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Hungry for ramen? Make your own

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: February 21, 2015 - 2:56 PM

Tonkotsu ramen. Photo from Serious Eats.

Tonkotsu ramen. Photo from Serious Eats.

Tonkotsu ramen. Photo from Serious Eats.

Forget the instant ramen that comes in a cellophane package with seasoning packet. That originated in 1958 with Momofuku Ando of Nissin Food Products in Japan.  

We’re talking homemade ramen here, a dish that seems to be simply noodles and broth and extras, but one which is based on the complex flavors of a long-simmered stock, which comes in as many variations as there are cooks. In Japan, the dish is often sold in small shops called ramen-yas.

Of the four basic kinds of ramen broth, the one made with pork bones – tonkotsu -- is a favorite of many. Its intense pork flavor and opaqueness comes from boiling (not simmering) the bones – a lot of them -- for a very long time (6 hours or more).

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director of the online site Serious Eats, developed this version of the classic. He recommends cutting the bones (or having the butcher do so) into cross-wise disks rather than to split them lengthwise for better flavor extraction during the boiling. He also uses a chicken carcass to mellow out the flavor.

To arrive at the clean color he wants in his soup, he “washes” the bones by putting them in water and then boiling them. Then he rinses the bones and cleans them off before starting the actual cooking process. 

His recipe is strictly for the broth. You can find fresh ramen noodles at United Noodle in Minneapolis or make your own with this recipe from Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of “Japanese Farm Food,” which is part of her simplified version of ramen in a chicken-based broth.

To find out more about Kenji's process for deducing the best broth, read his article in full: http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/02/how-to-make-tonkotsu-ramen-broth-at-home-recipe.html

For Kenji's step-by-step recipe, go to:http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/02/rich-and-creamy-tonkotsu-ramen-broth-from-scratch-recipe.html

Kenji has also recently posted a vegan version of the broth. 

How good is homemade ramen? It just might change your life. For my tale of eating ramen in Tokyo, read this.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

Makes about 3 quarts, serving 6 to 8.

Note: This broth takes a full day or at least overnight to make (about 2 hours of active attention, 12 to 18 hours total). Plan accordingly. Unused broth can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for up to three months. This recipe is for the broth only. For a full meal, you will need ramen-style noodles and toppings of your choice, which could include sliced braised pork belly, soft boiled eggs, sliced green onions, raw enoki mushrooms and blanched baby bok choy leaves. Recipe from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Seriouseats.com.

3 lb. pig trotters, split lengthwise or cut crosswise into 1-in. disks (ask your butcher to do this for you)

2 lb. chicken backs and carcasses, skin and excess fat removed

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large onion, skin on, roughly chopped

12 garlic cloves

1 (3-in.) knob ginger, roughly chopped

2 whole leeks, washed and roughly chopped

2 dozen green onions, white parts only (reserve greens and light green parts for garnishing finished soup)

6 oz. whole mushrooms or mushroom scraps

1 lb. slab pork fatback

Directions

Place pork and chicken bones in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Place on a burner over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as boil is reached.

Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a medium cast-iron or nonstick skillet over high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions, garlic and ginger. Cook, tossing occasionally until deeply charred on most sides, about 15 minutes total. Set aside.

Once pot has come to a boil, dump water down the drain. Carefully wash all bones under cold running water, removing any bits of dark marrow or coagulated blood. Bones should be uniform grey/white after you’ve scrubbed them. Use a chopstick to help remove small bits of dark marrow from inside the trotters or near the chicken’s spines.

Return bones to pot along with charred vegetables, leeks, whites from green onions, mushrooms and pork fatback. Top with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that appears (this should stop appearing within the first 20 minutes or so). Use a clean sponge or moist paper towels to wipe black or gray scum off from around the rim of the pot. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a heavy lid on top.

