Archive for December, 2010

Brownie Blog Day One: 0-0-0

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

The day after Cookulus appeared in the app store we got our first recipe request – for brownies. We’d already started on a master brownie recipe, but it was going to take a few weeks to perfect, so we thought we might stave your brownie hunger with a blog, a diary that would show you how we develop recipes in general, and give us a way to find out just what you’d like to see in the ultimate brownie recipe.

Our first step is to come up with a standard recipe that will become a centerpiece for the parametric sliders, what we call 0-0-0. So about a week ago we started to comb through dozens of brownie recipes in cookbooks, on the internet, in magazines, in our recipe files, and  in the files, cookbooks, and kitchen drawers of our friends and family. We came up with 23 recipes. Most were standard classic brownies, but we also went for those that claimed to embody key components of brownieness – chewy, gooey, crackled top, pudgy center. We also included those that pushed the envelope – healthy, lite, dark, dank, ugly (at this point in the process we try to stay open minded).

In order to compare them directly we have to standardize all of their measurements.  For brownies (as with most baking recipes) this means dividing or multiplying ingredients by factors that result in each recipe having the same number of whole eggs. Early on at Cookulus we decided that one of our cardinal rules in recipe writing was that no matter how much a slider manipulated a recipe you should never end up with a fraction of an egg. The large egg thereby became Cookulus’ standard unit of measurement.

So all of the recipes were divided by 2 or 3 or 5 (depending on how many eggs they called for) and then all ingredients were recalculated in grams.  In order to find an average amount of each ingredient everything has to be measured in the same way. At Cookulus we chose metric measurement as our standard for recipe development because grams are really small allowing you to get pretty precise calculations.

But there was a problem. We could average the ingredients but not the method. Of the 23 brownie recipes we had there were just as many ways for mixing up the batter – creaming the butter, melting the butter, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients, not using any butter. We were stymied and very hungry.  By this time we’d spent three days writing and calculating and hadn’t gotten a single bite.  We decided it was time to bake something.

We picked a recipe to begin our experimentation. We liked its method because it provided a good deal of flexibility. The chocolate is melted by adding boiling water instead of sitting over a double boiler, which gave us the option for using other liquids to vary the darkness of the brownie. It called for both butter and oil ( a great way for us to manipulate chewiness), and allows for both white and brown sugar.

We baked a batch. Home run! Great crackled crust, moist interior, pretty chewy, but still a little cakey, not too fudgy – a near perfect middle-of-the-road brownie.  Completely delicious and very little personality – just what we wanted for 0-0-0.

So we’ve got our mean recipe and we know what two of the sliders are going to be:

  • Chewy ———Cakey
  • Dark———-Sweet

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the third. Any ideas?

Chewing on Brown Sugar

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Jeff Potter, self declared kitchen geek (author of Cooking for Geeks, O’Reilly Press), talking on the science of chocolate chip cookies yesterday at the monthly meeting of the Experimental Cuisine Collective fed us two fairly flat, pretty pale, decidedly crisp chocolate chip cookies, labeled 1A and 1B.  The cookies looked remarkably alike in shape and dimension, with only a slight variation in color. But when we took a bite there was no mistaking the chew of brown sugar in 1B.

At Cookulus we have been blown away by the difference a little brown sugar makes. Many  factors contribute to a cookie’s softness (baking time, oven temp, flour ratio) but moving from white sugar to brown in a formula is a simple change with powerful results. Dialing our chocolate chip cookie recipe just one point towards softness (a reduction of about 1 tablespoon  white sugar and an increase of 2 tablespoons brown sugar in a 24 cookie batch) increases the moisture content, the softness and the chewiness perceptibly.  The thicker and chewier you dial the cookie the more dramatic the difference becomes.

The best way to measure brown sugar is by weight, but if you only have measuring cups be sure to pack the sugar when you measure. If you don’t, you won’t get the right amount of sweetness.

