A Rainy Memorial Day

Memorial Day: it’s supposed to be about remembrance and Noble Americans — which it is — but also supposed to be about family and friends barbecuing, and people making potato salad, and celebrating the fact that you can finally wear your white shoes with impunity.

Well, folks, today it’s grey and rainy and cold. It’s like London in April out there. So we’ve spent the day at home. I would have spent the day feeling like nothing whatsoever was happening, except that I had the presence of mind, yesterday, to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long, long time, which is prove that I can make better ice cream than my husband. Because I made the ice cream batter yesterday — you do call it batter, don’t you? — and because we always keep the ice cream maker bowl in the freezer, I was ready to go this morning. The batter churned for about twenty minutes, and got to the thickness of soft-serve, and then I spatula’ed it into three little pint containers, and now it’s in the freezer hardening up.

However, I can tell you that this stuff is good. How do I know? Well, I got to lick the spatula, and also I ate the blobs of ice cream that landed on the counter, and the little bits that were too hard to scrape out of the bowl and into the pint container. In other words, I got to eat about three tablespoons of homemade ice cream that I’d made myself, and I am quite confident that this is good, good stuff.

My husband is in the habit of making French vanilla ice cream, of which he is very, very fond. It is a product that involves a lot of egg yolks, a lot of cream, and sugar. I never really like it. I feel bad admitting this, but it’s simply true. I always feel like it just coats the inside of my mouth, greasy and heavy. I always attributed this to the cream he uses — he uses cream which has thickeners added, guar gum or something. Whatever it is, I do not like it.

A couple of years ago, during a phase when we were consuming a lot of this kind of dense, heavy ice cream, I happened to notice an article in the paper about “Philadelphia” style ice cream. I realized that for years and years, I’d been reading cookbooks where they talked about “French” ice creams and “Philadelphia” style ice creams and that I’d never really thought about it hard enough to grasp that these were really different things. I’d never thought about it because, well, I’d never made ice cream myself. Reading the article about Philadelphia ice cream made me grasp that while it may have been that my big problem was too much guar gum in the cream or whatever, the fact remained that, at heart, I was probably someone who just preferred a Philadelphia-style ice cream.

The difference comes down to eggs.

French custard ice creams have eggs; Philadelphia ice creams don’t.

I am normally someone who would say “Eggs? Custard? I am IN.” But somehow, with ice cream at home, I’ve got this idea that it’s just not my thing. Perhaps there are other issues I’m not grasping; some sources I read online suggest that perhaps the greasy mouthfeel I’m not so into could be attributed to over churning, and that the problem isn’t the eggs but the fact that we’re eating, essentially, vanilla-or-coffee-flavored butter. This could be.

But here, for the record, is what I did, and it’s resulted in some delicious, clean-tasting stuff. I considering going the adventurous route re: flavors, but for this maiden voyage I reined myself in and stuck with a simple, plain, vanilla ice cream.

In my medium-size enameled cast iron pot, I combined the following: 2 cups heavy cream (Farmer’s Cow brand — no extra crap in it); 1 cup of milk (Farmer’s Cow whole milk); just under 1 cup sugar; 2 tablespoons dry milk; 1 vanilla bean (sliced lengthwise, most of the seeds scraped into the pot); 1/2 tsp kosher salt; 1 tsp. vanilla extract (I was using Penzey’s double vanilla, which is phenomenal stuff and worth the money).

I heated these things up enough, stirring constantly, to dissolve the sugar and dry milk into the liquid. This wasn’t a mixture that had to cook, per se; but the heat made dissolving the solids much easier. I removed the vanilla bean pod from the pot and set it aside to dry (it can be used again) and covered the pot and put it in the fridge, where it stayed overnight.

The next day, I set up the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment — ok, I had to have my husband show me how to do it, because it made no sense to me how the thing worked, even after watching three different YouTube videos on the subject, because none of the videos showed the same model of ice cream attachment gizmo that we have — and I churned the batter for about half an hour and then I took a spatula and filled my little paper pint containers. Three little tubs got filled — so we’ve got three pints of ice cream, here. If I were a good person, I would bring some over to a friend’s house and say, “Here, have some ice cream.” (And maybe I will do this yet; if my husband says he doesn’t like the ice cream, I almost certainly will, because this stuff won’t keep indefinitely (no stabilizers) and I can’t eat it all myself.)

