Archive | July, 2010

Walnut Maple-Syrup Cookies, v.3

31 Jul

Please see related posts for more information.

I should first note for you that I’m a bit embarrassed by the photos so far.  I know I mentioned that I didn’t have the time to learn proper food-porn photography, but wow, these are really pretty bad.  Sorry about that, kids.

Anyway, I’ve since posted an untested recipe that I think would produce a well-flavored, crispy and thin maple cookie.  Of course, that’s long after I made the third version of these cookies, which is actually a complete departure from the original recipe.

My reason was this: A thin, crispy cookie just isn’t the best vehicle for maple flavor.  And including my more recent revelation, I still believe that.  Maple is for pancakes and Whitman’s candies; we associate maple flavor with soft, comforting, and familiar food.  And that’s all there is to it.

So I said, Fuck it: I’m making a proper good and happy cookie.  Nothing fancy, just the kind of fairly standard cookie that everyone loves…but also the kind of cookie that’ll carry the maple flavor without being overwhelmed by it.  A well-rounded, loveable cookie.

As a goal, this is a pretty easy, really.  With just about any cookie recipe, if you want to make it a winner, add chocolate.  And if you want to make it irresistible, add oatmeal.  It’s a simple as that.  The best thing about these two cookie staples is that they will at once both complement and counter the maple flavor.  It’s a win-win, except for your waistline, but how often do you get the best cookies you’ve ever had?  Well, if you visit me a lot, I guess you just get fat.  Sorry about that, too.  No, I’m not.  So let’s get started.

Oat and Maple Chocolate-Chip Cookies

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. bread flour
2 c. toasted oatmeal (throw into a 350 F for about 10 minutes, or when it smells, then allow time to cool)
1 c. superfine white sugar (process/blend plain white sugar for 30 seconds)
2/3 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
6 oz. semisweet chocolate (around 60%, not more than 70%; Special Dark is always good), chopped into rather large pieces from a regular candy bar, say, not quite a ½” x ½”
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
Raw sugar for decorating

1 lg egg
2 TBL vanilla
2 tsp maple extract
1 TBL light corn syrup
1 TBL pure maple syrup (you’ll have some leftover from the original version)
10 TBL butter, softened
2 TBL browned butter
4 TBL lard

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F and set the rack to the middle position.  While this gets going, you can throw your oats in there on a cookie sheet, and begin doing other things.  Just let those go until you start to smell them.

2. When the oats are finished, increase the heat to 475 F and paper your pan.  You’ll be baking the cookies at this temperature for about a minute to set the raw sugar and outer layer; you’ll then reduce the heat to 375 F for the remainder of the baking time.

3. Melt and brown the 2 TBL of butter.  Set aside to cool.

4. Begin creaming the softened butter, lard, superfine sugar and the salt.  Beat for about 4 minutes on medium, or ‘til it’s fluffy and the color’s lightened a bit.

5. Whisk flour, oats, walnuts, chocolate chunks, and baking powder in a separate bowl.  Set aside.

6. Mix egg, vanilla, maple extract, maple syrup, corn syrup, and browned butter in a separate bowl.  Use a whisk to mix thoroughly, but do not incorporate air.

7. Add your liquids to the creamed butter mixture, then mix on low until just combined, 15-30 seconds at the most.  Remember, it will not look particularly combined, but it is.

8. Add your dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined.  Again, 15-30  seconds at the most.  Use a wooden spatula or stiff rubber spatula to check the bottom of the bowl for stray bits of flour, and incorporate those gently by hand.

9. Use a 1½ TBL scoop (I use a coffee scoop, and become violent when it goes missing), then drop the dough onto the pan.  You’ll find that you’ll need to use a butter knife to get the dough out of the scoop, and this is perfectly fine.  Add some raw sugar to the tops.  You should be able to fit about 12 evenly spaced cookies on your pan.

10. Place in the 475 F oven and bake for one minute; reduce heat to 375 F, then bake for 8 more minutes, rotating midway.  After they’ve cooled for a minute, remove them to a cooling rack.

The interesting interactions here?  I typically despise cookies that spread too much and use lard to counteract some of that.  This means that I can sometimes end up with these short-round little cookies if I’m not careful about shaping them.  But that’s why I insist here on a) candy bar chocolate, which will melt and not retain its shape as chips will; and b) the baking powder, which will cause the cookies to rise quickly in the very high heat, then drop rather suddenly as the heat diminishes.  Both of these interactions will encourage a natural, even spread without looking amateurish or forced.

