"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Friday, May 7, 2010

Surprise cookies: stupid name for a delicious treat

Recently Jeremy went out of town for a few days on business, and I thought to myself, Self, what better way to welcome home your gent than with a pile of soft, chocolatey cookies with a gooey surprise center? Since I'd be at work when he got home in the middle of the afternoon, I wanted some sort of treat to fill the void of my absence, so he was welcomed by two dozen scrumptious surprise cookies.

Now, as much as Martha Stewart's smug attitude of superiority to the rest of humanity bugs me, the woman knows how to put out an amazing cookbook. I have been loving her Cookies cookbook, which not only features an amazing variety but which is also absolutely beautiful to look at. (It is worth the price of admission alone for the chocolate gingerbread recipe, which is out of this world.) And I appreciate that there is a photo on every page, something that not every cookbook offers. It was here that I found the recipe for Surprise Cookies. I sort of hate the name, because it's vague (a better name would be Hot Chocolate cookies, because that's what they remind me of), but let me tell you: these cookies are the bomb. They are chocolatey, cakey cookies with a piece of marshmallow on top that are then covered in a simple chocolate frosting. So delicious! Check out the recipe and look at the drool-inducing photo I got from the website.

 Mon dieu! Look at that melty, marshmallowy center, peeking coyly out at you! What a flirt!

I did change a few things from the recipe. First off, I found that cutting each marshmallow in half resulted in too thick of a marshmallow, so I cut each jumbo marshmallow into fourths and found that size much easier to work with. But if a giant marshmallow is your thing, by all means, go for it. Second, I didn't bother to sift together the dry ingredients; I whisked them instead, and my batter was just fine. Third, I don't own a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and I have never found that an impediment; a regular hand mixer works just as well. Fourth, I don't have a variety of ice cream scoop sizes, so I just used two spoons and used those to shape the dough. Fifth, I ran out of vanilla extract after I made the batter and it was 10 p.m. and I was in jammies and not about to go to the supermarket to get more vanilla, so I didn't put any into my frosting and it was still scrumptious.

Below is my version of the recipe with my changes and comments integrated. You really should try making these. They are a real joy and everyone I shared them with really liked them. Who doesn't like surprises?

Makes about 2 dozen
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch processed, although I can't imagine that the world will end if you use Dutch processed cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (you can speed up the process by placing the stick on a dish and microwaving at 5 second intervals until it is soft but not yet melting)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 12 large marshmallows, cut horizontally into four discs (or just in half is fine) *
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  2. Using an electric or hand mixer, cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add the flour mixture about a half cup at a time and mix until it is completely incorporated. The batter will be extremely thick and sticky. Stirring this is a good upper-arm workout.
  3. Use two spoons to drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Scoop up about a walnut-sized gob of dough with one spoon and use the other to shape and scrape the gob into a ball onto the sheet. These cookies do not spread much, so if they aren't spaced quite right, don't worry. Bake until cookies begin to spread and become firm, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Remove baking sheets from oven, and place a marshmallow in the center of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Return immediately to oven, and continue baking until marshmallows begins to melt, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer cookie sheets to a wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes and then remove them from the sheets and place them directly on the racks so that they're cool before frosting. 
Chocolate Frosting

  • 2 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional, as I learned)
  1. Melt the butter and cocoa powder together in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the butter is completely melted and has completely incorporated with the chocolate.
  2. Put the sugar into a large bowl. Pour in the butter mixture and add the milk and vanilla (if using). Whisk everything together until well combined. When I was whisking, I found it a little thick, so I dribble in just a bit more milk and everything smoothed out.
  3. Immediately frost each cookie, starting at the center and spreading the frosting with a butter knife to completely cover the marshmallow. Let the cookies sit out in a single layer for a bit and the frosting will firm up. 
These cookies stay fresh and chewy for a few days. Store them in an airtight container in a single layer. The frosting recipe I used actually called for larger amounts of everything, so I ended up with some extra frosting (darn, what a shame) that I stashed in the fridge. 

*Note to my vegetarian friends: If the thought of eating marshamallows is more than you can bear (due to the gelatin), something tells me these cookies would be just as amazing sans marshamallow. Just don't skip out on the frosting. It is amazing!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Organic produce: what's a girl to do?

If you're anything like me, organic and natural can cause some confusion. Yes, I know that foods that are natural are good for me, and yes, I feel like foods that are organic are probably even better, but unfortunately, my wallet doesn't always agree with me. I try to get as much organic produce as I possibly can, but let's face it: sometimes I just can't find or can't afford to get every fruit and veggie organic. Then I am wracked with guilt and worry. Will I die because I got something non-organic that might have harmful pesticides? Am I contributing to the destruction of the earth because the sale on non-organic carrots was too good to pass up?

The internet to the rescue! A few years ago I had seen this extremely handy site that features a card-sized list you can clip and carry in your wallet that lists foods you should always choose organic versus foods you can get nonorganic without worry. Then, like many good things I find on the internet, I lost the website before I could bookmark it. It's back, and now I want to share it with you. Go to the site to cut out the list to carry with you. And for the sake of convenience, here are the two lists.

THE DIRTY DOZEN (always buy organic)
  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell Peppers
  8. Spinach
  9. Kale
  10. Cherries
  11. Potatoes
  12. Grapes (imported)
THE CLEAN FIFTEEN (lowest in pesticides)
  1. Onions
  2. Avocados
  3. Sweet Corn
  4. Pineapple
  5. Mango
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Watermelon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Sweet Potatoes
  15. Honeydew Melon
Interestingly enough, I already sort of tend toward these lists in my current shopping habits. I try to always get organic spinach, celery, apples, and berries. And some of the clean fifteen foods simply aren't available as organic options at my local supermarket, so I just get my non-organic asparagus because I can't pass up eating asparagus. But now I know that it's okay to eat it, non-organic and all.

Of course, we're left to wonder where along the pesticide spectrum other forms of produce we eat fall. (WHERE ARE CARROTS?) But this small guide is at least a good start, and I think the main Food News website yields even more information about this stuff. What are your thoughts on organic produce? Do you religiously buy all organic? Or do you think this is all an elaborate hoax set up by the government and food industries to get us to spend more money on food?