This recipe is based on the Joy of Cooking‘s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Several variations follow the master recipe, along with suggestions and ideas.
It’s best to bake in the center of the oven preheated to 350 degrees. Use parchment paper for easy cleanup and nonstick surface, or use lightly greased cookie sheets.
It’s better to bake multiple cookie sheets, one at a time; they bake quickly and the heat distribution will be better for even browning.
- Sift together:
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, or whole wheat pastry flour, or a combination of the two
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Beat on medium speed until fluffy and well blended:
- 8 tablespoons (1/4 pound) unsalted butter (I like Plugra or other ‘European Style’ butters’ better flavor, but regular butter also works.)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- Add and beat until combined:
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract or, even better, the seeds of vanilla bean*
- Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth.
- Next stir in:
- 1½ cups finely chopped crystallized ginger**.
- 1½ cups chopped walnuts.
- At this point you are ready to put the cookie dough on the baking sheets. I like to use a mini one inch diameter ice cream scoop to portion the dough. You can use the old drop from a measured teaspoonful method but I find it hard to control the size of the cookies that way. Either way, I lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the cookies to gently press them down to flatten. Place the cookies an inch apart (flattened) on the sheet to allow for spreading while baking. Sure beats that fork dipped in water and pressing each one method grandma (bless her) used.
- You may bake them now. Otherwise, refrigerate or freeze for baking later (leave the plastic wrap on them) Once frozen, pack into zip lock bags. They can go straight from the freezer to the oven–just add an extra minute or two to the baking time.
- Another approach is to save the dough as flat rectangle by packing it into a one gallon zip lock bag. Smooth the dough flat and remove most of the air from the bag. Refrigerate until firm. At this point you can bake them or just pop into the freezer for future baking. I love having frozen dough on hand, then fresh baked cookies are always available quickly. The dough is ready to go. You can also use quart sized bags for portion control. Make a double batch – bake some now and some later. When you’re ready to bake, cut open the bag, lay the sheet of dough on a cutting board and cut to the size you desire. The thickness will be good.
- Place an inch apart and bake until just slightly colored on top and browned around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Rotate the tray halfway through baking for more even browning. Allow cookies to cool for two minutes once removed from oven before moving to cooling racks.
- Store the cookies in the refrigerator in airtight containers for one week. They can also be frozen after baking; just be sure to wrap well before freezing.
*For vanilla bean, lay bean on a cutting board, press with the flat part of a knife to flatten. Slice through down the length of the bean. Separate and then scrape the seeds by running a sharp knife across the cut portion. Add to cookie dough. Save the bean and add to the cooking liquid for hot cereal or flavor milk for a custard or steep with tea or put in a jar with sugar to infuse vanilla flavor.
**Trader Joe’s sells an inexpensive candied ginger. It is not necessary to use the fancy Australian ginger ‘coins’ although I have used them with good results. Avoid the dense candied ginger, it works but is more difficult to chop. A light coat of non stick spray in the food processor bowl and blade will help keep the fruit from sticking.
- Use almonds, cashews, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts
Add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
- A teaspoon or two of grated lemon or orange rind may be added to the butter mixture.
- In place of ginger you may use any dried fruit – apricot, peach, mango, blueberry, any berry, apple, pear or your favorite. Just be sure to chop into small pieces.
- For chocolate chip cookies substitute 1½ cups chocolate chips. For better flavor chop a better quality chocolate bar into small pieces.
- For an extra chocolaty flavor substitute 1/4 cup of flour with cocoa powder.
By dividing the basic dough in half you can make two different kinds of cookies. Just use half the amount of added nuts, fruits, or chocolate ingredients called for in the recipe.
One last trick, if you are shipping cookies to someone, pack them in freshly popped pop corn. Pop corn makes good edible insulation against breakage.
And that’s your cooking lesson for today!
Cheers and happy baking,
Richard Azzolini, ‘le chef’