Tag Archives: baking for others

Baking for Coworkers: Triple Chocolate Cookies

9 Feb

I work in a fairly large department, fully half of which would be happy to have a Food Day every day.  Did someone have a baby?  Food Day!  Is someone going to have a baby someday, maybe?  Food Day!  Did the sun rise in the east and set in the west?  Food Day!  Hey, it’s Boxing Day.  In Canada.  But what the hell: Bust out your Crock Pot®, ‘cause it’s Food Day.

As you would expect from this description, the Super Bowl Big Game set this truly sweet—and hungry—half of the department to work.  The sign-up sheet made the rounds, with plates and napkins of course chosen first by a problematic colleague known as Meat Sweats.  (Do you really want to know?)  Others were left to choose from more complicated requests such as five pounds of nacho cheese, crab or crab-like or sour-cream-and-onion dip, and “NO CHEESE TRAYS, PLEASE.”

Now, it’s perhaps not without reason I sit pretty far away from most of the department.  (I love them–I do!– but I really don’t need to see them or hear them much.)  So when these lists reach me, everything’s usually taken except for, say, fruit fluff and pasta salad, both of which my pride prevents me from even considering.  For Super Bowl Big Game Food Day, I did what I always do: Scribble “bakery” somewhere on the bottom of the page alongside my initials.  No one’s argued with me yet.

What complicated things for me, though, was the preposterous blizzard the belted us the Wednesday just prior to Super Bowl Big Game Food Day.  I usually have a lot of baking supplies on hand, but I hadn’t done much to replenish them since Christmas; I would be damned, though, if I was going to make a trip to the store after shoveling out a quarter of my alley with only two adults and two children.  I’d have to make do with what I had around.

This proved to be easier than I expected, the reason being is that as I’ve mentioned numerous times, there’s only so fancy you can get when baking for your coworkers.  Similar to my Soft, Chewy and Creamy Sugar Cookie, I have in reserve more of my own highly adaptable recipes that allow me to switch our more sophisticated ingredients for less whenever necessary.

For this particular Food Day, I made my Triple Chocolate Cookies with Oats.  I swapped out my usual Penzey’s Dutch-processed cocoa for natural cocoa; used some melted milk chocolate along with an easy semi (all candy bars); and substituted butterscotch chips where I would’ve used chopped dark chocolate in the 80 to 90 percent range, making what resulted in the first better-than-bakery cookies that taste like Cocoa Puffs.  And you know what?  They were a huge success, just like that.

I’ll post the recipe for you tomorrow evening. Be sure to check back then for my foolproof recipe, clear instructions, and tricks and tips to help you bring the best cookies for your next Random Occasion Food Day.

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Chai Cookies, Step Two

30 Jan

For step one, please click here.  For the sugar cookie base, please click here.

It’s good to note before you get started here that you’ll want the best available spices for this.  Now, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, that’s no problem; I think a strong, authentic chai could still be approximated using standard grocery store spices.  In this case, you’ll want to compensate with higher quantities of flavors that remain strong and sharp even in their cheapest state.  (Ginger and black pepper come to mind.)

What will work best, on the other hand, are bulk spices that you grind and pulverize yourself in a mortar and pestle.  Many grocery stores now carry truly inexpensive bags of bulk spices in their produce departments: Whole nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon sticks, for example.  These are also often available at ethnic grocery stores and of course, through my favorite spice house, Penzeys.

Things get a little trickier from here.  As noted earlier, an authentic proportion of spices is difficult to find in a cookie recipe.  This is where you come in.

Step Two: Chai Flavor

Consider this a great challenge as a developer, the experience of which you’ll relish even as you contemplate bashing your head in with the mortar and pestle you’ve been using for several strained hours under bright kitchen lights.  You’ll learn a lot doing this but know that you won’t have the proper mix together until your heart breaks along with your back.  Pre-mixed “chai” spices just won’t do this for you.

I can give you general guidelines, but what you’ll want to do is find a cup of your favorite chai and taste it several times with cream, and then without.  But more importantly, grab the list of ingredients, and with this you can collect the spices you’ll need.  Generally, you’ll want large quantities of:

  • Black pepper
  • Cardamom, green and black
  • Ginger
  • Star Anise
  • Cloves

Plus, you’ll need smaller quantities of standard baking spices for a well-rounded flavor:

  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice
  • Cinnamon
  • Mace
  • Orange/Lemon Peel
  • Baking spice mixes

You’ll develop your mix using the egg mixture created in step four of my standard sugar cookie recipe.  Start with a ¼ tsp of each spice, add a pinch of salt, mix and taste.  At this point it’ll probably taste like coffeecake, so start adding each of those top five spices about 1/8 tsp at a time.  (Include a dash of salt with each iteration.)

You’ll want this to be quite strong, and don’t be surprised if you’ve added more pepper than anything else; the trick is to keep going until you think it’s just about too much. Once you think you might’ve crossed the line, begin adding salt, about a dash at a time, until the flavor is full-bodied—until it seems as though it’s bloomed.  You’ll proceed with the process as usual after this.

