On Food

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Video Credit: Emily Chao Music Credit: Generationals

A great chocolate chip cookie has chocolate chunks, not chips. In fact, the original chocolate chip cookie was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield in the 1930s completely by accident when she put chunks of chocolate in a cookie batter and hoped that the chunks would melt into the batter as it baked, ultimately resulting in a chocolate cookie. Instead, the result was what she termed the Toll House Cookie, named after the Toll House Inn that she owned at the time. Today, the variations on this cookie are numerous, just look at the cookie aisle in the supermarket. However, it is my personal opinion that a proper chocolate chip cookie should be devoured within 10-15 minutes of coming out of the oven while the chocolate is still melty and the center is still slightly gooey and warm. The edges of the cookie should be crisp enough that they crunch when you bite into them and there has to be a touch of salt to round out the flavor As with most things food-related, this is all a matter of preference, but I suggest you test out this recipe for a transcendental cookie experience.

Cookies require care when making them. You have to pay close attention to the way you prepare your dough and ingredients. For starters, have your butter and eggs at room temperature, this will ensure that the dough stays at a constant temperature while you make it and that all the ingredients can blend together harmoniously. The second, and probably most important thing is to pay attention to how you cream your butter and sugar. I will refer you to this excellent article on Cookie Science by Stella Parks. If you watch the attached video, you can see how much lighter the butter and sugar is after the creaming process. I like to cream my butter and sugar on low until it no longer looks sandy and then bring it up to medium/medium-high speed until it begins to have a pearl-like sheen. If you have read at Parks’ article, you will see that she also advocates scraping the bowl throughout the dough making process. This is absolutely key to making a great cookie dough. There is nothing worse than realizing that there are pockets of flour or uncreamed butter and sugar at the bottom of the mixing bowl when you are done mixing it.

Another CRUCIAL step in making chocolate chip cookies, or any cookies really, is letting your dough rest for at least 30 minutes in the freezer, or overnight in the fridge if you have time. If you bake off the dough straight from the mixing bowl, the dough will be too warm and will melt into cookies that are sad and flat. Since I really only like my cookies warm, I let my dough rest, weigh it all out, and keep the portioned cookie-dough balls in the freezer so I can have warm cookies whenever I want. Ok, enough from me, go forth and bake!

 

Salted Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

Note: I use sel guérande which a type of fleur de sel that has a bit of clay in it from the salt ponds it is harvested from. A large grain kosher salt, or sea salt would work well too but if you can get your hands on some sel guérande, buy it, it is absolutely beautiful as a finishing salt.

Ingredients:
8oz or 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
¾ c white sugar
¾ c light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract, or ½ of a scraped vanilla bean
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp large grain sel guérande/fleur de sel (alternatively, 1 ½ tsp kosher or 1 tsp fine sea salt)
200g 72% dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

  1. Sift flour and baking soda together, mix in salt and set aside.
  2. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping bowl occasionally to ensure that the mixture is even.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla, one at a time allowing each egg to incorporate fully and scraping the bowl in between each addition.
  4. Slowly add dry mix, scraping the bowl occasionally to ensure an even mixture.
  5. Add chocolate chunks and mix on low until incorporated.
  6. Refrigerate dough overnight, or for at least 30 minutes in the freezer.
  7. Portion dough into 1 ½” balls and place them 2” apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you love salt, sprinkle just a little on top of the cookies.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 375°F or 190°
  9. Allow cookies to cool at least 10 minutes before eating and enjoy!

For the Love of Bagels

 

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My favorite bagel combo is sesame seed bagel with cream cheese, lox, capers, red onion and tomato.

Want to get straight to baking? Find the recipe here!

Being from Los Angeles, I cannot say that I am the authority on what constitutes a perfect bagel. That being said, I love bagels. I have fond memories of my sister and I rewarding ourselves with a trip to the “bagelry,” as we had termed the local bagel shop, after coming off a hike. I have been guilty of bribing my husband with bagels in order to convince him to accompany me to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market as my personal pack mule of specially cheeses and heirloom produce. When I visited my best friend in New York, my only required plan was that we got bagels, piled high with lox and cream cheese. She ultimately improved upon the plan with the purchase of a couple of tall-boys and a suggestion to picnic in Central Park. As we sat there in the sun, my brain still foggy from my Red-Eye flight, savoring our bagels, and surreptitiously sipping our beers, I was pretty certain I had reached peak-happiness.

