A few years ago, I used to help coordinate a CSA in Manhattan. For those of you unfamiliar with CSA’s or farm share models, in brief, they are a way for farmers to sell directly to consumers without pesky middlemen or distributors. Standing for “Community-Supported Agriculture,” you generally agree to pay your local farmer a set fee up front for the season. This amount can vary between a couple hundred dollars to several hundred dollars. Known as a membership fee, your membership entitles you to “shares” of the harvest over the course of the season. These shares are usually picked up once a week from a designated location like a church or another community-friendly site.
If you can manage the up-front fee, a CSA is a win-win for both you and the farmer. The farmer gets more money to work with, and in exchange, you get a much better and better tasting product. The majority of CSA’s are either fruit or vegetable CSA’s, but of course my CSA was all about the meat: cows, pigs, chickens, sometimes lamb, sometimes duck. Basically anything cute with a face 😉
Running a meat CSA, you meet a lot of people: bankers, academics, writers, publishers, editors, lawyers, non-profit organization directors, retirees, beer distributors, you name them. It was also the first time that I ever encountered people on the Paleo diet, a modern diet that basically aims to mimic what our paleolithic ancestors ate.
At the time, I asked myself the same thing: is this a group of carrion-eaters that spends most of its time starving and the rest of its time fearfully living in caves?
Nope! Apparently, what “going Paleo” really means avoiding processed food, lowering the amount of carbohydrates you eat, increasing how many fresh fruits and vegetables you consume, hunting and gathering in the bulk foods section of the Park Slope Co-Op, and eating a lot meat.
A. Lot. Of. Meat.
Now in all honesty, avoiding processed foods and being more mindful of what we consume are things that we could all do. But a few of these members kind of scared me.
There was the guy who asked me multiple times on multiple occasions if it was okay to eat raw sausage — it’s not. I mean, you can. You won’t die, but I’m pretty sure that it tastes better cooked.
There was another guy who told me that he went through 8 dozen eggs a week because he had a twelve-egg-omelette-a-day habit.
There was the guy who called his personal trainer in a panic because I wasn’t sure if our CSA beef was just grass-fed, or grass-finished (it turned out that it was grass-finished).
A few outliers notwithstanding, for the most part, our Paleo members were a great bunch of super-enthusiastic home cooks who were really into being conscious about what they put in their bodies, and being strong advocates for local farming and agriculture. I loved hearing what they did with their shares and would eagerly trade tips and recipes with them at each pick-up.
Chocolate avocado pudding is one of those freaky Paleo food experiments that I was always curious about, but never tried out of skepticism. Then, one day over the summer, two things serendipitously coincided:
Joel had a surfeit of overripe avocados that had to be eaten ASAP.
Given that my inner 50’s house-wife cannot abide by wasted food, I thought that now would be the time to see if whizzing avocado and melted chocolate together in a blender would indeed be the dairy-free pudding of feverish vegan dreams.
This recipe is truly fantastic. The result is not overly sweet, and the intensity of the chocolate really shines. The avocado adds a vague fruitiness to the pudding, but it gives it a texture that is as smooth as silk. It’s great as a pudding, and even better as a pop. Be warned though: you can freeze it in a tub, but you will need to remove it a good amount of time before you serve it. Otherwise, it will be very hard to scoop.
1 can of coconut milk
A pinch of salt
1/3 of a cup of honey
3.5 ounces of dark chocolate (discs or bars broken into pieces)
2 very ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut into cubes.
How to prepare:
1. In a medium-sized sauce pan, gently heat the coconut milk until it just begins to boil. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate pieces or discs. Whisk everything together. Once the chocolate is completely melted, whisk in the cocoa powder, the honey, and the pinch of salt.
2. Pour the chocolate mixture into a blender (I used a blender bullet) and add the avocado. Whizz everything together until the mixture is soft and shiny. You should not be able to see any more avocado. The mixture should be smooth and even.
3. Carefully spoon the mixture into popsicle molds and freeze.
Can I do it again? Will it be a three-peat? Can my kitchen accommodate any more appliances? Do I stick with sorbet? Do I go crazy with custard? Do I finally make that gazpacho sorbet that grosses some of you out?