I also took greater care in the treatment of the butter.  As noted in version two, 12 TBL of browned butter, further activated by adding the recipe’s total quantity salt to it, was too much and contributed mightily to that version’s overwhelming maple flavor.  However, some browned butter is definitely called for, so 2 TBL of browned butter was the perfect amount.  Instead, adding the salt to the creamed butter made more sense.  Again, I didn’t want the same issues of version two, but the creamed butter should be enhanced just a little to best support the maple flavor.  (Think of how butter melts on pancakes:  There’s a difference, but it’s not as strong a flavor as browned butter.)

I decided to use up some of the leftover pure maple syrup in this version as well.  I didn’t want to increase the amount of sweetness in the cookie—maple extract is awfully sweet already—but I wanted to ensure that this cookie wasn’t as cakey as the last batch.  I needed to make sure the tops and edges were a bit crisp, and maple syrup is particularly useful for that. (Only 2 TBL of maple syrup wouldn’t add much sweetness anyway.)

This was really aided, too, by the initial quick blast of high heat; turning it down, along with the lard, kept them soft in the middle.  The corn syrup browned them, while keeping them chewy.  And both the lard and corn syrup helps keep cookies chewy over time.

Finally, an entire teaspoon of salt may seem like too much, but combined with the baking powder it added a welcome saltiness to the very sweet flavors already present in the cookie.  It’s actually quite delicious to taste that tiny burst of salt when you take a bite.  By the by, I had no idea this would happen.  Wait…no, I really didn’t.

They really pretty.  They’re really delicious.  They’re champions, bitches.  And… they’re nothing like the original recipe I set out to rewrite.  But them’s the breaks, man.  Because if you’re going to eat maple-flavored cookies, they should taste—and be—just like this.

Wow. Just wow.

Walnut Maple-Syrup Cookies, v.2: What the Hell Just Happened?

31 Jul

Please refer to the previous post for more information.

That title really makes more of my mistakes than necessary, I think.  They are really yummy.  They’re just not perfect.  So for better for or worse, it is important to go though what happened here.  Which is the point of this whole thing.

The method with which I made these is standard, and do not need evaluating at this point, as version three includes a major change.  It’s the ingredients that are the real story here.  Once more, they are:

2 ½ c. flour, plus extra as necessary when kneading
1 c. superfine white sugar
1 TBL brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
2/3 c. walnuts
Raw sugar, for decorating

1 lg egg
4 TBL lard
12 TBL browned butter
2 TBL vanilla
1 tsp maple extract
1 TBL corn syrup

First, I’m not sure what I was thinking with all that flour.  Well, actually, I do.  The first version—the original version—used so little flour, the cookies had no substance, really.  I really wanted the dough to cohere smoothly, and I wanted a lot of softness to support the maple flavor.  And it certainly did, but not rightly: The flavor was very flour-ish, just like a pancake; and it was incredibly soft, just like a pancake.  The result, while very tasty, was simply too much maple flavor for a cookie.  It was like eating Canada if Canada were a real country.

It wouldn’t be too much maple if I were making a candy-style cookie, of course, but instead I kept the proportion of sugar relatively low, preferring instead to let the browned butter do most of the flavor support.  But this was also a mistake:  There was not enough white sugar to a) crisp the cookie; and b) counter the high flour content, both of which added to the pancake effect.  (I added the brown sugar for a little color, mostly, but with the corn syrup as a better-acting browning agent, in this small amount, it’s six one way, half a dozen the other.)

I’ve noted in a previous post that superfine walnuts are also super unnecessary. I wish I’d had the balls to dump them earlier.  Here, too, they do just about nothing.  I’m pretty sure that the only things spot on in the dry ingredients are the sugar sprinkles, because the cookies are fugly; and b) the salt, which is actually added to the butter mixture in an effort to activate what I’m using as flavoring agents.  (Here, or during the creaming process, is a great time to add your salt.)

The fats and liquids used are, to my credit, proportioned nicely.  I do tend to overdo it with the vanilla, and will continue to do so because I like it that way; if you are using an alcohol-based extract or, god forbid, that bourbon-vanilla shit, you’ll definitely want to reduce that by quite a bit.  I’d say two teaspoons for the former.  For the latter, I’d say zero teaspoons.

