Monday, February 21, 2011

So Chocolaty Part 1: Cacao to Cacao

I feel like chocolate has gotten so fancy and intimidating lately for home chefs…there is so much emphasis on cacao content and sustainability that it sort of gets lost that chocolate is supposed to be a fun treat. Not that we shouldn’t be socially and environmentally conscious or care about the raw ingredients that go into our food…but people, you don’t have to buy 62% cacao organic dark chocolate that was made by butterflies.

Hey guess what? I like milk chocolate. Better. As in better than its suave, popular older brother dark chocolate. I don’t care that it only has about an 11% cacao content and is loaded with sugar. I think we can all confess to picking the “Special Dark” Hershey’s Miniatures out of our trick-or-treat bags as kids and giving them to our parents, and I guess my taste just never grew up.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good dark chocolate – with a lovely after dinner cocktail and a piquant cheese absolutely. I just LOVE milk chocolate. To me it’s what chocolate should be, all kinds of melty and sweet and glorious. But I also vastly prefer caramel and vanilla to chocolate. So maybe this all makes sense.

Anyway, this week I’ll be featuring two chocolate-related posts…it’s a much-neglected ingredient in my kitchen but the winter is generally when it gets its day in the sun. This time around, milk chocolate shines in another great recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook – for her milk chocolate hazelnut cookies. They are rich with both ground and chopped hazelnuts and sweet with milk chocolate. These are some of my favorite cookies ever and I'm thrilled to be able to create them for myself when I’m in the mood for a chocolaty treat…even if the ones at her bakery are still somehow magically better.

Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies
by Joanne Chang, from Flour, with my notes

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (1 1/2 sticks plus 1 table spoon) unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blanched whole hazelnuts, toasted
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (I used milk chocolate chips this time, but I think I would switch to the chopped chocolate next time)

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. (If using a hand mixer, it will take twice the time). Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle again to make sure the ingredients are incorporated.

In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts until ground into a fine powder. (Stop grinding once they are powdery; if you continue, they will become a paste.) Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup hazelnuts. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate. On low speed, or with a wooden spoon, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.

For the best results, scrape dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 3-4 hours). When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350˚.

Drop the dough in 1/4-cup balls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. (This happened in only 15 minutes for me, so watch them - you know your oven best.)

Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack to cool completely. Will keep for 3 days at room temp in an airtight container. Uncooked dough will keep for a week in the fridge in an airtight container.

One Year Ago: Vanilla Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

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