What really brings it home, however, is adding your spice mix into your rolling sugar.  This does not need to be exactly the same as what you added to the egg mixture; it really only needs to be sharp and spicy so you’ll again want to use a good amount of black pepper, cardamom, ginger and star anise in the mix, plus wee amounts of baking spices.  Roll your cookies in this mixture generously, then bake.

Now, if in the end you find the flavor too sharp, too peppery, or too whatever, you can save these by dusting the cookies with powdered sugar; adding vanilla frosting; dipping in white or dark chocolate; or crumbling them into ice cream.  Failing that, set them out to dry for a week or so, then use them for a cookie crust topped with a soft meringue.  It’s your choice.  Either way, you will have done something special by putting the real chai experience in a mere cookie, all while honing your taste and observation skills .

Happy pulverizing!

Chai Cookies: Step One

30 Jan

I set about making chai cookies with one thing in mind: I wanted to know if I could make a chai cookie could be made to taste–and recall–real chai tea.  Which is to say, a cookie that had all of the spice and bite of chai tea, plus the softness of the cream used to cut the spice when you drink it.  I reasoned that this could be relatively easy using a creamy sugar cookie to counter what would be an enormous amount of spice.

And by “enormous” amount of spice, I do mean an enormous amount of spice.  You’ll find recipes calling for all of a ¼ teaspoon each of, say, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.  I suppose that’s tasty enough.  But what is that, really, but freezer pumpkin-pie flavor?  You need a punch–and a happy ending–to make a real chai.

But you can’t get there without a little foreplay.

Step One: The Cookie Base

This is the easy part, so we’d might as well start here.  To make a sugar cookie that’s creamy enough to replicate tea with cream, the texture will be as important as the actual flavor.  You’ll want a cookie that tastes a bit like cream or milk, yes, but you’ll want it to be soft in a way that’s reminiscent of the way tea with cream feels.

It’s easier than you might think.  You’ll start with a standard sugar cookie recipe, a chewy one, then add some dry milk and cream cheese to the mix.  Both have the flavor, of course, and the acid in each will tenderize the dough a bit to encourage more softness.  (Believe it or not, dry milk will impart a creamier flavor than the real thing.) With that in mind I developed what I call the Standard Soft, Chewy and Creamy Sugar Cookie.  You’ll find to be foolproof and highly adaptable once you’ve practiced it a few times.

Your Standard Soft, Chewy and Creamy Sugar Cookie

30 Jan

This can be adapted just about any way you want, but this works particularly well as a base or a counter for highly spiced flavors.

Ingredients

1 ¾ c. AP flour, minus 2 TBL
½ c. bread flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ c. sugar, processed, plus sugar for rolling
2 TBL butter, melted
4 TBLbutter, softened
2 TBL dry milk
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 yolk
1 TBL veg oil
2 TBL vanilla (or to taste)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Paper pans.  You’ll also need to set aside extra sugar for rolling each bit of dough; round dishes work best for this.

  1. Melt 2 TBL butter.  Set aside.
  2. Cream butter, 1 c. sugar, cream cheese and salt together. Med ‘til fluffy.
  3. Whisk flours, dry milk, and baking powder.  Set aside.
  4. Combine egg, yolk, melted butter, oil, remaining 1/2 c. sugar and vanilla together.  Set aside.
  5. Add cooled liquids to creamed butter and mix until just combined.  This would be the lowest setting on your mixer.  Will be lumpy.
  6. Add flour mixture until just combined.
  7. Chill in fridge for just 20-30 minutes.  You’ll want them to be just cool enough that they resist the warmth of your hands as you roll them.  (If they’re too cold, however, they’ll spread too much.)
  8. Roll into 1 ½ TBL balls (coffee scoop), then roll into sugar.  Place 9 to 12 on prepared pans; flatten each a bit in the middle before baking.  The bottom of a flat scoop will work well here.
  9. Bake 12 minutes, rotating midway through.  Let sit on sheet when done for about a minute, then transfer to cooling rack.

Adaptations

  1. Dry ingredients should be mixed in with the flour mixture.  As it can be difficult to incorporate dry ingredients to a completed cookie dough without over-mixing, adding additional dry ingredients to the flour mixture will prevent this for you.
  2. Flavorings, such as spices and extracts, should be added to the egg-sugar mixture.  Don’t forget to add some salt activate and fill out the new flavors.  To further deepen flavors, allow the mixture to sit for a couple of minutes, stir, then repeat this process once or twice more.

Please send your suggestions, adaptations and criticisms in the comments section.  I never learn until I hear the worst.

Great Customer Service: It Lives!

5 Jan

The most extraordinary thing happened to me today.  I was received great customer service.  As unbelievable as this sounds, it’s true.

I’m not sure if there’s one particular cause to what’s created this incredible lack of good, or even just adequate customer service.  When I go out shopping, one thing I’ve driven 10 miles out of the way for is literally the one, single thing missing from the shelf.  It could even be an item that should be on any store shelf within a half-mile, but if I need it, it simply will not be there.

