Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nostalgic, In Regards to Cookies and Other Things

Sometimes I live more in the past than I do in the present. I can't help it, really. I'm sappy and I'm nostalgic.
What's a girl to do?

Although I'm only 21, I find myself slowly starting to forget certain memories about my childhood. I forget what our apartment in Edmonton looks like. I know I was only four when we lived there, and I know the layout of a cheap apartment isn't actually that important an image to remember forever. But what if that means other, more important memories are going to follow suit, slipping right out of my mind, and like helium balloons float right on up to the top of the sky until they disappear entirely. And I'm sure someone once said our memories and traditions what make us who we are. Oh dear.

Luckily, there are other memories about that place and time that remain as vivid as though they just happened yesterday. For example, although I can't for the life of me remember what our apartment looked like, I do remember Linda's. Remember Linda? She was our neighbour in Edmonton who changed my families lives forever upon the gift of her famous homemade gingerbread men. Anyway, not only was Linda a hip artist with an incredibly kind heart, she was also a gracious host who let my brother and I spend hours playing with action figures on her kitchen floor. I don't know exactly when it was that Linda decided to switch it up and hand me a Monster Cookie instead of a Gingerbread Man, but every now and then she did that kind of thing. Linda's Monster Cookies captured my 5-year-old heart, and I recall loving them almost as much as I loved her gingerbread. I loved how moist and hearty they were, and I was especially smitten with the Smarties that were scattered through the dough. Every bite was something different and new, and I loved that.

When I made these cookies last week, I was transported back 17 years ago, back to another city, another time, another place. It struck me that food is a funny thing that way... able to awaken even the most faded and distant memories, of a time long forgotten.

I know I've got a sentimental heart. But there is nothing wrong with walking down memory lane from time to time. Especially when it involves fresh baked cookies, still warm from the oven.
Monster Cookies
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Somewhere between the oatmeal cookie, peanut butter cookie, and chocolate chip cookie lies the Monster Cookie. It's chewy, sweet, and completely comforting. The folks at Baked urge you not to forget the corn syrup, as it is an integral part of the cookie. Don't ask questions. Just do.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
5 3/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/1/4 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups creamy peanut butter (or other nut butter substitute)
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 ounces) M&M's

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together. Add the oats and stir until the ingredients are evenly combined.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and pale in colour. Add the sugars and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth (about 20 seconds) and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat until just incorporated.

Scrape down the bowl and add the peanut butter. Mix on low speed until just combined. Add the oat mixture in three additions, mixing on low speed until just incorporated.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to fold in the chocolate chips and M&Ms. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for 5 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Use an ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to scoop out the dough in 2-tablespoon-size balls onto the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until the cookies just begin to brown. Let cool on the pans for 8 to 10 minutes before transferring the cookie to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oh Chocolate

I live in a house filled with chocolate addicts, however I am not one of them. Ever noticed how I don't often write about chocolate on here? Well, that would be why. Chocolate and I have a funny relationship: I don't want it or need it 96% of the time, but every once in a while, somewhere within that remaining 4% I love it so much I fear I can't live without it. Right now, I'm having one of those rare moments where the idea of chocolate is so appealing, I might just have to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I think I'll start with a tray of insanely chocolatey brownies. Oh yes!
A couple weeks ago, I picked up the amazing Baked: New Frontiers in Baking cookbook. I went on a bit of a baking binge, making four decadent recipes in just under a week. In retrospect, that may have been kind of excessive but then again, not a single crumb went to waste. These brownies were especially tasty, even for those who can take-or-leave chocolate. I made a huge pan full for five people to eat, and you can bet that by the end of the night, we had polished off the entire thing. I don't recommend you do that, however, I do recommend you make these as soon as possible.

The Baked Brownie
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

These brownies are the real deal. They are so intensely chocolatey, they are sure to curb your chocolate cravings for good. Also, if I have not succeeded in telling you how good these are, you may be swayed by the fact that they were featured in O Magazine as one of Oprah's favourite things, and they were awarded "best brownie" by America's Test Kitchen and the Today show.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60-72% cocoa), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-coloured metal baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until completely combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.

Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Note: According to the folks at Baked, a great brownie is easy to make, however, here are a few pointers: (1) Use a dark unsweetened cocoa powder like Valrhona. A pale, light-coloured cocoa does not have enough depth. (2) Make sure your eggs are at room temperature, and do not overbeat the batter. (3) Check your brownies often as they bake. An even slightly overbaked brownie is not a "Baked Brownie."