"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A peek behind the door of Steve's Evil Kitchen

I'm still not running, so I either have to write about personal stuff that I'd rather not discuss, or I can explain the workings behind Steve's Evil Kitchen as I create a new recipe. Sorry, guys, no personal stuff today.

The type of chocolate chip cookies I like are the complete opposite of what's become fashionable, so I decided it was time to make a change. There are a number of recipes that have been popular lately and each has some idea worth stealing. Here's the alternatives:

Note: links were removed due to spamming.
Alton Brown's (the reigning champ)
Cook's Illustrated
NY Times/Amanda Hesser
NY Times/Jacques Torres (momentarily hugely popular)
Martha Stewart
allrecipes.com (the most commonly made)

Let's deconstruct the cookie, starting with ingredients. First, the eggs. The egg yolks are necessary to emulsify the fat, but the whites tend to dry out the cookie. Removing a white will make a moister and chewier cookie, but one needs to add moisture and protein to make up for the white. Using bread flour rather than all-purpose will increase the protein (just adding more flour causes cakiness and extended cooking time) and  unbleached flours tend to spread more than bleached. Butter, rather than shortening, will make for a thin, chewy cookie, because butterfat melts at a low temperature, causing spreading. Baking soda, a leavener in cakey cookies, causes a change in dough pH which results in the butterfat solidifying at a higher temperature, also increasing spread; dissolving the baking soda before incorporation and letting the dough rest will eliminate the leavening. Brown sugar is hygroscopic, making for a moister and chewier cookie. A tablespoon of corn syrup will keep dissolved sugars from recrystallizing, making for a moister cookie. Vanilla extract simply adds depth of flavor, as does salt. Though chocolate purists might opt for Valrhona bittersweet chips, people expect Nestle's semisweet; they're the original and people's palates have accustomed to them. I like to accent chocolate flavor, usually with coffee, but in baked goods, beside vanilla, what works well is a pinch of cinnamon.

This leads to the equipment and techniques, as the ingredients thus far are leading to a sloppy mess that needs to be controlled. Most recipes call for parchment paper, as it reduces spreading by decreasing warming from beneath, but this also will decrease the browning Maillard reaction, which gives cookies their baked flavor. Cooking at 325 degrees makes for a soft doughy cookie; 375 is preferred to crisp the edges while leaving the center soft. Smaller cookies cook faster and plump more and short cooking times make for chewiness. Shaping cookies by rolling them into balls in one's palms compacts the dough, reducing spread. Storing the cookie dough overnight in a refrigerator will decrease the spread and also causes a small amount of gluten to be worked, making for chewiness; also, the baking soda will completely react before baking, making for a flatter cookie. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar, melting the butter and then dissolving the sugar in the melted butter will make for the mouthfeel people want from a soft chewy cookie.

So, the recipe writes itself, right? If you've actually read all this, you now see what goes on in Steve's Evil Kitchen. "The devil's in the details."

If I get this worked out, I might even surprise everyone with a complete recipe and (gasp) photos.


wildknits said...

Baking is chemistry in action. Though one might argue you know too much ;->

Waiting for pictures, a recipe and a tasting.

sea legs girl said...

Really sorry to hear about your hamstring. I'm just wishing I would take the time to learn to bake during my injuries. Actually, my family wishes that more than I do.

Just a word on chocolate. Since I have acquired a refined European palate :), I find American chocolate repulsive. I mean, it is actually to the point where I spit it out if I accidentally eat some of Rasmus' (he is apparently not as refined as I am). I am just trying to figure out if it is because there is high fructose corn syrup added or what.

joyRuN said...

Seriously disappointed there's no recipe at the end of the post.

SteveQ said...

SLG, chocolate baking chips are necessarily different from just chunks of chocolate, but they're still just chocolate and a little sugar, sometimes with a preservative or emulsifier added. The most "American" is the Swiss Nestle. It's a matter of custom, just like the fact that no one prefers fresh potato chips to slightly rancid ones, because it's all they know. If one wants to eat chocolate, eat chocolate; here the cookie's the thing and the chocolate is merely one ingredient. "Good" chocolate tends to overwhelm the cookie flavor.

joyRuN: It's hard to beat Alton brown's recipe. Mine just tweaks his a bit.

Why said...

Congrats on the 100 followers.. sorry about the race but as you know its the good with the bad and the dark with the light.. peaks and valleys.. I hope you recover well and get back out there 100%

Gotta Run,

Jean said...

I have never tried Alton's cookie recipe. Might have to do that. One that I really like is Giada's hazelnut chocolate chip cookies from the Food Network website. So yummy!

Glad to see the Evil Kitchen is back in action! I learned some technical details from this post that I did not know before, particularly regarding the fat, type of flours, and the effect of baking soda. Thanks for sharing!