Our Favorite Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

One weekend. Three recipes. Four dozen chocolate chip cookies. At least one sugar coma that I can speak of.  The mission: test a few untried recipes to see if any of them are better than my current soft and chewy chocolate chip and chunk cookie recipe (link in averie’s soft & chewy chocolate chunk).  It’s been one wild weekend. So long as you define “wild” as in making and eat copious amounts of chocolate chip cookies.  I do. You do, too? Cool.  We’re on the same page.

IMG_5792

Enter the players (links here): America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, America’s Test Kitchen Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip cookie and Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip cookies.  The recipes vary in their ingredient ratios, using light versus dark brown sugar, browning the butter, mixing the butter with cream cheese, whole eggs versus using one egg yolk only and whether or not to chill the dough.

IMG_5801

I baked all the cookies on the same pans with Silpat liners to eliminate that variable. Because of my lengthy experience with chocolate chip cookies, I also opted to chill a portion of the dough from the recipes that did not specifically call for chilling the dough.  You can see the finished products and my tasting notes below as well as some input from the peanut gallery and my final ranking of recipes.

America’s Test Kitchen Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip cookie

IMG_5802

Unchilled: these cookies were sweeter than the other two recipes with and lacked a little of the depth of the other two.  More straightforward sweetness with a soft and crumbly texture.  When eaten fresh (the day of baking), these were the favorites of both my husband and my brother-in-law.

IMG_5805

Chilled: chilling this dough helps achieve crispier edges while retaining the overall chewy, crumbly texture of the cookie. Because the edges brown more, the flavor is a little deeper and I could picture myself eating approximately 16 of these in one sitting.  Yes, they are as big as a eat saucers.

IMG_5804

America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

IMG_5807

Unchilled: this recipe called for browning most of the butter in the dough and that flavor note hits you right off the bat.  For me (and some other tasters), it was a little too forward and didn’t positively add to the flavor of the cookies.  The texture is smoother than the ATK Thick & Chewy cookie but still retains a nice chewiness near the center with a  slight crunch on the edges.

IMG_5809

Chilled: the chilling seems to balance some of that big browned butter kick and I like the layer of caramelized flavor you get that helps to play up the salt factor in these cookies.  The chilled version of these cookies puffed up a little higher than the unchilled version and spread less.  The texture remained smooth and chewy. Less crumbly than the ATK Thick & Chewy Cookie.

IMG_5808

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip cookies

IMG_5812

Chilled: The recipe on this called for chilling the dough and I made it first.  Otherwise, I may have tried to experiment to see if chilling impacted the flavor or texture here.  Overall, in the previous two recipes, chilling seems to have had a positive impact so I don’t feel too bad.  These cookies were much heavier and denser than the other two cookies.  The cream cheese didn’t seem to add too much to the flavor other than to cut the sweetness of the dough slightly.  The texture on these was definitely soft but cakier versus chewy.  This recipe also called for the most chocolate chips.  I love me some chocolate chips but I do like a good bite of naked dough interspersed in there which these didn’t offer.  Some of the other tasters did like these the best when tasting fresh out of the oven as the chocolate was nice and gooey and that’s the predominant flavor that you got.

I had a ton of fun trying out all the different recipes and have probably found my new favorite in ATK’s Thick & Chewy chocolate chip cookie.  I like that it doesn’t call for any weird flours like some other recipes that call for bread flour.  It also doesn’t use any corn starch.  I’m not staunchly opposed to adding the corn starch to the recipe but less ingredients means I’m more likely to have them all on hand in case I need to whip up an emergency batch.

My overall ranking is below:

  1. America’s Test Kitchen Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Chilled
  2. America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Chilled
  3. Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookie
  4. America’s Test Kitchen Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Unchilled
  5. America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Unchilled

Some Final Thoughts: Two of the recipes are from America’s Test Kitchen which I have found to be a reliable, entertaining and educational source of recipes, kitchen tips and product recommendations. You may have to sign up for a free trial in order to gain access to the content. It’s worth getting free access for two weeks to an abundance of recipes, all sorts of random kitchen product knowledge and a great source of inspiration. No, I’m not getting paid for this. I just believe strongly in ATK. If you’re interested in getting some of the product knowledge and educational tidbits for free, you can tune into their radio show/podcast.

The America’s Test Kitchen Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip cookie is going to be my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe going forward. I think that all these cookies deserve to be made again with slight tweaks based on personal preference. I used high-quality Guittard “Cookie” chips for all cookies that were roughly the size of 2-3 normal chocolate chips. I think I would try again with smaller chips, likely Ghirardelli semisweet. I would also try the Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip cookies with fewer chocolate chips to see if we could get more of that tangy cream cheese flavor and also if it would make the cookies softer and more tender. For the America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie I’d like to play around with the ratio of brown butter to regular butter to see if we can get to a flavor intensity level that is pleasing to the masses (read: me and my husband).

