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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9 thoughts on “Confessions of a perfectionist baker

  1. Well I think they look great! I would have happily eaten the raw dough just like that, raw eggs or no. In fact we did just that a couple of weeks ago when I noticed the oven was broken, after, i made a batch of cookie dough.

  2. I think your cookies look great too! I am definitely not a perfectionist when it comes to cookies and I like a little irregularity but I appreciate your attention to detail!

  3. I always love reading your posts, Mr. N! So clever. And your cookies look great, I don’t know what you’re bummed about. Also…I made a sandwich with my left over coffee ice cream as well, get outta my head! Ha ha. Will post a pic later this week if I remember. :)

  4. I also have an ‘ideal’ cookie in mind, which I rarely achieve. I’m sure it’s due to variations in dough temperature, oven temperature, air humidity, cold butter, soft butter, etc, but my cookies always turn out differently, but they are usually still delicious so I don’t mind too much :) Great idea with the coffee ice cream!

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