This week we made blondies (p. 218), a cookie bar that I’d never made and rarely eat. For the 5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, we used Icelandic chocolate, sold as part of the ‘sustainable Iceland’ project (I’m guessing that means ‘helping Iceland have an economy so it can sustain its existence as a nation’ and not necessarily a particularly environmental goal). I’m glad I picked it, because it sure was tasty.
Blondies, I’ve discovered, are made by spreading chocolate chip cookie dough in a jelly roll pan, baking, and then cutting into bars. The recipe admonishes, ‘Do not overbake!’ Well, we slightly overbaked them (if my partner keeps picking bar cookies, a possibility that never crossed my mind before embarking on this project, I’m thinking we would do well to invest in a standard sized jelly roll pan to replace our slightly too-large one). And then let them cool overnight, erroneously putting them in the category of brownies and lemon bars, which the book recommends leaving to cool overnight. It being the dead of winter, and our house being only slightly more humid than the desert, they were, shall we say, not as chewy as one might like this morning. Still yummy! Just not really that chewy at all.
Besides these user errors, the recipe was pretty standard. Butter, eggs, two kinds of sugar, vanilla, nuts, chocolate. Mix together, spread in a pan, bake. As with the sugar cookies, there was nothing about this recipe that would make me recommend ditching your favorite blondie recipe (if you’re a person who has a favorite blondie recipe distinct from your favorite chocolate chip recipe) and replacing it with this one.
ease of preparation: 2
match to expectations: 2
“the cookie itself”: 2.5
Last night we got back on track with our regular Thursday cookie date, and made janhagels (p. 304). These were, in my opinion, the best cookies yet. As advertised, they were almond-flavored dough, covered with sliced almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Delicious! I have an affinity for European style cookies, the type that are basically butter, sugar, and nuts in a variety of forms. So, I was excited to try these, and rewarded by mouth-watering cookies at the end of the night.
The recipe was designated at the easiest level, and we both found it to be so. After a few weeks of shoring up our baking weaknesses, we decided to play to our strengths this time around (partly because we were both a little drained from last week’s mild flu), and I’m sure that contributed to our evaluation of relative difficulty. In practical terms, this meant that I did all the things by hand (measured, combined, separated the egg, buttered the jelly roll pan) and my partner used the electric mixer. Besides going faster, I enjoyed the process more this way (I’m not, shall we say, at ease in activities I’m not good at). I need to work on my slicing technique—the size of the resulting diamonds varied widely—but this time we did better getting the dough into the jelly roll pan (we used our hands, which worked well as the dough consistency was closer to rolled than to drop). We slightly overbaked the cookies, but only slightly (relying on our oven’s history of taking slightly longer than average with baking, I neglected to check them before the designated time). The result was a more browned edge, which approximated toffee in some places. Delicious!
At this point, you’re probably wondering what we’re doing with all of these cookies, or imagining that we’re on the ‘gain 5 pounds a week’ plan for 2007. We eat a few on the night we make them, and then half of what remains goes to work with my partner (so his coworkers can gain 5 pounds each week), and the other half is kept at the house for the guys who come over to game on Sunday afternoons (so they can gain 5 pounds each week). From the half that stays at the house, I usually also set aside a few for our neighbors down the block (I’m not sure whether they appreciate this or curse us and our cookie-making).
ease of preparation: 2
match to expectations: 4
‘the cookie itself’: 4.5
Tonight we had our fourth cookie date, barely squeezing it into the end of the week. We made Neil’s scalloped sugar cookies (p. 162). This is a variation on the standard sugar cookie recipe, that involves using confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated sugar, and using only the egg yolks instead of the whole egg.
As such, the recipe wasn’t all that exciting. I’m generally not a fan of plain sugar cookies (my holiday cookies are the rich roll version in The Joy of Cooking, with lemon zest added, and with lemon juice replacing milk in the frosting); I find them, well, boring. I was hoping that the confectioner’s sugar would make them notably different, and/or that the egg wash and sugar on top would do something more exciting. It didn’t, and they are simply sugar cookies.
