Thanksgiving was a bust. Okay, “bust” is a little too harsh a word seeing as I wasn’t expecting an evening that boomed either, but it was wholly uneventful. Steamed chicken rice and water spinach (ong choy) with the family and a visiting uncle, eaten too quickly in an effort to avoid any hairy subjects that might come up at the table this time of year (nothing actually came up and I may have given myself indigestion). I had the last of my macaroons made the weekend before and walked over to a friend’s house for a time, where we dared to think we could make it past 11 PM (at our age? The very idea!) without nodding off to the sound of What We Do In the Shadows. I came home; it was quiet.
I keep my [current] favourite cookbooks on the bottom shelf of my nightstand, where those pages of dreams and promises I make to myself are close at hand. So I flipped through one and then another, mulled over scones and tajines, and called Thanksgiving 2015 a night, with little to remember.
I have a small, but growing cookbook collection and while I’m appreciative of those text-heavy tomes–weighty with cooking techniques, an encyclopedic knowledge of every flour known to man and their applications–as resources for my kitchen learning, I’ve always gravitated towards the ones that tell a story. Not that they shouldn’t be practical (if a book doesn’t inspire, it’s just a bauble on my shelf), but cookbooks I can devour from cover to cover like a Vonnegut or a Gaiman instead of leafing quickly through for x recipe? They’re something else–my David Lebovitz’s and Rachel Khoo’s and my most recent addition, The Violet Bakery Cookbook.
Claire Ptak, formerly of Chez Panisse, has distilled in 256 pages what I can only imagine are the at once unfussy and thoroughly exquisite treats lining the counters of her Hackney, London bakery. It’s a beautifully composed and shot book, all sunlight pools and stray crumbs threatening to fall out of the pages. It’s comforting without losing any of its excitement–simple cream scones are followed later by fig leaf ice cream and it’s all tied together by anecdotes and prose that doesn’t shy from doing a little wandering, to the bakers who provide Violet with their bread and the “emotional void” a slice of carrot cake fills.
I don’t have the resolve to go out and test every chocolate chip cookie recipe I can get my hands on to find my Perfect One, so for the longest time I swore by the much lauded New York Times recipe. It’s more involved, using bread flour and needing daylong refrigeration, but the result is well worth the wait–marvelously chewy and the chocolate sings with that sprinkle of sea salt.
And then I got to page 140 of the book, where a single shot of an unassuming cookie on a chocolate-smeared piece of paper next to a glass of milk clocked me in the jaw before I could even say “I found The One!”
Claire describes her egg yolk chocolate chip cookies, which were adapted from a course taught by French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, as
Somewhere between crisp and gooey, and made with plenty of dark chocolate and just enough salt to bring out the flavor, for me this is the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
I love you, New York Times cookie, I really do, but there’s room for two, isn’t there? I’m sure we can come to an agreement. But where time is concerned, there’s no beating this one.
Egg yolk chocolate chip cookies
from The Violet Bakery Cookbook
I’d forgotten how comforting it is to have a bag of pre-portioned cookie dough waiting in your freezer. Bad day at work? Bake a cookie. Stubbed your toe? Bake a cookie. Feeling invincible and wanting to celebrate? Bake so many cookies.
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (250g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (200g) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks (I reserved the whites and made the coconut macaroons below)
2 1/3 cups (325g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (or roughly a teaspoon if you’re using something finer)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (250g) dark chocolate chips or a chopped up bar of your favourite chocolate
- Line a small baking sheet or pan (one that will fit inside your freezer; I used a plate for my overflow dough balls and just transferred them to the baking sheet when ready) with parchment paper.
- Beat the butter and sugars in a bowl until combined but not too creamy–you’re not going for light and fluffy, as that would make the cookies too cakey. Add the vanilla and egg yolks and mix well.
- In another bowl combine the flour, salt, and baking soda and whisk well. Add this to the butter and egg mixture along with the chocolate, and mix until combined.
- Scoop individual portions of cookie dough onto the lined baking sheet or pan. If using spoons, pat each portion into a little ball. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour, or up to a month (if it’ll even last that long!). You can bake them right away if you’re that eager, but the end result will be flatter and less even than those that get the freezer treatment.
- When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 355°F/180°C (or 320°F/160°C convection). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the cookies evenly, leaving enough space between each one so they have room to expand during baking (they’ll roughly double in size). If you are baking from frozen, allow the cookies 5-10 minutes out of the freezer before placing in oven.
- Bake for 18 minutes, until the center of each cookie is slightly soft and underbaked, but the edges are crispy and golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the tray before serving. They will keep up to 5 days in an airtight container, if you can resist inhaling them in one sitting.
Yield: I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the dough as instructed, so I ended up with around the 16 large cookies stated.
From The Violet Bakery Cookbook
My sweet tooth has narrowed as I’ve gotten older and I tend to like my sweets on the less sweet side, so the amount of sugar listed in the original recipe came out a taaad too sweet for me (I might leave off that 1/4 cup next time around and see how it goes). Make a batch as written and see if it works for you, then adjust accordingly.
This was my first time making macaroons and it’s likely that I took my mixture off the burner before it had dried out enough, so they came out a little softer than I’d imagined. Still delicious, but I’ll be sure to give it a little more time on the stove next time around.
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a touch less if you’re using something finer)
1 tablespoon good honey (if you’re eyeing that squeezable plastic bear–resist! thankfully, I always have a tub of local California wildflower honey)
1 1/3 cups (200g) unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 355°F/180°C (or 320°F/160°C convection)–if you’re making these right after the cookies, you don’t have to worry about adjusting the temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Measure out all the ingredients into a medium, heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium-low hear, stirring constantly. As the mixture starts to warm up, it will be easier to mix everything together. Reduce the heat to low and stir continuously until all the sugar has melted and the mixture starts to look like rice pudding.
- Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and begins to dry out, keeping a careful watch to make sure it doesn’t catch and scorch on the bottom.
- Scoop individual portions of the mixture on to the lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between each one so they have room to expand. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they’re puffed and golden. Allow them to cool completely before serving or storing. These will keep well for up to 1 week in an airtight container.
Yield: 10 large macaroons (again, portioned with an ice cream scoop)