Tag Archives: lard

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.

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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!

                          Better Bakers Love Lard (and shortening, too)

                          15 Jul

                          So, when did the War Against Fat begin?  Was that the 80s?  The 70s?  I don’t know.  I was born in one decade and grew up in the next, and I do remember hearing about the evils of fat on, like, Phil Donahue or something like that until even I thought rice cakes might be good.  (Nasty!)  I never did hear about the Death Fat at home, where fat was used in cooking because good food calls for it.  The trick is, of course, that virtually none of the food I had as a kid was of the processed variety.  Lucky me, I know, so until the day I get my angioplasty, I will preach that fat in food is fine so long as it’s not processed food.

                          But fat in bakery?  It does give one pause, doesn’t it, because great bakery is based on the delicious but luckless triumvirate of flour, sugar, and fat.  Here’s the thing, though: The best bakery is not something you have everyday in large quantities.  It’s rich enough and filling enough that you can’t eat a lot of it.  And yes–it’s not processed, so you’re already ahead of the game.

                          This means that making great bakery, and great desserts in particular, is no time to starting thinking about nutrition content.  Portion sizes, maybe, but honestly, if you start making “healthy” substitutions, you’ll just end up with these foul little bricks of crap that will give Dean Ornish a heart attack anyway.  Also, your guests will laugh at you behind your back.  And you’ll deserve it.

                          If you’d prefer to avoid humiliation at the hand of some silly health claim, allow me, then, to offer you a short treatise on the true beauty and real utility of lard and shortening:

                          Lard.  This is an amazing addition to your bakery, people.  I can’t say this enough.  Cookies?  Cookies are my passion, and I swear to God, they are so much better with a little lard.  (To start, I usually substitute two tablespoons of lard for the same amount of butter.)  Any cookie I make with lard behaves beautifully in the oven and retains its character for longer than I could ever hope for.  What’s more, the flavors deepen over time while the cookie still tastes fresh.  And pie dough?  In combination with some butter, well, it’s so amazing, I can’t even say.  If you have a hard time finding it, check your ethnic grocers or, failing that, the closest butcher.

                          Shortening.  This stuff’s not only for greasing your pan.  Where I prefer to use lard, you may prefer to use shortening, although I hope it’s because you’re a vegetarian and not because you think shortening is healthier.  It is not.  It does an admirable job, however, keeping soft cookies soft long after they’re cool, and makes for some damn flaky pie crust.  Plus, it’s easier to find than lard.  (Personally, I can really taste butter-flavored shortening, even in small quantities.  But your people may love it, so give it a shot, if you like.  Some bakers do swear by it.  Otherwise, the plain white kind is great.)

                          But whether you choose shortening or lard when your recipe calls for it, it’s important that you think not of the fat, but of the flavor.  As I’ve insisted, the health claims against fat are rather dubious anyway.  Remember instead the very real fact that you just don’t eat this stuff every day.  So don’t fuck around, people.  Use fat.