Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve never met anyone – child or adult – who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies.  They are a perennial favourite and a staple in many cookie jars.  There are any number of recipes for these traditional cookies and I’ve tried a good many of them.  Some I’ve been satisfied with and some, well, not so much.  You see, I like a nice rich flavour in a soft chewy cookie, not the hard, crumby variety.

I am often asked if I have a recipe for a “soft” chocolate chip cookie.  Yes, I do….and so does every other baker out there – they just may not know they do.  Here’s the key:  It’s all in the baking time.  Slightly underbake the cookies and do not bake them any longer than the recipe directs.  Even if they don’t look completely done, take them out of the oven!  If the recipe says to bake the cookies 8-10 minutes (assuming your oven is accurate on temperature), look at them at the 8-minute point and, if they’re not too moist looking, remove them from the oven (it’s okay if they are somewhat moist looking on the top; if they are showing no moisture, then you are likely to end up with a hard, dry cookie).  At the very least, do not leave them a minute past the 10 minutes or whatever baking time the recipe directs.  Leave them on the baking sheet for just a couple of minutes after they come out of the oven – this will help them set.  Leaving them longer than that will cause them to continue to bake from the baking sheet’s heat and result in a hard, over-baked cookie.  Make sure you use a large enough thin, flat spatula to move the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to allow them to cool completely.  This will ensure they don’t crack or break in the moving process from sheet to rack.  This is important because slightly underbaking the cookies means they are more fragile and susceptible to breakage.

I came across this recipe for these Chocolate Chip Cookies by happenstance through an internet search.  That search led me to this recipe that was published in the New York Times on July 9, 2008.   What I particularly liked about this recipe is that the measurements of ingredients are given both in cups as well as in ounces.  I actually prefer the ounce measurements because they are more accurate – when, for example, a recipe calls for a “packed” or “well-packed” cup of brown sugar, it’s difficult to know just exactly how much brown sugar to pack in that cup and what the fine-line difference is between “packed” and “well-packed”.  If the recipe indicates that 10 ounces of brown sugar is required, it’s a more exact measurement.  I also found the directions simple and easy to follow.

Measuring Flour

I also liked that the recipe specified which attachment to fit the mixer with (i.e., paddle versus wire whisk attachment).  The sign of a good recipe is one which gives full and adequate directions and I found this one did just that.

This was the first time I had ever made cookies using cake flour and bread flour and must admit that was an intriguing factor to trying this recipe – I wanted to see what texture of cookie these flours rendered.  I was not disappointed!

As with all recipes, the first time I use it, I try to follow the recipe exactly – both in ingredients and in directions.  Then, if I like it sufficiently well, I may (if I feel they are needed) make some modifications to the recipe the next time I make it.  However, I changed three things about this recipe the first time I made it:  1) the recipe called for a 3.5 oz mound of dough per cookie which made a 5-inch baked cookie.  This is way too large a cookie for my liking so I used 7/8 oz of dough which I found generated about a 2½-inch cookie (you wouldn’t think that only 7/8 oz of dough would yield a 2½-inch cookie based on the recipe calling for 3.5 oz for a 5-inch cookie but this is what mine turned out to be).  While I usually “eyeball” the amount of dough per cookie using a couple of teaspoons to drop the dough onto the cookie sheet, I did use my cookie scoop for this recipe because I wanted consistently-sized and similarly shaped cookies that would all bake at the same rate.  I weighed one of the scooped dough mounds and found that it weighed 7/8 oz.  I adjusted the baking time to account for the smaller cookie and baked the cookies for 11-12 minutes and let them cool on the baking sheet for just 2 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling;  2) I didn’t have bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves and I don’t actually care for bittersweet chocolate so I used 1¼ pounds of milk chocolate chips and they were just fine for my liking, although I think I could have done with a slightly lesser amount than what the recipe called for; and 3) the recipe called for sea salt to be sprinkled lightly on top of each cookie.  I omitted this because I try to cut back on salt wherever possible.