There are no guarantees, but I will try my best! If you would like to come out and support me and my perennial ice cream bitch helper David, the Takedown will take place this Sunday, July 12th at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn from 12-2pm.
Summer is ending too soon. The weather is still warm, but college students are already filtering back into the city and the streets are starting to fill with people who have been out of town. Despite not having gotten away, this summer has been a great one. I’ve seen good friends and made a few new ones. I’ve eaten, drank, and danced. There have been rooftop parties, intimate dinners, and a lot of laughter. As a bonus, the weather has been unusually clement, so this summer has been a pleasure instead of a hot, sticky pain. All in all, it has been the best stay-cation that I could have asked for — and a sorely needed one at that.
Before work resumes and teaching takes over my life again, I want to fit in a few more blog posts, so …
– Grossly underestimate how long it takes to prepare 2 gallons of ice cream at home.
– Fail to read the directions accompanying any new equipment in advance.
– Not have enough equipment to begin with.
– Wait until the last minute to start recipe testing.
– Have no back-up plan in case my freezer doesn’t get cold enough and/or my air-conditioner stops working.
I am happy to report that I took all the lessons I learned last year and this year, I started and finished early with (almost) no tears and minimal stress! Hooray!
1. Start early. Those stupid insulated bowls — which never really work that well to begin with — need at least 24 hours to freeze hard enough to churn your ice cream satisfactorily. So make room in your freezer, lower the temperature as much as you can, and park those things in the very back of it until they are frozen rock solid.
2. Buy all of your ingredients at the same time. Don’t wait. Don’t come back later. Just get them all when you see them. And buy enough to make an extra batch. Trust me. Once I had settled on a recipe and calculated how much I needed to buy in terms of ingredients, I realized that I would need 36-38 mangoes and about 80 limes. Does anyone want to haul home that much squishy fruit all at once without a car? No. What did I do? I only bought half of what I needed.
But I know my limitations and, more importantly, the limitations of my kitchen. I would have loved to have done a crazy flavor, but making it in a kitchen the size of a shoebox would have driven me crazy.
“Maybe it’s not wacky enough?” I asked myself.
Maybe that’s fine.
4. Use a stabilizer. Unless you are playing with liquid nitrogen, you will need something to smooth out the texture and prevent your ice cream or sorbet from having an icy or chalky mouthfeel. Stabilizers are additives to frozen treats that work to inhibit the formation of bigger ice crystals. Within that category, you can use guar gum or xanthan gum. However, a stabilizer does not necessarily need to be so exotic. You can use gelatin, alcohol, fat, sugar, and invert sugars such as glucose, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and corn syrup.
5. Ripe ripe, Baby. If you are making a fruit sorbet, you want your fruit to be very ripe — verging on overripe. How will you know if your fruit is ripe enough? It will feel like . . . well . . . let’s try to keep this forum as family-friendly as we can.
6. Strain. Evenly-textured ice cream and sorbet doesn’t just happen. Smooth base in = smoother frozen dessert out.
7. A watched ice cream maker never churns. Ari watched me swear and smack my stupid ice cream maker on the side after it failed to churn sorbet after . . . 5 minutes.
“Daisy, it says it will take ‘as little as 25 minutes’ on the box. It hasn’t been 25 minutes!”
She was right. Go, go watch an episode of 30 Rock and come back later.
8. So your ice cream maker fails to churn satisfactory frozen dessert and you have a slushie instead of a sorbet. This is what happens when your freezer bowl is not cold enough, your kitchen is too hot, or the freezer bowl is so overfilled that it loses chill faster than it can churn your ice cream or sorbet. This is when you get creative. This is when you let the ice cream set up more in the freezer, stick your handy stick immersion blender in it, and use it to break up the ice crystals before letting it freeze the rest of the way. Do this a few times as it continues to set up and you will be rewarded with some super smooth sorbet.
The worst kitchen accident that I have ever had did not involve an immersion blender (knock on wood). I had put a saucepan in a hot oven and after about an hour, I reached in, grabbed the handle and hefted it onto the stovetop. As I had been cooking all summer, I had “kitchen hands,” tough, calloused paws that didn’t register that the handle was over 350° until it was too late. I left some skin from my palm and my fingers on that handle. I spent the rest of the week with my hand in a tub of arnica cream.
