Confessions of a perfectionist baker

IMG_1173BSMbanner_baked-150There’s something you should know about me.

It’s an embarrassing admission to make as a baker.

I cannot make good cookies.  We’re not talking bar cookies, which I seem to have relative success with… I’m talking your regular, stand-alone run-of-the-mill cookie.

I will have many friends who will argue this and say, “Mark, no… your cookies are fine,” but here’s the deal: I’m a crazy perfectionist.  When I look in cookbooks and see gorgeous photos of plump, chewy cookies that hold their shape and have some ‘bulk’ to them, that’s how I consistently expect my cookies to turn out.  When I go to parties or family gatherings and see these same kinds of beautiful cookies trotted out by guests or family members in Rubbermaid containers, I think , “Surely, I can do that!”  Well, I’ve tried, and I cannot.  It’s depressing that something that seems so simple can go so awry with me in my kitchen.  I’ve mentioned a few times before in this blog that I have struggled, probably the worst, with chocolate chip cookies.  No matter what different techniques, tools, or methods of mixing, chilling, etc. I’ve used (no use making any more suggestions to me – seriously, I’ve tried ’em all), my cookies never turn out to be the ‘ideal’ I so hoped for.  My cookies are usually pathetically flat as paper, greasy, and just unappealing and amateur-looking.  Yes, indeed, I know it sounds snobby – and I admit it – but I almost feel they’re an embarrassment to the reputation I’ve built as a good baker.  I just think that every baker has their specialty and cookies, sadly, are NOT mine.

So… it was with mixed emotions this week that I tackled Baked’s Cream Cheese Chocolate Snacking Cookies from Baked Elements.  I made their amazing Brown Butter Snickerdoodles last week – and while they tasted awesome, they puffed up beautifully (like the photo in the book), then collapsed down flat shortly after being removed from the oven.  Argh!  With some hesitation, I dove into this recipe shortly after.

The recipe sounds wonderful, and the recipe preface promises these cookies live up to their name of being a true snacking cookie – one you cannot grab just one of, but rather two or three at a time.  The combination of chocolate and tangy, smooth cream cheese – how can you lose, right?  I had visions of thick, dark, rich, chocolately cookies studded with dark chocolate chips and loads of tempting promise, fresh off my brand-spanking-new (and awesome, I might add) cookie sheets I recently purchased in one of my mad attempts to figure out what was going wrong with my chocolate chip cookies.  They had to come out the way I envisioned them, right?  I prayed to the baking gods: PLEASE let it be so!

The recipe is fairly simple and straightforward.  It’s important that you use room temp cream cheese to cream together with your butter to start with; if you don’t, you’ll wind up with bits of cream cheese throughout your batter, and you need the butter and cream cheese to beat up into a homogenous mixture.  Both white and brown sugars are added to the creamed mixture, followed by eggs, vanilla, and a touch of heavy cream.  Sifted dry ingredients are then gently added (flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda), followed by some melted, cooled dark chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips.  I only had about a cup of semisweet chips left, so I found about 3/4 cup of milk chocolate chips in my cupboard that I tossed into the mix for a little variety. (Gasp!  Note to self: MUST get to the store soon to buy my customary 4 bags of chocolate chips… I cannot believe I ran out!)

The resulting batter is smooth, densely chocolate, and really quite dreamy.  The cream cheese taste is very subtle, but it’s there.  Realizing I could not stand there and eat the bowl of cookie batter itself (unhealthy, of course, with the raw eggs), I popped it into the fridge for its 15 minute chill, as suggested in the recipe.  I have noticed success with cookies, typically, when I’ve let the batter or dough rest for a good overnight chill in the fridge – a process Baked makes frequent use of (for example, they recommend it with their chocolate chip cookies).  I’ve made a good practice of this, as there are definitely marked improvements in cookie height and chewiness when I’ve really chilled the dough good.  I usually scoop the dough out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet first before chilling (rather than keeping the batter in the bowl and scooping it out when I’m ready to bake). It’s really less hassle, as all of your cookies are ready to pull out and simply place on the cookie sheets to be popped into the oven.

Given the consistency of this batter, I went with Baked’s suggested 15 minute chill on this recipe (I actually think I pushed it to a half hour), before pulling the bowl out of the fridge to scoop and bake off the cookies.  I used a small, spring-loaded cookie scoop, as I’ve observed larger spread with bigger-scooped cookies.  When I checked back in with the recipe, I actually noticed they recommended a small scoop, but I did yield a larger batch of cookies than the 2-3 dozen they predict; I baked off about 5-6 dozen overall.

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Honestly, these don’t even photograph well!

