Thursday, March 17, 2011

Smoky, Salty (and just a tad Spicy) Chocolate Chip Cookies

Does the world need another chocolate chip cookie recipe? I don't know. There are some pretty good ones out there. Rare is the person who can resist the good old-fashioned tried and true Tollhouse recipe that we were all raised with. I've heard (but not personally confirmed) that the America's Test Kitchen chocolate chip cookie recipe is comparably ab-fab. David Leite's recipe - despite being daunting, time consuming, and requiring a long list of expensive ingredients - took the internet by storm a few years back deservedly so, as it seriously produces the most seriously amazing chocolate chip cookies ever, particularly if you get your hands on some seriously amazing minimum 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate fèves or disks. (I did.) More recently, Kim Boyce's whole wheat version has been gushed about and just barely adapted on Food in Jars, Orangette, and 101 Cookbooks. (I actually have and love Good to the Grain and was v. pleased with the four things I've made from it so far (namely, quinoa porridge, kamut sand cookies, pear-buckwheat pancakes, and oatmeal sandwich bread), but haven't gotten around to trying the actual chocolate chip cookie recipe yet.)

So what are we doing here? Do I fancy myself so fancy a baker that I can really add something fancy and special to what's already out there?

close up

Well, evidently, yes. But not alone or uninfluenced. I created the smoky, salty, and just a tad spicy recipe below after being inspired by the Homesick Texan's recipe for Chocolate Chip-Pecan Cookies, in which she uses bacon grease. I'm sure her recipe is fine and good on its own, but I've never been one to leave well enough alone, and I felt like I wanted to experiment a bit if I was using bacon fat in my cookie batter: by adjusting the flour/sugar quantities, I went for a crispier, crumbier cookie than the kind that you can already get by using butter and following any of the recipes mentioned above or countless others. And I wanted to highlight the smokiness and saltiness that bacon grease had the potential to provide a cookie. Finally, I pretty much never use strictly all-purpose flour unless I am making an America's Test Kitchen recipe and want it to end up as perfect and unencumbered by my frequently-taken liberties as a recipe developed by America's Test Kitchen is most certain to be.

(Oh. And I omitted pecans because I'm allergic to them.)

both batches

Anyway, before I share the recipe, note (as pictured above) that I made two batches: one baked at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes (left), and one convection baked at 350 degrees for about 15 (right); both times I turned the baking sheet 180 degrees after 8 minutes. The first batch ended up delicious, but right out of the oven they appeared softer than I thought they should be, hence convection bake the second time around. Ultimately, both batches ended up semi-crunchy/semi-soft once they'd cooled, although the second batch was slightly crunchier and I quite liked that, so I've gone ahead and included just the regular baking instructions in the recipe. Keep an eye on them and bake them as long as you'd like. But trust me when I say - and mind you, I like a gooey cookie most of the time - a little browning and a little crunch really add to the whole smoky, salty, spicy thing in making this a unique and lovely cookie.

wet mix
ancho and dry mix
in and out of oven

Smoky, Salty (and just a tad Spicy) Chocolate Chip Cookies
Inspired by Homesick Texan
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup bacon grease (or margarine or more butter)
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk*
2 tablespoons plain or vanilla yogurt*
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups spelt flour (or more all purpose flour or whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or more)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder (or a lesser amount of cayenne or chipotle chili powder)
2 cups milk chocolate chips
Fleur de sel or other flaky salt, to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat, or grease liberally with butter.

Using an electric mixer, cream brown sugar, butter and bacon grease. When fluffy, add egg, followed by milk, yogurt, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and chili powder in a separate bowl. Add to wet ingredients and stir in until fully incorporated. Add the milk chocolate chips.

Scoop up heaping tablespoonfuls of dough and place on your prepared baking sheet, with at least two inches between each cookie (see in picture above how much they'll spread). Sprinkle each mound of cookie dough with a pinch of fleur de sel or other large-grained salt. Bake for 18-22 minutes, rotating baking sheet 180 degrees after about 10 minutes, for even browning. Once they're as brown as you want them, remove the cookies immediately from baking sheets and allow to cool on racks. Repeat with remaining dough.

I found these cookies - oddly enough - were best when completely cooled. The smokiness of the ancho and bacon grease plus the super sweetness of the milk chocolate chips were most obvious and enjoyable at that point. But, obviously, a warm, melty cookie is never a bad thing, so if you can't wait, you can't wait.

Both the cookies and the dough freeze well. Allow dough to thaw in the refrigerator over night before trying to scoop out the batter and add a minute to your baking time.

*1/4 cup buttermilk can be used for milk + yogurt combo, if you have it on hand

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