In any case, when dealing with immersion blenders, TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT AND ALWAYS UNPLUG THEM WHEN THEY ARE NOT IN ACTIVE USE!
Although I realize that some of these pointers are most applicable if you are churning out a massive amount for something like an ice cream competition, I think that many of them are equally as valid for smaller batches
A word on the recipe that follows: What is that chili powder stuff on top?
Tajín is the brand name of a Mexican fruit seasoning consisting of only three ingredients, three flavors: a chili spice blend, salt, and dehydrated lime juice. As the components are few, I imagine that you could probably hack the recipe pretty easily using a basic Mexican chili spice blend, salt, and either dried, powdered lime zest or squeezing lime juice on top before serving. That being said, Tajín is so darn inexpensive (mine was $1.25) that it seems silly to hack it. I got mine at the Mexican supermarket, but I have also seen online forum posts about people seeing it at Walmart, Target, and at their neighborhood supermarket in the “Ethnic Foods” aisle. For a few bucks more, you can also score it on Amazon.
Of course, this sorbet tastes amazing without it, but the seasoning really does make a difference. It is definitely worth seeking out! You can also use it on just about any kind of fruit or vegetable (delicious on corn).
Another word on the recipe that follows: Why are there so many mangoes in the pictures?
As I have scaled the recipe down from the one that I used for the competition, you will see more fruit and more ingredients in the photos than are listed below. My competition recipe was for 2-quart batches and this scaled down recipe given will make a third of that. To make a full 2-quarts, simply triple the recipe. For example, instead of 2 mangoes, you will need 6, etc.
1. Gently peel the mangoes with a sharp paring knife and cut the flesh away from the pit. Do this in a bowl so you don’t lose any of the precious juice.
2. Purée the mangoes with 1/4 cup of water in a blender or using an stick immersion blender. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids.
3. In a large bowl, combine the mango purée with the cane sugar, agave syrup, tequila, and strained lime juice. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Churn the mango sorbet mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your sorbet fails to set up properly, churn it as best as you can in the machine, transfer it to a sturdy container, and let it harden in the freezer. After 45 minutes, use an immersion blender to blend the sorbet and break up any larger ice crystals. You can do this a few times to ensure that you have a really nice texture. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden completely.
5. To serve, scoop the mango sorbet into bowls and sprinkle liberally with Tajín.
This blog post is another contribution to the Genie De Wit’s Our Growing Edge. Our Growing Edge is a monthly event that aims to connect food bloggers, broaden our horizons, and encourage us to try new things. I am so happy to see Genie’s project grow and reach a larger and larger audience of bloggers and readers!Anyone can be a part of the party! For more information, please go to the page Genie has set up on her blog Bunny. Eats. Design.
This month’s host is Lindsey from Sneaks & Sweets. Thank you so much Lindsey! To take a look at the participating bloggers this month, click here.
IT WAS FREAKIN’ AWESOME, YA’LL! I GOT TO SEE SO MANY FRIENDS AND BY THE WAY I ALSO GOT A KITCHENAID STAND MIXER, AN ANOLON PAN, A WÜSTHOF KNIFE, A MICROPLANE GRATER, AND A LUCA & BOSCO GIFT CERTIFICATE BECAUSE . . .
A big write-up to is to follow but in the meanwhile, I would like to extend a giant thanks and many hugs to my friends who came out to the to support me. Thank you for letting me feed you full of frozen treats! Thank you as well to everyone who voted. It is such an honor! Thanks as well to all my fellow Takedowners! You guys make me excited for every event!
David Langkamp, you are the best ice cream bitch helper ever! Thank you for hauling all of my sorbet and for being the world’s best scooper!
And to Matt Timms, organizer extraordinaire, thank you and never stop rocking!
Last year I had so much nerve-wracking fun making my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet that I have to make something else just as crazy this year. It’s hot, steamy, and sticky out there and when the weather is this gross, is there anything better than ice cream?
Especially ice cream made by me? 🙂
So please come out and let me feed you! As always, there are only a limited number of tickets available. Once they are gone, there are no more!
