I’ll start with a confession. Since we entered the early 21st century last week by finally buying a flat screen TV, I have been watching more TV than usual. The picture quality is remarkable. A little overwhelming even. To my eyes used to watching an analog TV shaped like a cube, the detail seems almost too much. It’s like I have hawk vision.
For example, in a scene in an elevator, where the viewer is supposed to be maybe 2 feet away from the actor’s face, not only could I see the downy hairs on her cheek, but I could also see the texture of the wallpaper on the elevator wall 3 feet behind her. In real life, especially with these 40 mumble year old eyes, I wouldn’t have been able to make out either at those distances.
With all this extra viewing, I happened to bump into the “Cookie Jar” episode of America’s Test Kitchen. There was Chris Kimball (who has remarkably smooth skin) rolling his eyes with pleasure as he munched on an improved chocolate chip cookie. For the second recipe, they made sables (French butter cookies) which he proclaimed to be so good, that they landed in his top two favorite cookies.
The Sable Cookies (Sah-blas, if you don’t mind the outrageous accent):
I made two doughs, one plain and one chocolate. The chocolate one I improvised by reducing the flour to 5.25 ounces and adding 2.25 ounces cocoa powder (the plain cookies had 7.5 ounces flour). I split each dough in half and made plain ones, chocolate ones and pinwheel ones. I was particularly proud of the pinwheel cookies. They looked beautiful (tip: roll out the chocolate rectangle of dough slightly larger than the plain one) and were very tasty.
The Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are a tricky thing. Everybody uses the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag, and everybody’s cookies come out different. And everyone likes the one they grew up with best. So like everyone, my mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies. Hers are thin, with crisp edges and chewy, bendy middles. She adds walnuts. She uses Crisco for the fat, rather than butter (I think this is a growing up in the Depression thing), she greases the cookie sheet, and she sifts the flour before she measures it. I think all of these things combine to make a cookie with the texture I like. If there were room for improvement in my mother’s recipe (I’m not saying that there is, Ma), it would be to use butter rather than Crisco. I have tried this substitution, and I do like the flavor, but it messes with the texture.
Crisco is all fat, whereas butter is a mixture; mostly fat with a little protein, and some water. So when I substitute butter for Crisco, I am adding some water to the recipe, and I think that causes the unwanted texture change.
Interestingly, in the America’s Test Kitchen episode, they addressed this very issue. They used all butter in their chocolate chip cookie recipe but reduced the moisture in the butter by melting it and boiling off the water. Then they took it up a notch by carefully browning the butter to increase the flavor complexity even more.
The result was a very, very tasty cookie. Next time, I am going to reduce the flour a bit (to mimic my mother’s sifting) and perhaps cook them on a greased cookie sheet rather than parchment paper.
I didn’t put walnuts in the cookies because “WALNUTS ARE DISGUSTING!”*
So were the chocolate chip cookies better than my mother’s? The flavor was very good. Very very good, but I still have to tweak the texture. Watch your back, Ma!
*Editorial comment by Thing One