Ohh India. Sometimes I feel like I can hear you giggling every time I think about baking something.
Growing up my sisters and I always brown bagged lunch to school. Back then I was sure it was because my mother wanted to torture us and make us stand out from the crowd with sandwiches made of whole wheat bread and aloo tikkis or tuna kababs. I remember being so jealous of all the kids that got to have school lunches. Delicacies like frozen pizza, mystery meat burgers with fries, and a baked pasta sort of dish with what I think was some sort of cheese caked on top. The only thing that salvaged those lunches were surprise treats – usually a bag of chips or (more often) apple slices. I’d try to trade up for something that involved chocolate like Kit Kat or peanut butter cups or (even better) cookies. And then, sometimes, the heavens would open and I’d find a baggie with two or three chocolate chip cookies of my own. Those were the best days. I’d savor the crispy Chips Ahoy and think, “This is the best thing in the whole world!”
Years have passed; I’ve tried everything from Chips Ahoy, to tubes of pre-made cookie dough, to mixing a batch from scratch and I have to say, chocolate chip cookies still make me happy like nothing else can. Especially when they are freshly baked coming out of the oven. I can barely stop myself from “taste testing” that first one while letting the others cool on the wire rack. Now, I appreciate all chocolate chip cookies, but I do have a favorite type. Something with crispy edges, a soft but not doughy center, not too thick and not too thin, and just the right amount of chocolate chunks to cookie dough ratio. May sound like a tall order, but I’ve found my local favorites that get it right most of the time. First is Pret a Manger since it’s close to work, the cookies are warm, and I can usually grab a sandwich so I’m not having just cookies for lunch (most of the time). Second choice are the cookies sold on the Sweetery NYC truck which used to stop off at Midtown. Oh and their red velvet cupcakes are amazing too!
But here’s the thing. Lucknow, India doesn’t exactly have a Pret a Manger or food trucks. Well none with chocolate chip cookies that is. And though it’s easy enough to get chaat, or parathas, or kababs on any street corner, cookies are hard to come by. Especially fresh baked ones. So what’s a girl to do but bake a batch? Sounds simple enough right? Yea. This is where India straight up laughed her little tukhus off.
Remember in my last post when I said our oven is (how do I put this?) “special”? Well I never got to explain what this meant exactly. When you think of most ovens, they have knobs to turn on the stovetop and little digital buttons to set things like temperature and a timer, right? Our oven… doesn’t quite have all those options. We’ve got three dials for the stove, and two slots for the oven that are empty. So how do you set the temperature Aaisha? Glad you asked! Hah, I guess. Ok it got a little more scientific than that. I unscrew the knobs for one of the stove tops and plug it in for the oven to turn it on and adjust the flame for the oven. But here’s the thing, the dial that I’m using doesn’t have any sort of numbering system so even though I can turn it on, I have no idea what temperature I’m at. So out comes a manual oven thermometer and me spending an hour slowly turning the dial in increments and checking the temperature until I had a consistent 350 degrees. I’ve done this a few more times so now I have a basic idea of where I turn the dial to for 375 degrees and 400. Yeah Aaisha! Yeah science! (Breaking Bad reference) As for the timer, well that’s what cell phone alarms are for.
But back to the recipe! I’ve been meaning to try out a few different recipes but wanted something simple. Not sure what my access is to stuff like bread flour, so I needed a recipe that would make due with the basics like all purpose flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs. Oh and chocolate. Of course. Basically all the stuff I had brought over with me in my suitcases. One that stood out is the Cooks Illustrated / Americas Test Kitchen “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe. The only thing I needed was brown sugar! How hard could that be?
By this point India is rolling around laughing hysterically. I’m glad I amuse you so. Humph. Trusty language skills in hand, I set out to the market for either molasses or proper brown sugar. The thing is, they do have something labeled as “brown sugar” here in India. It just happens to be completely different than what I’m used to. Here it’s more like raw or mineral sugar – dry crystal form that have a brownish hue. I did end up finding packaged brown sugar, but when I got home and opened it up, it was a not quite what I was expecting. It looked more like the raw sugar coated in honey. Normally I would have just given up, but I was craving cookies so bad that I just barrelled through.
And man oh man am I glad I did! If nothing else, I got to brown butter. I didn’t know butter could smell this good! It took on this nutty / caramelly / amazing scent that hung in the kitchen. I can’t describe how fantastic it smelled. Then I added the sugars, whisked for 30 seconds, let it rest for 3 minutes, and again whisked / waited and whisked / waited until I had this beautiful pecan color butter + sugar mixture. It looked so creamy with a shine to it that I just wanted to stop and eat it from the bowl right then and there. And well, I did, but only a teaspoon or so. I finished off the rest of the recipe and popped it in the fridge to set a bit. Now here’s the thing. I usually let my cookie dough “settle” for at least 2 days. I guess I do that so I get that same caramelly undertone that the butter gave this cookie. But, after being refrigerated for that long, these cookies didn’t spread much and it made them a bit thick. Going forward, I’ll refrigerate them for maybe an hour or so, then bake them.
And seriously. You should bake them too. They are fantastic. Man.. just writing this post has me craving them again. Um excuse me while I go mix up another batch. Happy baking!
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies by Cooks Illustrated / Americas Test Kitchen
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks (I used Callebaut 53% bar chopped into chunks. Yum!)
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lined two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
- Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
- Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chunks and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
- Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 2 heaping tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
- Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.