Monday, August 31, 2009

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

There is a battle raging in my home. It's not about how high to keep the thermostat, about putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher instead of on the counter, or why socks really do belong in (rather than on top of, or next to) the hamper. No, this is a battle of epic proportions. Cookies: Cakey or Chewy? Should they be soft and fluffy like muffins, or should they be dense and crisp, stick-to-your-teeth sweet treats? The recipe I am posting today is the latter, and Dan loves them. I'll admit, they are excellent dipped in a glass of cold milk--they don't dissolve or fall apart, and the milk gives them just the right amount of chewy softness. They are essentially dippable brownies, in cookie form.

What causes these textural differences? First, baking times: Overbaking will always cause cookies to be crisper. This is not necessarily a problem--you can use the timer to your advantage. If you want softer cookies, pull them out a minute or two before they are done. Do the opposite if you prefer a crunchier cookie. Granted, the texture also depends on the recipe, but the amount of time it spends in the oven is one of the simplest ways to determine the consistency of any cookie. However, there are ways to tell the texture of the cookie simply by reading the recipe.

For example, the amount of dry ingredients to wet should give you an idea of the density of the cookie. If the recipe has more dry than wet, it will be fluffier. More wet than dry (like this one, which only has two tablespoons of flour!) and it will be denser.

Look also at the technique: Do you cream butter and sugar, then add in dry ingredients? It will be fluffy, as this is the method most cakes use. Is everything beaten with a mixer or by hand? Hand mixing tends to be gentler, yielding a softer cookie, as there is less chance for overmixing. (This is not necessarily true if one of the primary leaveners is egg whites that must have air whipped into them, like chiffon cake. However, since you then fold egg whites into the batter, the hand mixing rule holds somewhat.) Do you chill the batter before shaping the cookies? This will almost always yield a fluffier cookie, as the butter chills and hardens and is less likely to spread and flatten. Again, you can use this to your advantage. If someone in your house, say, your husband, likes flatter cookies, and the recipe calls for you to chill the dough, just skip that step. At least for half the dough; chill your half while his is baking--best of both worlds, the truce version of home baking.

Give these cookies a try, regardless of preference. If you have a sweet tooth at all, these will hit the spot. Because it has toffee chips, it also has that sweet-salty thing going on. This is a small batch recipe, so it only makes 6-8 cookies--feel free to double or triple it if you need more. It takes no time--I whipped these up before dinner, as I was craving chocolate but didn't want a house full of it.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies
(adapted from Small-Batch Baking)

4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tsp. (about 2/3 of a tablespoon) unsalted butter
2 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 plus 3 T sugar
1 lg. egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup toffee bits
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (or chopped up Heath bars, or chocolate-covered toffee bits)
Parchment paper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
2. Combine chocolate and butter in small microwave-safe bowl. Melt, stirring every 30 seconds (should take 1 minute total). Let cool slightly.
3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl.
4. Place sugar and egg in medium mixing bowl. Beat on high with a hand mixer until pale and think, about two minutes. (It will seem blended immediately, but keep going--this is where the texture comes from.)
5. Add chocolate and vanilla; beat well. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in toffee bits and chocolate chips. Cover and chill for 20 minutes.
6. Dish out 6-8 cookies using a 1/8 cup measuring cup or disher. Flatten to 3/4" with a spatula sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until tops begin to crack but are still soft to the touch.
7. Slide parchment onto a cooling rack and allow cookies to cool. Serve with a glass of cold milk.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chipotle-Peanut Brittle

I've been enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon, windows open, uncharacteristic August breeze rustling the papers that I should be cleaning off of my desk, looking through old food magazines while listening to Prairie Home Companion on NPR. Could I be any more content? I suppose I could add a glass of wine, but I also have a whole night to myself to watch chick flicks, drink wine, and eat ice cream. I must pace myself. I'll stick with my iced green tea with honey--a recent successful kitchen experiment.

In one of these magazines, I ran across this recipe for Chipotle Peanut Brittle. I made this a few months ago and it was addictive. I don't know why I never wrote a post about it, but I mean to remedy that right now. If you like the southern classic combo of sweet and salty, with a modern and unusual smoky-spicy twist, you will love these. Take these to any party, cookout, potluck, etc., and I promise you, you will be the most popular person there. Everyone will think you are a genius--even if they say they don't like peanuts, peanut brittle, or chipotle. Put them together, and it's magic. When the baking soda hits the pan and the whole mixture bubbles up like a cauldron--that's when it happens. The magic.

So give these a try--I hope they'll quickly become a kitchen classic for you. You do need a candy thermometer, but these are inexpensive and you can pick one up the baking aisle of the grocery store.

Chipotle Peanut Brittle
(adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009)

Cooking spray
Parchment paper (usually found with the foil in the grocery store, or it might be in the baking section)
1 cup sugar
1 cup light-colored corn syrup
1 T butter
1 (11.5 oz.) container salted, dry-roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. chipotle chile powder

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; spray well with cooking spray. Set aside anther sheet of equal size, sprayed with cooking spray.
2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook 18 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 275 F, stirring frequently. Add peanuts; cook 3 minutes or until the thermometer registers 295 F, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from heat; add baking soda and chile powder. The mixture will bubble up and become opaque.
4. Working quickly, pour the mixture onto the sprayed parchment and cover with the second sheet, sprayed side on the brittle. Using a rolling pin, quickly roll mixture to an even thickness. (After I rolled it, I also smoothed it by hand with an oven mitt on.) Remove top parchment sheet.
5. Cool completely. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Yields approximately 28 servings (1 oz. each).