So, imagine my despair upon realizing that while France has a veritable cornucopia of delicious breads to offer, the French ultimately fail when it comes to the bagel. There are no shortage of shops offering bagels and it is a common staple on brunch menus, but they just do not hit the spot. They are generally chewy to the point of jaw exhaustion or so dry that no condiments can help. They often taste like play-doh, and they crust is seriously lacking when it comes to the crispness that makes the bagel a comprehensive sensory experience.
I had accepted that my life would have to be lived without bagels for the duration of my time in Paris. I was content to fill this gap with the readily accessible pastries that the French have perfected. I could not, in good conscience, complain about my ability to pop into one of the many boulongeries that pepper my walk to school and purchase a perfect buttery croissant for breakfast with pocket change.

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Just kidding, I still really missed bagels.

Then, in late January, Serious Eats’s resident “Pastry Wizard,” Stella Parks, also known as The Brave Tart, posted a brilliant bagel recipe that utilized the Japanese method of yukone to keep bagels fresh for 48 hours. The extended freshness of these bagels makes the 36-hour preparation process worthwhile, and I realized that the answers to my prayers had been answered! As I had just started to cultivate my wild-yeast, I saw the perfect opportunity to put the yeasties to work by altering Parks’s recipe to create a sourdough version.

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So dense.

For my first attempt, I made Parks’s version and my own sourdough adaption at the same time, and while Parks’s bagels came out beautifully, the sourdough iteration came out tragically dense and I had to classify them as a failure. This was a result of a few things: my starter was not far too young, and I did not use enough of it. This was my first time converting a recipe with commercial yeast and there are no good guides online about how to do this, so I was basically flying blind.

Luckily, I was able to get the formula right the second time. I use a 100% hydration starter, so when replacing commercial yeast with the starter, I had to consider the fact that I was fundamentally altering the chemistry of the recipe by adding flour and water to the mix. Thus, I had to adjust the flour and water amounts in the regular recipe in order to make sure that I maintained close to the original hydration level of the dough. Park’s recipe has a total of 455g flour and 270g water (including the yukone), this works out to a dough with 59% hydration.  I don’t have a set formula for how much starter to replace within a recipe with commercial yeast, but upon looking at other sourdough bagel recipes, I decided that I probably didn’t want the starter to make up much more than 20-25% of the total combined flour-water weight of the recipe and chose to go with 180g of starter. I also decided to bring up the moisture level slightly, amounting to a 60% hydration dough as I felt that the starter would benefit from more liquid. This makes for a slightly sticky dough, but it is still very workable.

Another change I made to this recipe was that I hand-knead this dough. I chose to do this for a few reasons:

  1. I really like kneading by hand, it’s a really meditative process.
  2. I couldn’t bring all of my kitchen appliances with me to France, and I have not invested in a stand-mixer or food processor that I think would have the capability to handle this dough.

I don’t think that hand-kneading caused any significant changes to the dough, but I would recommend a sturdy stand-mixer over the food-processor method that Parks recommends for her recipe. I worry that the added hydration to this dough would make it hard for a food processor to handle.

In addition to hand-kneading, I actually had better luck with allowing my bagels to do a cold fermentation overnight (8-12 hours) and then finished proofing them in a warm oven (if you have a proofing drawer this would work perfectly) for 2-3 hours. For some reason the wild yeast responded better to this than a full cold fermentation.
I also found that the sourdough version of these bagels benefits greatly from a roll-and-loop forming technique. This is more difficult than the stretch-and-poke method, but watch a few YouTube videos to see how different people approach the method, and you should be able to get it after a few tries. The poke method works fine, but there is a difference between how the two bagels turn out.

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Left is stretch-and-poke method, right is roll-and-loop. The roll-and-loop method creates a more even, and slightly more open crumb.

If you don’t want to take the time to create a sourdough starter, Parks’ recipe is beautiful and she has a great write up on her methods. I first discovered her after I was discouraged by all the recipes on French macarons that basically said a perfect meringue could only be made if the baker was able to balance an egg on her head and the moon was within the first two days of waning. Her post on macarons gave me the courage to try again after so many failures and because of her attention to detail in explaining technique, they came out flawlessly! In the world of endless online recipes, Stella Parks is winning in the pastry department.