If I feel, after eating a dish of ice cream tonight, that this is an unqualified success, then I am shortly going to branch out into chocolate ice cream, and it’s just a matter of time before I’m setting sail for the land of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and also coconut ice cream.

Last week my family ate, for the first time, a local ice cream treat called a Downside Watson. This is something that can only be purchased at Ashley’s Ice Cream, which is our gold standard for ice cream. A Downside Watson is assembled on a frisbee (which you get to keep). It’s supposed to come with bananas, but the night we were at the store, they were out of bananas, so a brownie was placed in the middle of the frisbee, to make up for the lack of fresh fruit. Atop this were piled seven scoops of ice cream and nine toppings. This sugar monster cost $26.95 plus tax, and it took us three nights to finish it. (We ate about half of it at the parlor, first night, but I had to say “OK, everyone, STOP” before we faced imminent collywobbles; and the rest was doled out after dinner two nights running).

We will always love Ashley’s more than any other ice cream parlor. Going to Ashley’s will always be a treat. But even so: if I can make my own platonic ideal mint chocolate chip ice cream, how can that be a bad thing?

But that doesn’t mean we cannot have nice things at home, too, right?

Homemade Goodies: or, How I am Under Strict Orders to Not Make Cracklin’ Oat Bran from Scratch

This morning, out of the kindness of my heart, I slipped a few pieces of Cracklin’ Oat Bran (the finest and possibly most expensive of all schlocky breakfast cereals) into my daughter’s morning bowl of Grape-Nuts. “Almost used up,” I said, peering into the box, which I’d given to my daughter as a silly birthday present.
“Buy more,” my daughter advised.
“Nah, this crap is too expensive for me to buy it all the time,” I said.
“How much could it cost?” asked my husband.
“It’s almost six dollars a box,” I said.
“Well, that’s bullshit,” he said. “Considering what breakfast cereal is made of, too.” He spared us his traditional diatribe about pencil shavings but only because I stepped in to distract him by suggesting I might attempt to make them from scratch. This proposal was made entirely in jest — I’m not messing around with that kind of thing anymore, I’ve learned my lesson — but he was fast to say, firmly, “No! Don’t do that!”
“You should make oatmeal cookies instead,” he said.
“Oatmeal cookies are awful,” said our daughter.
“No, they’re not!” my husband and I said as one. “What are you talking about?”
“They have raisins in them!” she insisted. “They’re bad.”
It was odd, because in fact this is a child who doesn’t mind eating raisins, but she has apparently absorbed the notion (held by me, to be sure) that raisins in desserts are a real bummer. My husband consoled her, “Oatmeal cookies don’t have to have raisins. They can have chocolate chips! And that’s a really good cookie. Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are really, really good.”
He did admit that he likes them better with raisins AND chocolate chips. The skeptical girl at the dining table looked at me askance: she would have no truck with this.
“This afternoon, we can make oatmeal cookies,” I told her. “Good ones. No raisins.”
“Okay,” she said gamely.
“Check Cook’s Illustrated,” my husband reminded me. “I’m sure Christopher Kimball has some ludicrously elaborate and perfect way to make oatmeal cookies.”
We can do that. Because here it is. (Though I think this is from an issue that’s post-CK’s tenure at CI; the basic premise still holds.)

1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ cup (5 ¼ oz.) dark brown sugar
½ cup (3 ½ oz.) granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 whole egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups (9 oz.) old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup raisins, optional

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Melt butter in 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat, swirling pan occasionally, until foaming subsides. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping bottom of pan with heat‑resistant spatula, until milk solids are dark golden brown and butter has nutty aroma, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl, scraping skillet with spatula. Stir in cinnamon.

Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, and oil to bowl with butter and whisk until combined. Add egg and yolk and vanilla and whisk until mixture is smooth. Using wooden spoon or spatula, stir in flour mixture until fully combined, about 1 minute. Add oats and raisins, if using, and stir until evenly distributed (mixture will be stiff).