Once the lid is on, check the pot after 15 minutes. It should be at a slow rolling boil. If not, increase or decrease heat slightly to adjust boiling speed. Boil broth until pork fatbck is completely tender, about 4 hours. Carefully remove pork fat with a slotted spatula. Transfer fatback to a sealed container and refrigerate until broth is finished.

Return lid to pot and continue cooking until broth is opaque with the texture of light cream, about 6 to 8 hours longer, topping up as necessary to keep bones submerged at all times. If you must leave the pot unattended for an extended period of time, top up the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting while you are gone. Return to a boil when you come back and continue cooking, topping up with more water as necessary.

Once broth is ready, cook over high heat until reduced to around 3 quarts. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard solids. For an even cleaner soup, strain again through a chinois or a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Skim liquid fat from top with a ladle and discard.

Finely chop cooked pork fatback and whisk into finished broth. To serve, season broth with condiments of your choice (salt, soy sauce, miso, sesame paste, grated fresh garlic, chili oil or a mixture of all) and serve with cooked ramen noodles and toppings as desired.

For another variation of the classic ramen dish, this is from Kris Toliao, a cook at Luce in San Francisco.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This home version of tonkotsu comes from Kris Toliao, a cook at Luce in San Francisco. He uses bones from three parts of a pig and hard boils them at length to achieve the broth's milky texture. Marrow, which is essential to this broth, can be found in large pork bones, such as the feet. The bones can be found at Asian markets or meat markets. From the San Francisco Chronicle.

Broth:

2 pounds pork neck bones

2 pounds pork back bones

2 pound pork marrow bones (see Note)

3 large yellow onions, halved and peeled

8 garlic cloves, peeled

3 gallons water

About 1 1/4 ounces dried kombu (kelp)

Shoyu, to taste (soy sauce)

Pork topping

1 pound pork loin

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup mirin

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed or grated garlic

Pinch red chile flakes

1 tablespoon canola oil

Additions:

Store-bought fresh ramen noodles, cooked

Toppings, as desired: sliced green onion, nori (dried seaweed), sliced store-bought fish cake, bean sprouts

For the broth: Place the bones, onion and garlic in a large stockpot, and add the 3 gallons water. Bring to rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil 6 hours, stirring and skimming frequently to clear away the impurities that arise. Start the pork marinating (see below) while the broth is cooking.

After about 6 hours, wipe the kombu with a damp cloth and add it to the broth; boil for an additional hour.

Turn the heat off and let the broth cool a bit. Carefully strain the broth through a large mesh strainer - you should get about 8 to 9 cups broth. Discard solids, and season broth to taste with salt.

For the pork topping: While the broth is cooking, combine the pork loin, soy sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic and chile flakes in a heavy-duty self-sealing plastic bag, pressing out as much air as possible before sealing. Let marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours, turning a few times.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Remove the pork loin from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Place on the baking sheet and roast until the pork is slightly firm to the touch, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and move to a cooling rack; cool to room temperature before slicing, about 1/4-inch per piece.

To serve: Pour about 2 cups of hot broth over the desired amount of noodles; refrigerate or freeze extra broth. Top as desired, finishing the bowl off with a few slices of roasted pork.

Bake this chocolate chip cookie, part 4

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 30, 2015 - 8:36 PM

For the fourth round of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Project, I turned to my close personal friend Dorie Greenspan.

We've never met, of course, but her cookbooks have played a vital role in my baking life for more years than I can recall, so it feels as if we have a meaningful (if wholly one-sided) relationship of long standing.

There’s a Toll House-like recipe in my well-worn copy of her “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” and I almost went there. But then I took a shot and pulled her recently released “Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere” off our kitchen library shelf and began flipping through the index. Could it be possible? Can the French -- or, at the very least, an American in Paris -- have a thing for chocolate chip cookies?

Of course they do, and La Greenspan is on it, naturally. Her recipe originates with bistro owner Eduoard Bobin, and when she first glanced over his recipe, she was disappointed to find little difference from the familiar American version that graces the back of so many chocolate chip packages.

Wait, had my Dorie made a mistake that trips up many bakers and cooks? Had she not read the recipe twice? She doesn't come out and say that, but she does admit to not initially noticing a few key alterations (a failing which, in my worldview, was a tremendously humanizing moment for someone I have long imagined residing in one of Olympus' better neighborhoods, and only increased my reverence for her). There’s significantly more flour in this iteration than the basic American version, and the nuts aren’t chopped, they’re ground.

Ok, this sounded compellingly offbeat, enough to test-drive. And then a light bulb went off over my head: Almond flour! What a great use for the almond flour that's sitting in my pantry, leftovers from our 2014 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest winner. (Greenspan also recommends hazelnut flour).

Here's another quirk: Greenspan suggests adding an unusual step while the cookies are baking. Midway through, use a spatula to gently press down the tops of each cookie. I bake batches that followed this advice, and others that ignored it, and frankly I didn’t see much of a difference between the two (sure, the pressed ones had spread slightly wider, but not much), other than the tops of some of the pressed cookies ended up with unattractive chocolate smears, a result from coming in contact with the spatula.

As for the cookies, I liked, but didn’t tumble head-over-heels. They’ve got the thick shape and chewy texture that I generally aim for (and rarely achieve) in a chocolate chip cookie, and I love the look of the flecks of almond that dot the the dough (it helped that the almond flour I was using was technically almond meal, which uses unblanched almonds, resulting in that verigated brown-and-gold look; almond flour, which is made with blanched almonds, is a pale, monochromatic gold). The chocolate-dough ratio is good, too, a close-to 50/50 match. 

But they lack they enticing caramel brown color that generally grabs my eye, and their cakey texture (due to all that extra flour, no doubt) is drier and less buttery than the Toll House role model that obviously still continues to rule my world. However, they’re fantastic with milk, and what more can a chocolate chip cookie fanatic ask for?

EDUOARD’S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Note: From “Baking Chez Moi” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40).

3 1/2 c. flour

1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. lightly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 2 c. chocolate chips)

1 1/2 c. almond or hazelnut flour

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and reserve.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat until well-combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 4 to 5 additions, mixing only until each addition is just incorporated. Add chocolate and nut flour and mix until just combined. Divide dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (and up to 3 days).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop dough into golf ball-size mounds (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes and then, using a clean metal spatula, gently press each mound down just a little; rotate the baking sheet and bake until cookies are pale brown, about 7 to 8 minutes. (They’ll still be slightly soft in the center, but that’s fine – they’ll firm up as they cool). Remove from oven and cool 1 minute before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Bake this chocolate chip cookie, part 3

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 28, 2015 - 5:01 PM

It was one of those situations where I knew the answer before I asked the question.

As in, I was fairly certain that my friend Scott, an accomplished and prolific baker, would respond in the affirmative when I made the inevitable inquery: Did he have a favorite non-Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe?

Please. Of course he did.

“It’s the recipe I’ve used for the last 15 years and have made about 8,000 times,” he said. “I’m always told it’s the best cookie anyone has ever had. And yes, the recipe really is called ‘The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.’”

We'll see about that. But first, back up for a second. Really, eight thousand? Maybe he was exaggerating, although given the amount of time I imagine Scott's oven to be in preheat mode, maybe not.

“I’m sure I’ve made 300 batches of them,” he said, correcting himself. “But they’re one of my three basic recipes [the other two are chocolate cake and caramel rolls, and they sound like fodder for stories down the road] that people go insane for, and demand the recipe, and refer to as ‘Scott’s’ and then make for themselves.”

So far, so good. What I wasn’t expecting is what came next, and it’s all that I needed to hear. I mean, talk about your ultimate in recipe endorsements.

“I got it from a nun,” he said.

Sold.

Not 10 minutes later and the recipe landed in my e-mail box (send yours to rick.nelson@startribune.com), and it looked promising. It’s a definite detour off the Toll House highway, what with its rolled oat overtones and rich bittersweet/milk chocolate mix.