Moral of the story: Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies – even the “less than best” ones.

Thanks for stopping by!

A

Let’s Talk About Buttermilk

Buttermilk. Why do they seem to only sell buttermilk is the largest containers possible? And by that, I mean quarts. When I generally need one cup or less. Good marketing ploy, buttermilk producers.

Act 1: Force all the people to buy the quarts of buttermilk for recipes that require one quarter of the container. Plague them with guilt every time they open the refrigerator and see that three-quarters full container staring back at them, expiration date looming. Or is that just me? No, okay good.

Act 2: Google allllllll the buttermilk recipes, favoring ones that require the most buttermilk. Decide on banana bundt cake, frosted buttermilk brownies and pancake batter. Enter the secondary grocery trip for the additional ingredients that you decide you NEED to use up the buttermilk. Buy said ingredients. Bring them home. Bake delicious treats. Serve them to colleagues of family members and anyone who walks in the door of the house. And now that I’ve made it through, it seems as though this is a happy ending for everyone. I suppose I should thank the buttermilk producers for this happy set of circumstances.

FYI: these recipes used up almost 5 cups of buttermilk total. Not that anyone’s counting. That’s a lie. I did count.

And now for the gratuitous visual evidence.

IMG_5754 All the yellow ingredients destined for what promised to be a super moist banana pound cake. You can find the recipe here: One Very Moist Banana Cake. One note: I added additional milk to the cream cheese glaze to make it more pourable. It was still slightly thicker than I liked. Just add the milk slowly. If you do any baking or cooking, you probably know (or should know) the adage – “You can always add more, but you can’t take it out once you’ve put it in.” Learn it. Live it. Love it.

It never ceases to mystify me that such simple ingredients can come together and produce this: Banana Pound Cake with Cream Cheese

This cake was incredibly moist, as promised in the title. Not too sweet and the cream cheese frosting/glaze added a nice tang. I will be making this again.

IMG_5762 IMG_5764

Who knew that buttermilk could be such a delightful addition to brownies? The tang cuts the richness slightly and made me want to eat these guys by the handful. I failed to get a picture of the frosted version but the frosting comes together very quickly in a small saucepan and may just be the best part of this rich and tangy dessert. Of course, mom went for the crunchy edges while the rest of us sane folks vied for the gooey center squares.

Find the recipe in all it’s fudgy glory here: Frosted Buttermilk Brownies

And finally, the buttermilkiest recipe of them all. Yeah, I just made that up. You get my drift. PANCAKE BATTER!! I searched on my trust friend, the Google to see if you could freeze pancake batter. There were a few sites that said yes, so I decided to experiment since the leftover buttermilk would go to waste if I didn’t anyway.

IMG_5761

Will report back once we make these, which will likely be this weekend as we will almost definitely be snowed in under 2-3 ft of snow. Bring it on, Mother Nature. Bring. It. On.

Happy 2016!

Hey friends. Now that we are a few days in, let me wholeheartedly welcome you to 2016! I’m certain that it’s going to be a year to remember.  Lots of big (fun) changes on the horizon and I’m trying to take time each day to be present in the current moment, right where I am and to realize how blessed and lucky I am. I know it’s a bit “woo-woo” but 2015 packed one heck of a wallop and I am pretty glad to have weathered that storm and come out in a much better place.

A brief recap of 2015: Philip turns 30! Beans turns 1! Weddings in Tennesse and Virginia.  5 year anniversary! New job for me. Lots of summer visitors to the NJ lakehouse. Arkansas trip to visit the wonderful friends we made in our time there. Frank turned 7! Bucket list trip to Italy (which you may have read a little about here). Guys, I ran a MARATHON! We became Virginia residents again, with new drivers licenses in hand as of today. Found a house that we are in love with and hope to close on in late January. Traded in the Jeep for another blue truck. Spent the holidays visiting and spending time with all of our friends and family and enjoyed being back in the Leesburg area. Rang in the New Year with our best friends at the family lakehouse.

As we head into 2016, I am so excited about the opportunities and possibilities ahead. I didn’t make any real resolutions this year but I plan on working hard, playing hard and striving for balance.

“Some days you eat salad and go to the gym. Some days you eat cupcakes and refuse to put on pants. It’s called balance.”

