I've had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit so far this year. Maybe it's the influx of news about the state of the economy or just being caught up in the everyday distractions that life brings (like having car troubles, which happened to me on Tuesday). Our household also doesn't have a Christmas tree or anything--not that having a tree is what Christmas is all about, but it's always a nice touch. On Wednesday, though, my coworker gave me a snowman cookie jar. Well, actually, she made an "unfortunate" pick in a white elephant gift exchange and she didn't like it, so she gave it away to anyone who would take it--and I was that person. It's not the cutest cookie jar (I saw one today at Target that was much cuter), but for some reason, it kind of makes me happy thinking we now have a little snowman in our living room.
Of course, a cookie jar requires cookies. How perfect it is that this is the season for cookies! If you go to Foodnetwork.com, they have a special "Twelve Days of Cookies" (of which yesterday was the last day!), and the cover of the December issue of Martha Stewart Living is an assortment of holiday cookies. (Yes, I admit that I have a subscription to her magazine! You can't argue that she does some pretty amazing stuff, though.) I noticed that the chocolate chip cookie doesn't seem to rank among the holiday cookies. I'm not sure why that is--maybe they're not special or pretty enough?
Instead of making one of the fancy holiday cookies, I decided to pull out a chocolate chip cookie recipe, adapted from Jacques Torres, the chocolate-master himself, that was published in the New York Times over the summer. I'd like to think it's a pretty special chocolate chip cookie recipe. Two components that make it stand out include the requirement to chill the dough at least 24 hours, which gives it a deeper flavor and a more "handsome" color (that's what the New York Times said). The second thing that makes this recipe unique is the emphasis on salt. Instead of being incorporated into the batter, sea salt is sprinkled on top as a finishing touch, which accents the other flavors.
The recipe calls for cake flour and bread flour. I didn't have either, so I used unbleached all-purpose flour. Jacques Torres also recommends using Valrhona feves (chocolate disks), which can be found at Whole Foods. Valrhona is very good quality chocolate, and some famous bakeries (like Tartine--I went there last week! More about that another time, though...) use their chocolate. I'm a believer in using good quality chocolate when I can, but I kind of didn't feel like going to Whole Foods to get them, so I used my trustworthy standby: semi-sweet chocolate chips from Trader Joe's. The cookies still turned out pretty special to me. And if you look close enough, they kind of sparkle, too.
(Oh, before I get into the recipe, I wanted to tell you that I set up my own Amazon store this week! You'll find the link to it on the left hand column. I thought it'd be fun to hand pick some things that I like (mostly related to baking and cooking, but also other items) and share them with you. I hope you'll check it out; I'll be updating it from time to time.)
Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from the New York Times' adaptation of the recipe from Jacques Torres)
Makes about 18 cookies, each about five inches
3-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1-1/4 t. baking soda
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1-1/4 cup (or 2-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla
1-1/4 lbs. chocolate chips (or Valrhona feves, as suggested)
Sift the dry ingredients, except for the sugar, together in a bowl, and set aside. (Actually, when I did this the other day, I mixed the dry ingredients together with a wire whisk. Still turned out great.).
In another bowl, using a mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together. Once creamed, add one egg at a time, beating on medium-low speed, until incorporated well. Then add the vanilla. Slowly mix in the dry ingredient mixture on low until the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl. Add in the chocolate chips and mix until the chocolate chips are evenly distributed. (If using the chocolate disks, be careful not to break the disks. I usually do this step by hand, even when using regular chocolate chips--gives my arms a good work out, too.) Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours (up to 72 hours).
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Take the cookie dough out of the refrigerator and let it stand for about 15 minutes. During that time, grease the baking sheets or line them parchment paper (or Silpat, if you prefer to use that). Shape clumps of dough into balls about two inches in diameter. Space each cookie dough ball about three to four inches apart, and sprinkle each with sea salt.
If using two baking sheets, bake on the top two racks in the oven for about 18-20 minutes, switching baking sheets on the racks about 10 minutes into baking. Keep a close eye on the cookies toward the end of the baking time, since it's very easy to overbake them! They should be done when the dough has spread and they are slightly browning. The cookies seem to brown a little more while cooling. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a cookie rack to cool completely.