Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Baking Tips - Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was dating my husband, one million years ago, every single time we went to his mother’s house there were homemade chocolate chip cookies. I don’t recall anyone ever making homemade cookies at my house (okay - maybe it happened once but I must have been outside at the time.) So a fresh batch seemed like a miraculous thing. And to have them just lying around like it was no big thing! Homemade cookies!
I have known my mother-in-law 32 plus years. She has never failed to have Toll House in the house. We would walk in for a family dinner or dropping off our daughters for an evening out and even though we were heading out for dinner my husband and I would begin scouring the pantry and freezer for the cookies. She never failed us. We would munch them on our way out the door to dinner. And when we recently visited St. Louis we left with two large bags of cookies. Most never made it to Ohio, it is a long drive after all.
It seems like a silly thing to blog about – homemade chocolate chip cookies. I am sure everyone has made a batch but since I have had chocolate chip cookies made by an expert and I have to make 60 extra large cookies for a catering event I thought it might be a good way to share some baking tips I have picked up along the way. These tips are not for the accomplished bakers who I am sre know more but for the occassional cookie maker.

Tip #1 - Lay out the ingredients before starting. 4 batches ready to go

Since I was making 4 batches of cookies I decided to get my ducks in a row and lay out all the ingredients by the batch. Baking is precise and not really my strong point. I tend to get distracted by bright shiny objects and then realize I was baking and wonder if the baking soda made it in. Which then requires starring closely at the flour to see if you can see the slight shift in color and texture of baking soda somewhere in the mound…you get my drift. Getting everything ready before you bake helps.
Tip #1 - I tore off 8 sheets of foil and laid out 4 batches of cookie ingredients, putting the eggs and butter with each batch, keeping the baking soda and salt in their own distinct little piles with flour, putting the sugars on their own piece of foil, so I could stand back and see that I had all the ingredients laid out before I began.
Tip #2 - before I measure out the flour, I stick my whisk in the canister and give the flour a good stir. This does the work of a sifter with a lot less time, breaking up all the lumps and settling that happens to flour in a canister.
Crack the egg on a flat surface then break into a ramekin to check for shells before adding to the batter
Tip 3 & 4 - I crack the egg on a flat surface instead of a sharp corner. The egg breaks into larger pieces. I crack it open into a ramekin. I can check for shell fragments before I add the egg to the batter. Chasing that one piece of shell around a mixing bowl is like trying to grab a toddler you just put sun screen on. I cream the sugars, vanilla and eggs in my stand mixer, scraping down the sides at least once. Tip #5 since the flour, baking soda and salt were already laid out on their own piece of foil it is easy to add them to a stand mixer by folding the foil and making it a chute for the ingredients to slide down. There is nothing more obnoxious than trying to add flour from a bowl into a stand bowl. Everything seems to get in the way – the mixer, the bowl, your hands. The foil chute makes it easy and one less bowl to wash. I add it in three batches and mix until the color comes back to the batter before adding the next batch of dry ingredients. Finally I add the chips, in this case Ghirardeli Double Chocolate Chips. They are larger than Toll House and have the great taste of bittersweet which I prefer to semi-sweet.
Tip #6 - Dump the dough onto a clean countertop or cookie sheet to make scooping more effecient
So now the batter is mixed and ready to go. I love Silpat mats and have used them for baking for years. Sheets of parchment paper work great too. Since I had a large batch of batter Tip #6 - I mounded it onto a empty baking sheet. Using a large ice cream scoop, I scooped out the dough, scraping it on the baking sheet so the scoops were consistent in size. I was making large cookies so I only put 8 on a sheet but then put two sheets in the oven at a time.
Tip #7 When baking more than one batch, rotate the trays halfway through to promote even cooking.
Tip #7 - After 7 minutes, I rotated top shelf to bottom shelf, giving each sheet a 180 turn as well. It keeps the cookies away from hot spots and they bake a little more evenly. If I only had one sheet pan at a time, I might still rotate 180 half way through, depending on the oven and the consistency of the heat.
Tip # 8 cool two minutes on the cookie sheet before you put them on a wire rack to finish cooling.
Thanks Ann for all the cookies through the years. They always taste better when you make them.