Quote Catalog

My vision for 2016 includes: dog snuggles, running, reading, baking, blogging, teaching boot camp!!!, moving, family, friends, and celebrating all the little moments.

Thanks for checking in! I can’t wait to share with you all that life brings my way this year.

Italy Part 2: Pisa and Lucca

Hello again!  After a bedtime of approximately 8:15 last night, I finally feel somewhat rested and back to normal.  Still working on shaking the post-vacation depression. Searching through cake recipes to find the perfect birthday cakes is definitely helping. Cakes, you say? Yep, cakes.  One for this weekend and one for next. I really like birthdays. But that’s a different post. Let’s go back to Italy.

Day 2 was spent in Pisa and Lucca. Since we had a car, it was an brief 45 minute drive to get to Pisa and we found a free tour bus parking lot that made getting in and out really easy. After a quick 15 minute walk from the parking lot and a short jaunt through a busy open-air market, we arrived to these sights:

IMG_5184 IMG_5186 IMG_5187 IMG_5190 IMG_5192 IMG_5193 IMG_5196

It was absolutely breah-taking. I think we’ve all seen plenty of pictures of the Leaning Tower.  Seeing it in person is just a completely different experience.  Especially alongside the Baptistery and the green expanse around the beautiful buildings known as the “Field of Miracles”.  You can see from the pictures that we also saw an incredible amount of people.  I can’t tell you how many people I saw with their hand perfectly positioned to hold up the tower.  It was quite the spectacle.

After taking in all the sights, we walked through the city of Pisa, a mix cute little shops – both national chains and local boutiques.  There were plenty of little cafes to grab lunch and no less than five places to grab gelato.  Which we did, naturally.  I’ll shout out to Rick Steves here for all of the advice.  He provided a lot of recommendations that we used to find good places to eat and, in this case, find the best gelato at La Bottega Del Gelato in Piazza Garibaldi.  Pistachio for me and Strawberry for P. The pistachio was creamy, cool and just sweet enough to satisfy my dessert craving. I love the gelato portions in Italy. Satisfying but enough to keep you wanting more day after day!

It was a beautiful and scenic walk with enough ornate architecture and details on the buildings to keep you looking around the entire time. Side note: I think I could make an entire book of pictures of the doors in Italy.  They are so grand and imposing and theatrical.  I had to stop myself from taking pictures of all of them or I would have come home with thousands. And people probably would have thought I was creepy taking pictures of their front doors. Sigh.

IMG_5209IMG_5212 IMG_5215

After we hit the Piazza Garibaldi and got a glimpse of the Arno, we turned around to grab lunch and head back to the car to continue on to our next destination.

We took Rick Steves’ advice again and headed to Pizzeria al Bagno di Nerone which is conveniently located close to the sights of Pisa. I got Cecina (a very thin garbanzo bean cake) and mozzarella on focaccia and Philip, of course, ordered pizza.  Lunch was quick and delicious.  I have already looked up recipes to try and create both Cecina and the thin focaccia bread that it was served on.  Totally simple perfection.

IMG_5998 IMG_6001

This was the interior of the pizzeria. If you look closely, you can see forks and spoons and various kitchen implements hanging from the light fixture.

IMG_5218

During our walk back to the car, we may have gotten slightly lost and seen a little more of Pisa than we anticipated.  Happy consequence!  Saw this bad boy and had to take a picture for my dad. Not 100% sure what it is but I assume that it’s an Italian military aircraft of some sort. You just never know what you’re going to see walking through the streets of Italy!

IMG_5219

Then, we were on our way to Lucca, a 15 minute drive back towards our hotel.

IMG_5221

IMG_5222Fun fact about Lucca: despite not being in an actual war since 1430, it is Italy’s most fortified city.  The big draw for Lucca is walking around the ramparts that surround the city.  The views did not disappoint.

IMG_5224 IMG_5225 IMG_5226 IMG_5227 IMG_5230We walked around for a bit and saw quite a few runners, bikers and walkers.  Made me wish I had a place like this around me. So perfect for marathon training!

On the way back to the car, we happened up this pretty little canal chock full of ducks!IMG_5241IMG_5245

Overall, a wonderful day getting a feel for the different cities and taking in some of the most iconic buildings in the world. Tune in next time for details on our trip to the Cinque Terre! Until then, here is one more picture of that Leaning Tower.

IMG_5202

 

Italy Part 1. All the Parmigiano Reggiano.

Buon giorno! Ciao! Welcome back, friends.

I come to you today a little bleary-eyed from a long day of travel yesterday but still riding a high from a simply fabulous Italian vacanza. We spent about a week exploring a number of (mostly Tuscan) cities and towns, eating all the pasta and gelato, drinking copious amounts of wine and walking enough miles to mostly burn all of that off.  Here, I’ll give you a glimpse of the highlights of our vacation in pieces loosely following our actual itinerary.