Proportion aside, though, the flavors here present the pancake problem as well.  All that browned butter contributed mightily to the pancake flavor, as it adds some of the brown bits that naturally occur when you’re making a pancake, not to mention that it’s simply an intense flavor.  To truly promote the maple flavor, some browned better is best (the solution to be seen later), but 12 tablespoons just takes it too far. What’s more, the lard deepened that flavor over time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, people.  This is not an abject failure, not by any means.  It’s a very full-flavored, satisfying cookie.  The flavor was singular rather than cohesive, however, and the texture was too cakey for a cookie.  It’s not that you couldn’t serve these at a party, and if you entered them into a Mrs. Butterworth contest, you’d probably win it.  But baking is about making something bigger and better than just one thing, and unfortunately, my second version doesn’t quite cut it.

But wait!  There’s more!  I’m like Ron-fuckingPopeil over here.  Just check back in a few hours, as I’ll post my third version for you.  I have to take a quick 5 in the meantime, because I’m a bit sick of being in my own head, and perhaps need a sausage.  I also have some heartburn and should get another diet soda, because I’m sure that’ll help.

Hey, I’m a creepy little handheld pancake! Eat me!

Walnut Maple-Syrup Cookies, v.2

31 Jul

Please note that this post will necessarily be quite long.

There is an issue with using all-natural ingredients in bakery, which is of course contrary to all the current and prohibitively expensive food trends.  But there is one very important reason to go with what you know’s going blast flavor into your bakery like a shotgun:  Your people.  Everyone likes to be blown away by good bakery.  No one wants okay bakery.  And natural ingredients often fail to produce the intensity of flavor that people want.  That kind of stuff might work for cooking, but that’s just not how bakery works.

Satisfying this particular requirement was my number one goal going into version two.  The resultant flavor of the original recipe was so lackluster, I couldn’t imagine a more important goal than that.  So, I still maintained the shape of the cookie in order to at least mimic what I thought to be the author’s original intent, but as you’ll see that was a big mistake. I should have anticipated beforehand, too.  As focused as I was on the flavor, well, I’ll not make that mistake again.  It doesn’t matter how delicious a cookie is if it looks like a… dog biscuit.  Which these do.  Mmm… Liv-a-Snaps.

In any case, my concern over the flavor in fact caused me to overcompensate, and by quite a bit.  These cookies tasted, and actually had a similar texture to the sodden, oversweet pancakes, butter, and syrup you get at an IHOP.  Not that there’s anything wrong with IHOP pancakes—oh, god, no, there is absolutely nothing wrong with IHOP pancakes—but cookies are not breakfast.  Generally speaking.

I would be interested to read if any of you find an application suitable for such an intensely flavored cookie.  (Perhaps, with the addition of buttermilk and leavening, it could be adapted as a quick bread.)  The dough is soft and cakey, but the flavor can be replicated in any drop cookie using browned butter, maple extract, plenty of vanilla, a little extra flour, plus the key: a slightly higher quantity of salt.

The list of ingredients and instructions is below, followed in the next post by the purpose, expectation, and actual behaviors.

2 ½ c. flour, plus extra as necessary when kneading
1 c. superfine white sugar
1 TBL brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
2/3 c. walnuts
Raw sugar, for decorating

1 lg egg
4 TBL lard
12 TBL browned butter
2 TBL vanilla
1 tsp maple extract (usually imitation, and that’s fine)
1 TBL corn syrup

1. Melt, then brown, the 12 TBL of butter.  Melt the butter slowly initially, then increase the heat to medium-high to brown it. You can melt the butter as slowly as you like, so you can do other things in the meantime; but browning takes only a couple of minutes, so be careful not to burn it.  Give yourself time for it to cool as well, about 10 minutes, or speed it up by first pouring the butter into a bowl, then setting it in cold water for just a few minutes.

2. Pulse your white and brown sugar in a food processor or blender for about 30 seconds to create your superfine sugar.  Once complete, cream the lard and sugar together with a stand or hand-mixer on medium until a bit fluffy.  About four minutes or so.

3. While that’s creaming, chop the walnuts superfine in a food processor or blender.  This just takes a few seconds.  Once complete, whisk together the flour and walnuts together in a separate bowl.

4. Mix the liquids together in a separate bowl: Egg, vanilla, maple extract, corn syrup, browned butter, and salt.  Use a whisk, but just to incorporate the ingredients together, not to incorporate air.

