01 July 2013

Wait and Bake

I'm protective of a good cookie.

I am not going to go about mixing a wad of dough on a sweltering afternoon, throw it into a hot oven and sit there and face one and a half dozen cookies like a fool, as they present themselves, perched on a rack, nicely tanned, puffed and speckled in sea salt, waiting to be attended to, while in their prime. This is not a bakery, unfortunately. So unless I know I'm going to see a bunch of people over the next few hours, I find that above prospect slightly daunting and depressing. Fortunately, there's a solution for that, one that enables you to preserve your work and stretch it out, too.

Mix. Scoop. Flash Freeze. Bag. Wait. Bake.

Frozen dough balls at your service. Suddenly you're calm, and you feel like you do own a bakery. We don't have to rush into things.

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you can find out about anything and everything you are thinking of doing before you go ahead and do it. Sometimes this is just a more confounding practice, sometimes it pays off and prevents you from making huge mistakes. I must confess that the amount of Googling I do is starting to alarm me. I want a little more mystery, and yet, I don't. Not when it comes to peanut butter cookies.

I found out about these Salted Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate cookies from the Orangette blog, the recipe which she found out about through Hot Cakes Confections, a bakery, who I'm almost positive did not find it on the Internet. I stalled making them, thinking they were a bit too... bakery-ish! In their production... with grams measures and pastry flour. But then I did a little more research and dove in.

Here's the science. These cookies are soft and chewy, that's their M.O. They are studded with milk chocolate and slightly delicate but not crumbly. To make them shine out in that way they were meant to, you have to be sure and do a few things. Bake them until the sides are beginning to turn golden, but not the tops. The tops will look under-done. Take them out at that point (I can't resist a tiny coarse salt sprinkle at that point, either), then cool completely, over 20-30 minutes. And then look at them. They will have firmed up.

Timing. I searched baking time for smaller cookies than Orangette blogged but didn't find much. So then it was up to me. That's why baking off one or two at a time is also pretty great. Now, I did not try baking from the bowl to the oven--baking from the cold is the secret here that helps the cookies hold their shape. I made the dough, scooped, froze the dough balls and baked a few the next day. And the next. And today...just a few minutes ago.

What we're learning about bakeries is they rely on their freezer. The freezer preserves. And we can rely on it too. After a few times in the oven, I'm banking on a solid 20 minutes oven time on these (there's an extra 5 tagged in there because they are frozen). And while my cookies were smaller than Hot Cakes specified (about 2 Tablespoons dough versus the original recipe's scant 4 Tablespoons) I still found them "big" enough and I like that size. My scoop yielded cookies that measured on average about 2 1/2 inches across.

The other notes I have are about volumes/measurements. I highly recommend a kitchen scale. Not just for this but for most baking. It is much easier to measure everything, including your salt, that way. I'm a convert. The last few things I've baked I've nixed the cups and weighed in grams and like it better. Who knows if you're ever measuring your flour right even if you think you scoop and swipe just fine?

It's just much more reliable to weigh it and it's less fussy than it sounds. And speaking of flour, while the recipe originally calls for pastry flour, I found using about 2 grams less of my go-to low-protein unbleached all-purpose flour to be fine (I use Heckers). While the original recipe called for Kosher salt, I used sea salt. Weighing salt yields universal results so you don't have to worry about various Kosher catastrophes.

A few more words about this dough and then I'll pass the recipe. It is soft and a little delicate. That is why it functions best when baked from the frozen. These bakeries have some things figured out for us, already, right? If you don't believe me, ask the Internet. I found my cookie scoop there, too.

Salted Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
 Halved and adapted from Orangette

Note: I highly recommend the weight measures. If you must... I also included cups

118 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour (low-protein like Heckers)
2.5 grams (1/2 tsp.) baking soda
6 grams kosher or sea salt  (about 1 heaped tsp)
137.5 grams (1 stick plus 1.5 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
100 grams (about 1/2  cup + 2 T ) brown sugar
85 grams (1/2 cup plus 3 T) sugar
1 large egg
200 grams (3/4 cup) natural salted creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
85 grams chopped milk chocolate

Measure all ingredients. In a bowl, combine the  flour, baking soda, and salt, and whisk well.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, beat. Add the peanut butter and vanilla, and beat on medium-low speed to blend. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the chocolate, and beat briefly on low speed, just until evenly incorporated.

Using a cookie scoop to scoop the batter onto a lined sheet pan. Since this dough freezes beautifully, I suggest baking from frozen. Scoop the dough onto a sheet pan and flash freeze until hard (an hour); then transfer the dough mounds to a freezer bag or other airtight container. Do not defrost balls before baking.

When ready to bake: Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake 19-21 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and pale golden around the edges, but their tops have no color. The cookies will not look fully baked, and this is important! The chewy texture of these cookies depends on it. Transfer the pan to a rack, and cool the cookies completely on the sheet pan. They will firm up as they cool.

Yield: about 18 2.5-inch cookies

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