Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Baking 101 and Double Chocolate Cookies OH MY!

Happy post-Thanksgiving I-ate-way-too-much-and-am-mourning-the-loss-of-my-money-after-Black-Friday day!! I hope you all learned to cook something new, enjoyed family, and ate at least one thing green or otherwise marginally healthy! If you did, good for you. Treat yourself with some Double Chocolate Snow Cookies (recipe will follow). If you failed at the healthy thing, then you may as well just dig the hole deeper and eat this great dessert anyway!

I know, I know. This is a blog about health and nutrition.....why are there cookies and cakes littering the pages? Not that you're complaining, right? This may be a blog about being healthy, but I would argue that happiness coupled with a little sweetness once in a while is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. Dancing in the kitchen to Cher, Ani DiFranco, or White Snake while mixing a bowl of double chocolate batter and eating spoonfuls of powdered sugar (have you ever really tried that? It's impossible!) can also be a cathartic and meditative experience. Let that creativity out! Let out that squeaky off-pitch voice! Learn some basic baking skills, unearth your most embarrassing guilty pleasure music, lock your front door so your significant other won't walk in to the best opportunity for black mail ever, and get cookin'!

Baking Skills and Tips 101: Cookies
All right, so let's go over some of the basic ingredients in cookies, what they do (the chemistry of them), what they are about, and what kind is best for these desserts.

Flour: There are a bagillion (yes, I counted) types of flour. Chestnut flour, millet flour, spelt flour, bleached white flour, pastry flour, whole wheat flour, organic flour.....and many more. And they all have their uses. For cookies, whole wheat flour is healthiest yet it imparts a very strong taste to cookies that makes them, well, less than delicious. In my last recipe of Orange Blossom Water and Crystallized Ginger Cookies 
I used brown rice flour for its subtle nutty sweetness and health benefits. This kind of flour works well with heartier cookies like oatmeal, chocolate chip, espresso cookies, and so on. For chocolate-dough cookies I prefer to use organic unbleached all-purpose flour. This type should be your basic cookie flour unless otherwise specified for a specialized cookie. 

Sugar: There are so many sweeteners out there! Agave, maple syrup, Sucanat, stevia, crystallized sugar, powdered sugar; and, they all have their uses. Remember that baking is about science and balancing the equation of wet and dry ingredients. So, if you want to make a cookie with maple syrup as the sweetener, you'd have to balance that by adding more flour. If you want to make a crumbly cookie like shortbread, you'd use confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) instead of regular sugar since regular sugar melts and turns into a binder in cookies. Say you make my Double Chocolate Snow Cookies and you are watching your cane sugar intake and want a healthier option. Lessen the amount of sugar the recipe calls for, add in more stevia, and replace the crystallized sugar with maple syrup, which has a lot of minerals and vitamins. Now that you have introduced more liquid into the mix, you will also need to add more dry ingredient to balance the equation. So, add some more flour or cocoa powder. It takes some experimenting to really know the ropes but that is ok. Enjoy, experiment, and soon you'll be able to create any combination of flavors and your own recipes just by understanding the chemistry behind baking. 

 Eggs: Like butter, eggs are a binder. If you have ever made meatloaf you know that it calls for eggs. In meatloaf, bread, and cookies, eggs are the glue that holds the product together. Eggs are comprised of two parts: the yolk and the white. The yolk is the fat and it makes cookies, brownies, cake, and bread denser, richer, and more moist. The whites are the protein and it makes desserts crunchier, crumbly, and fluffier. In most recipes, you need a balance of rich and fluffy, but, in some chocolate recipes it helps to add an extra egg yolk in for richness. If ever you have added too much flour to a recipe that has already called for eggs and you don't know what to do, you have two options to create a balanced product. You can add more eggs or more butter. Next time the flour bag tips over into you dough and you are crying on the floor, wondering what in heck you're going to do now that your cookies are ruined and your friends will be disappointed and will disown've got the knowledge to fix it up like it never happened! 

Salt: You're probably thinking yourself, "oh, yeah...........why IS salt in every cookie recipe???" You may have seen salt called for in every cookie recipe ever and you've always added it without thinking about it or you've completely ignored it. "Salt has no place in a cookie!!" you may be screaming at your computer screen now. I hate the be the bearer of bad news but....salt is a cookie's best of best friends. Think of a beautiful woman. Now think of her with knotted hair, eyebrows like Frida Kahlo , a T-shirt stained with last week's dinner. Now, we want to help accentuate this woman's beauty. Let's brush her hair, get her makeover, some clothes that show off her beautiful figure. That fashion stylist is salt. Well, at least in the case of cookies. Salt brings out the flavors of everything. It makes vanilla more vanilla. It brings out the chocolate-ness of chocolate. ALWAYS add salt to your desserts! A good, mineralized salt will bring out the flavors the best. I suggest Himalayan Pink Salt because it has the best flavor, has 83 minerals where regular table salt has 2, and has a slightly subtle sweetness that lends itself nicely to sweets. And, it isn't very expensive for what it's worth. 