5. Add the liquids to the creamed lard mixture, and mix until just combined.  15-30 seconds at the most.  It won’t look combined, since there are alcohols, syrups and fats that will appear separated.  But trust me, it is.

6. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.  15-30 seconds.  Do not mix excessively.

7. Place dough onto a floured surface.  If the dough seems too moist, add a tablespoon here and there as you knead, up to ¼ cup.  Knead gently until smooth and solid.  (I know this by looking, but I’d say 2-3 minutes should do it.)

8. Roll into a circle, then refrigerate for about an hour.  When you remove it, preheat the oven to 475 F, set the rack the middle position, and paper your pan.

9. Roll out to about ¼” thickness.  Use a 2” circle to cut them out. (I would not recommend this particular aesthetic again!)   Re-roll scraps of dough until you’re out.  Place them on the pan and top with the raw sugar.

10. Place in oven.  After 1 minute, reduce the heat to 375 F.  Bake for another 10 minutes, rotating at the five-minute mark.

11. Let set on the pan for about a minute, then remove to a cooling rack.

12. Lather, rinse, repeat.

                          What happened will follow in the next post.  In the meantime, behold my delicious little mistakes.

                          Sit! Roll over! Good dog!

                          Getting Started…

                          31 Jul

                          Drum-and-bass: check.  Diet Dr Pepper: check.  Foot spray: check.  It’s 2:00 PM CT, and I’m finally gonna suck it up and make this write-up happen.


                          30 Jul

                          Well, sort of.  As you are well aware, I live a life of mystery and intrigue.  Which means that Friday night is grocery night.  Every Friday. Every week.  Dangerous and sexy, no?

                          So, no big post tonight.  I do, however, see that the Belligerent Nine have been back today, and darlings, I won’t fail you come tomorrow.  You’ll get to see all my maple-cookie mistakes and wins, man.  If I don’t catch you in time for your visit tomorrow, do check again on Sunday morning.

                          OMG! I Have Nine (9) Readers! **heart attack**

                          29 Jul

                          Or, one person who checks in from nine different locations…whatever!  Whoever you are, thank you so much, and I mean that.  I promise, promise, promise that I’ll finish the write-up on those stupid maple cookies, the original notes for which I lost and, honestly, writing from scratch gives me more anxiety than a freakin’ job interview.  I think I mentioned that earlier.  Yeah, I did.  But, this weekend is all for you–my nine readers.  I’m so excited you’re here!

                          So in the meantime, for you (and to avoid the inevitable for a little longer), I thought I’d send along 10 fun facts about your Belligerent Baker.

                          1. I live in Wisconsin, a state that is likely going to turn red this November, and for the first time in a while.  Which is fine.  I’m a libertarian, so I’m socially quite liberal, but man, the Dems have done a pretty bad job running things.  Of course, the state government’s got nothing–nothing!–on the garbage my local city pols pull on a daily basis.  I’m pretty sure my athlete’s foot could run Milwaukee better than what we’ve got now.

                          2.  I have athlete’s foot.

                          3.  I don’t eat a lot of carbs during the week.  Weekend carbs, sure, but yeah, baking’s a fat hobby, people.  And I’m only 5’2″, so I’m not going there.

                          4.  I don’t smoke a lot at all, but I do like to smoke after I exercise.  Wait, I said that already.  Sorry.  Oh!  I think the AP Style Guide is kinda crap.  I prefer serial commas, no matter what it says.

                          5.  I have an English degree.  Can you tell?  I also have student loans I will never, ever pay off.  Can you tell?

                          6.  I hate car payments, I hate yardwork, and I hate baseball.  I’m into the more indoor sports.

                          7.  Speaking of, I haven’t been on a date for, sheesh, three years or so.  I don’t know how anyone could pass up all this wit and charm, though, so I may start again with one of you.  Who’s game?

                          8.  I love advice columns.  No, really.  Dear Margo, Dear Prudence, Dear Abby, Ask Amy, Ask Bossy, even that spaceman Carey Tennis… man, what I wouldn’t do for my own advice column!  I think I would kill.

                          9.  I currently have a little gas.  Okay: A lot of gas.  Might have something to do with the cases upon cases of diet soda I drink.  Not sure.