I wasn’t completely disappointed in these cookies, but I wasn’t thrilled about them either.  They did spread and flatten on the cookie sheet – which I wasn’t surprised about (given my curse with cookie-baking, this is typical by now).  I liked the taste, but barely noticed any of the expected tang from the cream cheese and felt that while they were surprisingly soft and a touch chewy, they also had a slight dryness to them.  These are best eaten within a couple days – they completely dry out fast.  They’re nice and chocolately, but almost not enough.  I wanted more flavor, I suppose.  They strike me as a good, basic chocolate cookie.  They are easily ‘snackable’, as I’ve found myself grabbing more than one to eat with my morning cookie or as an afternoon snack when I’ve come home from work.  They keep very well in an airtight container and would travel well to picnics or potlucks.  A good cookie, but not a standout.  Certainly not a go-to recipe I would make over, say, Baked’s amazing Sweet and Salty Brownies.  To use one of my favorite words, these were rather milquetoast.  It really isn’t fair of me to say I was expecting more with these cookies, as Baked makes no profound promises in the recipe preface or notes that these will knock your socks off when you make them, but… well, I think I was expecting more, chocoholic and – yikes – perfectionist that I am!

IMG_1161I will confess that I upped the ante a touch by spreading a healthy layer of homemade coffee ice cream (left over from last week’s Mississippi Mud Pie recipe) between two of these cookies… and it was divine.  There was a little salvation after all!

If you love chocolate cookies and have a brick of cream cheese in your refrigerator waiting to be used, give these a try and tell me what you think:

Cream Cheese Chocolate Snacking Cookies

While you’re at it, check out how my fellow bakers fared as well!  I took the opportunity of reading the results of the other bloggers before posting my blog, and I see similarities with texture and flatness, so I’m a touch relieved that it wasn’t ‘just me’ with these.  Baked Sunday Mornings will now be posting every two weeks, as we continue to work our way through Baked Elements.  In the intervening weeks, I may hop online and blog about other recipes I have tried (yes, I do occasionally venture out of all things Baked), so please stay tuned!

Catch my next Baked Sunday Mornings post on June 23rd: Banana Mousse Parfaits.  I may skip this, as I’m not a huge banana fan, especially if it’s not baked into something.  We’ll see.

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A treat to beat your feet on this Mississippi Mud (er, sort of…)

IMG_1132BSMbanner_baked-150There have been many incarnations of the famous Mississippi Mud Pie – or even Cake – over the years in American cuisine.  There is no doubt from the name that it has Southern roots, and most variations on the recipe share a common thread: fudgy, decadent chocolate is a key component, usually serving as the palette, if you will, upon which all the other accompanying ingredients are artfully assembled.

This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings treat is Baked’s clever take on this favorite rich dessert, with a coffee ice cream and slight-kick-of-bourbon twist – from Baked Explorations, we’re making the Mississippi Mud Pie (A), aka Coffee Ice Cream Tart. This is so named because, in the same book, they offer a Mississippi Mud Pie (B) recipe, which is a completely different affair built on the same theme: less a pie and more of a flourless chocolate cake, baked in a chocolate cookie crust, topped with a thick fudge pudding and crowned with whipped cream.  If this sounds amazing to you as well, please head on over to my fabulous fellow BSM blogger Dafna’s site – Stellina Sweets – to read her take on recipe (B) (look for this week’s post)!  I’ve made it – delicious.

IMG_1146Anyhow, you get the point… Baked is definitely upping the richness quotient on the Mississippi Mud Pie in all directions.  This is exactly why I adore these guys – they take traditional dessert recipes and shake them up a little bit, imbuing them with an altogether new, unique, and ultimately refreshing perspective.

Before I proceed further: in case you’re scratching your head in regard to the title of this blog post, I’ll direct your attention to the song that was running through my head while I was making this pie.  While it’s called “Mississippi Mud”, it isn’t a playful homage to this dessert by any means – nor do I advise by the lyric and the title above that you make this pie and promptly ‘beat your feet’ (ie., dance) on it – but it may providing an amusing little bit of background music while you peruse the rest of this post.  By all means, click ‘play’ and let this Dean Martin ditty entertain you as you continue on…

Baked’s recipe begins with a chocolate crumb crust made with a combination of ground chocolate wafers, butter, and sugar.  When I neglected to pick up chocolate wafers at the grocery store, I opted to make my own for this and future recipes (you can make lots of wafers and they freeze well).  I realize this is a little ambitious, but if you make this recipe on your own and forego the homemade route, I recommend Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers.  Oreo crumbs would work perfectly fine as well.  I made Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Wafers 3.0 recipe from her wonderful cookie book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. Alice Medrich is another of my baking heroes, along with the Baked guys.  This was my first venture into making her chocolate wafers, and they were very easy – whipped up in a food processor, rolled into a log for chilling, then sliced and baked.  They were perfect: snappy, crisp, and excellent for grinding up into the crumb crust.

