Sunday, July 5, 2009

Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie ~ Part I

My husband is smart enough to tell me and others that I'm a better cook than his mother except for one glaring exception. He believes his mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies. When I've called him on it, he doesn't even bother to deny it. He just says she follows the toll house recipe and adds double the amount of chocolate chip cookies. Over the years, I've tried different recipes, and while he has liked the results and definitely eaten the results, I could never beat his mom's cookies. So I've been on a quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. After a lot of research and testing (what I do for my family!), I now have narrowed my search to two recipes. The first one is from CookSmart by Pam Anderson and the second one is from the May & June 2009 issue of Cook's Illustrated. From these sources, I've decided these elements are all part of a perfect chocolate chip recipe:

Excellent Chocolate Chip Quality
Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chunk morsels seem to be the obvious choice. NOT SO! These are not the chips we remember from childhood. Gone is real vanilla and a strong chocolate flavor, now these chips use vanillin (artificial vanilla) and more sugar and less cacao.

When shopping, look at the ingredient list. Chocolate (or cacao) should be the first ingredient. Make sure real vanilla not vanillin is listed. And, finally beware "chocolate flavored" chips. My favorite chips are local (Northern California) chips, Guittard Real Semisweet Chocolate Chips & Ghiradelli 60% Bittersweet Chocolate chips.

Use Real Unsalted Butter.

OK, this may be more personal preference. I just think cookies made with butter taste better than margarine and/or shortening. Also butter made cookies have a nice crisp taste. However, it is a trade-off, cookies made with butter spread more and are not as pretty as shortening ones.

So, which recipe was better? In my household, the Cook's Illustrated recipe outperformed the CookSmart recipe. The butter/sugar technique in Cook's Illustrated gave the cookies a nutty toffee flavor without nuts. However, there were definitely elements of the CookSmart recipe I liked better. So stay tune for my hybrid recipe. Until then, here's the Cook's Illustrated version. Let me know what you think, or let me know if you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe I can try out.

Note: Go straight to the recipe source. You do need to be a Cook's Illustrated subscriber, but they offer a free 14 day trial membership.

My Version of Cook's Illustrated's Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
14 tbsps. unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. vanilla extract (NOT ARTIFICIAL)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semiseet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • Adjust oven rack tomiddle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour & baking soda together in med. bowl; set aside.
  • Brown 10 tablespoons of butter in skillet until dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma. Put in heatproof mixing bowl and add remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Stir until butter completelymelted.
  • Add both sugars, salt & vanilla to bowl with butter and mix well. Add egg & yolk and whisk until smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat 2 more times until mixture is smooth & .shiny.

Sugar/butter mixture after first whisking.

Sugar/butter mixture after final whisking. What a difference! I'm convinced this is why my family preferred this recipe.

  • Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
  • Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons. Arrange 2 inches apart.
  • Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set, 10 to 14 minutes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sundried Tomato Pesto

Pesto in less than 5 minutes!

Growing up, pesto was just not something we ate. When we had spaghetti (not pasta), the sauce was strictly tomato with some ground beef mixed in. I don't think I ever had pesto until I was in my 20s. Over the years, I loved eating pesto but always saw it as more of a treat to buy. Compared to regular tomato sauce, it always seemed a bit pricey. Then I discovered, with homegrown basil, Costco and a food processor, pesto can be downright cheap & still delicious! As a matter of fact, with homegrown basil, making pesto becomes downright necessary to use most of the leaves before the plant goes to seed.

However, there's more to pesto than the classical version. By accident, I stumbled across a great sundried tomato pesto recipe that taste delicious. I found this recipe from The Splendid Table for Sundried Tomato and Pecan Pesto with Prawns. Not only did it use the pecans I bought it bulk from Costco, but it also called for oil-packed sundried tomatoes. Thanks to Coscto, a large jar just happened to be in my fridge. With the magic of the food processor, my pesto was ready in less than 5 minutes.

Here's the pesto recipe with some modification:

Sundried Tomato Pesto

  • 2 gloves of garlic (this was lenty even for garlic lovers like me & my husband)
  • 1/4 c. pecans
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of oil-packed sundried tomatoes
  • 1/2 c. basil
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until (somewhat) smooth. Add more olive oil if needed.

This pesto can be used on chicken, fish, and of course, prawns. It can be easily doubled and the extra frozen.

I served it with peeled & deveined jumbo prawns that I had sauteed in a little butter & olive oil (about a tablespoon of each). I mixed the two together and served it over pasta.