The one aspect of the recipe that made it particularly simple was the use of the food processor (a new one of which I now own, after my little one died two Thanksgivings ago). The flour, sugar, and butter are ground together in the processor, then the egg yolks and vanilla are added, and it’s processed until it hangs together as dough. It was weird, but meant the only skilled tasks were separating the eggs and rolling the dough (I am ever reminded of the sociological research on ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ labor, as I struggle to complete the tasks that involve machines, and then roll and cut the cookies with total ease).
The upshot: I wouldn’t recommend replacing your favorite sugar cookie recipe with this one.
ease of preparation: 3
match to expectations: 2
‘the cookie itself’: 2.5
Our cookie making schedule was a little thrown off by my trip out of town, but we recovered, and last night was our third attempt. This week we made crackly cinnamon wafers (p. 71), and they were quite tasty.
My skill with the electric mixer is improving, although I must admit that I find myself oddly stressed while using it. I commented that I felt as if I were in a race, because the dough-making process goes so much more quickly and is not at all meditative (which I generally find baking to be). With this recipe, though, the dough also went quickly because there was so little to it — butter, sugar, an egg, flour, and cinnamon. The more elaborate and somewhat time-consuming part of the process was putting them on the sheets: it required making small uniform balls, squishing them flat with the floured bottom of a glass, brushing them with an egg white mixture, and then sprinkling sugar on top of them.
In general, they were very close to how we imagined they would be, and a very light, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth kind of cookie, perfect to accompany tea or coffee. They did not taste as strongly of cinnamon as we’d expected, especially with the strong cinnamon smell that filled the kitchen as they baked. We also didn’t put quite enough sugar on the tops of the first batch; we used granulated sugar, as we hadn’t been able to easily locate sparkling white sugar, which comes in larger crystals and likely would have increased the crackly nature of the cookies.
They disappeared, well, like cookies when we shared them with our friends this afternoon, though, so I think we can safely call them a success.
ease of preparation: 3.5
match to expectations: 2.5
“the cookie itself”: 3.5
Last night was our second weekly cookie date (it being the second week of the year), and we chose to make toffee nut squares (p. 221). This cookie was another one cookie difficulty rating; the rating for most difficult is three cookies, and there aren’t many of these in the book (two examples are filled kurabia cookies and checkerboards).
This week we decided to divide up the labor according to the skills we each needed to work on, which meant I was on electric mixer duty and he chopped the walnuts by hand (I rejected the proposal that we use the food processor for the walnuts; it was starting to seem like we would have to allocate all credit for the result to the machines). I am probably going to exclaim over this every week, but it required basically no baking skill to assemble the dough using the machine. It does, I must admit, require some technological skill, but I’m assured that every other person in their 30s who has ever even thought about baking a cookie, besides me, knows how to use an electric mixer. If you were in our kitchen, you would have heard a running commentary from me something along the lines of ‘Does everyone really bake like this? This requires no skill. Does this mean I should be giving far fewer accolades to people for producing tasty baked goods? This must be why people become obsessed with recipe variations, because there’s pretty much nothing else to focus on.’ To be fair to our baking skills, they were required to spread the dough evenly into the corners of the jelly roll pan, something we discovered I actually knew the technique for, despite rarely (never?) making bar cookies.
In the interest of being able to evaluate the recipe itself, we again followed the recommended approach for keeping them firm and chewy, and let the cookies cool in the pan overnight. Which is a good thing, because they were very tasty and very sugary, and if we had cut them last night, we likely would have eaten most of them and then stayed up half the night before slipping into a sugar coma. They weren’t the best cookie I’ve ever had, but they were certainly good and more rewarding than last week’s selection in terms of trying something new (i.e. we had never made toffee bars before, and these tasted like toffee bars). Plus, having them come out like we imagined they would be made us feel accomplished.
ease of preparation: 3.5
match to expectations: 3.5
‘the cookie itself’: 4