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A Note from Marcy

October 2006, The Chocolate Chip and Chunk Tollhouse Issue

Welcome to the Big Cookie Issue Charlie Brown with Free Original Tollhouse Cookies, Amazing Levain Bakery style Cookies and more (and don't forget Canuck Thanksgiving and a couple of Halloween Treats)

" There are cookie shops, there are cookies on wheels, and there are cookies to be found in the most incredible locations.  People seem to be cookie mad! But I am still convinced that a good, simple, homemade cookie is preferable to all the store bought cookies one can find"  James Beard The New James Beard Alfred P. Knopf, New York, l98l

"I still believe in small-quantity cookery... especially in baking."  
Ruth Graves Wakefield, Toll House Tried and True Recipes,  Dover Publications N.Y. l948

Dear Friends and Fellow Bakers,

No, it’s not the Big Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; it’s the big Cookie Issue instead! Along with our cookie collection, (just in time for bakesale season), you’ll find some Canadian Thanksgiving sweets and a nod to Halloween treats. But the major theme is a salute to hallowed chocolate chip cookies, starting with the Original Tollhouse Cookies recipe, to every Tollhouse variation in-between and crowned with a knock-your-socks off celebration of the same old. The most recent rendition of chocolate chip decadence causing a stir in New York and beyond is the ones from Levain Bakery in New York. Now that’s a cookie and a half! Actually, it is about a half pound of cookie. For your baking pleasure, I have created my own version of a Levain style chocolate chip cookie. Check out (Almost Levain's) Chocolate Chunk Cookies for what our testers simply called the ‘wow’ cookie and in New York visit Levain Bakery or order online from www.LevainBakery.com.  

Cookie Up – A short, sweet history of gourmet cookies
Since Ruth and Nestlé’s collaboration and well before the stir Levain Bakery created, there have been generations of chocolate chip cookie bakers and consumers alike, the latter forming the substantial, munching, majority.  Like the better mousetrap, came the better cookie and there emerged a whole new generation of chocolate chip entrepreneurs.  Most notable among these was Wallace Amos or "Famous Amos", a former theatrical agent who touted his aunt's famous cookie recipe.  Then came David's Cookies and overnight the chip (again) became the chunk in a deluxe spin of our beloved classic. Bakery newcomer David Lebowitz revved up his cookies version with loads of creamery butter, little if any leavener, and veritable hunks of Swiss Lindt chocolate. After David, there was Mrs. Field, who filled America’s malls with eau de Chocolate Chunk and other varieties of freshly baked, warm cookies. She also inspired America’s dream chasers with the notion anyone with a great recipe could become a cookie entrepreneur. Maybe. What is certain is you can become a legend in your own kitchen, among family , friends and perhaps the neighborhood. You will also love the results of your own Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Chase. It’s just fun making a new cookie each time, experimenting with the basic elements. In fact, one of my first printed recipes was as a runner-up in the Search for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, by Gwen Steege (Storey Publishing, 1988). On page 58, you will find my own recipe for Cuisine D’Or Chocolate Chunk Cookies along with a secret ingredient (it’s corn syrup). What you really have to distinquish however is, most folks can produce a great chocolate chip cookie. Making a fuss over them, adding venture capital, a marketing plan and hawking your cookies into an empire, is another matter. Morever, creating a passion for your product - that is what is truly remarkable.

Soft and Chewy, The Cookie Wars

Around the late seventies, it seemed just about every novice retailer was baking fresh cookies in malls across America. As a result, the large American commercial cookie manufacturers, once the cookie kings, were left spinning in their tracks, wondering how to recapture their market. Marketing studies revealed that the textural sensation of "soft and chewy" signified a just-out-of-the oven, "homemade" tasting product that Mrs. Field’s (and grandma) had.  Life in the fast lane was leading harried consumers to the comfort of cookies that tasted just baked - one they could confidently serve their kids, one that approximated the bake-off variety cookie boutiques were known for.  The cookie wars were a food company battle that resulted when the nation's leading cookie manufacturers competed in cookie espionage to achieve the best cookie in the new category and grab the larger market share. What they ultimately discovered is that you could get a cookie those texture was not out-of-a-box crunchy or dry and crumbly if you toyed with two different types of dough, laminated together.  Home bakers tend to underbake cookies to achieve this but the cookie manufactures put chewy dough in the center of a shorter, crisper one, resulting in a cookie with that characteristic plasticity in the center and a crisp edge. 

The technology behind commercial cookies is complex and one that few non-professionals are privy to.  Commercial cookies have a host of ingredients (both natural and less so), methods, machines, ovens, and unique, top-secret recipe formulations behind them that have propelled them into a very specialized affair. This specific ploy of fusing two entirely different doughs together, was, (somewhat ironically) deduced when one manufacturer (think suits in a limo, driving into the baking heartland) actually traveled to a small, close knit Mennonite community in Ontario, Canada and spent a few days with a baking grandmother to learn her cookie baking magic and then transfer it to their assembly line cookies.