Tickets for the event are now available on the Bell House website at:
The first time that I ever had the combination of almonds and apricots was at a brunch in Paris. It was in the form of pitted fresh apricot halves stuffed with crushed amaretti biscuits, dotted with butter, sprinkled with sugar, broiled until tender, and finally drizzled with heavy cream. The dear friend who served them to me has gone on to open a wildly successful barbecue restaurant in London, leaving small indulgences such as those apricots behind.
However, I never forgot them.
I thought of them again as I contemplated what to do with a container full of apricots that I picked up at the store. I had initially intended to make something Moroccan with them, but then they got too squishy to eat and I earmarked them for sorbet. After waiting too long to do even that, they got downgraded (or upgraded, depending on how you see it) to jam. Finally, life interfered with the cooking once again and the poor things had to be tossed. So I got myself another container of apricots, resolving to not let them go to waste like I had the others (I hate throwing food out).
This recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz‘s Fresh Apricot Ice Cream recipe. Although fairly faithful versions of it can be easily found via any internet search, I would highly recommend purchasing his book The Perfect Scoop. It is a must for anyone wanting to tinker around more with homemade ice creams and sorbets.
The original recipe calls for almond extract, but as amaretto— that sweet, almond-flavored Italian liqueur — is often made from crushed apricot pits, it seems even more fitting to use it instead of the extract. The addition of heavy cream makes this sorbet feel rich and indulgent, yet it is still tart and refreshing to eat. I have also kept Susan‘s suggestion to use an invert sugar; I agree that it really does improve the texture and mouthfeel of homemade sorbet. For a better and more convincing argument than I could ever write, I refer you to Susan’s amazing blog post here.
1-1.25 pounds of fresh, ripe apricots (approximately 10-15 of them)
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of glucose or another invert sugar such as golden syrup or honey
1 cup of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of amaretto
The juice of one lemon
How to prepare:
1. Split the apricots into halves and remove the pits. Cut each half into quarters.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the apricot quarters with the water and the sugar. Cook over medium heat until the apricots just begin to soften. This should take between 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the glucose, and let everything cool to room temperature.
3. Once the apricots have cooled, purée them in a food processor. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids. Chill the strained purée overnight in the fridge.
4. Once the purée is properly chilled, add the heavy cream, the amaretto, and the lemon juice.
5. Churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden.
The sorbet should keep for about two weeks in the freezer.
Have you ever made a claim and promptly regretted its utterance? I often jinx myself with these kinds of pronouncements, also known as “famous last words.” Usually, when I begin a sentence with “I won’t” followed by “get lost,” “be late,” “cut myself,” “fall off this box,” “regret this tattoo,” or “take an unreasonable amount of time to finish graduate school,” I basically ensure that I will.
But this is not a story about doom. No, wait. I take that back. It is a story about doom! It is also a story about setbacks, humility, learning, redemption, and WINNING TWO FREAKIN’ ICE CREAM MAKERS BECAUSE I’M FREAKIN’ AWESOME YA’LL!
Tuesday, July 2: I confidently “chat” with Eryn at Ugly Food Tastes Better. She is in the competition too and is fretting about her freezer on the fritz. I mention that I am excited for the Takedown, especially given that the ice cream only takes 20 minutes to churn. I stretch and envision this being a walk in the park, a mere breeze after the HOURS spent baking 250 cookies for the Cookie Takedown or wrapping 250 little bacon candies until my fingers were aching and sore. True, I have to make two gallons of ice cream and the machine only churns 1.5 quarts at a time, but at 20 minutes a batch, I am confident I can knock out all 8 quarts on Saturday afternoon, the day before the competition.
In comparison, this will be so much easier, I say. Then I add the cursed phrase: “Famous last words, right?”
“Hahaha yeah!” Eryn laughs. Then she drops the bomb that shatters my smug peace and calm: “This one is time consuming because you have to refreeze the bowl 24 hours between batches.”
I open up ice cream maker and swear that the i’s in “Cuisinart” are middle fingers.
The ice cream maker now sits in pieces on floor. There is the machine element, the freezer bowl, and the plastic dome that covers it all. I only have this one freezer bowl and it is not frozen. I also have a freezer so full of meat that I cannot even fit that one bowl in it. I officially freak out. I am in full panic mode.
At 4:30 am, I cave and order two more freezer bowls from Amazon. Overnight delivery. I pray that Amazon’s overnight delivery is really overnight delivery. When my neighbor across the hall wakes up later in the morning, I transfer the entire contents of my freezer to her freezer, shove the insulated bowl in it and wait.