As the wafers had plenty of butter and sugar in them already, I scaled back on the amounts for both as called for in the recipe, opting to add about 3 tablespoons melted butter instead of 6, and a good, hearty pinch of sugar instead of a full tablespoon.  The crust is – surprisingly – not baked off in the oven, but rather placed in the refrigerator to chill and firm up for a bit.  Make sure you take Baked’s suggestion to compact the crumb layer and spread it evenly using the back of a spoon, as I have a suspicion it will crumble and shatter too easily when you cut into the pie if you don’t.

Next, the crust is topped with a thick, rich chocolate fudge layer spiked with a slight kick of bourbon. This fudge layer consists of a mixture of good-quality dark chocolate, heavy cream, butter, light corn syrup, confectioners sugar, and Kentucky bourbon… in other words, if you think you’re counting calories with this pie, you may as well quit while you’re ahead!  This dreamy fudge layer is then topped off with a layer of creamy coffee ice cream.  As Matt Lewis suggests in the recipe notes, please do yourself a favor and buy a good-quality coffee ice cream for this – notably one that has a short list of ingredients you can recognize.  On the other hand, you could make your own – as I did (yes, go ahead, roll your eyes and call me Martha Stewart if you must!).  I used Baked’s own Coffee Ice Cream recipe from the same book (Baked Explorations).  It’s a wonderful coffee ice cream recipe that is luscious, creamy, and hits all the right toasted coffee notes you would desire from a really stellar coffee ice cream.  (Here is a link to the recipe from when Baked Sunday Mornings made it: Coffee Ice Cream.)  The recipe makes 1 quart of coffee ice cream and the pie calls for 1 pint, so I used half of it in the pie – which I was thrilled about, as I had some extra ice cream for later!  Bonus!

IMG_1148After the pie has been allowed to freeze until fairly solid, its final crowning glory is yet another drizzling of bourbon fudge sauce – made with (again) heavy cream, corn syrup, butter, good dark chocolate, and bourbon.  Once these ingredients are combined together in a saucepan, beat the sauce briskly to room temperature with a whisk, and drizzle it in whatever fashion you desire over your frozen pie (as you can see from the photos, I went a touch ‘Jackson Pollock’ on my pie).  Baked’s recipe suggests pressing toasted pecan pieces into the coffee ice cream layer before drizzling on the sauce; I opted to sprinkle the perimeter of the pie decoratively with the pecans afterwards.  This way, if you are serving the pie to someone who doesn’t prefer nuts (speaking as someone who typically doesn’t, with the exception of pecans and almonds), the pecans are not trapped under that delicious fudge for them to be ‘pried’ off their slice of pie – they can simply pick them off with a fork.

This is my second time making this pie, and I have to admit: I was amazed at how much better I liked it the second time around.  We couldn’t even finish this pie the first time, and now I’m glad that – it being a freezer pie – we can keep this one around for a bit for occasional nibblings or sharing with friends!  I’m not sure if it was making all of the components of it homemade (crust, ice cream, sauce) that did the trick or what – but it was out-of-this-world delicious.  Being a chocolate, coffee, and ice cream fanatic, this pie hit all the right notes.  The smooth and decadent filling is balanced with pleasant textural contrasts in the subtle crunch from the toasted pecans and dense ‘fudgyness’ of the chilled sauce on top.  For those of you who eschew booze in your desserts, you need not worry about the bourbon in this pie – it’s but a slight whisper in the aftertaste of each bite, and I’m sure if you leave it out, you won’t notice it.

IMG_1140I won’t lie about this dessert – it is insanely rich.  You may want to serve it in smaller wedges than a standard pie, and accompany the servings with a glass of milk or maybe even coffee.  I would also suggest that, if you have one, you use a good metal or aluminum pie pan; for some strange reason, when I made this the first time, the crust stuck to the glass pie plate I made it in.  The pie almost looked like a massacre from the very first piece I wrestled out of it!  This time around, with some careful cutting using a warmed, sharp knife, the slice came out nice and clean.  Indeed, when I loosened the sides of the pie with an offset spatula, I felt that I could pop the entire pie completely out of the tin!  Crumb crusts also seem to cling to the sides of metal pie plates better than glass when forming them as well.

If you’d like to ‘beat your feet’ on making your own Mississippi Mud Ice Cream Pie, follow this link:

Mississippi Mud Pie (A) aka Coffee Ice Cream Tart

…and please be sure to check out the comments and thoughts of my fellow bloggers on this week’s recipe by checking out the “Leave Your Links” posts every Sunday morning.  If you’re a baker and enjoy reading and following my blog every week, why not join the Baked Sunday Mornings blogging crew?  We’d love to have you become a part of our fun group!

Until next time, friends, thank you for reading and following along – and have a terrific week!

Next Week: Cream Cheese Chocolate Snacking Cookies

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