I’ll give you an example: For some of my Xmas baking I needed peppermint patties stat.  I visited the three full-sized groceries near me, all within a half-mile of my home and I swear, surrounded by mountains of any other bagged, fun-sized and mass-produced candy you could ever want, there was an empty black chasm right where the peppermint patties were supposed to be.  In all three stores!

And what’s worse, there was no one anywhere to tell me, while looking anywhere but at me and in a diction that only another stoner can understand, that um, no, there are no more in the back, sorry.  Of course, if I had heard that, I would taken a pair of pliers to the clerk’s braces.

This is the sort of service I expected after an order of mine went pear-shaped at http://shop.nlzwear.com/.  Rumor has it that I may have entered the coupon code incorrectly or something, but I don’t know about that.  I find it hard to believe I could ever do anything wrong, ever.

In any case, I submitted the order only to see what would’ve been a monstrous charge on my card.  I immediately called and emailed, sounding no less like the very mean grandma who will not be turned away.  You know, the one with the expired coupons at the grocery store. Or anywhere.

For good measure, I even tweeted that I needed to be contacted, figuring that a nationwide shaming should do the trick.  What can I say?  I expected the worst.

Instead, Chris contacted me almost immediately and was very responsive despite my cold fish of a request.  He did not have to cancel my order—he would’ve been in his right, honestly, to profit from my ineptitude.  But he didn’t.  He kindly canceled my order so I could resubmit it properly, saving me, but costing him, 80 easy bucks.

So here’s to you, Chris at NLZWear!  I really appreciate that you helped me even though I was a complete cad.  I hope sincerely that you get rich beyond your wildest dreams selling those awesome socks.

&*(@$(*! Camera

2 Jan

Once upon a time, there was a nice camera named Kodak.  It was a proud camera with a lot of megapixels and, depending on the settings, could even catch my cat doing cute things.  Kodak knew it was better than its old coworker Vivitar, which only shoots fast enough to catch the cat’s anus as it runs away.

Then one day Kodak, proud camera that she was, decided to shoot only what she deemed worthy of those massive megapixels, and sod the rest.  “Documentation’s not my game anymore, bitch!” she cried. “You and your food can just jam it!”

This is what I imagine was happening as I wiped butter, flour and who knows what else off the Kodak, which I believed held the photographic evidence of fudge that looked like vomit, brown sugar meringue that shrunk like wool in hot water and cookies that deflated like a flat chest.  And my ego.

Now, you might think it’s a blessing that I don’t have all my shots, but it isn’t.  It’s important to make a note of one’s mistakes so they’re not repeated.  It’s also important to know that those of us who are quite good at something still—or rather, constantly–make some fantastic mistakes.

I will have to do my best then to describe for you what happened.  I can tell you right away, though, that my biggest error was trying new things while under a time crunch.  I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this will always break your heart, but as a baker my overconfidence, which I know damn well never works out for anyone, wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.  It seems I thrive on failure the same as I thrive on success.

So sit back and check out my failures.  A little schaudenfreude never hurt anyone.

Easy Like Lionel Richie

2 Jan

Rest assured, there are more failures to write up for you, my nine readers (see below to start), but before I retire for the evening, I’d like to leave you with a small little trifle that turned into a big success.

I mentioned in an earlier post that making the best holiday treats means making small, handheld, easily transportable treats.  This means that sweet little candy-ish things that’re made assembly-line style while you’re parked in front of a “completely legal” feed of, say, weekday football games…well, these treats are as perfect as that sentence isn’t.

This brings us to it, and it’s based on the very popular chocolate-coated Ritz-and-peanut-butter sandwiches that a lot of people make this time of year.  I love those things.  But for these new treats, I came across some perfectly round pretzel crackers, a little larger than a quarter.  A freak for all things salty and crunchy, I knew there had to be a good use for these.

First, I ate used an entire bag myself while watching an episode of “Burn Notice.”

But, I also managed—somehow–to save the remaining bag and thought that instead of peanut butter, I could make use of a jar of Nutella that’s been taunting me since I bought it in the summer.  Honestly, why do I do this to myself?  This is a carb-free house.  Usually.

So, two pretzel crackers, salt side in, Nutella and… what kind of chocolate to coat?  After several taste tests it was decided to go with white chocolate, which would also provide a really nice color contrast.

There are a couple of tricks to making these successfully, the first of which is the most important: As Nutella liquefies quickly under heat, make sure these are fully chilled before dipping.  Unlike peanut butter, to which saturated fats are added for stability, Nutella is gooey paste, made of hazelnuts, cocoa solids and here in North America, modified (with more unsaturated fat) palm oil.  It doesn’t stand on its own.

To keep the flavors balanced—they’re all very strong—keep the layer of Nutella pretty thin, and add about a TBL of shortening (or more) to your white chocolate to thin it out.  Then work quickly: Even very chilled, some Nutella will get into the white chocolate.  So long as it’s not much, though, it’ll mix right in.

Then throw them on some wax paper to set.  Some decoration really adds to them, such as a light dusting of white sanding sugar, chocolate cookie crumbs, or whatever cute things you have handy.  It doesn’t really matter, because people will love these no matter what.  Trust me on this.  Have I ever steered you wrong?

Don’t answer that.