Wednesday, July 3: The extra freezer bowls arrive in the morning and after a whole day in the freezer, only one of the three seems to be frozen. I hear no sloshing when I pick it up and shake it. I attempt my first test batch around midnight, figuring that I can only do two, maybe three tests before having to pick a final recipe. Sadly, there is no time for tinkering, no time for research, no more time for consulting fellow bloggers and friends.
After much stirring, scorching, sieving, and saving, I come to the horrible realization that custard takes FOREVER to make! Worse, when I finally pour the ice cream mixture into the machine and turn it on, it churns for 20 minutes and produces no ice cream, only soup. It is not even the consistency of a smoothie.
Worst of all? The taste. My Peach Bourbon Jalapeño ice cream tastes like peanut butter-covered pepper jack cheese.
There is no peanut butter or pepper jack cheese in the recipe.
I start crying.
Thursday, July 4: I decide to start fresh in the morning with a different custard base. Test batch #2 is to be a fresh strawberry, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper ice cream. The custard tastes good. I pour it into the machine and turn it on. It churns for 20 minutes. I have soup. Again.
At least it’s delicious soup 😦
Three hours before needing to leave to meet up with Tomoko for fireworks on her rooftop, I decide it’s triage time. I don’t have any time left to set up two gallons worth of custard base. I basically don’t have time for anything cooked. My downstairs neighbor Niki lends me a copy of Martha Stewart Living with a special section on ice cream — the last resort. I thumb despondently through it and my eyes fall on a recipe for Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet that requires no cooking. The buttermilk catches my attention because being so lean (buttermilk is mostly water), I know it will freeze hard and fast. Blueberries are in the market too, which is fantastic since there are so few elements in a sherbet that you want the best fruit you can find. Best of all? No cooking required.
I do a quick test batch. It sets up better than the custard based ice creams since there is hardly any fat (things that inhibit freezing are gelatin, alcohol, stabilizers such as invert sugars, fat, and sugar). Unfortunately, it is still way too slushy.
As for the taste? The sherbet is a pretty color, but there are too many seeds (blueberries have tons). It’s also too sweet. The lemon zest has clumped unattractively around the ice cream paddle and looks like something found in a drain.
I throw the test sherbet in the freezer and cry all the way to the Upper West Side. At Tomoko’s, we troubleshoot and decide that given the time constraints, a sherbet is still the way to go. We also conclude that the freezer bowls are not getting cold enough to freeze the mixture properly. It does not help that my apartment is too warm and the bowls are loosing chill faster than the ice cream can churn. I go home, throw out everything that can be tossed from my fridge, turn the temperature setting as low as it can go, and hope for the best.
Friday, July 5: After staying up doing research and reading about how to achieve a good, smooth texture, I do the following:
1. I get myself a freezer thermometer. It costs a whopping $2 and tells me exactly what I suspected it would tell me: my freezer doesn’t get cold enough to completely chill the ice cream maker’s insulated bowls 😦
2. I figure that since the ice cream maker can only make slush, the best way to break up the giant ice crystals produced is to churn it as best as I can, let it sit in the freezer for about an hour, stick an immersion blender in the half-set ice cream, whizz it to get a smoother consistency, and let the freezer freeze it the rest of the way. I think I got the idea from Southern Living, but I frankly don’t remember anymore.
3. Contrary to Martha’s recipe, I decide to sieve the blueberry purée twice. If I had the time and patience, I probably would have done it once more on top of that.
4. I add booze. Specifically moonshine. I briefly consider vodka but think moonshine is more interesting. Besides, nothing beats a hillbilly-themed table!
5. I add more lemon juice. The forecast for the Takedown is sunny and hot, and I want something tart and refreshing.
1 tablespoon of glucose or of another invert sugar such as light corn syrup (optional)
2 cups of buttermilk
2 tablespoons of moonshine or vodka
The juice of 3 lemons, strained
How to prepare:
1. In a food processor or blender, purée the blueberries with the sugar and the invert sugar if using. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids and pass the purée through the sieve a second time to get the remaining seeds. You can even choose to sieve the purée a third time if you would like an even smoother texture.
