Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chocolate Chunk Cookies With The Little Chef

A Recipe For A Very Happy Afternoon With A Little Chef

Step One: When your 8-year-old nephew Mac (aka The Little Chef) is staying with you all week and keeps begging you to bake something together, it helps if you have a great recipe to start with. The chocolate chip cookie recipe in David Lebovitz’s mouth-watering new book, Ready For Dessert, became our new BFF this week.

Step Two: Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand and at the correct temperature. The butter will be pliable once it softens to room temperature, though you can quickly get the eggs to room temp by placing them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Your brown sugar should also be the soft consistency of warm sand so that you can easily pack it into the measuring cup.

However, our brown sugar was spectacularly rock-hard and might have done serious damage had we thrown it at something. If I were a microwave-owner, I could have easily softened the block of sugar by nuking it for a few seconds. But since I am not, the Little Chef and I employed a series of questionable techniques to get that sugar to the right consistency and packed into the measuring cup. We grated the sugar-rock on a box grater (not very efficient), and we placed it in a Ziploc bag and swung it against the edge of the counter (fun, but also not so efficient). We also smashed it into larger bits with a hammer (getting better) and finally resorted to pulverizing those rocky bits in a food processor. By the time we finally ended up with a packed cup of light brown sugar, we might as well have run out to the corner deli for a fresh box, but Mac and I laughed a lot more by doing it this way. (We also avoided having to take twelve flights of stairs on a day the elevator was being repaired in my building!)

Step Three: Give your Little Chef a chance to show off his measuring and whisking skills. Bribe him with extra chocolate pieces if he can keep most of the dry ingredients in the bowl and off the counter, especially if he tends to whisk dry ingredients together quite vigorously as a rule.

Step Four: Come to a compromise if one of you likes cookies with nuts and the other one does not. Promise a few more extra chocolate pieces for your little buddy if he’ll agree to divide the batter in half, letting you stud your half of the batter with a generous scattering of toasted pecans while his half remains pristinely chocolate. (Chocolate can be an incredibly persuasive bribe.)

Step Five: Do not panic when the recipe instructs you to chill the batter for 24 hours, but do try to be patient. In reading the recipe aloud to me, my poor Little Chef’s face visibly fell when he came to the suggestion to let the dough chill for at least a day, practically crying, “You mean we’re not even going to get to try our cookies until TOMORROW?!” Instead, we did a taste test, baking one tray of dough that only chilled for two hours and obtaining perfectly satisfying results. But when we baked off the rest of the cookies the following afternoon, both of us agreed that the cookies tasted even better the second day.

Step Six: Recalculate the total cookie yield depending on how much batter you ate before baking the actual cookies. Instead of worrying about the negative effects of eating eyebrow-raising quantities of raw dough, use this as an excellent way for your young friend to work on his math skills. “The recipe says that it makes 48 cookies, but after all the times you’ve stuck your little fingers in the batter, how many cookies do you think we’ll actually get out of this?” I asked Mac. There were many giggles as we repeatedly stuck our spoons into the mixing bowl throughout the whole process, after which he would proudly announce the changes. According to the Little Chef’s final tally, “This recipe makes only 27 cookies!”

Adapted, barely, from Ready For Dessert by David Lebovitz

This recipe produces soft chewy chocolate chunk cookies that are slightly crunchy on the outside. I happen to prefer my cookies this way, as opposed to the flat crispy kind. The advantage of using chopped chocolate rather than standard chocolate chips is that the chopped chocolate will melt as the cookies bake, streaking the entire cookie with bittersweet chocolaty goodness. I added a pinch of flaky salt to the top of each cookie before I baked them, just because I love the combination of salty and sweet.

2-½ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into ½-inch chunks
2 cups pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
Flaky sea salt for finishing, such as Maldon (optional)

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl.

Place the butter, the two types of sugar and the vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a hand mixer and a large mixing bowl instead.) Beat on medium speed until just smooth. You don’t want to beat too much air into the mixture or else the dough will spread too much when it bakes. Add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and stir in the flour mixture. Add the chocolate chunks and the toasted chopped nuts, if using.

On a lightly floured board, divide the dough into four parts. Shape each quarter into a 9-inch log, and wrap well in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough logs until firm, at least two hours and preferably up to 24 hours. (I know this is the hardest part, but try to be patient, for it’s worth it to let the dough chill thoroughly!)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the baking racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (If you have those fancy French silicone baking mats, use those instead.)

Slice the dough logs into ¾-inch thick rounds and place them 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with an optional generous pinch of flaky sea salt.

Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking, until the cookies are lightly browned in the center, about 10 minutes. The cookies will seem very soft but they will firm up as they cool. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet until they are firm enough to handle, and then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Makes approximately 48 cookies, although if your names are Mac and Louise, there’s no telling what the final baked cookie count will be!

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