Thursday, May 16, 2019

Big Sur Chocolate Chip Cookies

I remember when I first became aware of Maida Heatter. It was in the late 1990s, and a friend gave me her copy of Saveur magazine. She knew I was getting more and more interested in cooking, and she told me about some of the great stories in that issue of the magazine. It was a really fantastic issue. There were stories about New Orleans restaurants with recipes, and Thanksgiving leftovers recipes, and there was a story about Maida Heatter. I instantly became a huge fan and continue to be all these years later. It was her Polka Dot Cheesecake recipe in that article that fascinated me. I tried making it as soon as I had a chance, and it turned out perfectly. The instructions worked exactly as they should, and it was the most delightful thing I’d ever baked. That recipe also appears in the book Maida Heatter’s Cakes. And now, it appears in her latest book, Happiness Is Baking: Cakes, Pies, Tarts, Muffins, Brownies, Cookies: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake, as well. I received a review copy of this new book that contains her classic recipes. In her introduction, she encourages the reader to treat this and all cookbooks like a textbook. She suggests you write notes on the pages to remember any little changes you should make next time from baking time and ingredients to the reason why you made the recipe. She writes: “In the future you will find that your own notes have added to the book and made it more valuable to you.” When I read that, I realized that’s why I started this food blog. I wanted to track what I was cooking, what changes I made to original recipes, and when and why I made each dish. Maida Heatter wants nothing more than for home bakers to enjoy succeeding at all their baking projects. Her instructions are always the best. This new book includes Everyday Cakes, Special Occasion Cakes, Cookies, and Pies Tarts Brownies Bars and More. There are multiple chocolate cakes and lemon cakes, and I’m convinced I should try every one of them. I just have to decide which to make first, The Best Damn Lemon Cake or the East 62nd Street Lemon Cake. The instructions for Mildred Knopf’s Orange Puff Cake have me very intrigued. To begin, egg whites are whisked with salt on a large platter. There’s a note that “this cake may seem like a lot of trouble, but, believe me, this is the sort of adventure in baking that makes a cook’s reputation.” How could you not try this recipe? The Bull’s Eye Cheesecake appears along with the Polka Dot. There’s Mississippi Mud Pie, Coffee Buttercrunch Pie, Key Lime Pie, the Pecan Squares Americana that I’ve made before, three versions of brownies, and more. 

First, I pre-heated the oven for chocolate chips cookies. I have a mental list of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes, and I suspected these Big Sur cookies would end up on it. They’re big, thin, crunchy cookies with oats and walnuts, and I always love a big cookie. Interestingly, the recipe includes a small amount of lemon juice. I’d never seen that in a chocolate chip cookie before. Making the cookie dough was completely straightforward with creaming of butter and sugar with vanilla and lemon juice. The sifted dry ingredients were added followed by the walnuts and chocolate chips. The dough was portioned into large mounds with lots of space on the cookie sheet and only four cookies per sheet. The dough mounds were flattened slightly with wet hands before baking. 

I had hoped the lemon juice would be apparent in the finished cookies, but there wasn’t enough to taste it. I assume the acidity helped activate the baking soda. The oats, walnuts, chocolate, and cinnamon did contribute to excellent flavor and texture though. I’m glad I followed the recipe exactly the first time using it. Normally, I would be tempted to swap in pecans in place of walnuts, but the walnuts were delicious. And, yes, baking these cookies was definitely a source of happiness. 

Big Sur Chocolate Chip Cookies 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Happiness Is Baking: Cakes, Pies, Tarts, Muffins, Brownies, Cookies: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake

These California cookies are 6 inches in diameter — they are the largest homemade chocolate chip cookies I know (nothing succeeds like excess). They are crisp, crunchy, buttery, delicious. Too good. Irresistible. But because of their size, don’t make them for a fancy tea party. Do make them for a barbecue or a picnic, or for any casual affair. 

Makes 12 to 15 very large cookies 
1 1⁄2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour 
1⁄2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
6 ounces (1 1⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter 
1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon lemon juice 
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
2 large eggs 
1⁄4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats 
6 ounces (generous 1 1⁄2 cups) walnuts, chopped or broken into medium-size pieces  
6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate morsels 

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or foil. 

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and then both of the sugars and beat to mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients and then the rolled oats, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts and morsels. 

Now work next to the sink or have a large bowl of water handy so you can wet your hands while shaping the cookies. Spread out a piece of wax paper or foil. Use a 1⁄4-cup measuring cup to measure the amount of dough for each cookie. Form 12 to 15 mounds of the dough and place them any which way on the wax paper or foil. Wet your hands with cold water, shake the water off, but do not dry your hands; pick up a mound of dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it to about 1⁄2-inch thickness, and place it on the lined sheets. Do not place more than 4 cookies on a 15 1⁄2 x 12-inch cookie sheet. These spread to gigantic proportions. 

Bake two sheets at a time for 16 to 18 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning. (If you bake only one sheet at a time, bake it on the higher rack.) Bake until the cookies are well colored; they must not be too pale. Watch these carefully; before you know it, they might become too dark. 

When you remove them from the oven, let the cookies stand for about a minute, until they are firm enough to be moved. With a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool. If the racks are not raised at least 1⁄2 inch from the work surface, place them on a bowl or cake pan to allow more air to circulate underneath. 

When cool, wrap them with bottoms together, two to a package, in cellophane or wax paper or in plastic sandwich bags. If you do not plan to serve these soon, freeze them.
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