Monday, May 13, 2013


Ask me, at any given moment, what I want to eat and there's an excellent chance I'll say bread. I love bread. Were I forced to give up every other food in the world save one, that one would be bread. Bread is also somewhat of a nemesis. I believe that the standard serving size of bread is one loaf. I believe bread is a meal. I believe bread is an inalienable right. These beliefs are the enemy of a trim waistline and a diet sufficient in nutrients.

So bread and I have lurid affairs. We meet secretly and occasionally. We are passionate in our time together knowing that it can't last. Often I don't even dress bread up with toppings but will devour it unadorned. When we are apart, I am mightily tempted by bread, even mediocre bread, but I stay my hand knowing that bread and I will be together again soon. I play favorites with bread and am, while polyamorous, discerning.

I have made a bread from time to time, but given my propensity for entire-loaf-consumption, don't make a habit of it. Yet even the best of intentions get tested. My mother wanted a baguette pan for mother's day and it seemed silly to just buy one while Amazon was already delivering to my house. I've never made a baguette, so the prospect was interesting. I do like eating baguettes...

I was all set to make a plain white version when the same bad influence mother pointed me to the 20% wheat version profiled in The New York Times Magazine earlier this year. Since I happened to have wheat flour in the house, I figured what the hell. The recipe couldn't have been simpler and the dough quickly took shape. A half hour or so in the oven nestled soundly in the baguette pan and there were three tiny loaves ready for the sharp-toothed embrace of my mouth.

The verdict? For a loaf I whipped up in a minute in my house with a conventional oven? Pretty good. But there is much room for improvement. I'll start with the flavor. When I have a wheat bread, I enjoy a little something extra: malt, honey, molasses, something to highlight the wheatiness. Since this recipe had all of 4 ingredients (5 if you count water), this extra oomph was absent. My next iteration will likely try adding one of the above. Fearing overcooking, I likely took this out of the oven 4 or so minutes too soon. The bottom crust is perfect, the top crust a little too pliable. This bread isn't quite white and isn't quite wheat and I think I'd prefer one or the other. I think if one made this recipe with 5% wheat flour instead of 20%, the result would be a nice, slightly complex white. I'm also debating beginning my own sourdough starter. These are not good thoughts as they imply more bread.

Like any good affair, though, the key is to not make mistakes that could lead to discovery - where discovery in this case is 15 pounds of additional stomach attributable solely to bread. If bread and I are to continue our assignations, we must moderate. This means that either a lot of leftover bread is headed to the freezer or everyone in my neighborhood is about to find homemade bread bundles on their doorsteps.

Not-Quite-Whole-Grain Baguettes from Mark Bittman, New York Times

100g whole-wheat flour
400g all-purpose flour
10g salt
6 instant yeast

Add the above to a food processor and turn on - slowly add up to 1.5 cups of water until the dough comes away from the sides (and looks like dough), then keep the machine running another 30 or so seconds.

Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap while it rises over the next 3 hours (the colder your room, the longer you may need - mine rose over 4 hours).

Divide the dough into thirds and shape into rough logs, then cover your logs with a towel for 20 minutes (very lightly flour your work surface if needed).

Roll the dough into more baguette-shaped configurations and put them in your baguette pan and let sit for a half hour. Use this time to preheat your oven to 465.

Slash the tops of the loaves (next time I will do one long cut down the middle as opposed to many short ones for aesthetics) and bake until a thermometer inserted in the loaves reads 210. Cool on a rack (but not for too long since you know you want to break off a warm piece and start eating).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Chocolate Chocolate Rebirth

I think it's been a year, or thereabouts. As I've told my in-person readers, there got to be a point where I didn't know how much more the limited public could stomach "horrible metro north commuters and their horribleness," and since I don't, as a rule, write about work or my marriage, there wasn't much else going on. After nearly four years, the suburbs are home, not some bizarro world I've been transplanted to. Do I still have tons to gripe about in this hellscape of no pork buns? Surely, but if it ever was interesting, it certainly isn't any more.

But I do DO things. Mundane things to be sure, but things nonetheless. And since I am loathe to introduce an entirely new address to the online ecosystem, I'm going to use my existing real estate for things.

Today's thing: What Is The Point Of Pinterest If I Don't Use My Pins?

I pin. Not as widely as some, and along very narrow points of interest, but I pin and I'm not ashamed to say I like it. Curious? Partially curious? Pins. As you will see the main focal points are Things I Would Like To Wear and Things I Would Like To Eat. I pin actual things that I might actually want in my actual life. Sorry if you clicked the link to discover what inspirational quotations I enjoy (hint: none). But I also have a certain fondness for order. It's why I started subcategorizing my pins. Things I Would Like To Wear became Things I'm Still Waiting For To Go On Sale, Things I Bought, Things I Can No Longer Buy But Might Like To Reference At A Later Date. Things I Would Like To Eat became Things I Have Eaten And Liked, Things I Have Tried And Not Liked Well Enough, and Things I Am Waiting To Eat. I like a good taxonomy. But for the lists to remain relevant, I need to try more things and re-categorize them, otherwise my useful tool becomes massively non-useful for me.