Oh, and she’s working on a book that you can pre-order here!

Sourdough Sunchoke Latkes, and Why You Should Use Wild Yeast

 

My very active wild-yeast starter, King Arthur Flour has a great recipe for your to start your own, too!

It has been a year since I abandoned my sourdough adventures, but I am back at it again. I originally started using sourdough after having trouble digesting bread. I wanted to test a theory that the slower fermentation of wild-yeasted bread would result in lower levels of gluten, and therefore make it easier for my body to process. This is a theory that Michael Pollan has also expressed, but I haven’t found any real science to back it up. I hope there is someone out there that will look into this. The more commercialized our food has become, the less compatible it is with the way the human body is able to process it, and this is something that needs to be properly  and seriously examined.

In commercial bread processing, commercial yeast and additives are introduced into the dough which is  then agitated rapidly to create more heat and gluten production which allows for a faster rise and therefore higher rates of production. In the UK this is referred to as the “Chorleywood Method.” A slow-fermentation method uses the naturally occurring flora in the air, water, and flour that make up a wild-yeast starter, and allows for natural fermentation to dictate the rise of the dough. The wild yeast slowly consumes and breaks down the gluten in the bread dough over a long period of time. It can take 8-24 hours to make a loaf of bread this way, but the actual hands-on time is about 15 minutes and the result is a bread with better texture, flavor, and digestibility. This may just be my opinion, but it is something to consider the next time you are out buying bread.

I should note that I do not have Celiac’s, I have not had any real problems with pastas or other gluten-containing items, but bread would leave me feeling unsettled and uncomfortable. After making my own bread, I realized that I was able to eat the slow-fermented product without the same kind of discomforts I had previously felt after ingesting commercially produced bread.

In France, most of the bread is made with a slow-fermentation method, and as a great baguette only costs about one euro, it isn’t really cost effective to make one’s own bread, but I restarted my wild yeast adventures because I also really like the process of bread-making. However, when you have to feed your starter you end up with a lot of waste, and as a result I have been experimenting with other ways to incorporate it into recipes like this one that I whipped up for a midnight snack.

Sourdough Sunchoke Latkes
makes about 8 medium latkes

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½ tsp salt
3 large sunchokes, grated
1 large potato, peeled and grated
½ onion, grated
slice of lemon
½ c sourdough starter, 100% hydration
2 tbs flour
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Mix the grated potato, sunchoke and onion together and toss with ½ tsp salt and the juice from the lemon slice. Place in a colander over a bowl and let sit for 10 min or overnight. Make sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, otherwise you will end up with very mushy latkes.
  2. Mix starter, flour and egg together with a little pepper, and fold in potato-sunchoke-onion mixture.
  3. Heat a pan over medium high-heat with 3 tbs canola oil, and place ¼- ½ c portions of the latke mixture into the pan, allow to brown on either side, about 3-5 min per side.
  4. Serve warm with your favorite toppings. Sour cream and apple sauce are traditional, but I found that cherry jam and caramelized onions went very nicely with this dish. (Shout out to Bonne Maman’s Cherises Girottes, that stuff has changed my life)
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Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, or in French as topinambours,  are purple or light brown tubers that taste like a mix between potato and artichoke heart. They are high in calcium, iron and Vitamin C and add a great crunch to these latkes.

Mindfulness and Cooking

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Braised rabbit with leeks and saffron tagliatelle.

I recently came across this NPR article on using what the author describes as “mindful muffins,” to relieve post-election stress. I think that we can expand this idea beyond just mindfulness, but as a means to find a way to incorporate cooking into our increasingly busy lives.

As I enter into my prep for a Thanksgiving dinner that I am putting on for fellow expats and MA students, as well as prep for my thesis proposal on Monday, I have been thinking a lot about mindfulness and cooking. I have always used the practice of cooking to deal with stress and center my thoughts, but even so, I sometimes find myself feeling too exhausted to think about entering the kitchen.

Unfortunately, this means that I then succumb to either eating instant noodles (my love for them will never die) or delivery, which is inevitably disappointing and expensive, not to mention, unhealthy. Convincing myself that I am too tired or too stressed to make my own food does nothing but perpetuate an unhealthy cycle. When my diet is bad, my brain doesn’t work, when my brain doesn’t work, my stress levels increase, when I’m stressed out, I feel exhausted, when I’m exhausted I don’t want to cook, when I decide not to cook, my diet gets worse. This is something I have to remember to tell myself every time I open up Deliveroo on my phone.

I know that you may not like to cook, or even think that you don’t have time, but you are making the same mistake I am. You do have time, and you may not like it, but you can learn how to. You have to change the way you think about cooking.

In fact, this is what I am focusing my research on for the next year, more specifically, the evolution of culinary discourse in the United States throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, in relation to how the Industrial Revolution drastically changed the ways Americans worked and lived. At some point, Americans began to see food only as a means of sustenance, we stripped the practice of cooking and dining of all of its cultural importance and only looked at it in terms of its practicality.

This is how we got hooked on processed foods, they are ready to eat, they give us time to work more, they have the base level of nutrients we need. This is how we convinced ourselves we don’t have time to cook, it takes away from our earning potential. But, what does that mean for us? What does it mean that we look at the practice of cooking in terms of our economic presence in the world? This may not be a completely conscious association, but it is most likely that you feel like you don’t have time to spend fifteen minutes in the kitchen because you get home too late from work. The long hours you work probably make you stressed, the food you don’t cook is probably not great for your diet, this diet makes you exhausted, your exhaustion makes your job more stressful. Do you see? You are also perpetuating an unhealthy cycle.

So, how do we change this? Look at feeding yourself as a meditative practice. Start changing the way you perceive cooking. Consider cooking as a moment that you can stop thinking about your responsibilities, take it as a moment to reflect. Consider cooking as an excuse to take care of yourself. Find a recipe you want to try, or sign up for services like Blue Apron (though, I would only use them as a means to avoid going to the market, I am not a big fan of their recipes). It doesn’t matter if you decide to make yourself oatmeal for dinner, what does matter is that you allow yourself to take the time to do it. Each time you do, you might find that you enjoy it more.

I’ll leave you with this, I got some pie crusts to make!

I volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner, now what?

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Dessert Spread from last Thanksgiving. I really like making pie.

Did you accidentally tell your friends and/or family that you wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner? Do you now realize that you’ve made a horrible time-consuming mistake? Don’t fear, I did the same thing, we’ll get through this together.

When I started my own custom-order baking business, I decided to take on the task of pie orders a few years in a row. This involved two weeks of ingredient gathering, pumpkin puree making, spending hours elbow deep in pie crust and pie filling, bribing my sister and best friend to help me, all in a tiny kitchen. I would show up at thanksgiving dinner, haggard, my arms fresh with new exhaustion-related carelessness burns, and a feeling of accomplishment. Despite the fact that I would have compromised my immune system by exhausting myself and ended up in Urgent Care on Christmas Morning each year, I still get the urge around November first to do it again. In recent years, I have successfully talked myself out of this desire, but the season just feels ripe for cooking, and so I have taken on the task of Thanksgiving dinner.

The trick is to treat your kitchen like a professional kitchen for the next week. If you are prepared you can pull that dinner together, with time to shower and change, and still get dinner on the table on time. How, don’t worry, I’ll tell you.

  1. Make a detailed menu.

If you haven’t made your menu yet. Make it today. I cannot emphasize this enough, if you do not do this, you will be going to the store blind. Write out each dish, what you will need to buy for each one, and whether or not it needs to be made the day of. Remember that Thanksgiving is probably not the time to try a recipe you are not familiar with, make things that you know you can make or at least make sure you aren’t overloading your menu with complicated recipes.

  1. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

I’ll admit, I am not good at asking for help in the kitchen. This is partially because I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to watching the way other people cook, but it is also because I can generally do it faster. This being said, I have to remember that I am just one person, and it is nice to have help with the dishes, prep work like slicing and dicing, setting the table, and running to the store. Ask your guests to bring beverages, or things like bread, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts (I always make my own desserts, but that’s just because they’re my favorite thing to make).

  1. Start your pies now.

So, you didn’t delegate the pies, don’t fret, you have time to get ahead. As soon as you are done reading this, make your pie crusts. You can freeze them, thaw them Sunday night, roll them out and put them in the tins on Monday. I freeze my crust like this until I am ready to bake off the pies on Wednesday. On Tuesday, make all of your pie fillings (if you are doing your own pumpkin puree, make it today, and freeze it until you’re ready to use it). This way you avoid spending all of Wednesday focused on making the pies, and you can just put them in the oven. I always think that pies should be made the day before, the filling benefits from sitting for a day, and you’ll need that oven space on Thursday. Cream pies should go in the fridge, but I leave my pumpkin, pecan and fruit pies out at room temp overnight, the refrigerator ruins the crust.

