Corn Cookies, à la Momofuku Milk Bar

On our recent trip to New York City, we stopped in at Momofuku Milk Bar.  Christina Tosi, head Pastry Chef of David Chang’s Momofuku empire, has lately become a darling of the food world.  With my training in Baking and Pastry Arts, I mostly wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

love this logo

I’ve already said my piece on the black sesame croissant we got (the short version: it’s awesome), but we also picked up the five cookie flavors they offered that day: Compost(TM)(srsly), chocolate-chocolate, cornflake-marshmallow, blueberry & cream, and corn.  As you can see, some of them didn’t last until the photo shoot.

left to right: compost(tm), chocolate-chocolate, cornflake-marshmallow

Overall, these are good cookies.  They have many qualities of acceptable bakery cookies: big as a small plate, sweet, interesting flavor bits, texture somewhere between chewy and soft.  The chocolate-chocolate was the best of these three, with a sophisticated flavor redolent of Oreo, which I assume must be due to black cocoa.  But if I’m honest, I didn’t get anything terribly special from the lauded Compost(TM) and blueberry & cream flavors.  Yes, the Compost(TM) has interesting salty bits, and the blueberry has… blueberries; but they’re not really enough for me to travel across town for, let alone get on a plane to NYC.

compost(tm) cookie; reminded me of a gussied-up potato chip cookie my mom used to make

Maybe the problem is with me, though.  Despite my scholastic specialization, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.  I’d much rather eat something salty and savory over a cookie any day.  So for a cookie to impress me, it has to be something pretty darn special.  It has to make me sit up, narrow my eyes, tilt my head ever so slightly, and maybe curse gently.  It pretty much has to be Plato’s Ideal Cookie.

This, Gentle Reader, is that cookie.

Well, it’s where that cookie used to be, anyway.  This is where the corn cookie used to be, the cookie that made me wish I had been responsible for its existence.  How could anything that is not-corn taste so much like corn?

I’ve never tried to reverse-engineer a baked good before, but this cookie demanded an attempt.  I had two clues at my disposal: one, the ingredients list (listed by weight, remember), and two, the knowledge that Chef Tosi uses high-quality ingredients with simple techniques.  She was likely going to use whatever was easily at her disposal, and not futz with things too much.  There would be no unnecessary complication, like, say, steeping churned-in-house butter with late-July corn cobs to infuse every possible mote with ultimate corn flavor.

cornmeal not ground finely enough yet

The one “mystery” ingredient, if it can be called that, was something listed as “corn powder (dyhydrated corn)” [sic].  I assumed that was a typo, and not corn with two types of water.  And as chance would have it, while procuring cinnamon from the amazing spice store that I am lucky to live near, I noticed a register-side basket of nothing less than freeze-dried corn.  Close enough.

look ma, no water

Back home, my research determined that this cookie dough was most likely a variant of the basic chocolate chip cookie, sans chips, of course.  I listed the ingredients and amounts from four trusted recipes, and developed a recipe based on those, swapping some of the flour for finely-ground corn meal and freeze-dried corn.

The dough came together beautifully, to my glee, and baked into a soft and ultra-yellow cookie that looked surprisingly similar to the real deal.  And the taste?  I couldn’t very well do a side by side comparison, but it wasn’t far off from what I remembered: slightly under-sweet, buttery, and with a truckload of corn flavor.

It’s possible to tweak the amounts slightly and maybe achieve a more accurate recipe, but I’m pretty thrilled with what resulted.  And unless someone is willing to sponsor me, I don’t really want to pay for the shipping involved in acquiring a new batch of “control” corn cookies for further analysis.

i has a corm cookie

 

EDIT: Based on this tweet that I just saw:

…I’m revising the recipe to include a mandatory fridge rest for the dough.  I don’t know that all of Chef Tosi’s cookie recipes would necessarily include a rest, but one apparently does.  I know it works miracles on most cookie dough, and I’ve always done it for this recipe with great success.  And it’s my blog.  So there.

Corn Cookies
Inspired blatantly from Christina Tosi’s Corn Cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar
Makes about 4 dozen two-inch cookies 

As with most cookie dough, this one may be frozen or refrigerated, and may actually give a better result if left to rest overnight in the refrigerator.  If you can’t get your hands on corn flour, just use a good-quality cornmeal (preferably stone-ground, but whatever) and grind it to a very fine powder in a spice grinder.  Don’t be tempted to use unadulterated cornmeal; it will give your cookies a gritty texture.  No pun intended.

While I found the freeze-dried corn at my amazing local spice shop (they ship!), I know that natural-food groceries (like Whole Foods) often carry a brand of dehydrated vegetables that makes dried corn.  They might have it in stock, or be able to order it for you.

Also, I specify a European-style butter, which has a higher fat percentage than American butter, making for a softer cookie.  I don’t know what sort of butter Milk Bar uses, but I know their dairy is high-quality and sourced from a local farm, so I figured I’d use the good stuff.  The recipe should work just fine with whatever butter you have, though.

Yes, I’m listing everything by weight.  Grams, to boot.  I don’t know how to translate “120 grams of freeze-dried corn” into cups; I’m sorry.  But if you bake regularly, and you don’t have a scale, you should really, really, really invest the $15-20.  It’s much more precise, and your baked goods will turn out more consistently.

175 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
120 grams freeze-dried corn, ground to a fine powder in a spice grinder
55 grams corn flour (see headnote)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
350 grams granulated sugar
225 grams (8 ounces) European-style unsalted butter (such as Plugrá), at room temperature
100 grams (2 large) eggs

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Whisk together the all-purpose flour, ground up freeze-dried corn, corn flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set it aside.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand, if you’re into that), cream together the sugar and butter until just combined, scraping the bowl as needed.  You should only need to mix for about a minute, maybe less.  Please do not beat the living daylights out of it; your cookies will spread too much if you do.

3.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until a soft dough forms.  Gently scrape the dough into an airtight container (a plastic container, zip-top bag, or just wrap the lot in plastic wrap); no need to shape pretty logs, though that’s certainly an option if you like.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 2-3 days.  Alternatively, portion the dough out into individual cookie lumps, place on a single sheet pan (it’s okay if they touch), wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze until solid before storing in a gallon freezer zip-top bag.

4.  If refrigerated, leave dough at room temperature for 30-60 minutes before proceeding.  If frozen in portioned out lumps, proceed without thawing, but add a couple of extra minutes to the baking time.  Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto parchment-lined or ungreased sheet pans, leaving about 2 inches between each.  Bake at 350º F for 10-12 minutes, or until the undersides and the occasional outside edge turn golden brown.  Don’t let the tops brown; the cookies should remain bright yellow with no (or very little) browning.  Let cookies cool briefly on the pans before transferring to racks to cool thoroughly.

Nonfat Soft Gingersnap Cookies

I’m finally back in my own home, after an extended weekend of gloriously sunny and humid Florida weather.  Everyone down there thought I was crazy, but I luxuriated in the sun and the thick air until I began sweating – and I’m not one who sweats easily.  Oh, I miss getting slapped in the face with humidity the second you walk outside.  *sigh*

We were graciously hosted by my boyfriend’s mother and siblings, and shortly before leaving Chicago, I decided to bring a little food-related hostess gift along.  Looking for something simple and, owing to recent health issues within the family, something reasonably healthy (but still a wee bit indulgent), I came across these soft gingersnaps on David Lebovitz’s site.

The main thing that caught my eye was the word “nonfat” in the title.  David Lebovitz may be many things, but a health-food junkie he ain’t; I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word on his blog before.  If he’s talking about nonfat cookies, they’ve just got to be worth it.

More importantly, they were soft cookies, which are much more travel-friendly than crisp or crumbly cookies.  After confirmation from the boyfriend regarding his mother’s preferred flavor of cookie (molasses), I had a winner.

