Sunday, September 9, 2007

Baking The Law

Excellent - now you'll have that song stuck in your head, too...

I received quite a few offline comments about my "Cookies in Building 40" post, so I decided to share the cookies with anyone who is interested, whether or not they'll be able to come and grab some. Of course, if your browser doesn't support cookies[1] you can use this blog post to bake them yourself. Follow the steps outlined below and soon you too can be fat, happy and heavily caffeinated, just like me.

Please note: If the volumes and amounts of ingredients listed in the text don't seem to match what is shown in the photos, please do not be alarmed. This is deliberate. I magnified the photos by approximately 6x so that it's easier to see what's going on.

First, let's start with an overview of what we're making: Chocolate Espresso Sandwich Cookies. The finished product will be small and soft chocolate espresso cookies with a layer of chocolate espresso ganache[2] in between. Think of Oreos, only good.

We're going to start off making the ganache, but first, we're going to set out all of our ingredients. Mise en place is very important. Kind of like source code control.

Since we're starting with the ganache, we should to start with the chocolate that will go into the ganache. For this recipe we need five ounces of chocolate. You can use chocolate chips, but you probably should not - they're "enhanced" with food-grade wax and other additives that are great for helping them hold their shape, but not the best for flavor.

A better option is to start with a good quality (perhaps not Valrhona, where the complex nuances of the chocolate may be overwhelmed by the espresso flavor in the ganache) dark chocolate and chop it up into small or medium chunks.

In any event, take your five ounces of chocolate, chopped or chipped, and put it in your food processor.

Next, take five tablespoons[3] of heavy cream and mix it with two teaspoons of instant espresso powder in a medium saucepan.

(In the pictures I was making two different batches of ganache, one with espresso powder and one without, the latter so I could make a "half-caf" variety of cookies for he kids at the school picnic.)

Bring the cream to a boil over medium heat - this takes longer but you don't need to worry as much about burning the cream.

Once the cream is boiling, start turn on the food processor with the chocolate in it.

And pour the boiling cream into the running food processor through the feed spout.

Let the processor continue to run until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Remove the ganache from the processor bowl into a small glass or metal bowl to cool.

At this point we have a bowl full of hot (boiling cream, remember) ganache cooling on the counter. Now we need to make and bake the actual cookies themselves, and by the time the cookies are baked and cooled the ganache will probably be just the right consistency for spreading.

At this point, it's time to start working on the cookies. Start by combining the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. You'll need:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened non-alkalized cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt

Whisk your ingredients together.

Next, mix together in a small cup or bowl:
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp instant espresso powder

This will dissolve the espresso powder and make it easier to incorporate into the cookie batter later on.
We're almost ready to start bringing everything together. In a large mixing bowl, combine:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

Ok, let's go! Using a handheld electric mixer[4] mix together the butter and sugars until they are combined, light and fluffy.

Next, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add one room temperature egg (large, of course) to the batter.

Mix the batter until the egg is fully incorporated, and then add the vanilla/espresso mixture.

Mix in the vanilla mixture until it's completely incorporated and then scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

Finally, add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing each batch thoroughly and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each batch.

The next step is vital. Gather up your children and let them lick the beaters.

Make sure that you gather all of your children. If you have more children than beaters, spread a representative volume of batter onto a spoon or spatula (remember how you've been scraping down the sides of the bowl over and over again?) so everyone gets something. If you leave out any child, no good will come of it.

It's time to get baking. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees, and position two oven racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven. If you have baking/pizza stones (and you should, even if you don't bake your own pizza) you should put one on each rack.
Next, get ready your cookie sheets. As you can see in the picture below, I have one additional tool, and if you do any regular baking, you will want them too. I love my Silpat nonstick silicone baking mats. Here's why:
  • Nothing sticks to them
  • They're easy to clean
  • They're from France
  • They enable you to cut your baking time in half!

Now wait, you say - how is this? How can even the culinary magic of the French cut my baking time in half? Here's how: by implementing a pre-cached and multithreaded kitchen environment.


Think about the mechanics of baking cookies? Normally it goes something like this:

  • Place mounds of cookie dough on the cookie sheets
  • Place the cookie sheets in the oven
  • Wait, doing nothing constructive, while the cookies bake
  • Remove the cookie sheets from the oven
  • Wait, doing nothing constructive, while the cookies cool enough to be removed from the cookie sheets
  • Remove the cookies from the cookie sheets
  • Place mounds of cookie dough on the cookie sheets, and repeat

That's a lot of wasted time, and let's be completely honest: you have better things to do, don't you?

With Silpats (and you'll need four of them) this vicious cycle can be replaced with one that looks more like this:

  • Place mounds of cookie dough on the Silpats on the cookie sheets
  • Place the cookie sheets in the oven
  • While the cookies bake, place mounds of cookie dough on the other Silpats
  • Remove the cookie sheets from the oven
  • Slide the Silpats with the baked cookies onto racks to cool
  • Slide the now-empty cookie sheets under the Silpats with the cookie dough mounds and place them in the oven
  • Remove the baked cookies from the Silpats
  • Place mounds of cookie dough on the now-empty Silpats, and repeat

See the beauty? You need a little more equipment, but the incredible increase in productivity more than justifies the expense.

Wow, that was quite the tangent, wasn't it?[5]

In any event, make small mounds of batter on the first two Silpats. Make them smaller than you think you should, because they spread out a lot while baking. A level teaspoon worth of batter is a good place to start.
Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets between the top and bottom racks halfway through the baking time.

Once the first batch is in the oven, get the second batch ready to go.

When the first batch is done baking, slide the Silpats off onto cooling racks. If you do this, the cookies (they're small and thin, remember?) will probably be cool enough to remove by the time you get back from putting the next batch of cookies in the oven.

Remove the cookies from the Silpats and put them on paper towels to cool completely. These cookies are too delicate to cool on racks (they sort of fall through and fall apart) but cooling on paper towels works great.

Oh! Before I forget, you can make your life easier by positioning the Silpats so that they slightly overhang the counter.

As you can see, this makes it much easier to slip them onto the hot cookie sheets when you're loading up a new batch. It's a little tweak, but it makes things just that much more efficient.

And from this point on, just repeat this process until all of the cookies are baked.

See how easy it is?

When all of the cookies are baked, match them into pairs to become individual sandwiches. Don't worry if they don't match exactly. Close enough is good enough.

Next work with each pair of cookies and spread a tablespoon or so (depending on your personal preferences) of ganache on one cookie, and then complete the sandwich by placing the other cookie on the ganache.

And when you're done, you'll have something that looks a little like this:

Looks good, doesn't it?
Believe me, it tastes even better than it looks. Now if you'll please excuse me, I'm going to go pour myself a tall glass of milk.
[1] Ha ha ha!! I crack myself up sometimes!
[2] Ganache is a paste of sorts made from chocolate and heavy cream. When it's heated it can be poured as a sauce, when it's chilled it's fudge-like, when it's at room temperature it's spreadable. Classic chocolate truffles are made from ganache. Reader.Vocabulary.Add("Ganache");
[3] The ganache-savvy reader will note that this gives us a very think ganache. The classic ganache recipe has a 1 to 1 ratio between the chocolate and the cream, and this recipe has twice as much chocolate as cream.
[4] Even if you have a nice stand mixer (I love my KitchenAid!) you should not use it here. The consistency of the batter won't be the same if you do.
[5] Yes. Yes it was.

No comments: