"Exactly As Written"
That approach to trying new recipes is very appealing, especially in theory - how else can you know how good a recipe truly is? For various (I think good) reasons however, in practice I often change recipes the first time I prepare them. But when on the hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, I'm not likely to stray from the recipe. Especially when the recipe's author is Thomas Keller.
I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Thomas Keller's cookbook Ad Hoc at Home. His other books, notably The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon, while beautiful and undoubtedly filled with amazing recipes, are a little beyond my culinary reach. But Ad Hoc, the restaurant Keller opened to celebrate home-style and home-y food, seems a lot more accessible and I was hoping the cookbook would be as well.
My copy of Ad Hoc at Home arrived on my doorstep this week, and my intentions to save it for Christmas lasted about a nano-second. Before I knew it, the shrink wrap was off of the book and - oh, my! - what beautiful photography and delicious sounding recipes are inside the book.
It seemed easiest to start with a cookie. And what cookie is more iconic than a homemade chocolate chip cookie? Keller's recipe has some interesting twists, and I went into the baking session with the intention of following the recipe to the letter. I wanted to see what the Keller touches would produce. "How refreshing," I said to myself, "to be able to say, for once, that I made the cookies 'Exactly As Written'."
- You can find the recipe for the Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies here.
- The recipe calls for two different kinds of chocolate, one sweeter and one more intense: 55% (a semi sweet) and 70-72% (a bittersweet). In an attempt to meet the letter of the law, I visited a couple of stores to locate just the proper chocolate. Finding the 70% was simple, but I did have to settle for 54% rather than 55%.
- The recipe calls for "molasses sugar", and I'm pretty sure that's the same thing as dark muscovado sugar, which is readily available, if not exactly common.
- Keller's directions provide for chopping the solid chocolate, then sifting it in a fine mesh strainer to shake out the chocolate dust. I didn't do that when I baked the New York Times cookies, and you can see how the little bits of chocolate melted into the dough. I'm pretty sure that this is more an aesthetic consideration than a matter of taste.
- The butter is creamed in two parts, which is a step I've never come across in a cookie recipe.
- Before mixing, I measured each ingredient (Exactly As Written) and had it ready in a cup or bowl. Once my dought was mixed, I noticed 1/4 c of the sugar sitting on the counter, so I stirred it in. Then I re-read the recipe and discovered I'd forgotten 1 T flour, so I added that and stirred a bit more.
- For me, 2 tablespoons of dough weighed 40 grams. I weighed out that amount of dough for each cookie, then rolled it into a ball. I baked half a dozen (chilled in the fridge first, although the recipe doesn't say to chill it) and froze the rest for future baking sessions. The dough yielded around 2 dozen cookies.
- I wish I could report how long these cookies took to bake, but I forgot to set the timer. Luckily the recipe has a great done-ness test: bake "until the tops are no longer shiny."
There are many things that I love about these cookies. Love the two kinds of chocolate. Love the dark toffee flavor from the molasses-tinged sugar. Love the chewy centers. Love the precision of the recipe (even though I wasn't able to replicate it faithfully in my kitchen!) Are these THE chocolate chip cookie? I'm going to waffle here, and say that I need to bake them again, and maybe do a side to side taste test. I will say that they are much better once they've cooled than warm from the oven.
My cookies baked a little darker on the bottom than I'd like, so I'll have to fiddle with the temperature and oven rack placement in my oven when I thaw and bake the remaining cookies. And even though it isn't written in the recipe, I think I'll sprinkle a bit of sea salt on the tops (a la the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies and Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies.)
As for the foray into "Exactly As Written" territory? I used the correct ingredients, but still I hit the inevitable, for me, snags. No matter what virtues I may have in the kitchen, it seems that I cannot stick to a recipe even when I'm trying! But now I've read the "get organized" section of the cookbook and figured out where I probably went wrong: although I pre-measured all of the ingredients, I didn't immediately put the containers and packages away in their respective places. In other words, if my work surface had been neater, I probably wouldn't have overlooked the sugar on the counter. And careful reading would have clarified the correct amount of flour in the ingredient list. I'm pretty sure that stirring in these ingredients out of turn didn't make a huge difference in the finished product, but it's instructive nonetheless!
This blog entry is the 300th time that I've hit the "Publish Post" button. I love marking the big round numbers by giving something to the folks who stop by my corner of the food blogisphere; this time around I'm giving a copy of Thomas Keller's book Ad Hoc at Home. It's hot off the presses, and is already a runaway hit! Check out Michael Ruhlman's blog post about the book reaching the New York Times best seller list, and here's a clip of Thomas Keller talking about Ad Hoc at Home:
You'll no doubt be seeing Keller's recipes on food sites all over the internet, but here is your opportunity to own your very own copy of this gorgeous - and hefty! - cookbook. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post by 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, November 18, 2009. I'd love it if you'd answer any or all of these questions in your comment (but it's not required):
When trying a new recipe, do you make it Exactly As Written (and can you do it successfully)?I'll let a random number generator choose the winning comment.
What's your favorite chocolate chip recipe?
What's your favorite comfort food dish?