Monday, June 1, 2009

When Ant Music Isn't Enough

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Nestlé Toll House Morsels

This recipe has been locked in my useless information vault since I was a hormonally challenged tweener. During those wacked out, crush saturated years; scarfing a couple dozen warm Toll House cookies was as close to Prozac as I’d ever get. Beating together room temperature butter with the sugar. Adding eggs and a healthy dose of shell, one at a time. Dumping in the dry ingredients way too fast on too high a speed, leaving behind a culinary tableau reminiscent of a Miami club scene in Scarface. That process of mixing, baking and binging brought me succor in a time when my legs perpetually ached from growing pains and my heart was savagely ravaged by the dulcet tones of a kohl schmeared Adam Ant.

Over the years, and long since my body’s chemistry has been put to rights (relatively speaking), I’ve made purposeful tweaks to this time-honored recipe to comport with my adult preferences for all things sweet, salty and chewy; a little less flour, just brown sugar, a little more salt. But once in a while, and usually when my mind has wandered, some materially significant chemical reaction will take place within the confines of my mixing bowl that will lead to a cookie altered quite unappealingly: the dough will spread unchecked into a single, flat crispy mass. Or the dough wont spread at all, leaving me with pert mounds of cakey blech. Sometimes an unintended molecular baking reaction will occur that I wish I could repeat on a regular basis. But then I have no freakin’ idea what the hell I did to make it happen in the first place. Like when the little buggers come out of the oven with an attractive crackly sheen, making them appear less like a homespun trainwreck and more like a fancy pants confection.

But I finally figured it out. Well, not really. The King Arthur flour peeps discovered it in relation to an entirely different recipe: brownies. In the search for the perfect fudgy, almost as good as from the stupid box brownie, the Spun Sugar Rhode’s Scholars of KAF figured out that if you melt the butter and sugar together first, until the sugar has pretty much melted into the butter into a shiny syrup, the brownies will get that fabulously shiny “crust” that we all know and love on those damn delicious boxed brownies. Now admit it, the boxed brownies are always better. That is, they were until King Arthur figured out what the hell to do.

So I applied this technique to Toll House cookies, melting together the butter and sugar until shiny, gently incorporating the eggs and then mixing the dry ingredients by hand and voila, a cookie with an appealing, crackly sheen. 

Feel free to pass this along to your unbearable tweener. Because Zac Efron (and his artful bedheaded mop) doesn't know that they're alive and they could really use a little Toll House love to ease the pain.