Making the Cookie Dough

A few tips I would offer for any cookie recipe, not just this one, would be these:

1)  Make sure the butter is at room temperature.  Don’t soften the butter in the microwave as at least part of it will likely liquefy and that will affect the lightness of the butter/sugar beaten mixture.

Cookies Ready for the Oven

2) If the recipe calls for a certain kind of flour (e.g., bread or cake), don’t substitute with all-purpose flour because they have different textures and consistencies and they do not measure out exactly the same, cup-for-cup; therefore, the resulting texture and consistency of the cookies will not be as the recipe intended.

3) Always use cool cookie sheets and don’t place the next batch onto a cookie sheet that has just come out of the oven.  Doing this will cause the cookies to start baking before they are in the oven and will likely result in a harder cookie because the bottom has already started to bake before the cookie dough reaches the oven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh From the Oven

 

 

 

This recipe is not suitable for someone who has an instant craving for homemade chocolate chip cookies because the dough must rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours (and up to 36).  I read several online reviews of this recipe and discovered that other bakers had tried the recipe both ways — by baking the cookies instantly as soon as the dough was mixed and by letting the dough rest for the full 24-hour chill period.  The consensus appeared to be that baking them without first chilling them meant the cookies simply were not as good.  A warning, though, the dough will be very hard and somewhat difficult to work with when it comes out of the fridge after its 24-hour rest period; therefore, you will need to use a bit of muscle to handle the dough and be sure to use a strong spoon or cookie scoop that will not bend or break (yes, this dough is very hard).  The purpose of letting the dough “rest” is to allow the liquid ingredients (in this case, eggs) to get fully incorporated and absorbed into the other ingredients and eggs tend to take longer to do this than, say, would water if that was the liquid in a recipe.  The “resting” period makes for a drier and firmer cookie dough and this controls its spread while baking so you don’t end up with a really flat cookie.

Cookies Cooling on the Racks

I thought I had found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe a number of years ago but, I must say, this one gives it a run for the money and is now my new favourite!  The texture, taste, and appearance of these cookies make them a “10” in my books!  An informal testing this morning amongst my co-workers readily garnered the thumbs-up rating on these cookies.  You know they must be good when they were eaten at 8:00am since chocolate chip cookies are not a traditional breakfast food!

This is not a cheap recipe to make as it calls for unsalted butter, cake flour, bread flour, a substantial amount of both brown and granulated sugars, and 1¼ pounds of chocolate.  However, if you are looking for the consummate, decadent chocolate chip cookie, I think this one would fill that bill nicely!

Cookies and Tea

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

It’s “Islander Day” on Prince Edward Island today.  What better way to celebrate on this cold winter day than with fresh homemade bread and the heavenly scent of baking bread wafting through the house.  Today’s offering is a healthy choice of Oat Bran and Flaxseed.  This iteration is an artisan or rustic style bread, characterized by using ingredients like oat and whole wheat flours and by “scoring” decorative cross-cuts on the top of the loaf.  This bread is good with hearty homemade soups and for bistro-style healthy sandwiches.

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

By Barbara99 Published: February 20, 2012

  • Yield: 1 loaf
  • Prep: 2 hrs 45 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Ready In: 3 hrs 5 mins

An artisan-style wholesome bread that compliments homemade soups or makes a hearty sandwich.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Sprinkle dry yeast over water and let stand apx. 10 minutes until yeast has risen and is foamy.
  3. In large bowl, combine honey and 1 cup warm water. Stir together.
  4. Add yeast to honey and water mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Add oat bran, oat flour, whole wheat flour, ground flaxseed, salt, and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Mix until flour is combined and dough sticks together. Gradually add remaining flour.
  6. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a large ball.
  7. Place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Place in warm, draft-free place and let rise for apx. 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  8. Punch down risen dough. Shape into a large ball. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for apx. 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. If desired, using a sharp knife, make a few decorative score lines on top of the loaf. Bake bread for 20-25 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
  10. Remove to wire wrack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

WordPress Recipe Plugin by ReciPress

Champagne Scallops & Asparagus

Champagne Scallops & Asparagus

One of the best things about living on Canada’s East Coast is the abundance of fresh seafood we have available.  This winter, the sea scallops have been particularly good, so good in fact that a few weeks ago I bought a large supply and froze them in portion sizes.  Scallops freeze well and do not lose their freshness, taste, or texture when frozen.

