any recipe that calls for maple syrup I use more common grade A mixed with about a 1/4 tsp of the maple flavoring. I got the flavoring from a local kitchen store, but maple extract would also work. Obviously use real maple syrup, regardless. Don't even think of whipping out Mrs. Buttersworth. We love her, but this is not her jam.

Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from Pastry Affair

1/2 Cup unsalted butter, softened
1 Cup brown sugar, packed (I used light, but dark would be even better)
1 large egg
3 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 Cup all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup bread flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
Flaky sea salt, for garnish

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix until combined. Add honey and vanilla. In separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients slowly, until just combined. Mix in chocolate chunks by hand.

Drop by generous tablespoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheets (I like to make my chocolate chip cookies from the large side to humongous - around 1/4 Cup, as it helps with texture. If you're going to make these larger, just double the recipe as I did, since this size batch wouldn't make very many larger cookies. I also like to chill chocolate chip cookie dough anywhere from overnight to ideally 72 hours, which imparts a wonderful deep almost butterscotch flavor and helps the cookies brown better. I only chilled these for a couple of hours though, and made them on the small side, and they turned out fine. Just make sure your dough is firm, as they'll spread too much if your dough is too warm. I also recommend chilling between batches.) Sprinkle cookies with flaky sea salt. Bake cookies for 8-15 minutes (I know this is a huge range, but baking time depends entirely on the size of your cookies. Keep an eye on them, and if you can smell them, definitely check on them. Once you can smell them, they're usually almost done.) until the tops are just slightly golden. Remove from oven and let rest on cookie sheet for 10 minutes; move to racks to cool.

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