The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is a bold but truthful title. I’ll write that sentence without adding, “I think,” or, “in my opinion,” because of course it’s what I think, and you’re reading my blog, so what other opinion should I endorse? Also, I read this article once about how women tend to write with caveats, making their arguments sound more of opinion than fact and, consequently, weaker. I think that’s interesting, because I definitely find it difficult not to write that way. It only seems fair to underscore that I only write from my own perspective, which is of course limited by my little version of reality that may be missing great bounds of information that would otherwise change my mind. But, maybe this is something that should be understood of everyone? Maybe we should always assume opinion of words, not facts, and cross-check our references until we make up our own minds. But, that’s all neither here-nor-there. The point is, I made some very good cookies for my dad when he came to visit.

To me, these cookies are the best because of their height, fluffy centers, chewy yet soft texture, and chunks of chips and nuts. I don’t like thin cookies nearly as much, and I certainly don’t want overly crunchy ones. It seems everyone agrees that a cookie should have a crisp bite followed by a soft middle, and while I share that belief, I am a big proponent of an overly full, overly soft middle. I want the perfect balance of a crumbling to creamy texture inside. And, mostly, I want my cookie to be really big. I’m pretty done with small cookies. They never achieve as much.

These are a derivation of the classic Tollhouse recipe, because, honestly, those are the ones that have always been best received by my cookie tasters (namely, my brothers, friends, and classmates). There are many articles regarding trials between various cookie “bests,” so, by all means, research your favorite techniques. However, in trying a few myself, most I find to be fairly indiscernibly improved. I employ a few little tricks to my cookies, but in truth, a cookie made is better than a cookie conceived. So if extra time stops you from baking, please just make them in the way you find most approachable.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24-30 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 sticks/ 8 tbsp. butter

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 bag Ghirardelli chocolate chips (or other favorite brand)

1/2 cup pecans and walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 385 degrees.

In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together until paling and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and stir.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Add the dry mixture to the wet batter on a low mix speed. Mix together until the flour is just absorbed into the batter. Add the chips and nuts and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the dough for 30-60 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop the cookies in 2-3 tbsp. mounds, shaped lightly into balls. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and, after 2-3 minutes cooling in the pan, move to a cooling rack.

Enjoy!

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Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday was a nice day. A little chilly, but sunny. I was a little busy, but not too much. But then I came home from some work and errands and decided to make cookies rather than go for the run I need to do this weekend or clean the kitchen that was dirtily taunting me. (Except then I cleaned it while cooking… it was starting at me). I was just overwhelmed by the need to have cookies in the house, ASAP. I have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe that’s kind of a derivation from the classic Tollhouse recipe, and is actually a recipe I found on Food 52. But I wanted to doctor those cookies up a bit, because I had some shredded coconut I wanted to use and also because it sounded delicious. I was actually first interested in trying my hand at macarons before realizing I’d need almond flour. Hence the insight to use some coconut, a macaron classic. The coconut adds a delicious moisture to these cookies, keeping them intensely soft and chewy with nicely light-brown crispy edges. I maybe under-bake by 30 seconds or so as well. Another thing making these cookies awesome (and which makes my chocolate chip cookies better as well) is using chocolate chunks rather than chips. I actually just buy mini chocolate bars (or sticks, really) and dice those into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks before adding to the batter. It adds these delectably noticeable chocolate moments more so than the lost-at-sea chips ever will.

It’s kind of a strange time to be craving cookies. It’s warming up. People are outside, happier. Fresh fruit is finally coming into season. And it’s time to be “toning up for summer” or whatever. I don’t care though. Cookies are good all of the time. And if a craving strikes; go for it.

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Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 16-20 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 stick of softened butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate, diced (or chocolate chips or chunks)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, coconut, baking soda, and salt. Dice the chocolate and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer to combine), cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until lightened and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat into the batter until well-mixed. Add the vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds, until well-combined.

Lower the mixer speed to stir and add in about half of the flour mixture. Mix into the batter until just combined, about 15-30 seconds. Add the chocolate to the remaining flour mixture and toss to combine. Add the chocolate and remaining flour together into the mixer bowl while mixing on low. Stir until the flour is just absorbed into the batter, about 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Stir a few more times with a spoon if there is a bit of dry flour in the bowl.

Use a small ice cream scoop (or fill one only about half-full) to drop cookies onto the parchment paper. Bake at 375 for 9-11 minutes, until lightly-browned at the edges and just cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Then, transfer the cookies to a cooling rack (I just slide the parchment paper over).

They will be droopy and soft until cooled, so you can eat them hot and melty or wait about 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure I know which you’ll do. Just prepare to have some sips of milk on the side.

Store at room temperature in a covered container for 2-3 days. Otherwise, freeze.

Birthday Pancakes

I’m 26 today! It may be windy and cold in Chicago, but the sun is out, and I’m feeling the love from family and friends here in the city and far away on the East coast. Time to celebrate and start the day the best way I know how: with a mountain of fluffy pancakes.