  1. Plan your schedule for the week, and the oven.

Do your last minute shopping this weekend. Yes, this weekend is last minute. Gather up all of the ingredients you need, this gives you plenty of time to look for harder to find ingredients, or change your menu. Consider how long everything needs to be in the oven and how long it needs to rest before being served. Write out a schedule for when you plan to bake off each item, consider which items can be baked off in the morning and then warmed over right before you serve.

Monday: Finalize your menu, that specialty item that you wanted to use on your sweet potatoes is a lost cause, save that dream for next year. If you are making stuffing from scratch, dry out your bread.

Tuesday: Brine the Turkey if you are planning on doing so. Cut any veggies that need to be diced, like onions, carrots and celery, trim the ends of your green beans, do all the little prep things that should be ready before you begin cooking

Wednesday: Make your salads, but do not dress them. This can also be done on Thursday morning if you find yourself short on fridge space. I also would get any casseroles prepped so that you can just pop them in the oven at their allotted time. Boil your potatoes so they are ready to be mashed on Thursday. Set your table and do any cosmetic things you need to do around the house.

Thursday: Get that turkey out of the fridge ASAP. You want your turkey to be room temperature before you put it in the oven, so get it out an hour before you intend to roast it. Keep to your schedule, and don’t fret if things don’t turn out perfectly.

  1. Take a spa day on Friday.

Seriously, do it. You’ll need it. At the very least, don’t get out of your PJ’s and watch a bunch of Netflix.

Hope this helps with the holiday madness! Feel free to comment below with any further questions, or tips I may have forgotten.

Breakfast at La Pitchoune

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Brief note: This was originally written to submit to AirBnB for a free stay at Julia Child’s house in Provence. Affectionately named La Pitchoune (the little one), it now functions as a cooking school, and is available for rent via AirBnB. I was never able to submit this piece because I wrote it thinking there was a 500 word limit, it was actually a 500 character limit. 

I rise as the first tendrils of sunlight are gently caressing my husband’s face. I can never quite sleep like he does. The newness of the day holds too much promise for me, I begin to feel guilt if I allow myself to sleep any of it away.

I relish the chill of the floor on my bare feet, it electrifies me. My body, usually ravaged by jet-lag after a transatlantic flight, is buoyed by the excitement of being in Provence. This place, this home, it is exactly where I am meant to be. The morning air embraces me like an old friend when I walk out into the garden.

I take a brief tour to see what I can look forward to harvesting for tonight’s dinner, and many more to come, before returning inside to make breakfast.

It isn’t an elaborate dish, but an omelette is the perfect way to settle into our first morning. There is something about watching the steam escape as you slice your fork into a fresh omelette that evokes “home,” more than anything else. I grab a few fresh sprigs of parsley to chop before I go inside.

I worry my husband may not be awake before I am finished, and consider waking him up. It’s not worth it. I will just eat the first one I make and savor it for myself. I deserve to relish that first bite, fresh off the stove. He won’t even know the difference.

I get to work, chopping the parsley, beating the eggs and setting out my pan and plates. To my delight, we remembered to get some fresh butter. I drop a sizable amount straight into the hot pan. It sizzles, and the tangy, toasted fragrance envelops the kitchen. I pour the eggs into their butter bath, and swirl the pan around with precision until they are ready to be flipped on to the plate. My husband still has not risen. It appears that I get to enjoy this one for myself. I sprinkle a bit of parsley on top of my omelette and head to the garden.

As soon as I am about to place my plate down on the table, I remember that I forgot to make myself a coffee to sip on. I look up, and to my delight, there he is, coming in through the gate with two espressos in hand, he must of slipped out without me noticing. He beams at me as soon as he notices me looking.

“Paul!” I exclaim, “How is it that I got so lucky?”

“Julia,” he says, sternly, “How many times do I have to tell you that I am the lucky one? Look, you’ve even made my favorite.”

He plunges the fork in, and offers me the first bite. Breakfast for two is always better anyway.