April 24, 2014

How to get the wow factor with cookies

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The chips make all the difference

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick’s chocolate-studded sugar cookies.
By Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Washington Post
After years of baking for teacher luncheons, tailgate parties and cookie exchanges, I can say that chocolate chip cookies are traded enough to merit their own seat on any public stock exchange. They are the US’s favourite.

I’m not competitive, exactly, but I wanted my cookies to stand out — in a good way. Tweaking the dough recipe was not the answer, because I’m fond of the one printed on the bag of Nestle’s Toll House chips. Varying the size of the cookie and the chocolate, however, made all the difference.

My first success came with semisweet chocolate mini chips. Shot through a standard-size cookie, they got a little lost; when I made the cookies smaller, the little chips mixed evenly throughout the dough, guaranteeing that every bite of cookie had plenty of mini chips. I used a teaspoon cookie scoop that actually holds about 1 3/4 teaspoons of dough (3/8 ounce) to make a cookie just shy of 5 cm across.

Then, inspired by my friend Mary Lee Montfort, owner and chief baker at Mary Lee’s Desserts in Vienna, Virginia, I went in the opposite direction. She makes a large chocolate chip cookie for her cookie platters “for the wow factor. It draws people to the cookie,” Montfort says. “It’s also a cookie that combines textures: crisp and brown on the edges and soft in the middle.”

For that, I knew I needed to go bigger on the chocolate. Chocolate chunks were the logical choice. I doubled the amount of cookie dough, settling on a scoop somewhere around a generous 1 1/2 ounces and no more than 1 3/4 ounces. Placing the mounds of dough far apart on the baking sheet, I flattened them just a bit, so they were about 3 cm thick. The semisweet chunks spread out more than standard-size chocolate chips do and were like little melting pools of chocolate in the 3 1/2-to-4-inch cookies.

But what could I do to that old standby, the regulation-size chocolate chipper, to change it up? Dark chocolate chips were my answer. They are flatter and wider than the regular chips, giving my cookies a new look, and I love their bittersweet flavour. Like the chunks, they also spread a little while baking, adding visual appeal. Best of all, my family instantly declared them a favourite. The bittersweet chocolate complements the brown-sugar sweetness of the dough.

I wasn’t done yet. Left with sugar cookie dough trimmings after making cut-out cookies, I decided to mix in some hand-cut chocolate shavings and chunks. Using a heavy knife, I chopped a bar of bittersweet chocolate, half shaving it, half making very tiny chunks no bigger than 1/4 inch. I mixed the chocolate into the dough and rolled it into a 5-cm-thick log. Wrapped tightly in plastic, the log went right into the freezer. When I was ready to bake, I sliced the dough into thin rounds, and my last variation, the chocolate-studded sugar cookie, was born.

I’m a particular fan of that last variety. The chocolate shavings and little chunks mix right into the dough. There’s hardly a part of the cookie that’s not chocolaty.

Why some people prefer big cookies and some small is a mystery. Carla Hall, Chew co-host and cookie maven, makes her line of petite cookies much more mini than mine.

“You don’t have to commit,” she says, meaning that, for some, it’s preferable to make their way through a few tiny cookies rather than a single giant cookie. That’s one theory. For me, all bite-size foods are attractive, especially on a buffet.

My favourite tack these days is to put some of each style of chocolate chip cookie on a platter: big, little and in between. All together, they become standouts.

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