Divide dough into 20 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange dough balls 2 inches apart on prepared sheets, 10 dough balls per sheet. Using your damp hand, press each ball into 2½-inch disk.

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookie edges are set and lightly browned and centers are still soft but not wet, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheet on wire rack for 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely.

Adventures with Heavy Cream

It sounds like it could be a previously unpublished with by William S. Burroughs, but no, it’s just me in my kitchen.

It took me several days to reach a point in our schedule when it was feasible and reasonable for me to leave the oven on at 180°, which is what I would have to do to try my hand at making clotted cream. But I hit that golden hour on a recent Saturday night. And so, armed with the link provided me by a staffer at Kimball Brook Farm, I tried my hand at making clotted cream.

The instructions, from this website, are very easy. You buy cream and pour it into a shallow pan; you cover the pan with tinfoil, and then you leave the pan in the preheated oven for twelve hours. After twelve hours, you take the pan out of the oven, and peel back the foil a bit to let steam escape. When the cream’s cooled for 30 minutes, you decant the stuff into a jar, pop it in the fridge for another twelve hours, and at the end you’re supposed to have — WHOO HOO! CLOTTED CREAM!

So I did all this. At eight thirty in the evening, after the dinner dishes were cleaned up, I turned the oven to 180° and I poured the cream into an 8″ square Pyrex dish and I covered it with tinfoil and I slid the pan gently into the oven. Then we all went upstairs. Eight-thirty the next morning, after my first cup of coffee, I removed the pan from the oven, peeled back the foil a bit, and let the cream cool. After thirty minutes, I got out a little Mason jar and a shallow spoon and did the big reveal.

What I saw was a thick layer of stuff on top and… warm cream underneath. I was frankly not sure what the big deal was; was the stuff on top the clotted cream? Because it really wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Or maybe it was; no, it definitely was; but there wasn’t much of it.

Nonetheless, I had a sense that separating the cream from the cream, if you’ll follow me, was not what I wanted to do quite yet; I needed to get all of this stuff into the Mason jar. It wasn’t easy to spoon it into the jar, but I managed, and only made a small mess (which the cats were happy to clean up) (yes, I cleaned the floor afterwards), and then I bunged the jar into the fridge and told myself that no matter what happened, I would be able to use the cream, and it was just some dairy products and everything would be ok.

I didn’t dare to open the jar until Monday morning. The jar made a strong “pop!” sound as I opened it, and the cats came running. “Okay,” I said to myself reassuringly, like the way the surgeons do in movies when they’re reconstructing the violinist’s hands and rebuilding his heart at the same time. Sure, it’s tricky work, but if you stay calm, you can do it. As I was saying, I opened the jar and I gingerly stuck a teaspoon in. Sure enough the top of the jar was nearly-solid cream — butter, more like — and underneath it was a pool of heavy cream.

Bearing in mind that my husband had been very curious about this process, I decided to not muck with it any further until he got home from work. During the course of the day I decided, too, that I would use some of the cream to make biscuits for dinner — because, frankly, I’d have to use the cream up, and it would probably only be suitable for baking. He came home from work and as he poured himself a drink and lifted the lid of the pot on the stove to see what we were eating for dinner (chicken and lentil soup), I said, “You gotta see this.” I took the Mason jar from the fridge.
“What’s that?” he asked

“This is the cream from Vermont,” I said. “Check this out.” I opened the jar and jabbed another spoon into the thick cream. “Oh, nasty,” he said.

“Come on, you jerk,” I snapped.

No one wanted to try it. I ate some of it myself, on toast, and found it fine, but to be honest, not particularly compelling; and it wasn’t the kind of thing I’m capable of eating in vast quantities anymore. I guess I’m getting old. And, given my family’s reception of the results of all this work and attention, I don’t think I’ll be bothering to do this again anytime soon.

I have no need for runny blue cooky icing, do you?

I try very hard to keep track of what I’ve got on hand in the house and what I need to stock up on. For example, I knew that it would become necessary for me to supply various social occasions with vast quantities of baked goods, and so I would need a lot of flour, a lot of sugar, and a lot of butter. Accordingly, when I placed a Peapod order, to be delivered a few mornings ago, I requested several five-pound sacks of flour (on sale! lucky me!), many pounds of butter (also on sale! More lucky me!), and many pounds of granulated sugar (not on sale, but also not that expensive, so it’s ok).