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Birthday Pancakes (Chocolate Chip and Pecan)

Serves 1-2

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tbsp. sugar

3/4 cup milk

1 tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 whisked egg (sorry that’s inconvenient; double the recipe to make it “normal”

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. dark chocolate chunks

1 tbsp. pecans, chopped finely

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, melt the butter. Add half of a whisked egg, 3/4 cup milk, and vanilla. Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour over the dry. Using a whisk or a fork, lightly mix the batter until just combined. A few lumps here and there are fine. Set the batter aside to rest for 5-10 minutes. It’s relatively thick batter; it makes them extra fluffy.

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees. Have canola oil, grapeseed oil, or butter available to lightly grease the pan.

Chop the chocolate and pecans and mix in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pour about a teaspoon of oil or butter onto the griddle and spread with thinly.

Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to pour the pancake batter onto the griddle. Use the bottom of the measuring cup to swirl the batter into a circle (the batter will be thick). I was able to make 4 5-inch pancakes. Sprinkle the chocolate and pecans onto each pancake, and press them lightly into the batter.

Allow the pancakes to cook for about 3 minutes, until the batter is just bubbling (since it’s so thick, it won’t be as obvious as usual, especially with the pecans and chocolate covering the top). Once the underside is done, flip the pancakes and cook another 3 minutes, until golden brown and cooked all the way through.

Top with a pat of butter, some sifted powdered sugar, and, of course, maple syrup. This was incredibly filling, but oh-so-fluffy and delicious. An indulgent breakfast for a newly 26-year-old, starting this year RIGHT.

Trail Mix Baked Oatmeal Squares

Due to my dog’s intense separation anxiety, I get dressed in the dark. I sneakily pack a pre-prepared breakfast in my purse, and I (as silently as possible) grab my lunch from the refrigerator. I throw a bone into his dog bed, put on my coat (but don’t zip it), and grab my shoes (but don’t waste time putting them on). I slip out the door and walk to the elevator, and I finish getting ready to bear the cold. I probably spend 15 minutes in my house once I get up in the morning before I’m out the door, and I hear Oscar ruffle out from under the blankets in about that time, eager to see what’s been going on while he’s been asleep. My point is: I need quick, I need quiet, and I need ready-ahead-of-time breakfasts. I’ve dabbled in all sorts of hand-held breakfasts I can eat while I drive to work (once I’m at work, I’m at work, and I can’t eat). There are a slew of internet references to breakfasts on-the-go, but how many can you eat while you drive? This has been the sticking point. Also,my microwave beeps too loudly, so this breakfast must come at room temperature or directly from the refrigerator. It seems superfluous to toil over breakfast ideas so much (it’s just food), but I go a solid 6 hours until lunch time, and I like to start my day on a healthful track. So I revise my statement: I need quick, I need quiet, I need ready-ahead-of-time, I need hand-held and truly on-the-go, and, very importantly, I need healthy and delicious.

I loved oatmeal as my breakfast of choice back when I luxuriously dawdled over breakfast at home, but it is impossible to eat with a spoon in the car (I tried once- very risky and unstable). I perused the internet for awhile, as I often do, and saw a few recipes for baked oatmeal. This was enlightening! It’s like oatmeal you can hold in your hand! And, just like oatmeal, the varieties are endless. I’ve become incredibly in love with trail mix recently- I think it has something to do with Trader Joe’s extensive and fantastic options- and I realized oatmeal is the perfect medium for incorporating trail mix flavors. Thus, my absolute favorite breakfast was born (excluding the few times I’ve made donuts… those were the best. I’ll have a recipe at some point).  Even if you have time in the morning, these definitely warrant a try. I’d imagine they’re delicious heated warm on a plate with a side of coffee.

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Trail Mix Baked Oatmeal Squares

Serves 4

2 cups old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup mixed nuts (I used peanuts, walnuts, and pecans)

1/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins (or other dried fruit)

2 tbsp. chopped dark chocolate

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

2 tbsp. honey

1 1/2 cup milk

1 egg

2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare an 8×8 square baking dish with a thin coating of oil or non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add honey to the dry mixture and stir until loosely clumped. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and coconut oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix. Allow the mixture to set for 5-10 minutes. Pour the oatmeal mixture into the baking dish and put into the preheated oven. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, until edges are just browning and the oatmeal is firmly set. Allow oatmeal to cool, then serve warm. Alternatively, oatmeal can be cooled entirely and refrigerated, later sliced into squares to serve for the road.

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I usually am so excited for weekend breakfasts, intentionally and lazily preparing and eating pancakes or eggs and toast. But these oatmeal squares give those meals a run for their money, and keep me functioning at work as well.