Most often, my favorite way to cook scallops is to simply pan-sear them in a bit of butter.  I like the uninhibited natural taste of scallops.  Sometimes, however, I like to experiment a little and go outside my comfort zone with the cooking.  A lot of times, I take a scan of the refrigerator to see what’s there and then I go in search of a recipe to use up those ingredients.  Yesterday, I discovered some asparagus and baby carrots and I noticed some champagne left over from Valentine’s Day so I went on the hunt for a recipe that would combine these ingredients and use scallops.  I found a recipe that is called Champagne  Scallops & Asparagus.

This recipe is found on the website “My Recipes” and is attributed to “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” spread.  I found the recipe simple to prepare and not lengthy (scallops don’t take very long to cook).  The ingredients did not diminish the taste of the scallops which so often happens to a primary ingredient when so many other ingredients are added to the dish.  This is a recipe I would make again.

“Sweetheart and Roses” Valentine Tea

So, it’s Valentine’s Day – the day of all things sweet.  This year, I decided to host an afternoon tea to commemorate the special day.  As I soon discovered after just a wee bit of research, there is more than one kind of afternoon tea.  There are Cream Teas where tea, scones, jam, and cream are served.  There are Light Teas where you are likely to find sweets served along with tea and scones.  Then, there are Savory Teas where you might find such tasty temptations as tiny sandwiches (crusts removed, of course), small quiches, or appetizers on the menu….and you get the idea.  Teas can be relatively simplistic or they can be lavishly elaborate.

To my knowledge, on PEI in winter, we don’t have any hotels or restaurants that offer a traditional full-scale formal afternoon tea.  In the summer season, the Dalvay-By-The-Sea Hotel on PEI’s North Shore, Mrs. Profitt’s Tea Room in the Orient Hotel in Victoria-By-The-Sea on the Island’s South Shore, and the Blue Winds Tea Room in Clinton, near New London, offer tea service.  I’m not sure why this niche has largely escaped the Island but, from my afternoon tea experiences elsewhere while travelling – most notably at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, at different hotels in London, England, and on several cruise ships, it’s a very charming and relaxing way to while away an afternoon.

For my “Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”, I chose a pink theme (still a little tired of all the red from Christmas!) and I sort of crossed a Light Tea with a Savory Tea.  The appointed hour was 4:30pm.

Valentine’s Afternoon Tea

On the Menu:  Currant scones and tea biscuits with raspberry jam, small quiches followed by a selection of dainty sweets that included French macaroons, melting moments, shortbread, squares, decorated sugar cookies, and Linzer cookies.  For dessert, I served a vanilla layer cake covered in buttercream icing swirled in a rose design.  For my tea selection, I chose Stash English Breakfast.  While that may sound odd to have a “breakfast” tea in the afternoon, it is my favourite kind of tea so that’s what I went with.  I set the table with a white Irish linen tablecloth and my finest China (including lots of tiered and pedestal plates) and we were off to enjoy our Valentine’s Day Afternoon Tea.

“Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”

Valentine’s Day is all about spending time with the people who mean the most to you.  It’s less important the big bouquets of red roses, the Valentine-themed boxes of chocolates, or teddy bears carrying hearts or any of a myriad of other commercial and material gifts than it is spending time together.  So, whatever your Valentine’s Day carries for you, I wish you the time well spent and enjoyed with your favourite people.  Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Afternoon Tea on a Cold Winter Day

There is just something especially comforting about a warm cup of tea accompanied by fresh currant scones straight out of the oven.  And, of course, it’s made all the better when the tea is served in a china cup and saucer!  Is there anything more relaxing after a busy day than to sit down late in the afternoon and recharge the batteries while enjoying a cup of tea in front of the fireplace!

Afternoon Tea with Currant Scones

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

I have discovered a real nifty little gadget to add to my collection.  It’s called the “Last Drop Spatula/Scraper”.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

 

This long, slender, tiny spatula has two sizes of small silicone heads that allow you to reach to the bottom of narrow-necked bottles and containers such as mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, barbeque sauce, etc.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

 

 

 

 

It used to be so frustrating trying to get to the bottom of these jars that I often ended up throwing out product.  I was so impressed with the gadget that I bought a second one today at The Kitchen Store in the Confederation Court Mall in Charlottetown, PEI, to use specifically for body lotion jars.  For only $3.50, this is a dandy little tool.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce

It’s a cold day (-12C) in Prince Edward Island today.  The après-Christmas period always leaves me still craving comfort foods that have spices.

One of my favorite wintertime desserts is Sticky Date Pudding, the recipe for which, locally, is often associated with the prestigious Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel located just inside the National Park in Dalvay, on Prince Edward Island’s North Shore.

 

Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel, Dalvay, Prince Edward Island

The iconic Dalvay estate was built as a private summer seaside residence in 1895 for Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman and one-time president of the Standard Oil Company.  The estate was reportedly named after MacDonald’s boyhood home in Scotland.  Dalvay was later sold to the government and private entrepreneurs now operate the hotel and restaurant seasonally.  It has been operated as a hotel since 1959.

The exterior of this hotel was also portrayed as the “White Sands Hotel” in the famous  “Road to Avonlea” TV series a number of years ago.  In the summer of 2011, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel grounds were the setting for a large event during the visit of Prince William and Catherine Middleton to PEI.

Those who have dined at the hotel’s restaurant will, no doubt, know about the Dalvay’s signature dessert – Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce.  There are many recipes to be found, each claiming to be the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Sticky Date Pudding recipe.  The one I use is the one that the hotel provided to our local CBC supper hour news show on PEI —  “Compass” —  in their “Summer Eats – Signature Dishes” segment in August 2006

Now, Dalvay did not invent the pudding.  Rather, it is believed that its origins can be traced back to England somewhere around the early 1900s when, reportedly, a landlady of a local inn invented it for sale in her pub.  Regardless the inventor I, for one, am truly grateful for this cozy comfort food.  I don’t know why but I always tend to associate this dessert as a wintertime food; however, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel only operates during the summer season so that’s when it is served there.  The moral of the story is that Sticky Date Pudding is good any time of the year!

The interesting thing about Sticky Date Pudding is that its ingredients are simple and basic and don’t take any hard-to-find or expensive ingredients or those that most of us cooks would be unlikely to have as staples in our cupboards.  As its name suggests, dates are the primary ingredient in the pudding.  The only spice on the ingredient list is ground ginger and you can alter the amount to suit your own personal taste.  I don’t use a full tablespoon of ginger, as the recipe calls for, when I make the pudding.   It’s an easy dessert to make and the method of preparation is not difficult.

What keeps this pudding nice and moist is that it is baked in a hot water bath in the oven.  The warmth and constant steady heat of the hot water against the baking pan containing the ingredients acts as an insulator for the pudding and prevents it from baking too quickly and drying out, cracking on the top, or burning on the bottom.  Combined with the steam generated in the oven from the water, this provides just the right environment for the pudding to bake nicely and evenly.

Sticky Date Pudding Batter

 

While the recipe calls for the pudding to be baked in one pan, I often divide the batter into small ramekins and place them in a pan of hot water for baking.  Puddings made in the small round dishes look especially nice for presentation when turned out onto a dessert plate and drizzled with the Toffee Sauce.

Baked Sticky Date Pudding

 

 

 

 

 

Serve the pudding warm and, if you wish, add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of your favourite vanilla ice cream.  This pudding freezes well and is a staple in my freezer every winter.  To reheat, I simply thaw the pudding and heat for a few seconds in the microwave and make a batch of the Toffee Sauce.  Enjoy!

Sticky Date Pudding Served with Toffee Sauce