Butter: This may be the best part of the cookie for some of you and for others, this may be the most difficult to work with. For all of you vegans out there, remember that butter is simply a saturated fat. Just replace it with another saturated fat! A saturated fat is a fat that remains solid at room temperature. The best option is Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil . It adds a light coconut flavor which you may or may not like but the other options are not very healthy and are usually hydrogenated vegetable oils. I use Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil in my cooking, baking, frying, and even on my skin and hair every day. It's a great investment and provides many healthy essential fatty acids, helps regulate your thyroid, balance hormones, and can help increase metabolism with prudent daily use. Anyhow, for all you butter-lovers, butter is the fat that adds richness to cookies and, like eggs, binds the product. Added too much butter? Add more flour/dry sugar for balance. A little short on butter for the recipe? Add an egg or an egg and a yolk to replace a couple tablespoons of butter. And remember, buy local if possible and ALWAYS buy organic! Organic produces a better product, creates better texture, better flavor, is healthier for you, for the environment, and for those you love. A great investment for a few extra bucks. 
Some baking tips:  
  • In a recipe, mix all the wet ingredients in one bowl and all the dry ingredients in another bowl. That means salt, flour, cocoa powder, dry sugar, baking powder, baking soda together. Eggs, soft butter, vanilla extract, milk, water, and liquid sweetener mixed well in another bowl. Once the ingredients are mixed well in their own bowls, slowly incorporate the mixture into one bowl using the folding method. This means to be gentle with mixing. DO NOT knead, beat, or otherwise be aggressive to the dough. Treat it like a baby, or a mine! Or a 3,000 year-old piece of China worth millions of dollars. "Why?" You may be asking. Well, by being aggressive, kneading, or over-mixing the dough, you are forming gluten from the wheat flour and your result will be bread, not a cookie. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold layers of the dry and wet mix on top of each other until it ends up well-incorporated. There is a picture of what the batter should look like below. 
  • Pre-heat the oven! Not with the baking sheet in the oven!
  • Do not place cookies straight on the metal baking sheet; always use parchment on top of the sheet not only because it helps prevent the cookies from sticking but also because it prevents the burnt-bottom & raw middle syndrome cookies often get. 
  • Taste the batter before shaping the dough
  • Keep cookies about 1 inch apart
  • Check the cookies 5 minutes earlier than the earliest bake time. Better to be diligent than to end up with rock-hard burnt cookies
  • Take cookies out of oven a tad before they are exactly ready. They will continue to cook a little once you take them out of the oven and taking them out early prevents over-cooking.
  • Freeze extra cookies in a freezer bag. They'll last for an entire year if well-kept!
  • When melting chocolate, NEVER EVER NEVER melt the chocolate in a pot or pan on the stove! I hate to tell you but this is murder. Just plain murder. It may not seem like it but that chocolate is now useless, overcooked, and not even your dog will want it. Instead, use a process called TEMPERING. Put an inch of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Place a large metal bowl on top of the pot so that the bowl's sides rest on top of the pot. The steam from the boil will heat the chocolate perfectly. Stay by the chocolate, mixing it gently with a rubber spatula. Keep moving the chocolate around to make sure it all melts and that the chocolate on the bottom does not overheat. When all chocolate is just melted, take the bowl off heat immediately. Chocolate should be smooth, thick, shiny, and not too hot. Congratulations, you just tempered chocolate!
 Onto the good stuff:

Double Chocolate Snow Cookies!

Double Chocolate Snow Cookies
 Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Recipe makes 40 cookies or around 3 dozen.
This is a rich, double-chocolate cookie topped with powdered sugar to look like snow. The cookie is great for children and adults and can be made chewy and fudgy or crunchier, depending on how long you choose to cook them. Cook for 20-23 minutes for a crunchier cookie and about 15 minutes for a chewy little darling. These keep well in the freezer for a year. 

