Friday, January 06, 2006

Baking tips: cookies and beyond

I like to cook, but I'm not much of a baker. The only "scratch" baking that I usually do are quick breads (like persimmon bread) and Christmas cookies. I recently found a very helpful blog for the beginning baker: Real Baking with Rose Levy Berenbaum. Berenbaum is the author of a number of cookbooks, including The Cake Bible, The Bread Bible, and the Pie and Pastry Bible. She answers readers' questions about baking techniques, ingredients and equipment. With this inspiration, maybe I'll even try making a loaf of yeast bread.

OK, on to the baking I do do. My two favorite cookie recipes are Coconut-Cranberry Chews and Janice Gallant’s Chocolate Crinkles. I'm sorry I don't have any photos, because both look as nice as the taste. Unfortunately we've already demolished the cookies we saved for ourselves.

Coconut-Cranberry Chews
This was one of the winning Christmas cookie recipes published in the December 2001 issue of Sunset Magazine. You can find it on the Sunset web site. Be sure to read all of the tips. In particular:
• When measuring the ingredients, be sure to spoon the flour into a cup and level it off with a knife rather than scooping, which tends to pack the flour into the measuring cup. It will make a big difference with these cookies

• This dough requires a heavy duty mixer to fully incorporate it into a smooth mass. If the dough is not thoroughly mixed, it will be difficult to form into balls, and might not spread out in the oven.
They aren't very "coconutty", compared to most cookies containing coconut. By that I mean that the texture of the coconut doesn't dominante the cookie. They are very addictive.

Janice Gallant's Chocolate Crinkles
This recipe was published in the December 21, 1994 Food section of the Boston Globe.

The important thing to note is that the dough has to be chilled for about 3 hours before baking. This year I left the dough in the fridge for more than 24 hours and the cookies seemed flatter than usual, so that may not be the best thing to do (they still tasted good, though). The recipe makes 5-6 dozen light chocolately cookies.

- Sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (I have successfully just mixed these ingredients together when using pre-sifted flour)

- Beat together 1/2 cup margarine (or vegetable shortening), 1-2/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and two eggs. Beat until creamy.

- Melt two 1 oz. squares of unsweetened chocolate. (I do this in the microwave, zapping for 20 seconds at a time). Beat the chocolate into the margarine-sugar-egg mixture.

- Turn the mixter to low. Gradually mix in the flour-baking powder-salt mixture.

- Beat in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

- Cover dough and refrigerate until chilled (about 3 hours).

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

- Sift about 5 tablespoons of powdered (confectioners') sugar onto a large plate or shallow bowl.

- Shape dough into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar. I find that the dough is still very sticky, even after chilling. I usually use a teaspoon to scoop small blobs into the sugar, then roll the sugar-covered blobs into balls with my hands. You may need to add more powdered sugar onto the plate.

- Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Place balled about 2 inches apart.

- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies spread and the tops feel soft. (actually this is from the original recipe - the cookies are too hot to touch, so I'm not sure how you are supposed to tell they are still soft, so YMMV).

- After cooling a few minutes on the cookie sheet, transfer to racks to cool.

The final cookies have a pale dusting of sugar with darker "cracks" running over the top.

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