I won’t post the recipe here, as I didn’t change a single thing; but you can find it here on Mr. Lebovitz’s site.  (Well, okay, I did use some coarse demerara sugar to roll the dough in, and I made them quite small because I love tiny cookies, but those changes certainly don’t qualify as an adaptation.)

Despite my determination to not blog about a gift for someone else, as lovely and as delicious as these cookies were, I knew halfway through making them that I had to post something about them.  This dough was so simple to pull together, and jammed full of robust and spicy flavors.  The occasional chewy bit of candied ginger was a welcome treat in each bite, and the cinnamon-sugar coating provided not only a pretty sparkle, but also a light crunch.

One caveat, though: these cookies have a very short window in which they become perfectly cooked, and therefore remain properly soft.  Bake them too long, and they turn slightly tough.  I think I would recommend making them a bit bigger than I did, as the little darlings baked much faster than I anticipated; larger cookies would allow for a longer grace period between uncooked and overdone.

Otherwise, if you’re in search of a fantastic nonfat cookie, or a fantastic soft gingersnap, or perhaps a fantastic hostess gift, you surely can’t find a better choice than these cookies.

Recipe is here!

Oatmeal Bar Cookies

Ever since I can remember, the raisin has been my sneaky dessert nemesis.  On more than one occasion, little Younger Self bit into what she thought was a perfectly normal chocolate chip cookie, only to be horrified to taste the squidgy, sticky goo of a raisin.  (I guess I still do that on occasion; but at least I’m now mature enough to refrain from spitting it out.  When anyone’s watching.)

Luckily for my Younger Self, the raisin often came with a helpful marker: the oatmeal.  I quickly learned to avoid like the plague any cookie that looked unreasonably bumpy or craggy, and that bit of caution worked beautifully for most of my life.

But then, to both my joy and dismay, the world began slowly producing chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  There was joy because, as I soon discovered, the things are absolutely delightful; they might actually be my favorite cookie.  Nutty, chocolaty, and chewy, all in one glorious and golden-brown package.  But of course there was also dismay; I was no longer able to rely fully on the old warning that had been so simple.  Oatmeal cookies no longer equal raisin cookies; sometimes, they equal something I really want to eat.

I now must poke and prod and examine an oatmeal cookie very closely to determine the level of safety.  It’s just unfair to get a girl’s hopes up, only to dash them with the realization that those dark bits are raisins.  Disappointment from a cookie is the worst kind.

You can see, then, why I was just about to pass over a recent Cookie of the Day from Martha Stewart: they were called Oatmeal-Raisin Bars.  But the photo caught my eye.  I am a bit of a sucker for bar cookies in general (you can cut them into any shape or size you want!), and those. Looked. Awesome.

What’s more, the recipe looked about as simple as breathing.  No waiting for butter to soften, no creaming, no portioning individual scoops of dough.  Just melt butter, whisk with wet ingredients, mix in dry ingredients.  Bake.  Cut.  Eat.  Repeat.  They were right up my alley, aside from those damned raisins.

As easy as they looked, and considering that I had all the necessary ingredients on hand, I decided to give them a try (swapping the raisins for chocolate chips, of course).  The smell from the oven while they baked was fantastic; the butter and brown sugar mingled into an almost butterscotch scent, while the toasting oatmeal came through warm and cheerful.

I may have let them bake a minute or so too long; I think I would prefer these with a slightly under-done center.  But really, I’m just being picky; these are an excellent oatmeal cookie, pleasingly firm and easy to cut.  The oats soften into an appropriately chewy texture, which I was initially a little concerned that they might not do, due to the relatively high percentage of them in the batter.  The oats also provide a sort of ersatz “flaky layer” effect and texture, which is quite pretty.  A touch of cinnamon and vanilla deepen the flavors, and play quite nicely with the chocolate.  A splash or two of Bourbon would not have been out of place, but I restrained myself this time.

I guess if you insist on using raisins, and no one around you finds them objectionable, they’d probably go quite well.  I did briefly consider using currants or dried cherries instead, and once this batch is gone (and those buckeyes, curse you for being so tasty), I may have a go at that.  They couldn’t possibly be simpler to make, and I can almost guarantee acclaim if you bring a plateful along to anywhere.