It is with this noble cause that I bring you Double Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I am a very very messy chef, but in honor of this rebirth, I cleaned my counter and my beloved tangerine Kitchenaid stand mixer. I am also actively wiping up my messes as I go along. And though my kitchen is blessed with some of the worst lighting AND some of the ugliest and lowest cabinets imaginable, I am also taking photos. If you're going to be following along at home, I should mention a couple things about my "Cooking Philosophy:"

1. All measurements for spices and herbs in recipes are woefully inadequate. I dump the required spices into the cooking vessel until it "looks like enough." For the purposes of recipe transcribing, however, I will use a 3-4x estimate over what the recipe originally called for.

2. In addition to not measuring spices, I also don't measure salt. Some things just need a good eyeball and salt is one of them. I generally adhere closely to the recipe, it's just I will really never ever get out my 1/8 teaspoon for salt.

3. I like metric and you should too. I'm not going to be a bitch about it and convert imperial measurements to metric ones where the original recipe was in imperial, but I'm also not going to convert the other way either. Buy a kitchen scale and embrace grams - you will totally thank me. In fact, stop reading, go buy this kitchen scale. It's 25 bucks, comes in fun colors (mine is obviously orange), and lasts forever.

4. Kind of related to #3 and about that old canard regarding baking and measurements and ANY SLIGHT DEVIATION WILL IRREPARABLY DAMAGE YOUR CONCOCTION. This is both true and misleading. Yes, if something calls for a teaspoon of baking powder and you put in a tablespoon, you're hosed. If I'm weighing out a liquid and I get 5 grams more than I should, not a tragedy in any way. What is frequently more important is temperature and humidity. Don't try to leaven things when it's raining outside. Your kitchen isn't humidity controlled, your bakery's likely is.

Ok, let's go.

Ever so slightly adapted from Annie Eats.

2 sticks of butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder - I use Valrhona and it is worth every extra penny it costs. Quite honestly, if you're about to pull the tin of Hershey's out of the cupboard, don't bother making this recipe.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
salt (I used in the general neighborhood of 1 tsp.)
1 12 oz. bag chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

Preheat your oven to 350 and get your cookie sheets out. I use half-sheet pans and Silpats and love this combo, use what you've got.
Cream butter and sugar together until very smooth. You'll learn to eyeball this, right now, just put it in the mixer, walk away for approximately one segment on The Daily Show, come back. Scrape bowl.
Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined - about a minute per egg. Scrape bowl.
Turn mixer down to low unless you like getting a face full of cocoa powder and VERY SLOWLY add the cocoa powder. Once it no longer looks volatile, you can turn the mixer back up. Scrape bowl.
But then turn it down again because you're going to add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Again, please do this in batches and slowly so that your mixer doesn't attack you with dry ingredients.
Turn the mixer back up briefly to really incorporate the rest of the dry ingredients. Scrape bowl.
Add chocolate chips, mix briefly, turn mixer off. If large clumps of chocolate chips exist in your batter, disperse them with a spatula.

The original recipe calls for monster cookies, but I'm not a fan. Not only do I dislike huge cookies for vanity reasons (as in huge cookies don't look good in form fitting dresses), but I like being able to have small bites. Also, since our household is intolerant of things like 4 dozen cookies lying about for nights of insomnia and bad sci fi movies, I will make a small batch of cookies from my batter and then freeze the rest of the dough. This is genius because the next time you want a cookie, you just go to your freezer, grab your cookie log, and cut ONE cookie from it and bake it. You get a fresh cookie and your rear end gets a reprieve. I think cookies of the chocolate chip milieu don't need to be uniformly shaped, so I put my batter briefly in the fridge to firm up a little, and then used my trusty soup spoon to measure out one cookie sheet's worth of cookies (in this case 10). My baking time for these was 16 minutes, but since all ovens are different, start checking yours at 12 minutes just in case. Now a nifty trick I learned from my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe which is in Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home is that if you want moist cookies, don't underbake them. Instead, spritz the cookies with water before baking them. This gives you a nice crisp outside and a nice moist inside - just how I like my cookies.

Oh, and for those keeping score. Number of chocolate chips spilled on the floor - 9. Amount of raw batter consumed - about 3 tbsp. Amount of flour on clothing - 3 handprints.

The verdict: Ok, I think we all can agree that this batter would benefit from being rolled in balls then flattened on the cookie sheet prior to baking, cause these aren't the most attractive of cookies. Due to the addition of the baking powder, these rise more than my standard chocolate chips and are cakier. And I think that's where the problem lies: I don't really want my cookies to be cakey (unless they're rainbow cookies with which I have an unhealthy relationship). Of course, now I have a log of cookies I'm not crazy about which means some lucky person will get gifted them and I might just experiment with dumping cocoa powder into my preferred chocolate chip cookie recipe.