  • 1 cup of organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt
  • 8 oz semi-sweet organic chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil, softened, not melted
  • 2 cups organic sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus one additional egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Stevia extract to taste if you prefer sweeter cookies (I added 1/2 tsp stevia extract to mine)
-Put 1 inch of water to a boil in a pot. 
-Place a large metal bowl over the pot and pour chocolate chips into bowl, stirring mixture constantly to melt all pieces of chocolate but being careful not to overcook the chocolate. 
-Mix together melted chocolate, softened butter or coconut oil, vanilla extract, stevia extract, the 2 eggs and one extra yolk in a bowl. 
-Mix together salt, sugar, flour, baking soda, and cocoa flour. 
-Gently fold wet mixture into dry until well-incorporated. 
-Roll dough into balls about the size of a gold ball, flatten, and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet in rows with cookies one inch apart. 
-Cookies will fill approximately 2 baking sheets. 
-Place cookies in the ore-heated oven and cook for 15 minutes for chewy cookies and 20-23 minutes for crunchier cookies
-Dust with powdered sugar in a sieve when cookies are still warm to create a snowy look! 
-See recipe below for optional mint filling for Double Chocolate Snow Mint Sandwich Cookies

Recipe for Mint Frosting Filling for Double Chocolate Snow Cookies (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or coconut oil, softened
  • 1 cup packed confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 tsp creme de menthe or mint oil/essence/extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
-Mix all ingredients well. 
-Taste and add a bit of milk/water if mix is too dry
-Spread a thick layer on cookies and sandwich them together

Easy recipe......awesomely delicious results. Enjoy the pictures!!

Flour Power

Local, organic eggs from free-range chickens!

The Dry Mix bowl

Step 1 of Tempering Chocolate

Step 2 of Tempering Chocolate

Step 3 of Tempering Chocolate.....almost all melted

The melted chocolate mixed with all the other wet ingredients

The dough!

Cookies before baking

Snowing the cookies

My beautiful babies!


Thin crunch on the outside, moist on the inside.....perfecto!

Double Chocolate Mint Snow Sandwich Cookies.....that's a mouthful!

A sea of cookies!!!!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Orange Blossom and Crystallized Ginger Cookies!

Hello all! I have been on a short hiatus from blogging lately but no need to fear and wonder how in the world you'll get enough vitamin C and natural anti-inflammatory compounds this autumn. "Why?" you ask yourself out loud (as your roommate shoots you weird looks from across the room, wondering if he should call the white coat men, after all, isn't talking to one's self one of the first signs of schizophrenia?). Now you can rest in peace at night knowing that even if you are a little (or a lot)'ve got a powerful immune system and happy body.

Today's Health Food: GINGER!!!!
"Ginger?" you may be thinking...."Well, I eat a lot of that!" Unfortunately, ginger snaps, gingerbread, ginger ale, and sadly that Chinese chicken swimming in high fructose corn syrup and a teensy bit of artificial ginger flavor are all very inadequate (albeit tasty) sources of high-quality ginger. "So, what's left?" you may ask. Well, lots of great stuff! Ginger and vegetable stir-fry, sliced ginger and local chicken casserole, ginger tea, ginger-lemongrass soup with cilantro, ginger and garlic broccoli, a delicious ginger yellow curry, ginger and butternut squash soup, and today's treat: Orange Blossom and Crystallized Ginger Cookies!

So, get that apron on, get to your local health food store to pick up the ingredients, get baking, and get ready to reap some serious therapeutic value here because ginger is no joke! Ginger has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat and prevent many ailments from an upset stomach and nausea to cancer, arthritis, and respiratory problems. How does this magical rhizome treat so many ailments? A large majority of these ailments like joint stiffness, swelling, arthritis, and cold extremities are all due to poor circulation. Ginger helps encourage good circulation, which gets blood, nutrients, antioxidants, and oxygen to the places that need healing and warmth. In the fall and winter, as it becomes colder, a lot of your body's energy will be focused inward to support the warmth of your torso. This means that your body will have poorer circulation than in the summer months when you feel all springy and limber. Want some warmth? Better joint motion? Increased flexibility? Try chopping fresh ginger and simmering it in some filtered water for 10 minutes in a pot with the lid on. Then add a little stevia and you've got a spicy, warm, tasty ginger tea! Ginger also helps to break up mucus, treats stuffy nose (try the tea!), aids digestion (have the tea before a meal or put some ginger for added flavor in your dinner!), helps suppress pain, and improves liver function. As an anti-inflammatory food, ginger treats pain, bruises, swelling, aches, and infection well. To celebrate, let's have some cookies, shall we?