2. Combine the purée with the buttermilk, the moonshine or vodka, and the strained lemon juice.
3. Churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your sherbet fails to properly set up like mine did, churn it as best as you can in the machine, transfer it to a sturdy container, and let it harden in the freezer. After 45 minutes to an hour, use an immersion blender to blend the sherbet and break up any larger ice crystals. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden.
The finished sherbet will keep for about two weeks in the freezer.
This blog post is also my first contribution to the amazing Genie De Wit’s Our Growing Edge. Our Growing Edge is a monthly event that aims to connect food bloggers, broaden our horizons, and encourage us to try new things.
Anyone can be a part of the party! For more information, please go to the page Genie has set up on her blog Bunny. Eats. Design.
This month’s host is Stacey from The Veggie Mama. Thank you so much Stacey! To take a look at the participating bloggers this month, click here.
Needless to say, I think that I have become addicted to the adrenaline rush of coming up with a recipe and prepping massive amounts (250+ samples) of it for a day filled with old and new friends, large quantities of booze, and lots of fun!
In all honesty, the event is kind of a blur to me since the participants had a head start on the open bar before the doors opened to the public. Once people started pouring in, I was drunkenly scooping like a fiend! There were so many people coming to the table at once that I didn’t even notice that Tyra Banks was there! In my hurry to get everyone served, I just plunked a sample cup on her plate, said that it was Blueberry Buttermilk Moonshine Sherbet, and waved her on.
Only afterwards did someone say, “Daisy, you just threw sherbet at Tyra Banks!”
The decision to make a sherbet was a last minute one, forced by an uncooperative freezer and a look at the weekend forecast which predicted a RealFeel afternoon temperature of 107°. Full details to be revealed when I post the recipe, hopefully later this week.
Unpacking at the venue, I was certain that my entry was too simple and too plain to attract much attention — even with the moonshine.* Win or lose, I thought, I learned so much about making frozen desserts and being surrounded by so many talented and creative home cooks was gravy. That made the experience well worth it.
In the end, guess who was awarded second place by the judges AND by the people? Me 🙂
What did I win? More ice cream makers!
Just what I need 🙂
Even though I didn’t come in first place, I was the only one to win in both categories and the only one to take home two machines! However, I do have to give a shout-out to all the other incredible cooks. The team next to me actually made 275 cannoli shell ice cream cones. Isn’t that amazing? Other contestants make jam toppings and delicious drizzles in squeeze bottles. As for the two first place winners? Angie Anicgacz’s Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream and Russell and Karen Berger’s Butterscotch Beatdown were truly divine!
So what about those two ice cream makers? I kept one and gave one to my ice cream bitch helper and good friend, David. He earned it for coming to my apartment early and schlepping all my stuff to the event like a trooper!
Then I went home and collapsed.
The Takedowns are the brainchild of my friend, the incredibly gracious Matt Timms. He is certainly the host with the most and it has been wonderful to see him and his events get such great press. I’ve never known anyone to walk away from a Takedown unhappy and this event was no exception. Thank you, Matt!
For those of you who are interested, here are some links with much better write-ups than my own!
When I entered the Brooklyn Cookie Takedown last month, my first thought was to make a truly trashy cookie packed with milk chocolate chips and Fritos. Doesn’t that sound awesome? Then Dave C. suggested the combination of dark chocolate and nori. Suddenly, the vision of an Asian cookie coalesced in my mind. I was unable to get the idea of an umami-amped chocolate chip cookie out of my head.
I went to the Japanese market that weekend and got shredded nori and white miso. I added them to a chocolate chip cookie recipe for which I swapped out the walnuts for soy sauce-roasted almonds. Et voilà!
Yes, dear Readers, it took me nine test batches to get the hang of this whole cookie business because I am really not a very good baker or cookie maker 😦
Actually, before the Takedown, I always took a pass on baking cookies because I was so bad at it! Once, I made a delicious double-chocolate chip cookie by accident. Unfortunately, in my excitement, I didn’t take notes on what I did. That experience will sadly never be replicated.
These are some of the reasons why almost all my cookie efforts prior to the Takedown did not work out:
• I never let the butter soften. That meant that whenever I tried to properly cream it, I would end up with butter blobs on the wall, on my glasses, in my hair, and sugar all over the floor.
