Monday, 27 May 2013

A New Recipe Experiment: Cinnamon and Cayenne Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Salted Cookies

It's not often I present a stand-alone recipe on this blog, but here's a pretty good one for you. Yesterday, I went back to Columbus for a combined Arrested Development premiere party and birthday celebration for Phillip, an OSU cultural anthro grad student who I had met during my campus visit back in March. Among his confirmed guest list were Lisa (a fellow blogger and cultural anthropologist.. as noted at one point, we outnumbered the non-cultural anthro folks, an apparent rarity) who was baking this delicious cake (I especially loved the mango jam) and Abby (a bioarchaeologist who was bringing chocolate covered frozen bananas). All I knew until Sunday morning was that I was also bringing a bottle of red wine. Eventually, I settled on baking cookies that needed to include chocolate (to match the red and because I love chocolate), spice (to complement the wine notes) and salt (to enhance the chocolate). A winning combination, no? Well, that was yet to be determined; I could only hope that these theoretically classic pairings would work together. Here we go with trial test #1.

After reading through these four recipes (1,2,3,4) and comparing ingredients and techniques, as any recipe fusionist such as me would do on a relaxing Sunday afternoon, I set my oven to 350°F, took out two sticks of salted butter to get to room temp (ie, soften), and then gathered all of the other foreseeable ingredients together.

Once the butter had indeed softened, I cut both sticks into smaller cubes and got them in my standing mixer, to which I added and creamed in 1.5 c packed light brown sugar. As I've recently learned, and as this site explains and this one summarises, it's important not to skip this step, as the creaming process creates the maximum number of air bubbles in the batter which aids in the over light texture of the finished product. The sugar itself cuts into the butter to create those air pockets.

While the ingredients were creaming until fluffy (about 3-5 minutes is what I've typically gone with), I measured out and sifted together the remaining dry ingredients: 1.5 c all-purpose flour, 1/2 c dark cocoa powder, and 1 tsp each of baking powder, cayenne powder and cinnamon (I would have added 2 tsp if I had more cinnamon, though I think in the end, the 1 tsp was enough). I sifted the ingredients together a few times just to make sure I wasn't dealing with any unwanted lumps or dried out pieces. Alternatively, you could just whisk the ingredients together after the inital sifting. [Important note: As I was using salted butter, I didn't add any additional salt to the batter, given the information I gathered here, here and here. Roughly speaking, each stick of butter contains 1/4 tsp salt; as such, add 1/2 tsp salt to your batter if you're using unsalted butter.]

With the butter and sugar sufficiently creamed, I reduced the speed of my mixer from medium to low (I suggest you do the same, unless you like floury poofs all over the place) and slowly added in about half the dry mix. Next, I cracked in one large egg and added in 1 tsp of vanilla extract. This was then followed up by the remaining dry mix, a second egg and one more teaspoon of vanilla extract. After each addition, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. As the batter was nearing completion, I got a generous 1/2 c milk chocolate chips onto a chopping board and gave them a rough chop (because regular chocolate chips as they are just seemed to be too predictable). Turning off the standing mixer, and folding these in with a strong spatula, I incorporated the chopped chocolate chips in two batches.

At this point, many a recipe would suggest you shape the batter into a log and freeze it (from anywhere between half an hour to a day and a half) so the dough can be cut and shaped into round disks (which makes sense if you care about the look of specifically shaped/cut-out cookies). Or at least to shape them and then get them in the refrigerator/freezer first before baking. When I was younger, I never quite understood why this step would even matter, until I read the first aforementioned source; just as is the case with a creamed butter-sugar that separates/breaks down, cookies tend to spread because they've become too warm. Another blogger writes that chilling the dough allows the gluten to relax (the same reason given to pancake batter and pasta dough). Well, whatever the case may be, the one thing that immediately popped into my head were the words of Sweet Brown. All told, I shaped the first 15 cookies into rounded tablespoons and got them onto an ungreased baking sheet. And because my kitchen was getting warm, I simply put the entire bowl with the remaining batter in my fridge to chill out until I was ready for the next batch.

I set my timer for 12 minutes and 30 seconds. When the timer went off, I took the baking sheet out of the oven and immediately crushed salt flakes over the cookies, leaving the cookies alone on the sheet for a minute or two to cool down. Using a wide spatula, I then transferred the cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely before transferring them onto a serving plate. As for the salt itself, the fourth of the aforementioned sources suggested sprinkling the cookies with Maldon sea salt (which I actually happened to have), an English salt which comes from the county of Essex, just northeast of London.

Usually, though, I love the pairing of Turkish Black Pyramid sea salt with chocolate (eg, here) and so I topped off my second batch with that. I did get a third batch (of 10) out of the remaining dough, and salted 5 with the Maldon and the other 5 with the Turkish Black Pyramid. Depending on the size of your cookies, you should be able to get at least 40 as I did from this batter, if not somewhere closer to 4 dozen.

I'm not sure if anyone noticed any differences in flavour, but between both salts, there wasn't too much of a difference that I could distinguish, except for a subtle, earthier taste that comes with the Turkish Black Pyramid. Pairing nicely with this was the warmth from the cinnamon and depth and slight bitterness from the dark chocolate which itself was toned down by the sweetness from the milk chocolate chips that had been incorporated. The cookie overall had a great crisp exterior and a softer, chewier interior, which I enjoyed and again appreciated even more so in the cookies that had some height to them (ie, the ones that had been chilled just prior to baking). The one flavour I would have liked to taste more of was the spice coming from the cayenne. I got a lingering sense of it at the very end of each cookie, but it did seem a bit weak; either it needs a quantity adjustment or (more likely) I need to update my spice rack, as 1 tsp is on the larger end of the suggested ingredients from the sources upon which my recipe was based. So, give this recipe a try and feel free to edit (within reason) to your preferences, and let me know via the comments section below what you think! For these photos and a few others, click here.

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