Friday, August 22, 2008

Kneading & Needing

See that measuring cup piled with brown sugar? I just wanted to show you that making your own brown sugar produces an end result that is just as fluffy-light and moist as a bag of freshly opened brown sugar bought at the store.

See, I was about to embark on a cookie-making gig and it required half a cup of brown sugar. Oops! I'm out of brown sugar. I had heard you could add molasses to regular granulated sugar as a substitute -- and I do have molasses. Didn't recall measurements so a quickie Google run ensued. There are variations on the measurements but what I used was 2 tablespoons of molasses to 1 cup of granulated sugar.

The source of this particular recipe said to mix with a fork and store extra in a resealable plastic bag. Another source said to just add the molasses to the wet ingredients in the recipe to save the extra mixing. Since you have to pack brown sugar down firm when you measure it, I thought that latter method might not be as accurate so I opted for the mixing. I'm sure a fork -- or even a pastry cutter -- would do the job faster but I put a cup of sugar in a resealable sandwich bag, added the molasses, made sure it was sealed up tight and then just kneaded the bag until the sugar was evenly blended. Next time I'll use the faster method but it was fascinating to watch the sugar slowly transform as I worked the bag.

Here's the irony: this brown sugar "substitute" isn't really a substitute at all. All these years I thought brown sugar was simply sugar that hadn't been refined as much as the white. For certain categories of "natural" sugars, that's true. But the brown sugar we buy in our grocery stores is most likely to be the end result of granulated sugar that has had molasses added back in. Exactly like what I just did with my handy-dandy sandwich bag!

Which means I scratched brown sugar off my grocery list and added molasses. Heck of a deal.

So -- on to the cookie gig. On July 9th, the NY Times printed an article and accompanying recipe about and for chocolate chip cookies. It spread like a happy virus across the food blogosphere so you can't hardly check into a foodie site without seeing mention of these scrumptious goodies. Although I didn't follow their particular recipe, I did pay attention to the "secrets" they revealed in the article, such as a very light sprinkle of coarsely ground sea salt on top of the dough just before baking. Also, although I baked a dozen of the cookies right away, the rest of the dough will be kicking back and relaxing in the refrigerator for a day or two to see if the resulting cookies are indeed as superior as they claim. I figure it can't hurt -- and, for the first time, I don't feel guilty about not baking up the whole batch of dough in one fell swoop. Yay!

The recipe I sort of used is from Smitten Kitchen and she posted some luscious photos, too. I'll copy it here more or less as she laid it out because she's nice enough to provide amounts in grams for those of you across the Pond. You'll want to check it out at her site too, though, because I tweaked it a bit here.

Tweakable Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla (she called for 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (optional -- for moistness)
1 1/4 cup (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt -- or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (130 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped fine

Put rack at upper third level in oven and preheat to 300 fairy height, 150 centipede.

Mix butter and sugars until smooth. I melted the butter instead of cubing it cold like she did. Mix in the egg, vanilla, baking soda and, if using, yogurt. Stir together flour and salt, mix into batter. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. After the little mounds of dough had been placed on the cookie sheet, I put a light sprinkle of coarsely ground sea salt on top of each mound. I have one of those little bottles with its own grinder top that works perfectly for this.

Using a small ice cream scoop or 2 tablespoons, plop mounds of dough on a lightly oiled cookie sheet (or use parchment paper or a silicone mat) and bake for about 15 minutes. Everyone's oven seems to be a bit different so you might want to watch closely toward the end of the baking time. You don't want to cook them too crispy in the oven or they'll get horridly hard on you when they cool. Let them rest for a minute or two on the cookie sheet when you remove it from the oven. Then put them on a rack to cool completely.

I usually do just one pan of cookies at a time, in case I feel the need to tweak the dough for some reason. The first half-dozen cookies were fine but I thought they needed something. Aha! I grabbed 1/2 cup of my beloved dried cranberries, chopped them to little bits and folded them in. Believe me, cranberries share the same "marriage made in heaven" quality with chocolate as raspberries. The second half-dozen cookies were an improvement, with the delightful little flavor bursts from the cranberries.

There may be a bit more tweaking in the future of this batch of dough. I'm wondering about the flour. You know that some days, depending on the humidity, you need more or less flour than what is called for. Also, that 2 tablespoons of yogurt I added may have made the dough a bit looser than it should be. Keeping it in the refrigerator between batches helps but these cookies, though tender crispy outside and soft and chewy inside, tend to spread a bit more than I'm used to. Tomorrow I may add about 1/4 cup more flour. We'll see.

The cookies came out more of a caramel brown than pale golden. That's because I only had 1/2 cup of chocolate chips but I had a cup's worth of a solid semi-sweet chocolate bar I chopped up. The chopping reduced some of the choccy to powder which, of course, went into the dough just like the bigger chunks. And that's how come these cookies have a better tan.

And there you have it -- my Friday session of kneading (the brown sugar) and needing (a choccy fix). Do I know how to head into a weekend or what?


The Old Guy said...

Dee, you may be the Coffee Bean Goddess, but I think your alternate moniker ought to be "The Google Gourmet". Unfortunately, Time Magazine used that back in 2003 when they discovered that people were seriously searching the internet for hints on how to gussy up their gustatorial goodies.

I'd swear that some of us don't even have to cook up the dishes you create in order to taste the end result. I've put on 10 lbs just from reading your blog. Well, that and Jo's cooking. We Thai'ed one on tonight that wasn't just supper: it was super.

Dee said...

Oh, Bill. Thai. I LOVE Thai. I could live on Thai, yes I could.

Maggie said...

All that, sugar and all, is great stuff. Almost as good as my very clean lines. I bet that one was new.....tho I confess to photoshopping the heck out of it. :)

Dee said...

Folks, the "clean lines" she mentions are pictured at her web site (click on Day Tripper in the sidebar) because she's enjoying the wonderful Tall Ships during their visit to the harbor. Oh bliss.

Anonymous said...

Even though I am not a cook of any kind, I love reading your post. Your very versatile with what you don't have and Googling for answers.

mz. em

Fortunate said...

I had no idea that you could substitute for bronw sugar like that. A great tip. Thanks for sharing.


Kate said...

Oh YUM!!!!! I'll be right up for another picnic!

Bonnie said...

I can't believe all the years of buying brown sugar! I have molasses that I was wondering how I could use it. Oh wait, I don't have sugar for me. It is for the hummingbirds. lol

Thanks for sending mojo. How did you know where I was? bg.