Brown sugar is a mixture of granulated white sugar and liquid molasses. More molasses means deeper color but it also means less sweetness. The moisture from molasses causes sugar granules to swell slightly, so a cup of brown sugar contains fewer plumper sugar crystals than a cup of granulated white sugar.  Since it is the sugar crystals, not the molasses that gives brown sugar its sweetness, brown sugar is typically packed into a measuring cup to give it a similar number of sugar crystals (and level of sweetness) as the same volume of white sugar.

Light brown sugar is about 10% molasses, and dark brown sugar is closer to 20% molasses.  If you don’t have brown sugar you can make some by stirring molasses into granulated white sugar.

  • To make light brown sugar, stir 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses into 1 cup granulated white sugar.
  • To make dark brown sugar double the amount of molasses.
  • Turn light brown sugar into dark brown sugar by adding 1 tablespoon molasses to 1 packed cup light brown sugar.
  • Turn dark brown sugar into light brown sugar by blending equal amounts dark brown sugar and granulated white sugar.

You can find this kind of in-depth info about ingredients, equipment and cooking techniques in every Cookulus recipe.

Ten Things to Do with Stale Cookies

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

We’ve been accused of thinking outside the box. It isn’t true. At Cookulus we don’t even know where the box is. We just like to think. So it is only natural for us to start our new blog at the end, or more accurately, at the hairline between death and life where something “on the way out,” fertilized by imagination, is reborn.

Is there anything sadder than a stale cookie; full of missed opportunity, unsatisfied pleasure, shriveled sensuality?  Cheer up. Staling is nothing more than loss of moisture, replace it and freshness returns. Baked goods start staling the second they come out of the oven. During baking starch in a batter opens up and takes on water. As the starch cools it contracts, wringing out that water, which then evaporates into the air. Unless there is something in the batter to absorb the water before it escapes. Hello sugar. Sugar is hygroscopic. It holds on to water. So sweet baked goods, like cookies, stay moist longer than savory stuff, like bread. Eventually though, even a cookie will turn stale and enter the afterlife.

If such a fate should happen to your cookies you have obviously been derelict in cookie consumption, but there are ten things you can do to make up for it.

  1. Resurrected Cookies: Put stale cookies in a closed jar with a piece of whole fruit, like an apple or a pear.  The sugar in the cookies will absorb moisture from the fruit and the cookies will soften.
  2. Cookie Crumb Pie Crust: Mix 3 cups (750 mL) crumbled stale cookies, 2 tablespoons (25 mL)  confectioners sugar and 4 tablespoons (50 mL) melted unsalted butter and pack into a pie pan pressing the mixture into a firm even layer covering the bottom and sides of the pan. Line with foil and bake at 400F (200C) for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until lightly browned, about 8 minutes more.
  3. Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches: Pack an inch of slightly softened ice cream between two cookies. Wrap well and store in the freezer.  The moisture in the ice cream will soften the cookies.
  4. Tortoni: Mix shards of broken cookies, chopped nuts, chocolate, dried fruit and a drop of almond extract into softened vanilla ice cream.
  5. Cookie Pudding: Soften broken cookies in milk and fold into prepared pudding.
  6. Crunchy Chocolate Truffles: Melt 1 tablespoon (15 mL) unsalted butter, 1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy cream and 8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet chocolate over low heat.  Stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) crumbled stale cookies and cool completely.  Scoop into 16 balls and roll in cocoa.
  7. Cookie Gorp: Mix broken cookies with nuts and dried fruit.
  8. Cookies and Milk: Crumble cookies into a bowl pour in cold milk and eat with a spoon.
  9. Cookie Ornaments: Poke a hole in a cookie with a sturdy pin (or if the cookie is too brittle tie a ribbon around it) and spray with polyurethane coating.
  10. Eat Them: Stale cookies are 100% edible. Grab a glass of milk and go for it.