However, I made what my husband might call a rookie error. I neglected to order several pounds of confectioner’s sugar. Any idiot knows that if you’re baking snazzy desserts, you’re going to need confectioner’s sugar; and, what’s more, that it’s the kind of thing it’s smart to over-purchase, because you often need to add it with abandon to get icing or frosting consistencies just so. Recipes SAY “Combine two cups confectioner’s sugar to four tablespoons of creamed butter” or whatever but I’ll be damned if two cups has ever really been sufficient. They say two cups, I say three and a half cups. Basically, I know better. And I need, like, six pounds of confectioner’s sugar, easily, if I’m going to ice 58 little cookies shaped like letters.

One recent fine, cold morning I set aside several hours in which, I told myself sternly, I was going to make icings in pretty colors to decorate the 50-odd alphabet cookies I had already baked. I was going to mix up the icing and sit down at the table with the cookies and many sheets of wax paper and squeeze bottles and I was just going to do this thing.

Except I had no confectioner’s sugar.

Shit.

Furthermore, the grocery stores, which are normally an easy stroll away, were treacherous to get to because they were covered in sheet ice. I love my neighborhood, I do, but too many homeowners do not shovel their sidewalks as they are supposed to; this is a real bummer (and also illegal, but we won’t dwell on that). Did I want to risk falling and hurting myself to get confectioner’s sugar? No. I remembered that I could, hypothetically, make my own confectioner’s sugar out of granulated sugar and some cornstarch, and so I cheerfully took out the food processor, the sugar, and the cornstarch, and got to work.

I won’t go into the boring details, but let’s say that 90 minutes after embarking on this project, what I had was something that was totally unsuited to the task before me. I wasted a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of cornstarch, about two tablespoons of milk, two tablespoons of corn syrup, a squirt of fancy blue food coloring gel, and even — added in a moment of hope and desperation — two tablespoons of Bird’s Custard, to arrive at…. nothing useful.

In the end, I waited until the next day, when I felt more confident about my ability to walk safely to the grocery store. I paid a ridiculous amount of money for four pounds of confectioner’s sugar; I took it home; and then I got to work, feeling totally on top of things. The cookies were iced (not beautifully, but for sure colorfully); my daughter came home from school and expressed deep admiration for them, asking if I would do another batch but this time do only purple and green because those are her colors; and they were dispatched to the art opening. I washed my hands (and my pastry bag) of the whole enterprise, and had, happily, a whole bag of confectioner’s sugar left over for the next project.

One problem remains: what should I do with the two squeeze bottles of different shades of blue icing I have leftover? I see more cooky decorating in my near future.

Kimball Brook Farm Milk: For When You Can’t Fly to England?

Americans with an interest in English cookery are aware that there are dairy products that are normal in England that basically don’t exist in America. For one thing, there’s clotted cream. For another, there’s double cream. These are creams that have a significantly higher butterfat content than any of the conventionally-available American forms of cream (light cream, half-and-half, heavy or whipping cream).

Those of us who have eaten the real things in England know that once you’re back home in America there’s really no way to get your hands on any of this stuff. It’s a sadness to which one becomes resigned. You have to maintain a stiff upper lip about these things.

So it comes as a shock to buy a carton of milk at the store, bring it home, and find at the neck of the bottle a dairy product that you regard as impossible to obtain in the US. When I bought this milk and brought it home, I had no idea that I would find white gold stuck in the neck of the bottle.  I tasted a little of the cream, gawped, and used some of it to make carrot pudding. I spent a long time reading online about butterfat percentages and different types of cream, trying to establish some ideas regarding what kind of cream this really was.

I had no butterfat numbers for this product; but I did have the means to reach out to Kimball Brook Farm and ask them questions. So I did.

I had a lovely exchange first with a farm staff member and then I got transferred to one of the farm’s owners. I learned a great deal. My basic question was, “Hey, is the stuff on top of your whole non-homogenized milk double cream, in the English sense?” It became clear that the woman I was writing to didn’t understand what was meant by double cream, so using the information at this chart I rephrased, asking if they had percentages regarding butterfat content of the product (actually the two products that came in this one milk bottle).