This is an original recipe that uses butter. I eat butter only a couple times a year and one of those is on
Christmas. The butter I use is from a local dairy co-op called Happy Cow Creamery where the cows are pasture-raised meaning they live under the sun, eat grass, weeds, flowers, and hay in the winter. The cows are given space to move and play, are raised with love and respect, and are humanely treated. Besides the better treatment of animals, these kinds of farms are easier on the environment because the cows eat local grass instead of being shipped chemical-treated corn from Iowa like conventional dairy cattle. The feces of these cows are also worked back into the land to actually create fertile top-soil instead of diminishing it as conventional farms do. In addition still, this butter has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids--the "good" fats we need more of that are present in foods like flax seed, olive oil, hemp seed, and avocados--and are lower in omega-6 fatty acids which are more prevalent in foods like french fries, chips, fried chicken, and conventional meat and eggs. And, by buying this butter, I am helping to support responsible farming practices, local jobs, and the local economy. "What can this butter not do?" you may be asking yourself. Can it vacuum? Can it pay my taxes? Can it write my dissertation for me? I tried to get it to do all of these things and it stubbornly refused. But with the way science is going now, don't be surprised if it can soon learn to do the laundry, feed the dog, pick up the kids from school, AND still make the best dang cookies around! But until then, let's just stick with the cookies.....

Just to get you drooling, I'll show you a picture FIRST (it is a tactic I use to pull you into my cooking and to convince you to try this easy recipe so that when you try it and realize how heavenly these cookies are, you'll become an instant addict. It's a power thing.........).

Orange Blossom and Crystallized Ginger Cookies
-makes about 4 dozen medium-sized cookies or 6 dozen smaller snack cookies
-preset the oven on 320 degrees Fahrenheit

You know you want it!
  • 1 1/3 cup organic brown rice flour (this flour is healthier than wheat and creates a better texture for this cookie)
  • 1 1/3 cup organic unbleached pastry flour
  • 2 cups Sucanat sweetener (can be found at any health food store or Whole Foods)
  • Powdered stevia or stevia liquid to taste (add a little at a time, mix into the batter and taste....)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, Celtic sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 tsp organic and real vanilla extract or 1 1/2 tsp organic vanilla bean paste or powder
  • 2 cups organic and preferably local butter, softened --NOT melted!-- (check out your local health food store for best options)
  • 1/3 cup orange blossom water (easily found at Whole Foods, or in the "International Foods" section of your local grocery store. Can sometimes also be found in health food stores. If you cannot find this item, no worries, although it really makes these cookies amazing and I get an entire bottle for only $3
  • 2 cups of organic crystallized ginger, chopped into tiny pieces (measure BEFORE chopping)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves

-Preheat that oven (if you haven't already). 320 degrees Fahrenheit 
-Mix it all up! All of it!! Measure everything out and throw it into a big, ole bowl, roll up those sleeves, take off your watch, your rings, and get to mixin'! (The best part about this is that you get to lick your fingers when you're done!!) But really, there is a method to the madness. The subtle heat from your hands warms and softens the butter and the sugar, and thus helps incorporate all the ingredients...that is the baker's REAL secret....everything is done by hand!
-When done mixing, taste it. Everyone's palette is different. Do you like more orange blossom water? More sweetness? More vanilla?
-Line 2 large or 3-4 smaller baking sheets with parchment paper. The parchment can be found at any grocery store or health food store and is extremely important! The parchment prevents the metal cookie sheets from becoming too hot and burning the underside of the cookie before the cookie is actually done. The regrettable "Burnt-Bottom, Raw-Inside" syndrome. Sad.
-Shape the cookies into ping-pong sized balls for medium-sized cookies and flatten slightly on the tray. Keep cookies 1/2 an inch apart. OR shape the cookies into smaller sizes but note that if you do this, the cooking time will decrease some.
-Bake cookies at 320 for 30-45 minutes. You want them a light brown color and to be a little hard on the outside. After 30 minutes, take a cookie out, break it open and see if there is a darker brown inside. If so, it is not done yet....give it 5-10 more minutes. My batch took exactly 48 minutes to cook, so, just be attentive and check them every 7 minutes or so.
-When done, use a spatula to transfer them to plates and let cool.
-Eat as is or follow directions to make the glaze, below....

Local Honey Glaze:
  • 1/4 c local honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste, powder, or extract
  • 1 heaping Tbsp coconut oil 
  • 1/4 c local honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste, powder, or extract
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp organic confectioner's sugar
METHOD for both options:
-Mix all ingredients thoroughly
-Using a basting brush or offset spatula, glaze the tops of all cookies when warm or cool
-Let the glaze set 20 minutes

WARNING: These cookies are crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, cohesive yet crumbly and very, very addictive.

Enjoy the pictures below!!
On the ingredients list....some healthy flours

Orange Blossom water to add that interesting yet subtle taste to these cookies

The dark brown is an unprocessed and mineral-rich sugar called Sucanat

Local butter made from the milk of pasture-raised cows!



Baking in the oven

Glazing the cookies using local SC honey

Perfect taste and consistency. My mom swears it is one of the best cookies she has ever had.......and my mom has tried a LOT of cookies!!