And for the record, I have nothing personal against raisins; I just have never really enjoyed eating them.  We have an understanding: as long as they stay in their little red box, and I don’t put them in my shopping cart, we do just fine.

Oatmeal Bar Cookies

Yield: 16 bars

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (7 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter an 8 inch square baking pan thoroughly, and line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. Butter the parchment as well.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, sugars, salt, cinnamon, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour, oats, and chocolate chips. Gently fold together until just combined.

3. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake at 350º F until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, at least 1 hour. Using the paper overhang, lift onto a cutting board and divide into 16 bars.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/oatmeal-bar-cookies/

Superbowl Party

As I mentioned previously, I could usually not care any less about the Super Bowl.  The actual game part, I mean.  The food and drink are where my attentions usually lie; so this year, when my hometown team went to their first Super Bowl ever, I knew a party was in order, and that I needed to pay extra attention to the menu.  What better homage to the Saints than a spread of New Orleanian food, shared with good friends?

Bowls of roasted chickpeas were of course on display, as promised a few days ago.  Unfortunately for my guests, I didn’t notice until after everyone had left that the previously-crunchy things had softened quite a bit while being stored in their plastic bags.  (Note to self: try everything I set out for a party.)  The flavors held up beautifully, but the texture was chewy where it should have been crisp, disappointingly so.

An old standard for football games, spinach dip, also made an appearance.  Paired with thick tortilla chips, the parsley- and scallion-laden dip was a fresh and familiar face; but this version scales down the dairy, typically so rich, into an item with a far more spinach-forward flavor.  (You’ll find a recipe for this below.)

One dish, familiar to some New Orleanians, but foreign to most of my guests, was a platter of mirliton pickles.  Also known as chayote, the mild-flavored mirliton is commonly used with shrimp or crawfish, and plenty of spices and aromatics.  Here, sticks of mirliton soak up the flavors of carrot, red bell pepper, onion, and fennel, transforming into crunchy and bold pickles that improve by the day.  (I’ll feature this recipe in the near future.)

The main entrée was a massive pot of smoked turkey and collard green gumbo, simmered for most of the day while I tidied up the apartment and prepared other dishes.  The robust depth of the turkey infused the entire pot with a richness that the collard greens matched beautifully, the hearty leafy green standing up to the silken body of the soup.

For dessert, chocolate tahini sablés begged to be served, but they took a backseat to the king cake, sparkling with colored sugar.

As is traditional, I hid a tiny plastic baby (representing, of course, the Baby Jesus) in one slice; but this one referenced the nickname lovingly bestowed upon the Saints’ quarterback, Drew Brees.  The Who Dat Nation has taken to calling him “Breesus”, so it was only natural that our party featured a miniature Baby Breesus in our king cake.

And if that joke makes you laugh out loud, then you are the Who Dat Nation.

Spinach Dip
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely minced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. 1.  Thaw spinach at room temperature, or in microwave for 3 to 4 minutes at 40 percent power.  Squeeze the spinach dry of as much excess liquid as possible.
  2. 2.  In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.  Add the spinach, and toss together.  Serve at once, or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Notes:
1.  You can certainly make this by running all ingredients through a food processor, but I didn’t find it necessary.  Just be sure to chop the garlic and scallions finely enough that you don’t end up with large chunks in the finished dip.

Chocolate Tahini Sablés

I found myself the other day just a few ingredients shy of a dish that has been on my “to cook” list for some time now.  (Side note: said dish is supremely flavorful, and is now in the permanent file.)  As I walked to the store, my mind was buzzing, but not with visions of the promised lightly caramelized butternut squash, pungently sweet red onion, or earthy chickpeas.  No, my mind was focused on the tahini I was about to purchase, and on cookies.

