Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adventures in Baking 101: Cookies and Brownies

Baking class, week eight. Half way through the semester! This week we’re delving into the delicious, magical realm of cookies. We’ll also be making brownies, which are sort of a cake and sort of a cookie. I think they fall a bit more on the cookie side because they’re easy and quick to make. Either way I see good eating ahead.

The finished chocolate chip cookies. These were GOOD.
Did you know? There are eight different types of cookies:
  • Drop cookies are spooned into mounds on a cookie sheet before baking (e.g. chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies).
  • The dough for icebox cookies is shaped into a log, chilled, then sliced into individual pieces before baking.
  • Bar cookies are rolled into a log, baked, then sliced. This category includes biscotti, which are baked a second time after slicing to make each cookie extra crisp.
  • Sheet cookies are pressed or poured into a shallow pan before baking, then cut. Brownies and lemon bars are examples.
  • For cut-out cookies the dough is rolled out, then cut into shapes before baking. This category includes holiday favorites like sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies.
  • Pressed cookies, also known as spritz cookies, are made from a soft dough that is piped through a pastry tip or cookie press (into star shapes, for example).
  • Rolled cookies are made from a firm dough that is rolled out, often spread with a filling, then cut and shaped into crescents, spirals, or other shapes. Rugelach are an example.
  • Wafer cookies are very thin and delicate, made from a base of whipped eggs rather than creamed fat like most of the other cookies. They’re usually crisp. Sometimes wafer cookies are rolled into tubes when still warm. Tuile cookies and pirolines are examples.

Weeks like this make me glad I got into this class. I love the science associated with baking and there’s plenty to learn about cookies. We discuss factors that make cookies crisp or soft, chewy or brittle, pale or dark, spread more or spread less.

Like almost all baked products, cookies stale most quickly at 40 degrees F., which is the temperature at which your refrigerator is set (or should be set, to retard the growth of bacteria). So cookies are best stored at room temperature in an airtight container; they should stay reasonably fresh for about a week. Cookie dough and undecorated baked cookies freeze well if wrapped tightly.

The plan is that each team of two students will make two batches of chocolate chip cookies. The first batch will use melted butter, the second will use butter softened at room temperature. It’s a nifty little experiment to illustrate how the treatment of butter affects the texture of finished cookies. Unfortunately the mise en place crew discover that there isn’t enough butter in the walk-in refrigerator to make fourteen batches of cookies plus seven batches of brownies. So the class is divided into two groups, one of which will use melted butter and the other softened.

My partner Chris and I are on point to use softened butter. The recipe is not difficult and our cookies turn out spectacularly. Bloomington folks may remember a long-standing downtown establishment called Red Chair Bakery that had terrific cookies, and our cookies remind me of those. They’re large–five or six inches across–sweet and substantial. Very satisfying.

Next up is a batch of fudge brownies; again, not difficult to prepare.

Half-sheet of fudge brownies.
It’s decided that we’ll freeze the brownies and discuss them at next week’s class. For some reason the designers of the cooking facility have installed only two small freezers, which are always completely crammed, so there’s not enough room to freeze seven pans of brownies. We have the option to refrigerate the brownies for a week, by which time they will be stale, or take them home and freeze them. Since I definitely want to eat my share of brownies, I opt for the latter. The catch is that I’ve got to remember to bring them back to the next class or Chris and I get zero points for the exercise.

After everything’s out of the ovens and cooled, the class does a quick comparison of the cookie batches. It’s generally decided that the cookies made with softened butter have a better texture than those made with melted butter. Note to self.

Take home: nine large chocolate chip cookies, one sheet pan of fudge brownies (for freezing).

1 comment:

  1. Well... you got my attention- i love soft cookies AND brownies... life without them is indeed a sad one.

    YUM !