Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly... and Cookies

Lunch: Beef and Bean Nachos
Dinner: “Beef Burgundy“, Buttered Noodles and Veggies
Dessert: Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, today I would like to talk about the good, the bad, the ugly and chocolate chip cookies.

The Good: Much to my great happiness, the old steward has stepped down. I was informed of this yesterday morning by the vice president of the frat; however, they had to vote on who would replace him so I had to hold off on my celebrations until I found out if it really was for the better. It was. My little brother’s big brother was voted in as steward and song leader last night (song leader? I don’t know; I didn’t want to ask). I’m happy about this change because this particular guy A. actually lives at the frat B. is actually on the meal plan and C. is one of the guys who regularly comes down to talk to me. He did send me an e-mail last night, after he was voted in, saying he was going to make sweeping changes. I’ll admit that made me a little nervous. However, the sweeping changes he’s planning on making involve keeping the kitchen cleaner and setting up a feedback system so I know whether or not the guys like particular meals. I’m a little skeptical about the feedback system. You must keep in mind these are college boys and while they are grateful for tasty food they are also very, very whiney. Feeding frat boys tends to be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t affair. But, at any rate he said he was going to be a hard a$$ about keeping the kitchen clean (hooray), set up better lines of communication and organization between me and the frat (hooray!) and see about funneling more money into the food budget (possible raise?).

The Bad: The much less organized treasurer let me know today that he screwed up on the budget. Rather than $370 a week… I only have $350, but then he thought he had told me $400 before so I suppose it could have been worse. Of course, it’s nearly halfway through the semester and these guys go to Tech, you’d think they’d have figured it out by now… Perhaps I should cut cookies out of the weekly budget.

The Ugly: Today on my way back down to the kitchen from the ladies room, I was accosted by one of the brothers carry a clear plastic bag. He grinned and said, “Look what I got!” and then turned the bag around to show me the contents. It was full of condoms, a lot of condoms. Yeah… I really didn’t know what to say to that. Again, there are some things I simply do not want to know and are much better not asking about.

Cookies: Rather than a recipe today, I thought I might give you a few tips on how to perfect chocolate chip cookie baking. Chocolate chip cookies are actually relatively easy to screw up. I’ve had my fair share of cookies that turned out too crumbly, that spread into pancake cookies, etc etc. Over the years of baking chocolate chip cookies, I’ve found a few tricks that help to make a nearly fool proof cookie.

First, I always use the traditional Toll House cookie recipe. This, I’ve found, is the best recipe with one tiny exception. I like cookies that are a healthy mix between crisp and chewy. With the traditional toll house cookie recipe, you tend to get a cookie that is crisp all the way through. I want one that is golden brown and buttery with crisp edges and a soft and chewy center (I don’t ask for much do I?) I achieve this by using half the amount of butter and substituting butter flavored vegetable shortening for the rest (you can find this in the baking section in convenient bars).

Second, the butter must be just the right temperature. Just like with pie crust, chocolate chip cookie dough is finicky about how warm or cold it is. If you use butter right out of the fridge, it won’t incorporate easily into your dough and you’ll end up with a worthless mess. Similarly, you can’t use melted or melty butter. If the butter is too soft, you will end up with a sticky gooey mess that won’t form into a stiff dough. While I know we’re all impatient, it is important to let your butter sit out until it is room temperature and soft but not melty. It shouldn’t fall apart when you remove the wrapper. It is the right temperature when you can easily cut off a slice and the slice doesn’t lose its shape, but you can then spread it across a piece of bread without destroying the bread. For the love of all that is baking, don’t try to soften your butter in the microwave. I promise you, it won’t turn out. (Sorry to be a butter Nazi, but… this is important to making perfect chocolate chip cookies) Also, you shouldn’t refrigerate your shortening unless you’re making pie crust with it, so it should already be room temperature.

Third: When your butter has reached the right consistency and you’ve made your dough (it should be a fairly stiff dough), stop what you’re doing. Don’t start attacking the dough with any spoon or scoops! Refrigerate it for the next 20-30 minutes. The friction from mixing it in the mixer will have warmed the butter enough to make the dough sticky. This is bad. Sticky dough leads to major cookie spreadage. Luckily, refrigerating it for a little while will cause the butter to set and make for a better dough. Also, if you’re making a lot of cookies and have to do several batches, be sure to keep the dough refrigerated between batches. You don’t want your dough getting sticky in a warm kitchen.

Fourth: What kind of sheet are you using? I don’t really like the dark, non stick cookie sheets as they tend to over bake the bottom of the cookie. A well seasoned baking stone works nice or one of those air cookie sheets. If you find you’re having trouble with the cookies sticking you might want to use parchment paper on your cookie sheet. Parchment is also an excellent tool if you’re going to be reusing cookie sheets. While one batch is baking, you can set up the next batch on some parchment paper. At work I don’t have any of these things. I only have some old, industrial sized baking sheets and foil. So even though the recipe tells you that you don’t need it, I lightly butter the foil to keep the cookies from sticking. The emphasis is on lightly. To do this I use the wrapper the butter came in and just give the foil a good wipe with this. You can also use the wrapper from the shortening just keep it very, very light.

Fifth: Before you put those cookies in the oven you want to make sure your oven is completely preheated. Again, impatience leads to bad cookies. You want the oven nice and hot and the dough nice and cool because that will help prevent cookie spreadage. Your cookie will be done when it is golden brown and the edges are defined but the center is still soft. Let the cookies sit on the pan until the pan is just cool enough to touch. If you try to remove the cookies too soon, they’ll just fall apart. (Although, I do like to eat a piping hot, falling apart chocolate chip cookie…). You can then carefully move them to some cookie racks (which I don’t like) or you can let them cool on some parchment or foil laid out on a table. You want your cookies to be completely cooled before you try to box them up or stack them. If you put them away still warm, they tend to crumble and mush into each other and then you have a box of cookie mess.

So… those are my tips for making perfect chocolate chip cookies.

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