• I never sifted the dry ingredients together because I was too lazy. I also never learned how to properly measure flour.
• I chronically overbaked because I could never shake the feeling that cookies had to be nice and golden on top. It works for chicken, why not cookies?!
• I would just use one cookie sheet, which meant that I was baking forever. Furthermore, I never let the sheet cool down before I plunked more cookie dough on top of it.
How did I improve?
After test batch #5, I decided to finally do it right. I started by hitting the cookbooks.
Here’s what I learned:
• Suck it up and sift 🙂 You don’t need to buy a fancy sifter, just a mesh strainer and a sheet of wax paper will do. You would never think it makes much of a difference, but it does.
• Instead of measuring flour by volume, weigh it. According to Cook’s Illustrated, one cup of all-purpose flour should weigh about 5 ounces.
• Cut cold, hard butter into small cubes. The butter will soften faster that way.
• Don’t overwork the butter. The longer you cream the butter and sugars together, the more air you beat into the fat. The more air that you have in your fat, the more your cookies will spread out while baking.
• Eggs blend better when they are at room temperature.
• Ideally, you should let your dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. Barring that, at least let the dough chill completely, about 3 hours. Properly chilled dough also helps ensure that your cookies don’t spread out too much.
• Do not overwork the flour. The longer you take combining the wet and the dry ingredients together, the tougher your cookies will be.
• Never arrange cookie dough on hot cookie sheets. The cookies will begin cooking on contact. Not. Good.
• Work with a minimum of 2 cookie sheets, that way you can have one cooling down while the other one is in the oven. To have four sheets is ideal because you can have two sheets cooling while two are baking in the oven.
• If you check the cookies and think that maybe you should leave them in a little longer, override your instinct and pull them out of the oven! They will continue to cook on their sheets for a few minutes more. (Thanks for the tip, Tomoko!)
• Like pancakes, be prepared to ruin the first batch as you adjust your baking times for your cookie size, cookie sheet material (light versus dark sheets), and oven (mine runs a little hot).
How I finally came up with my cookie recipe:
Now all this might sound elementary to you Awesome Cookie Bakers, but it was a revelation to me. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong from a technical standpoint, I made another batch of chocolate chip-nori cookies. You know what? They were disgusting! Now I know why there are no chocolate and roasted seaweed cookie recipes out there: they’re gross!
Back to the drawing board. Standing in the Japanese market again, I was trying to think about what else could go in a cookie. Wasabi peas? Why not! As wasabi is actually not a particularly strong taste, I swapped out the dark chocolate for white chocolate.
From the chocolate chip-nori hockey puck recipe, I kept the tamari almonds and the white miso paste.
From now on, I may always drop a dollop of white miso paste into my cookies. It doesn’t seem to add any noticeable miso flavor, but it definitely makes the taste of everything else in the cookie pop.
Even though this is the recipe for my not-award-winning cookies, I still feel like I won because I learned so much. I overcame my fear of baking, and I came up with something crazy that was also delicious!
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
2 sticks of butter (16 tablespoons), cut into cubes and at room temperature
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the softened butter and the sugars together for no more than one minute.
3. Beat the eggs, one at a time, into the creamed butter-sugar mixture. Add the vanilla, the miso and wasabi pastes. Continue beating for another minute or two.
4. Using a stiff spatula, fold in the dry ingredients a little bit at a time.
5. Once all the dry ingredients have been incorporated, fold in the white chocolate chips, the chopped almonds, and the wasabi peas. Once the all the goodies are evenly distributed throughout the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight if you can.
6. If your heating element is on the bottom of your oven, move the oven racks to the top of it. Pre-heat the oven to 325°.
7. I used a melon baller to make smaller cookies for the competition, but if you want larger cookies, use a tablespoon or a small scoop. Drop the balls of dough about two inches apart on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.
8. Bake the cookies for 4 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180°, moving the top cookie sheet to the lower rack, and the bottom cookie sheet to the upper rack. Bake the cookies for another 4 minutes. If your cookies are larger, you may need to bake them for a little longer. When the cookies are done, they should be just barely golden around the edges. The centers should be soft, but not raw. Take the cookies out of the oven and let them rest on the cookie sheet (they will continue to cook) for a minute or two before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.