We took off at 10pm Eastern time. Eight hours of flying time between NY and Milan. Mostly sleep for me.  A few movies and a few attempts at sleep for Philip. Approximately eight hours after we departed the US, we arrived in Milan.  Customs was a breeze going into Italy and, with a little help from Google Translator, we finally managed to find the Car Rental counter where our journey really began. I wish I had taken a picture of our little baby Corsa. Cars in Italy are so small and are all stick shift. Let’s all just take a moment and be thankful for dads who actually do know best when they make their daughters learn how to drive on a stick shift car (Thanks, dad!).

I managed to get us safely to our first destination, a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese dairy farm. We only got lost once and thus met a very cute Italian dog and some very nice Italian folks that spoke no English.  We managed to get directions to where we needed to go by way of a great deal of pointing and gesturing. I was a little nervous driving through the Italian countryside as the roads got smaller and then turned to gravel but we kept on.  A tour and tasting of Parmigiano Reggiano was one of the only things that we actually scheduled in advance of arriving in Italy and I was determined to get us there.

Finally, we arrived at Agricola Guareschi and met our fabulous tour guide, Mario.

IMG_5177 IMG_5178

IMG_5153As it was a fully functioning farm with plenty of cows, the first step was to put on these trendy protective shoe covers. Teal. High fashion.

IMG_5151IMG_5152

After proper safety precautions were taken, Mario took us out to see the cows.

IMG_5155These curious ladies are the milk producers.  Once they give birth, they are then milked for no more than 160 days so as to keep the cows healthy and content.  Mario detailed how they keep the pens clean, the cows well fed and well watered.  To me, this all sounded a lot like “Happy cows, happy cheese.”  I guess the slogan is international.IMG_5157Once the cows have finished their milk production run, they are literally put to pasture to relax and enjoy life for awhile before having more little baby cows. IMG_5158Just another lazy day on the Parm farm.IMG_5161And here are the mama cows, kept separate from the other cows in a clean, sheltered area where there is plenty of food and space to laze about.IMG_5160One of the big factors in ensuring the quality of the Parmigiana cheese is a highly controlled food source.  All the hay is made from a mix of grass and alfalfa grown and dried in the area.  We learned that elsewhere, the hay does not get fully dried but is fermented in the process which impacts the flavor of the milk.  This picture does not even do justice to the amount of hay that we saw being stored for the cows.IMG_5164Here are the massive vats where the cheese is mixed and the curds and whey are separated.IMG_5167Technology meets Little Miss Muffet.IMG_5166

IMG_5162Mixing tools or torture devices? Up for debate.IMG_5168 IMG_5169Once the cheese is separated, it gets put into the molds that imprint the rinds.IMG_5165And from there, it sits for a long period of time in a salted water solution that pulls the moisture out of the cheese and gives it that grittier, firmer texture that we all know and love.IMG_5170 IMG_5173 IMG_5175 IMG_5176 IMG_5174From there, it is stacked to age.  This row of cheese was maybe one fifth of the amount that was in the room that we saw and the entire amount in the room was only three months worth of production. This farm produces A LOT of cheese. Stacks on stacks on stacks, if you will.IMG_5171 IMG_5172After aging for a year, a quality control inspector comes to ensure the quality of the cheese. Poking, prodding, knocking and a sample or two determine whether the cheese is worthy of the Parmigiano Reggiano stamp or will be sold as simply “Italian cheese”. The cheese is stamped at one year but is not generally sold until after 2 years (24 mesi).IMG_5181After our brief lesson on Parmigiana production, it was time to taste!IMG_5182Just a few more torture tools to provide ambiance. IMG_5180But really the room was decked out in baskets of all shapes and sizes.  Very rustic and homey feeling.  Check out that sweet wine rack by the lamp!IMG_5183We got to taste cheese that had been aged for one, two and three years.  The difference is remarkable in both taste and texture.  The longer the cheese ages, the grittier, sharper and more pungent it becomes. We may have had to try each type a few times to really get a good point of reference.

What a first experience in Italy! And it came with a bonus – we were able to purchase a block of Parmigiano Reggiano made right there on that farm.  For 14 euros.  Mind blown.

A good start to the trip and a very memorable experience. I would definitely recommend it to anyone going to the area.  You can check out the dairy farm that we visited: http://www.agricolaguareschi.it/ or look at all your options here Parmigiano Reggiano Tours

Stay tuned from more highlights in the near future!