Extolling the Virtues of Good Instructions, Good Equipment and Good Friends

Despite our goals to eat more vegetables and finally be able to do a pull-up in 2012, our first post of the year features a hodgepodge of delicious (and admittedly not-so-healthy) cookie recipes, all taken from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook, based on the goodies she makes at her Boston bakeries. But let us tell you, they are SOOOOOO worth it. Seriously. Go get this cookbook. From Amazon or from the library. These recipes are amazing. Our favorites so far: cornmeal lime cookies and rosemary shortbread. And even though we aren’t particularly fond of peanut butter or oreos, her peanut butter cookies and homemade oreos were enough to make us go back for seconds.

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Peanut butter cookies: So soft and chewy and not-too-sweet-or-peanut-buttery. Just perfect.

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Left to right:
Rosemary shortbread: Melt in your mouth goodness with the pleasant savory surprise of rosemary. Great with tea and coffee.
Homemade oreos: A moist and intensely chocolately cookie. The only thing we didn’t like was the super sweet buttercream filling, but to be fair, it tasted just like the real Oreo filling.
Cornmeal lime cookies: Another amazingly creative cookie. Tastes like good cornbread with a kick of lime. Great if you’re like us and don’t like super-sweet desserts. Yummmm.

We haven’t been to Flour yet, but that is about to change. It’s been officially added to our Boston bucket list (especially since Carol is graduating in the spring! Wen is crying a little inside).

A few things from our cookie extravaganza that we learned:

1. Cookbooks rock. We usually like to pull recipes off the internet (hello allrecipes.com!) and take generous liberties with the instructions. But we’ve recently rediscovered the awesomeness of the detailed instructions that come in cookbooks. Joanne Chang lays out very specific baking tips about what temperature your butter should be for perfect creaming, and how long you should whip/cream mixtures, and exactly how brown the cookies should be when they’re done. We would have ignored all these previously, because really, how much difference can it make? Apparently, a lot. What we’ve come to love about cookbooks is that they actually have the space to tell you why things are done a certain way.

Take creaming butter+sugar together, for example. Joanne (if we may call her by her first name) advises the temperature to be 68F, or “slightly cooler than room temperature, softened enough that you can bend the stick of butter but not soft enough for you to poke your finger through it.” Why? Because during creaming, the sugar is supposed to dig into the butter and create all these air pockets for a light and fluffy cookie or cake. If the butter is too cold and hard, the sugar can’t create those air pockets, whereas if it’s too warm and soft, the air pockets just collapse. Knowing that the instructions weren’t written willy-nilly made us follow them more carefully. And we’ve learned something new!

2. Stand mixers and kitchen scales rock even more. Wen recently got a Kitchenaid mixer and scale as gifts. We’re frugal skeptics and had our doubts about how awesome they could really be (sure, they must make things easier, but you don’t ever need them…). Honestly, though, we have been converted.

– Hands-free mixing! For those who like multi-tasking and maximum efficiency, no more trying to hold your hand mixer in one hand and scoop flour with your other hand. (Yes, this has been attempted many times in our kitchen. And no, it has never ended well.) Now we just let the machine do it’s thing while we do our own.

– Easier clean-up! We love cooking and baking, but the sink full of dirty dishes afterward is the worst. Now, we can just weigh out our ingredients directly from the bag/box/whatever into the mixing bowl, re-zero the scale, and measure the next ingredient in the bowl. No more using (and therefore cleaning) a gazillion measuring cups.

– Perfect portions! Wen is just a little (read: a lot) neurotic, and has discovered that she can use the scale to weigh out identically sized cookies (35 g is our ideal size).

– Reproducibility! Weighing is more accurate than measuring volumes (see this recent NYTimes article). No doubt this helped us re-create the Flour cookies as closely as possible. In fact, friends who’ve tried these cookies from the bakery said they taste just like the ones from there – success!

– Opportunities to be creative! We discovered that you can use the kitchen scale to weigh packages and calculate the correct postage. Because let’s be honest, who actually has a postage meter?

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new BFFs: kitchen scale + stand mixer

3. Friends who share tips and recipes and revelations rock the most. None of these delicious cookies would have been made, or lessons about baking techniques learned, without our awesome friends who graciously and generously share recipes, articles and advice with us. We shall be inviting them for guest blog posts soon, so stay tuned!

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About Wen and Carol Cook in Boston

Wen is an MD/PhD candidate at the Harvard Medical School. She is a monster tennis player and ran her first marathon in October 2011! Carol is a current student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education studying Education Policy and Management. She likes to cook anything that is easy, figuring out new ways to multitask when preparing meals, and then watching Arrested Development while enjoying the fruits of her cooking. Wen and Carol both know the words to every song in The Sound of Music.

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