The farm owner told me that the whole milk is usually 4% butterfat, but that the cream at the top of the bottle is 40-45% butterfat. This would put it in the double cream range, according to the WhatsCookingAmerica information. They say double cream is 48% butterfat. So not identical — but close.

Before I’d learned about the very high butterfat content in this stuff, I decided to jump in with two feet and attempt  to make yogurt with a mixture of the cream and the milk. I had to decant the milk into another container so that I could cut the milk carton with scissors to get at the cream: there was no other way to get at the cream. Using a skinny silicone spatula and a Hello Kitty chopstick, I scraped out about 1/4 cup of cream; I then added milk to make 2 1/2 cups, and put it in a pot to come to a boil. As soon as the cream began to melt, a yellow buttery film appeared on the surface of the milk. “Okay,” I thought, “this is going to be weird.”

And weird it was. I boiled the milk, cooled it to 110°, and added the yogurt starter as you’re supposed to do, and then I decided to do as a friend of mine does and just let the yogurt ferment in the Dutch oven where I’d boiled the milk. It seemed like a good idea, and if I’d been paying closer attention to maintaining the requisite warmth around the pot, I’m sure it would have proven to be a brilliant idea. But in my case, I got distracted by other things, and what happened was, when I checked on the yogurt around 5.30 yesterday evening, what I had was slightly yogurty-smelling milk with little yellow bubbles of butterfat floating on top. Cue Kevin Kline. It wasn’t that it looked scary or smelled rancid or anything like that; but it was plainly not right.
So: Operation Yogurt Rescue commenced. This meant trying again by letting the yogurt warm up to 110° again. It took a little maneuvering and juggling to do it, but I did it; in the end I transferred the stuff into a glass jar, wrapped the jar in towels, put the jar and towels into a clean Dutch oven with a lid, and put the whole shebang into a pre-heated oven (as low as I could get it, 170°). Then I left it there overnight. “We’ll see what happens,” I said to my husband. He replied, “Look, if it fails, don’t agonize over it, ok? It’s just some milk.”
This morning, I was awakened by the cats and staggered into the kitchen to feed them; while they snarfed their yummy slop, I opened the oven and pulled out the Dutch oven. I was not exactly optimistic about what I’d find. To my considerable surprise, the yogurt had thickened, beautifully! It was definitely yogurt-textured. Sure, it still had the weird buttery dots on top of it, but it was definitely yogurt.
Late in the morning, I baked a yogurt cake using the top several tablespoons of yogurt; the cake, which I dosed with some vanilla and cinnamon, came out a delicious, slightly sweet snack cake. What shocked me about the yogurt was that once I’d used the buttery layer of yogurt at the top — which was also slightly grainy-looking — the yogurt that remained in the jar was so smooth, and so rich, it was shocking. It was also rather more tart than I expect my homemade yogurt to be, probably because of the long fermentation period. But no matter: this stuff is lush. If I strained it to make yogurt cheese, it would be the yogurt cheese of the gods.
The graininess of the top was a little off-putting. I read up online about this grainy quality in yogurt. The consensus was that you could just whisk the yogurt and that graininess would disappear; this was exactly what happened when I whipped those top tablespoons of yogurt before using them in the cake. It was definitely unappealing, but clearly a non-issue if you just stirred the yogurt after it had chilled.
In the meantime, we ate the snack cake and I got another message from Kimball Brook Farm, this time from the person who does all the in-store tastings. She wrote that she thinks I’m basically correct about the cream-on-top being more or less an analogue to British double cream, though the numbers are not precisely matched. She admitted that she’d never personally made yogurt with any of their products, but said — and this was exciting — that she had made clotted cream at home. She gave me a link to a recipe, and said, you have to use the heavy cream to do this, but here’s how you do it.
Naturally, when I was downtown yesterday, I picked up a bottle of the cream on top milk and a bottle of the heavy cream. My husband, opening the fridge last night, said, “You know, I remember ten years ago, you were someone who only bought 2% milk; you would yell at me if I bought whole milk. And now you’re buying heavy cream with abandon.” “I’m going to try to make clotted cream,” I said.
He didn’t complain.
It turns out you have to keep your oven at 180° for 12 hours straight to make clotted cream. This means it’s something I can’t decide to do just any old day. However, I have announced my plans to my husband, and so, probably after dinner on Friday night, I intend to turn the oven on, pour the cream into a pan, and then…. see what happens.
I will report back.

