beginnings, and some chocolate cookies


We’ll get to the cookies in a bit. First, I suppose I should give some kind of introduction to this blog. After spending quite a lot of my free time the past two years cooking, stocking up on cookbooks and various cooking wares, and drooling over delectable-sounding and looking food on blogs, I have finally decided to start a cooking blog of my own. One reason for starting this, beyond simply enjoying cooking, is to prompt myself to cook more often. As a PhD student, I don’t theoretically have loads of free time (since there is always something else I could, and probably should, be reading), but my schedule can be quite flexible, certainly more flexible than many jobs out there. If I manage my time properly, I can have delicious, home-cooked meals whenever I want, but often I don’t manage my time properly at all, and end up eating a lot of take-out and frozen pizzas. Which quickly becomes expensive, and isn’t very healthy.

I know many people who think cooking is stressful, but I find it to be very stress-relieving, since it requires a different kind of focus from my brain than my usual work does. When I gave myself two weeks of “vacation” time (now sadly over) between the end of the last semester and when I started reading for exams (i.e. today), I did some partying and traveling, but mostly, all I wanted to do was cook all kinds of delicious meals that I didn’t find time for during the semester. And I cooked quite a lot: spaghetti carbonara, sole meunière, penne with a lemon cream sauce, salmon, and asparagus, strawberry sour cream ice cream, a lovely fricassée of chicken and onions in a port and cream sauce, mushroom quiche, milk chocolate ice cream with cacao nibs, chicken piccata, Indian-spiced lamb burgers with sweet potato fries, bread, fettuccine alfredo, and probably a few other things I am forgetting now. It was rather blissful, and many of those dishes will show up on this blog at some point. I’m now at the rather stressful part of my degree where I prepare for qualifying exams, so it seems more important than usual for me to make sure that I am keeping some kind of balance in my life. Cooking and eating are also, I believe, very sociable activities (exam reading is not); I enjoy them best when they are, in any event, so I hope this blog will allow me to share food I have found especially delicious with you. 

I should say that my camera is not great. I have an old point-and-shoot, which I bought several years ago to take foolish pictures of friends at parties. It served that purpose well enough, but it’s not really ideal for food photography, and, sadly, a fancy DSLR is not in the grad student budget any time soon. All the food blogs I follow have gorgeous photography that often convinces me before I have even read the recipe that I must make that dish sometime soon. I’m going to focus mostly on utilitarian photos that show how something should look when finished, as well as any potentially tricky steps along the way. I’ll do the best I can with it, and hopefully I’ll be improving as I go along. So much for that caveat.

And now, a little bit about why I like cooking, and then I promise we’ll get to the cookies. I’ve been cooking seriously for about two-ish years now. Two summers ago, I moved back to Georgia temporarily after living in England for two years. As is so often the case, living and traveling in Europe is what finally sparked an interest in food for me, after spending most of my life as a very picky eater. Seriously, I remember getting by almost entirely on grilled cheese and chocolate cake from the cafeteria my sophomore year of undergrad (I also got sick a lot that year, hmm…). Though I know that the South has a great culinary tradition of its own, most of the restaurants in my hometown were the chains you see anywhere in suburbia – nothing to get excited about. So when I moved back to the States after two years of eating lots of tasty new things, learning how to cook the foods that I ate in Europe helped me to get through the reverse culture shock (which, for me at least, was always worse than the initial culture shock). Shortly thereafter, I moved to New Jersey, and close enough to NYC to make frequent trips there. As a result, I can get pretty much any kind of food I would like, and this has inspired me to try all kinds of different cuisines.

That’s enough personal culinary history for today, though, so I’ll get to the important part of any cooking blog: the food. I found these cookies on one of my favorite food blogs, the SmittenKitchen. I needed a dessert for a Christmas party last year, so I gave these a try (and ate a significant portion of them myself!). I’ve since made them for a number of other occasions (er, including the occasion of me just wanting some). They are intensely chocolate-y, and not too sweet (I don’t like super sweet desserts). They contain a small bit of sea salt, which, when paired with the bittersweet chocolate, creates magic. They are the best cookies I have ever eaten.

And now, without further ado, the recipe:

Chocolate Sablés

They are sablés (French for ‘sand’) because they have a crumbly, rather than chewy, texture (which is nothing at all like sand!). There’s some discussion of the proper name for these cookies over at the SmittenKitchen, but I have just given them a descriptive name. Since the big flavors in these cookies are the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, and butter, it is worth using quality versions of these ingredients if you have them around or don’t mind shelling out some extra money – it makes a genuine difference. The first time I made the cookies, using (I think) Ghiradelli cocoa (all I could find in the grocery store), and ok butter, they were good enough that I downed probably a dozen of them that night (and I usually don’t go in for large dessert portions). When I made them again later, with fancy Valrhona cocoa that I had left over from another recipe (not terribly expensive if bought in bulk, and worth having if you are serious about cooking with chocolate) and good butter, they became a transcendent cookie experience, The Cookie to End All Other Cookies.

Makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate (I use 70%), chopped into chips

Directions:

Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Using either a stand mixer or a handheld electric mixer and a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium until it is creamy. Add the brown and white sugars, salt, and vanilla extract, and beat for two more minutes.

Pour in the flour mixture. If you are using a stand mixer, you should drape a kitchen towel over the mixer before the next step, to avoid flouring your kitchen/yourself. If using a hand mixer (what I use), this is not necessary. Pulse the mixer a second or two on low speed. Do this five times total. If there is still a lot of flour on top of the mixture, you can pulse a few more times. Then, still on low speed, mix for about 30 seconds, until the flour is just incorporated. The idea is to avoid overworking the dough, so stop as soon as there are no remaining traces of flour. The dough may be crumbly; that’s ok. Add the chopped chocolate, and mix just until it’s evenly distributed in the dough.

Dump the dough onto the counter. Divide it into two piles of equal size. Take each pile and shape it into a log that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap both logs in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen at this point, for up to 2 months.

To bake, heat the oven the 325° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the logs into cookies 1/2 inch thick. If the chocolate pieces fall out, just squish them back in. Place the cookies one inch apart on the baking sheet (you’ll have to do more than one batch). Bake for 12 minutes (if you’ve frozen the dough, you don’t need to defrost first; just slice as usual and add a minute to the baking time). They will look like melted blobs of chocolate (yum!) and not like cookies, but that’s ok. Let them cool for a moment on the baking sheet, then slide the parchment (with cookies on top) onto a cooling rack. You can then assemble and bake the next batch. As the cookies cool, they will firm up. They are perfectly delicious when cooled entirely, but, as with pretty much all cookies, I prefer them when they have cooled just enough to stay together when I pick them up, but are still warm enough to crumble into a melty chocolate-y mess when I take a bite.

A few notes:

After reading through the comments at my original source for these cookies, it seems that some people had problems with the cookies being tough. This shouldn’t happen if you:

1) Be sure that your butter is at room temperature before getting started (microwave it on defrost briefly if necessary – it should be soft, but not melted and greasy).

2) Don’t overwork the dough (this strengthens the gluten bonds – not desirable in these cookies).

3) Don’t overbake. I pretty much always err on the side of under-baking when it comes to cookies, because hard, crunchy cookies that should have been soft make me very sad. I take these out at around 10-11 minutes just to be safe.

Finally, about the salt: you use a larger quantity of fleur de sel because it is less salty than standard table salt. It would be a bad idea to use 1/2 tsp. of table salt…don’t do it!

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets, via SmittenKitchen

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One Comment on “beginnings, and some chocolate cookies”

  1. Mark D says:

    These cookies are transcendent indeed!


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