Monday, October 5, 2009

chocolate brownie cookies

Possible culprits behind my weekend fit of insomnia:

• A Claritin-D 24 hour extended release tablet (Pseudoephedrine, I thought I knew you)
• Late-night Turkish take-out
• These brownie cookies, which, between the high-percentage chocolate, and the half-tablespoon of espresso, accounted for approximately triple my weekly caffeine intake

Most likely, it is some combination of the three that precipitated my restlessness; however, I think it wise (if extremely prejudiced) to deflect all blame from the cookies, so as to (a) rationalize our consumption of the remaining cookies and (b) sanction future experiments with this recipe.

Brownie cookies—an invention of Claudia Fleming—represent my second attempt to recreate the devastating “earthquake cookie” at Ana Sortun’s Sofra Bakery. What is an “earthquake cookie”? It is, for one thing, a beautiful feat of engineering, with a crackly, almost meringue-like surface that crumbles and dissolves into a dense chocolate center. The whole thing is liberally coated in confectioner's sugar, save the dark fault lines that splinter down the middle (hence the name, I suspect). As chocolate cookies go, it’s a good’un.

Claudia Fleming’s brownie cookies, conceived at Gramercy Tavern, promised similar textural pleasures—the crackly surface, the rich chocolate interior—which is what drew me to them in the first place. But our taste test revealed important distinctions, too. The addition of semi-sweet chocolate chips, it seems, results in a fudgier, tar-pit interior, and a less delicate (though still crisp) surface. [Full disclosure: I used regular chocolate chips, rather than the miniature chips she recommends, which certainly had something to do with this.] There is also the obvious omission of confectioner's sugar, which I honored mostly because powdered sugar seemed incompatible with my ice cream-cookie pairing.

As Con Queso (who is better versed in Sofra’s offerings than I) will attest, these were no “earthquake cookies,” but they may have been something better. To know for sure, I’d have to do a side-by-side comparison, which—trust me—is not unlikely.

Finally, while I’m on the subject, I should probably mention my first Sofra copycat attempt, which you can see below (but which I never wrote up). They may, in fact, make a better approximation of the earthquake cookie, in terms of overall structure, though I would not recommend them over Claudia Fleming’s version. But heck, they were pretty good too.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Adapted from The Last Course, by Claudia Fleming

1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon brewed espresso
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate [I used 70%], chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, briefly whip the eggs to break them up. Add the sugar, espresso, and vanilla and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until thick. [As someone who used a hand-held immersion blender with whisk attachment can attest, this is where a standing mixer would really come in handy.]

Meanwhile, place the butter in the top of a double boiler, or in a small metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water, and scatter the extra-bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate on top. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt. Remove the boiler top from over the water and stir the chocolate and butter until smooth.

Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until partially combined (there should still be some streaks). Add the flour mixture to the batter and carefully fold it in. Fold in the chocolate chips. If the batter is very runny, let it rest until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets and bake until puffed and cracked, 8 to 9 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before removing from the baking sheets.

Chocolate Cloud Cookies
Adapted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

In a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar until thick, pale and fluffy. (When you slowly raise the beaters the batter will fall back into the bowl in slow ribbons.) At this point beat in the vanilla extract and then stir in the melted chocolate mixture.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to shape into balls, at least 1 hour (preferably several hours or even overnight).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the confectioner's sugar in a shallow bowl. With lightly greased hands, roll a small amount of chilled dough to form a 1-inch ball. Place the ball of dough into the confectioner's sugar and roll the ball in the sugar until it is completely coated and no chocolate shows through. Gently lift the sugar-covered ball, tapping off excess sugar, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Continue forming cookies, spacing about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. If you find the dough getting too soft for rolling into balls, return to the refrigerator and let chill until firm.

Bake cookies 10-13 minutes or just until the edges are slightly firm but the centers still soft. For moist, chewy cookies do not overbake. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

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