I lost my cookies. And I forgot about them. But then I found them again. In FudgeTown.

Some months ago my daughter asked me why we never have Oreo cookies in the house and I thought, “You little ingrate.” Then I went and wrote a few hundred words on the subject, and made a plan for Chanukkah. I have since executed this plan. The plan was, Have boxed, storebought cookies make up a significant portion, if not all, of my daughter’s Chanukkah gifts this year.

In the end, it’s about 60% cookies, 40% other stuff (the Big Present being, She got her ears pierced), but every time she pulled out a box of cookies, she was thrilled. The biggest hit was the Mallomars. (Not that there were complaints about any of the other cookies.) I said “These cookies are, like, these are not normal, everyday, box cookies.” My husband piped up, “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never had a Mallomar.” “You HAVEN’T?” I asked, astonished. It’s not like I grew up with stacks of boxes of Mallomars in the house, in fact I don’t think my parents ever bought them at all, but I’ve certainly consumed them, sometime in my 46 years. I said, “Well, now’s your chance.” That night, our daughter opened the package, shoved one into her mouth, declared it the best cooky ever, and handed the box to my husband. He gingerly pulled one Mallomar from the plastic packaging and considered it; then he bit in. “These are good,” he said. “These are really good.” I threw my hands in the air: “Of course they’re good!”

“I could eat a whole package of these,” my husband said thoughtfully, reaching for a second one.

Talking about Mallomars led to my Googling Mallomars, and reading an extensive Wikipedia entry on the subject of chocolate-covered-marshmallow cookies. It was here that I read the name of a cooky company, Burry, that I swear to God I had not thought of in probably thirty years. And yet I was immediately thrown back to the kitchen where we kept cookies on this one long shelf, boxes and boxes of cookies (and also variety pak boxes of Fritos, Doritos, and Cheetos, and tall boxes of cold cereal). Burry brand cookies were a major part of my childhood, along with some Nabisco classics (Oreos), some Keebler classics (chocolate covered graham crackers), and — the best — Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies (Freihofer’s a close second).

So how on earth had I forgotten about them?

It wasn’t that they were so great. They were, in fact, kind of schlocky. But I loved them. I could not, at first remember what the specific cooky was that we used to get; but we live in the era of Google search, and specifically Google Image search. And this is how I had my Moment of Cooky Memory, The Cooky I’d Lost and Unexpectedly Found: the Fudge Town cooky.

Burry’s Fudge Town cookies. Which came in two varieties: “vanilla” with a “chocolate creme filling,” and “chocolate” with a “chocolate creme filling.” They were awesome. They were kind of flower-shaped, with a hole in the middle of the cookies and you could take your finger and pop the blob of filling in the middle right up and eat it separately.

A Google search for Burry’s Fudgetown Cookies results in an appallingly low number of hits: 1230. Even if you spell “Fudge Town” as two separate words, you only get about 15,000 hits. Compare this to “Oreos”(more than 22 million hits). Statistically speaking, almost no one loves these cookies. But I loved them, and though I’d forgotten about them, I will never forget them again. It turns out that I am not the only person who fondly remembered plowing through cellophane sleeves of these things, but I am the only person in my household who remembers them at all. I also remember Mr. Chips, which I think my brother liked, and the Burry’s Best bagged cookies, which were kind of competition for the Pepperidge Farm bagged cookies (like Milanos and others). We never had the Gauchos, the peanut butter cookies — oddly, though my mother and I both love peanut butter, we never ever had peanut butter cookies — but I bet they were really good.

The lost cookies of my packaged-snack childhood will no longer be forgotten. I may use the recipe linked to above to try to recreate them. Maybe not for a while. We’ve not even started the Keebler Deluxe Grahams, or the Oreos, yet, because since I’ve discovered how to make Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies… well: I am easily distracted. My family even more so. Last night we watched a DVD of Two Fat Ladies in which the ladies made a raspberry-strawberry shortcake that caused my daughter to croon at the tv, “I need that.”