 

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

It’s the post Merry-Christmas-to-you-! let-down, and I have the method and means to warm everything back up. Your Christmas package this year included vanilla caramel and marshmallows, and, while homemade, they come together better than a Starbucks mocha in a red cup. I’ll include the recipes I used for the caramel and ‘mallows, because they turned out tremendously well, if I do say so myself. But, more importantly, you should ASAP marry those foodstuffs into a mug full of mocha goodness. This could be done with simple hot chocolate, but given the recent days upon days of indulgence, I find a coffee kick to be a good counter to the ensuing, near-constant food coma. Not that we should stop the indulgence, however; we’re nearing the new year when resolutions (and green eating!) can abound. Let’s finish this year strong (it is still winter, after all).

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(You’ll notice there are no marshmallows in this picture. That’s because I sent them all to you, Brian [and other family members, eh hem]).

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

Serves 1 (in a large mug)

1 cup fresh brewed coffee

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim (cream if you’re living big!)

1 tbsp. cocoa powder

2 tsp. sugar or stevia

Smallest pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. water

1 tbsp. homemade vanilla caramel

1-2 homemade vanilla ‘mallows (or more, or store-bought if you’ve eaten the homemade in an indulgent binge)

First, prepare fresh coffee to your liking. Using a Keurig, I brewed 1 cup in a separate mug and set aside. In a separate, heat-safe cup, heat/microwave milk until just before boiling and also set aside. In the mug in which you’ll drink this delicious concoction, mix together the cocoa, sugar (or stevia; I used two packets of Truvia), and the smallest pinch of salt. Add approximately 1 tbsp. water and vanilla extract until a thick paste is formed.* Drizzle the vanilla caramel around your mug, just below the rim, so it drips slowly around all sides and rests above the cocoa paste. Pour in hopefully-still-very-warm coffee and milk and stir. Top with a homemade vanilla ‘mallow and enjoy immensely.

*Alternatively, you could use about half of a hot cocoa packet, if you keep those stocked. I feel the homemade cocoa powder option to be just as satisfying and significantly cheaper.

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Homemade Vanilla Caramel

Based off of this recipe

Makes approximately 4-5 cups of caramel (a large batch for multiple recipients)

4 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. sugar cane syrup*

1 cup water

1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream, organic preferably

2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large (large and deep!) Dutch oven or sauce pan, mix together sugar, sugar cane syrup, and water until all is well distributed. Insert a cooking thermometer and turn the heat to LOW. Heat the sugar mixture until completely dissolved, which, given this large batch, may take quite some time, approximately 20-30 minutes. Trust the process, and don’t give in to turning up the heat. We’re here for quality, not speed.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved, gradually turn up the heat to medium-low. I still err on the low side here, because lower heat just means more time, whereas higher heat may mean unequal cooking and a higher incidence of crystallization. If the boiling syrup deposits some drying crystalized molecules along the side of your pan during cooking, use a wet pastry brush to paint the sides of the pot with water and rehydrate the sugar along the edge. Be careful during this entire cooking time to NOT stir or overly aggravate the pot.

The sugar mixture will gradually approach a deep amber color. The heat rises more quickly as the sugar approaches caramelization, so check the pot and thermometer regularly. Once the cooking thermometer reaches about 330-340 degrees (over 350 the product begins to go south, so I like to stop it a bit early), remove the caramelized sugar from the heat. Pour into the pot 1 quart of heavy cream and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. The cream will rise and bubble violently, but don’t worry, it will calm. Return the cream and caramel to LOW heat, and stir constantly until the caramel has dissolved into the cream and the mixture is smooth and dreamy looking. We’re practically in the waterfall of caramel in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Pour the caramel into receptacles of choice (I obviously chose mason jars), and cool to room temperature, approximately 4 hours. Refrigerate to store.

*I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is so, so delicious. Light corn syrup is an appropriate substitute, albeit less flavorful. Sugar cane syrup/light corn syrup supplement this recipe by providing stability to the sugar molecules formed during the caramelization process. Making caramel can be rather temperamental, quickly resulting in crystallization (read: failure) if the sugars are over worked, dried, budged, unevenly heat, otherwise upset that day, etc. By adding syrup, the sugar molecules are significantly less likely to crystallize during the process (although stirring, shaking, and moving the pot are still strongly discouraged), resulting in a smoother and more successful (and less frustrating) caramel product.

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Homemade Vanilla ‘Mallows

Makes 60-75 marshmallows

For the homemade marshmallows lovingly packed for you, I followed this recipe exactly. I’d report here, but that would be extensive and tiresome, and I truly found this recipe perfect unadjusted in any way. There are many, many recipes for marshmallows of varying flavors, dipped in varying sauces, atop varying hot beverages. Follow them as you’d like; just make sure you enjoy the result.

And just so there’s documentation, I sent along the roasted nuts below to complete your winter package. I’d repost the recipes, but to be honest I sort of winged it in the kitchen as I did not have many of the ingredients used in the recipes I was following. If I recreate at home and perfect these roasted and spiced nuts, I’ll be sure to post.

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Roasted Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts and Smokey Roasted Pecans