Friday, February 12, 2010

Quasimodo Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies and Baking for One

In a recent post, my dear friend Sook from Yutjangsah revealed that she is, among other things (brilliant, crazy, the possessor of bad cuticles), a “nervous baker.”

She explains her anxiety as follows -- “I guess when you bake for others, which is always the case unless you're some kind of bake for yourself weirdo, you feel like your cookie, pie or cake has to be perfect and delicious and wonderful and magnificent and witty and well-dressed and brilliant and seductive and above all, perfect.”

I giggled when I read my friend’s pithy observation, but it was a nervous giggle. The kind of giggle a person makes when they’ve been called out on something and don’t know how else to react except through giggling. (This often proved problematic for me whenever I did something wrong as a child – like get into the hidden stash of gummy bears, again.)

While there is no way Sook could have known this, I am the “kind of bake for yourself weirdo,” and at the very moment that I was reading her post, I had a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the oven.

For myself.

Giggle giggle.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done such a brazen self-indulgent act. In college, I regularly made oatmeal muffins for my breakfast, and on one particularly harrowing day, I whipped up some Nestle Tollhouse cookies at midnight to help me get through a night of studying. I thought nothing of it at the time, and was equally nonplussed when I made the executive decision to bake for myself again this weekend.

“You’re about to give chocolate up for Lent,” I told myself. “You deserve your own batch of cookies!”

So I did it. I consulted Sarah’s blog, The Delicious Life, for her inspired take on Alton Brown’s chewy chocolate chip cookies, and then I went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for the much-praised recipe. I didn’t feel weird or nervous at all as I sashayed around the kitchen, melting butter, packing down brown sugar and whisking together flour and baking soda.

I cook for myself all the time – why should cookie-baking be any different?

That night, after the dough had refrigerated for a few hours, I scooped out enough batter for a single cookie and baked it up for my post-dinner dessert. Again, I thought nothing of the effort.

Then, the next afternoon, I extracted the rest of the dough to bake. In the light of day, the resulting cookies suddenly didn’t seem as appealing as the one I’d eaten the night before. They turned dark in the oven and sank in the centers after cooling on my baker’s rack. I frowned at their Quasimodo-esque appearance.

“Is this my come-uppance?” I wondered. “Am I being punished for being ‘some kind of bake for yourself weirdo?’”

The cookie I ate that afternoon felt slick and greasy in my mouth – saturated with the overt buttery flavor I loathe. It was still a good cookie, but I was so disturbed by its physical shortcomings and devilish aftertaste that I couldn’t fully enjoy it.

“Maybe it is weird to bake for yourself.” I thought, as I shoved the rest of the batch into a Tupperware.

Not sure what to do with the rest of my stash, I texted Sook to see if she wanted any (she did), and then I made the executive decision to bring the remainder to work to give to my coworkers.

That Monday, right before I sent the “up-for-grabs” e-mail to the office, I surreptitiously snuck one last cookie to make sure they were indeed palatable for others to eat.

Maybe it was because the cookies had time to cool and lose their intense butter flavor, or maybe it was because I was no longer guilty of baking only for one, but the chewy chocolate chip Quasimodo cookie tasted far better than it had the day before. So good in fact that I momentarily considered hording them all to myself.

Instead, I nervously bequeathed the imperfect treat on my coworkers who didn’t seem to mind that they weren’t TasteSpotting material. They were just happy someone had thought to bake something just for them.

Giggle giggle.

Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
Diana’s attempt at The Delicious Life’s take on Alton Brown’s recipe
Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2¼ cups all-purpose flour (Alton Brown’s recipe calls for bread flour - I chose to follow Sarah's method of using all-purpose)
½ teaspoon salt (reduced from 1 teaspoon per Sarah’s recommendation)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup sugar
1¼ cups brown sugar (pack firmly!)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk (I used skim because it’s what I had in the fridge)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Additional sea salt

Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

Melt butter in saucepan (I used the microwave method and think it is partially responsible for the Quasimodo appearance), and then pour into a bowl with sugar and firmly packed brown sugar. (Apparently other Alton Brown cookie bakers say it is very important to pack that sugar!) Cream butter with sugar using an electric beater on medium speed until smooth. Add egg, egg yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and beat until well combined.

Add flour mixture a little bit at a time and stir until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough for at least an hour, or, a la the perfect New York Times cookie recipe, overnight. (I chose the overnight method because I bow at the feet of the NY Times recipe.)

When ready to bake, heat oven to 375 degrees F. Scoop two tablespoons worth of dough into balls and place onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6-8 cookies per sheet. Sprinkle with optional sea salt.

Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container, or give them all away to friends, family and grateful co-workers.


pblanton said...

YAY for Alton Brown ... and cookies ... and baking ... and food.

pblanton said...

oh, and butter.

Salty Lass said...

I can relate! I'm more inclined to be jittery than relaxed when entertaining guests, whether baking or searing a piece of meat. A glass of wine, of course, helps.

Jenn said...

Love Alton Brown's recipes. I know what you mean by "baking for one". It's hard sometimes, but you just gotta do it.

Ashley said...

I'm confused. When did baking for yourself become unacceptable? I think this practice is 100% acceptable, and it is part of my regular routine!

Esi said...

Baking for yourself is the only way to bake...even though I pretty much just bake for my coworkers. Glad these were better the next day.

Gastronomer said...

Please put my name near the top of the list for any ugly baked goods that you bake in the future. The Skor cake is nearly finished. Mmm!

Diana said...

Pblanton - Haha, yes, yay for cookies and baking and food! The butter I can do without unless absolutely necessary! ;)

Salty Lass - You should have seen me on Saturday getting ready for my dinner guests that evening! I was an absolute wreck! I woke up feeling jittery! Too bad I didn't open up the wine until they got there. Could have used it at 9 am!

Jenn - Yes, just say yes to baking for one!

Ashley, Esi - I'm glad we are all in agreement here. :)

Cathy - You got it!

yutjangsah said...

Hangry: i've got a confession to make: I'm a bake for yourself weirdo too. Rarely. But it always involves frozen Tollhouse dough. I don't deserve homemade cookies. I guess I don't dig myself enuf. Giggle giggle. But ur quasis were delish! Put me up there w Cathy on list of donatees!

Hank said...

When are you making non-chocolate cookies? And when do I get to eat them?!