If I can find a source for double cream….

 

 

A Holy Grail: How to Make the Entenmann’s Chocolate Chip Cookie at Home, or, Ok, it’s not EXACTLY the same but it is damned close

As a child, we almost never made cookies from scratch. My aunt taught me how to make something called Chocolate Pinks (chocolate cookies with pink frosting) that we found in a cookbook (I should Google it and try to figure out where it came from, and make them again and see if they’re any good). My brother used to make chocolate chip cookies sometimes. But 99% of our cooky consumption was store-bought boxed or bagged cookies. Some of them were wonderful and some of them were pretty crappy but we loved them anyway and some of them we bought and then hardly ever or never got again because they were so uninteresting.

The Platonic ideal of the chocolate chip cookie was the Entenmann’s chocolate chip cooky. They were small, soft, generous with the chocolate chips, and had a real, genuine brown sugar taste and texture to them. They were wonderful. My brother and I could eat an entire boxful in one sitting. But they were expensive, as store-bought cookies went (and go today), and so they were a once-in-a-while treat.

I’ve long wished I could just live on Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies. In recent years it’s occurred to me, I’m a good enough baker now, I could maybe try to make cookies that good on my own. But I never thought hard about it. To be honest, I just didn’t believe it was possible. But the other day I decided to give it a roll. I Googled “soft chocolate chip cookies” or something like that and scrolled around a bit and eventually I landed on a website that had a cooky recipe titled “The Best Soft Chocolate Chip Cookie.” The photos — of which there were many — did indeed look more or less like Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies. So I took out a stick of butter and an egg and did some thinking.

The list of ingredients was this:

  • 8 tablespoons of salted butter
  • ½ cup white sugar (I like to use raw cane sugar with a coarser texture)
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar — I used 1/2 cup brown sugar, which was a big deal I think.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour (more as needed – see video)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (but I always add a little extra)
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips (I use a combination of chocolate chips and chocolate chunks)

What you do is, you preheat the oven to 350°, and you set up a couple of baking trays with parchment paper. Then you soften the butter so it’s almost liquid, and you cream the butter with the sugars in your mixer (or do it by hand, whatever, I don’t care). I used 1/4 more brown sugar than the original recipe called for, which I think was a significant change — I really wanted that brown sugar taste to be strong. Add the egg (I used an extra-large egg) and the vanilla. The original writer says that if you beat this for too long it toughens the egg and makes for a stiff cooky; I have no idea if this is true, but I’m reporting it just in case.

Then you mix in quickly and completely the dry ingredients, which you’ve whisked together (the flour, baking soda, and the salt). Then you add the chocolate chips. The dough will be a very soft, cohesive blob in the mixing bowl.

Take the dough by the teaspoonful in your hand and roll nice little balls. Put the balls on the baking sheet about an inch apart from each other, and press them down ever so slightly to flatten the tops a tiny bit. Bake these cookies for about ten minutes. The tops should look dry, but alarmingly close to uncooked. You will think, “Damn, these are still raw.” Nothing should be golden brown — you know how some cooky recipes say “bake till edges are golden brown”? Sometimes, that’s a good thing, that’s what you want. In the case of the soft chocolate chip cooky, it means you have gone too far and have made a cooky that will not be soft or chewy once it’s cooled. It means you have wasted your time and effort and ingredients. We will not discuss it further.

Let the cookies set on the baking tray for a few minutes to cool before you transfer them with a spatula to a baking rack. You can eat them now that they’re not scalding hot, the chips will remains melty for a while yet.

These are without any doubt in my mind the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made. My husband, who is not a worshipper of the Entenmann’s chocolate cooky, but knows it well, said that it was absolutely clear these were the best possible approximation of the Entenmann’s cooky as could be produced by a home baker. I baked two dozen of these cookies (the original recipe, which tells you to make the cookies big, produces between 9 and 12 cookies, according to the author) and they lasted all of two days. Writing about them right now, I wish I had about five of them to eat all by myself, and I would make more, except I made a chocolate cake yesterday and I’ve got to be responsible about these things.
But as soon as the cake is gone, I’ll be making more cookies.