Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Snow Fortress Extraordinaire . . .

Last Monday didn't turn out as I'd expected. But that was okay, because a couple of things--one of them quite remarkable--were created here instead. It all commenced when I came down the stairs at about 6 a.m. that morning and found my husband, who was preparing to leave for the airport on a business trip, reading a message on his Blackberry. Glancing toward me, he announced with undisguised disdain, "They've cancelled school. We've got barely two inches of snow on the ground, and they've called a snow day. Ridiculous!" And with that he finished his preparations, kissed me goodbye, and drove off.

No sooner had he left than the sky was awash in a whirlwind of plump white flakes. As the morning advanced, it became a deluge--picture an explosion in a flour mill. My own plans had been to spend a good chunk of the day studying for the midterm exam scheduled to take place in my retail baking class the next day. I'd figured it would be nice and quiet here, and I'd be uninterrupted while both my boys were in school. No dice on that front. I couldn't complain, though, and didn't envy my husband having to drive to the airport in a blizzard and then wait around for an ice-covered plane to take off.

What to do? Well, as you and I both know, there is something about a snowy day that strongly impels bakers to bake, so I determined I'd just go with the urge, make the most of it, and cram for my midterm--about which I was not too worried--that evening. That decision led to these dusky hued, espresso laden, chocolate saturated cookies. More about them in a moment.

What were my kids doing while I was baking? Building the mother of all snow-forts, in our front yard, with a bunch of my oldest son's closest friends. Readers, if the fate of America rests on the stamina, smarts, creativity, and joyous optimism that teenagers like these seem to possess in spades, then I think we're probably going to be okay. Yes, I suspect that us anxious Baby Boomers may actually be able to rest easy.

Over a period of perhaps four hours, ten or eleven kids erected a structure that easily exceeds the size of my dining room, out of enormous snow-bricks--each brick a foot thick and a couple of feet long. With four stalwart walls standing at least five feet tall all around, the fort was impenetrable to even the fiercest snowballs. Passing cars slowed to a crawl as their drivers first gaped in astonishment, and then grinned openly, at the spectacle. It was something alright, a snow castle extraordinaire. As I aimed my camera and snapped away at the laboring kids, I kept thinking, "This is the one snow-fort they're going to remember and talk about for the rest of their lives, hands down."

Luckily for me, besides playing in the snow, these kids also like mega-chocolatey cookies.

About the cookies . . .

This recipe hails from the 2009 Holiday Baking issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine, and it's no ordinary cookie formula. This cookie is a delivery device for profound chocolate intensity. I've never seen anything quite like it. It relies on an almost grotesque quantity of chocolate--both unsweetened and bittersweet melted in the batter, and semisweet in the chips--for its very existence. The flavor is so derivative of the very essence of the cacao bean that it's almost painful. People who don't like chocolate will hate this cookie. Seriously.

It contains, comparatively speaking, a puny amount of flour at just half a cup, but a sufficient number of eggs to help hold everything together. The texture of the cookies is mostly soft, a little chewy, and not at all crunchy even after a couple of days. The recipe calls for a couple teaspoons of instant coffee powder, but I used the opportunity to try out the little jar of King Arthur Espresso Powder that I recently ordered. I used just one judicious teaspoon of that, since it's pretty concentrated stuff.

Rather than give away all of its secrets, I'll let the recipe speak for itself. Before I completely clam up, though, two things to keep in mind: Be sure, as the recipe indicates, to let the dough sit for 20 minutes or so (and this does not mean in the fridge) before you portion it onto cookie sheets, and be absolutely sure to let the cookies cool almost completely on the cookie sheets, not on cooling racks. Those are critical points for success.

Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

1 and 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces (it doesn't have to be softened)
2 tsp. instant coffee powder (I used barely 1 tsp. of instant espresso powder)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 and 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the bittersweet chips, unsweetened chocolate, and butter in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir it frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted, smooth, and glossy. Remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside to cool slightly.

Stir the coffee/espresso powder and vanilla extract together in a little bowl until dissolved.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment., at medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and pale, about 4 minutes.

Add in the vanilla and coffee mixture and beat until that's fully incorporated, about 20 to 30 seconds.

Reduce the speed to low, add the chocolate mixture, and mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and table salt. Take your large mixing bowl off of the mixer. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture, and the chocolate chips, into the batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit out on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes until the batter firms up. Don't chill it. It's going to look very thick and shiny, kind of like brownie batter.

Using a portion scoop (I used a #40 scoop, which holds 2 Tbsp.; you can always make the cookies larger or smaller, though, as you please), place the cookies 2" apart on your baking sheets.

Bake until the cookies are shiny and cracked on the top, about 11 or more minutes.

When the cookies appear done, let them cool completely on the cookie sheets, which are placed on top of cooling racks. Don't try to transfer the cookies directly to the racks while they're warm or they'll just crumble apart; wait until those babies are cool!

Recipe full disclosure! This recipe appears on pages 4 and 5 of the "Holiday 2009" issue of Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking issue. The article, "Triple-Chocolate Cookies," in which it appears, was written by Stephanie Alleyne.

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