Perfect Cookies + Bake Pedal Monday

February 22, 2011

Getting settled in the Bay has been a piece of cake. Or actually, more like a cookie.

This move to Northern California has been our fourth in just under two years. We moved from Okinawa to Washington State, spent a bit of time in Los Angeles, moved to Portland, and now to the San Francisco Bay – each time, learning a little bit more about what makes us love where we are, and how each place loves us back. There are the people, oh the people we have met along the way! But also, the beaches, walks, dive spots, bike rides, izakaya and swimming holes in Okinawa. Snowshoeing routes in Washington. Coffee shops, bakeries, trail runs and breakfast joints in Portland. All of these bits of life have become familiar friends as well. What, little East Bay, will endear you to us…..and us to you?

This time around, we are landing a little differently than in these big moves of the past. In the homes of the past, places and things and routines that kept us spinning were established well before there were people around to populate these special gems with us. Here in the Bay, we landed and people knew our names; friends from work, old friends from school, aquaintences and pals from all the years that we have been bouncing. And so, as we establish a routine, frequently these excellent souls are woven in.

Hence, Bake Pedal Monday – a routine that has somehow fallen into place since we arrived here, and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

Its no mystery that baking is a moving meditation for me, a comfort – especially now that I am no longer working in a commercial kitchen and get to spin ingredients and recipes of my own! Sunday has always seemed to be the day when I allow myself the luxury of being completely enveloped by the kitchen – just as we are winding down the weekend and getting ready for the week ahead, my baking pans and compounded culinary urges come out in a poof of flour and sprinkling of sugar as I pour labor and love into a batch of goodies far to large to be consumed in this house alone. Before we lived in Oakland, we would attempt to eat or freeze, or cut down batch size, or restrict the creativity of whatever I would bake. But, more recently, when Monday morning arrives, I pack up my little commuter bag, swing a leg over my XC bike and set off to work….goodies in hand.

It started with warm home-made croissants. Because it had been entirely too long since I had baked them, I love to do so, and I thought they would be appreciated by this group of traveling foodie co-workers I have. The next week, it was an experiment with the caramelita. Then canelé, and macarons. This week, my very secret, very best oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips, walnuts and golden raisins. This is a top secret recipe but, in honor of Bake Pedal Monday, I’ll share a few of my best cookie baking secrets – you can apply them to ANY cookies and I won’t have to kill you for doing so. 🙂

To bake the perfect cookie…..

  1. Use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find and measure them properly! Baking is a science, don’t forget.
  2. Always bring your butter and eggs to room temperature FIRST.
  3. Even in a rush, don’t toss everything into the bowl and mix it up. Cream the butter and sugar together until they are VERY light and fluffy. Then the liquids and eggs, and THEN the flour and good extras (raisins, chocolate chips and such.)
  4. Don’t over mix! This builds gluten (read: tough cookies) and warms the butter (read: cookies that spread.)
  5. Out of eggs?! Don’t fret! You can substitute flax meal or ground flax seeds for the eggs. Simply substitute 1 tbsp flax + 1 tbsp warm water for each egg for. Allow the flax/water to hydrate then add to cookie batter with vanilla and liquids.
  6. Use an ice cream scoop to make the cookies uniform size, and roll them or flatten them to roughly the same shape. Place them evenly spaced on the cookie sheets before you bake – this seems fussy, but allows the cookies to all bake evenly.
  7. Bake cookies one sheet at a time, on the center rack of the oven. If you do choose to bake more than one sheet at a time, rotate the pans halfway through the bake time.
  8. If you have to bake the cookies in several batches, allow the pans to cool between bakings. And, store the batter in the fridge in the meantime.
  9. For cookies that are better for your bod, substitute a bit of the unbleached white flour in most recipes for a bit of whole grain flour of your choice. This will mix up the flavors AND the textures in addition to boosting the nutrition.
  10. Cookies are done when the edges are just barely browning. Once the cookies are done baking, allow them to cool on the sheetpan for 3-4 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely…unless they are going to get dunked in milk immediately.

Next week, maybe I’ll play with lemon bars being that there is a bounty of citrus at the markets.

My co-workers always thank me for bringing in treats, but I’m not sure they understand just how much they give me by enjoying them; A reason to bake, a challenge to look forward to, the happiness on their faces as whatever little morsel is enjoyed. And of course, the comfort of friendly routine.

Enjoy and happy cookie baking!

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