                          10.  I have to take my one of my sanders–I have a Bosch and Porter Cable, and they are sweet–to my new-old oak desk.  The wood’s well-hydrated again, but the drawers are still sticking.  And while I really don’t like to leave anything half-assed around, I will set that project aside so I can finish up the more informative work I’ve promised you above.  It won’t be easy looking at these drawers half-ajar, but you guys are more important.

                          So thanks again, my nine readers, for checking in with the Belligerent Baker.  I hope it’s as good for you as it is for me.  See you tomorrow!


                          29 Jul

                          The faster songs from Elva: “$10”

                          Used calisthenics DVD, run twice in row: $5, plus the hour

                          Couple of menthols, post-exercise: Priceless


                          28 Jul

                          My roommate, who is also my BFF but who knows how long that’ll last at this point, is making fun of me for watching White Collar.  But you know, I don’t make fun of him when he watches reruns of V.I.P.  I’m just sayin’.

                          A Note on Spices, Etc.

                          28 Jul

                          Gonna be a pretty short post for you tonight, my sweet little sycophants.  I’m getting a late start here tonight, and I want to watch the latest episode of White Collar, which is not the best show on TV by any stretch, but if you’ve seen the star of the show, you’ll know good and goddamn well why I want to watch it.  I swear, that guy’s just another reason to love Texas.  As if the good gun laws weren’t enough!

                          Anyway, I think it’s important to talk a little bit about spices.  You’ll find a lot of recipes, particularly those in lifestyle magazines like my nemesis Bon Appetit, that call for exotic and fuck-all expensive spices.  Like, Siberian conflict-free nutmeg or some such shit.  Listen up, ladies:  You may think that because I am whiskey-tango to the core, of course I’ll say that you don’t need those spices.  That if it’s yuppie, I’ll just hate it out of hand.  And you’d be right.  But I’m also telling you that you don’t want your apple pie to taste only of that nutmeg.  Do you?  No.  You do not.

                          Now, I am lucky enough to live just up the road from Penzey’s HQ, but it is not necessary to get the most refined–and most expensive–spices you can find.  Again, your tasters and testers will enjoy the flavors they know, and the flavors they know come from spices you can find anywhere.  See, as far as your friends are concerned, it’s Hello, McCormick.  It’s good seeing you again.

                          That said, I can say that Penzey’s spices really are wonderful while also being an extremely excellent value.  I mean, have you seen the price of grocery-store spices lately?  The unit prices at Penzey’s are very, very fair.  Not that all grocery store spices are that expensive, though.  While the prices of branded spices are truly ludicrous, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a grocery nearby that sells bulk spices in wee baggies by the produce, the unit prices for which are also very fair.  (Ethnic groceries are a great place to find these, by the way.)  And those little Glad containers–the throw-away kind–are great for storing them.

                          Remember: Baked goods are a combination of things, and all of these things are meant to be a cohesive unit.  Bakery isn’t like a pasta dish featuring the latest trendy ingredient.  Baked goods are not delivery devices for a single flavor.  So, do not feel inadequate if you cannot afford all the finest of everything. Because once you’ve got all this down, it’s not the expensive ingredients that will make your baked goods great.  It’s going to be you.

                          Not such a short post, I guess.  I assume there’s no problem with that, correct?

                          Getting Good at What You Do: Visualize

                          27 Jul

                          Golfers do this.  (I bet real athletes do this, too.)  They see in their mind’s eye where they want to land the ball, plus the stroke they need get it there.  Then they do it.  Not to go all New Age on you, but you need to start seeing yourself as doing what great bakers do with confidence everyday:

                          You, seeing where all your ingredients are on the counter, and in what order you need them.  You, knowing where all your utensils are, and the actual turns and steps you take to grab them.  You see yourself in the kitchen knowing exactly when to stop kneading the bread, and what the dough looks like when you do.  Or see yourself digging out, then using some twine to remedy a crack in your cheesecake–and know with certainty that you can cover it up with something sweet regardless.  You see yourself shrugging off those fucked-up flat muffins, freezing them for a pudding, then remaking more quickly and easily because yeah, you really shit the bed with your first batchbut it happens to the best of us.

                          The point is, the best can be you.  You study, you pay attention, and you see yourself reaching for your tools and ingredients like you’ve done this all your life and the best will be you.  Phony or not, your confidence in the kitchen is vitally important to learning–and getting good.  You just need to make the connection between what you do, and what you get.

                          I really wish cookbooks would tell you this.