You see, I had just made a batch of cookies to scratch a baking itch, and to provide a little midday relief for the sweet tooth that occasionally plagues me.  They were nothing out of the ordinary, just little chocolate chip guys with a small handful of steel-cut oats added.  Perfectly fine.  But as respectable as those cookies had been, they just didn’t ring my bell.  They were good, but not great.  Me, I want cookies to be unquestionably worth every calorie.  Good is not good enough; I want them to be friggin’ amazing.

And so, sub-par cookies tugging at my mind, I set out to buy tahini.  Since my last jar of tahini lasted me approximately five years (before I threw it out), I wondered what to do with the remainder of this jar.  Somewhere along the way to the store, the idea came to use it in cookies.  But not just any cookies, shortbread cookies.  And, ooh!, with chocolate!  Sesame seed butter and chocolate?  Yes, please.

I wasn’t sure where that idea had come from; but when I got home to search my saved recipes for shortbread, sure enough, there was a tahini shortbread recipe recently ripped from Food & Wine Magazine.  Of course.  How quickly I forget; luckily, my brain had filed that away for such a time as this.  The idea of tahini in a shortbread cookie, with a generous amount of salt, sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

But in my search, another recipe caught my eye (original source forgotten, a copy is here), one for shortbread in the French-style, known as a sablé.  This dough, however, used a hard-boiled egg yolk, of all unusual things to put in a cookie.  Being a sucker for unusual ingredients, it was impossible to choose between the two recipes, especially since the latter included a chocolate variation.

There was nothing to do but incorporate elements from both recipes: the egg yolk and cocoa from the one, the tahini from the other.  The dough tasted and smelled exquisite, redolent with the nutty aroma and flavor of sesame, rich with chocolate and a gluttony of butter.  Rolled in coarse turbinado sugar, the edges glistened.

The fragile texture was textbook sablé, crumbling at the merest pressure into the most beautiful sandy crumbs, and the generous pinch of salt in the dough lends an intriguing and almost savory note.  If I’m honest, I only wish the tahini flavor had held up in the oven a little more.  So sesame-forward in the dough, it seemed to succumb readily to the chocolate flavor after baking.  Rolling the dough in sesame seeds instead of sugar would accentuate it, of course; but I can’t imagine giving up that fantastic crunch of coarse sugar against melting sablé crumb.

As good as these cookies were straight from the oven, they’ve only improved after sitting for a day or two.  They seem to take on new complexity of flavor with every hour that passes, and the incomparable texture remains just as good.  With this recipe, the disappointment of sub-par cookies will never haunt you; these are absolutely worth every single calorie.

Chocolate Tahini Sablés
Makes about fifty 1 1/2 inch cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) tahini, stirred
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 7/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • Coarse sugar (such as turbinado or demerara), for finishing

 

Directions:

  1. 1.  Hard-boil the egg by placing it in a small saucepan.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  When the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat.  Cover the pan, and let the egg stand in the water for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a small bowl with ice water.  When the egg is done, transfer it to the ice bath, and chill for 5 minutes.  Peel, and discard (or eat) the white.  Press the yolk through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. 2.  Add the softened butter, tahini, sugars, and salt.  Using the paddle attachment, cream the mixture together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.
  3. 3.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and instant coffee.  Add to the other ingredients, and mix on low until just incorporated, scraping the bowl once or twice.
  4. 4.  Divide the dough in half, place each half on a piece of parchment or wax paper, and shape each piece into a log about 1 or 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the paper around the dough, and twist the ends to seal.  Refrigerate until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
  5. 5.  Preheat the oven to 325º F, and position a rack in the center of the oven.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it lightly.  Sprinkle a generous handful of coarse sugar on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), unwrap one log of dough, and roll it in the sugar until completely coated, pressing to adhere the sugar.  Slice the log crossways, and arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheet.
  6. 6.  Bake at 325º F for about 25 minutes, or until the cookies are set and no longer feel very soft when touched lightly.  Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack, and let cookies cool completely.  Repeat coating, slicing, and baking with the remaining log of dough.  Cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Notes:
1.  If you’d like to boost the sesame flavor, try rolling the cookies in sesame seeds instead of the sugar.