Chewy cookie doughs are usually made by using a proportion of liquid or invert sweetener (e.g. honey, molasses, corn syrup, glucose, etc.) at a ratio up to about 20-25%.  Liquid sweeteners are known for their water-loving or hygroscopic tendencies, which result in keeping a product moister longer. Crisp textures have less or no invert sugars and a high percentage of fat to sugar and flour.  These doughs have a characteristic short crumb. At home, you too, can in fact (if you get to that compulsive level), laminate cookie doughs together, to approximate the commercial soft and chewy types. You can also use a bit of liquid sweetener to replace the white sugar in your regular recipe to create the chewiness.  Another way to fool tasters into perceiving a chewy cookie is a higher proportion of chocolate, use chocolate chunks (not chips) as Mrs. Wakefield did, and uses chocolate that is not tempered or specified as baking chocolate.  This less stable chocolate melts differently and doesn't quite retain its shape: lots of chocolate morsels melted into a batter make for a soft, fudgey burrows, just held together with bits of dough. Bottom line - you can do alot with a homespun recipe to achieve different textures. And the beat, as they say, goes on.

A food writer career is born….
I started my own food-writing career with cookies (versus my bakery career which I began by supplying carrot and cheesecakes to restaurants). In fact, my very first food feature in the Montreal Gazette was on Chocolate Chip Cookies. I sweated 6 weeks researching and writing that article and manically testing cookies relentlessly for all of those six weeks. The night before my feature was to run in the Wednesday food section, I sat up all night waiting for the paperboy to deliver the paper. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep. Later on, when I wrote broke the Chicago Tribune and then the New York Times, I did sleep but I drove to the Montreal International airport, greeting American Airlines pilots and attendants and begged to have their flight newspapers so I could check out my feature. Over time, my baking energy has never waived- it just morphed. And of course, I no longer have to hit on incoming pilots for their onboard newspapers; I just look online via the Internet instead, in my pajamas, to check out my feature work in another newspaper, usually with a cup of coffee and cookie in hand.

David's Cookies or Cookie Wars, Part Deux
My second, real bakery job was when I was hired to recreate David’s Cookies for a Montreal café, Terre Etoile. I had tons of deck ovens, a small staff, a warehouse of Lindt chocolate and this horrible conveyor oven that apparently was the same as the David’s Cookie Company used. All I recall was a nightmare of too-soft, too-rich cookie dough gobs on special baking sheets, entering the mouth of a 6-foot tunnel oven that had a mobile rack or belt. Initially, the cookies melted and then spread in shimmering pools of butter. Most disheartening. But with any luck and a fervent cookie prayer, finally set up by the time they exited the oven, some 9 minutes later. Great scent, great visuals – just one problem, She who bakes the cookies, cannot also be the she who tends the customers and cash. My memory is of cookies coming out of the oven and falling off the counter (as trays backed up), hot, greasy, chocolate-smeared hands packing cookies and frantically doling out change and packing up hot, fragile cookies. Think: Lucy and Ethel meet Small Time Crooks Meet The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Eventually we trashed the conveyor oven and for the proper effect, piped in the scent of the cookies baking from the downstairs kitchen. I took advantage of those changes to also refuse to handle the cash, customers, and be a baker. I have worked to rule ever since.

A ton of my best cookie tips (and new recipes) are upcoming in my new cookbook (A Passion for Baking, Oxmoor House, Fall 2007) but some basic tips need be shared here and now: double up the baking sheet unless otherwise stated; use premium butter (try Plugra if you can get it via Keller’s dairy) and best vanilla (Nielsen Massey to start with and if you can, sleuth out their Double Strength Mexican, Tahitian and Madagascar vanillas in order of which flavor is best for cookie baking.)

So, do you have a new approach to Tollhouse cookies to unveil? Want to add your toque to the fray? There’s always room! Here’s to you cookie monsters, cookie bakers, movers and shakers. When the chips are down, just use chunks.

Happy Thanksgiving fellow Canucks, Happy Halloween all, and mostly, welcome to October in the baker’s kitchen. Indian summer baking is the beginning of the best of baking season - so enjoy.
Warm wishes from Wheatland,

Marcy Goldman
Editor & Host
www.BetterBaking.com
Est
ablished 1997

 (P.S. Did you know you are all carrot cake fiends? Last month's free carrot cake recipe was downloaded 3400 times in one hour. Who knew we loved Vitamen A that much!)

 


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, Ive know the feeling; I know the place. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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