Then my eyes got to the bottom of the ingredients list, and all of my hopes and dreams came to a crashing halt.

Butterscotch chips.Seriously, butterscotch chips?

No. I just can’t even. And I’ve tried. If Scott is the defacto president of the I-Hate-Semisweet-Chocolate Club, then I’m a card-carrying member of the Butterscotch-Chips-Are-Banned-For-Life Association.

“You’re such a snob,” he said with a laugh. “Why do you judge all of my choices?”

Maybe because butterscotch chips are the work of the devil?

“You can make them without,” he said. “You could also use a cup of toasted pecans. I forgot to add that. One out of 10 times, I do that.”

I’ll remember that. Wanting to stay true to his recipe -- but also knowing my extreme distaste for those fake-tasting Nestle's butterscotch chips (seriously, have you ever run across a palatable version, anywhere? They all have the scent and flavor of a chemistry lab, not a kitchen) -- I decided to bake half a batch with them, and half a batch without them.

The result? Loved. Well, the non-butterscotch ones, anyway. It's a real lunch box cookie, and I offer that as the highest of compliments. The oats are a big part of the appeal; one bite, and I was immediately reminded of a favorite commercially prepared chocolate chip cookie with oat-ey undertones, baked by Tank Goodness, the local we-delivery-warm-cookies operation.

But Scott’s “Best” cookies are a completely different animal: Thin-ish, crisp and delightfully chewy, and jammed with a powerful but not overpowering chocolate bite. The bittersweet/milk chocolate split works wonders with the oats (which explains my ridiculous affection for the Fabulous Fudge bars at Bread & Chocolate in St. Paul). The oats contribute more of a texture thing than a flavor thing, lending a pleasant kind of heft, yet allowing some traditional chocolate chip cookie essence to shine through. 

“Most people don’t realize that there are oats in there,” said Scott.

The two-bite size is another asset. I think I’m officially over enormous cookies, in part because they foster too much dietary guilt. But these? “You can eat a hundred of them,” said Scott with a laugh. “And I use excellent ingredients: Hope Butter, etc. So they’re quality little morsels.”

No wonder he’s baked hundreds of batches.

“I don’t want to oversell them,” he said. “But I think they’re pretty terrific.”

Me too.

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Note: Rolled oats are also known as old fashioned oats. In place of butterscotch chips, consider adding 1 cup of toasted, chopped pecans. From Scott Rohr of St. Paul. Rohr is the winner of the 2010 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest. Find his winning recipe, Pistachio-Orange Cookies, here.

2 c. flour

2 1/2 c. rolled oats

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda         

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. golden brown sugar, firmly packed

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 10-oz. bag bittersweet chocolate chips

1 11.5.-oz. bag milk chocolate chips

1 11.-oz. bag butterscotch chops, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In large bowl, stir flour, oats, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and reserve.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in bittersweet chocolate, milk chocolate and butterscotch chips (optional). Form dough into 3/4 tbsp. balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly brown, about 8 to 9 minutes; do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Bake this chocolate chip cookie, part 2

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 27, 2015 - 8:51 AM

There are people who encounter recipes – in cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, websites – and prepare them with such frequency that there comes a point when the recipe isn’t associated with that cookbook, newspaper, magazine or website, but with the person doing the cooking.

Or, in this case, the baking.

Several years ago, the New York Times published a much-talked-about chocolate chip cookie recipe, and a colleague of mine embraced it with the kind of gusto ordinarily reserved for binge-worthy television series.

I mean, girl went on and on about it, how she has never encountered a better recipe, and how she bakes it for everyone (except me, and don't think I didn't notice) and then sits back and lets the raves wash over her, blah, blah, blah.

Such uncharacteristic enthusiasm from a seen-it-all journalist made me wary, and I was beginning to interpret her enthusiasm for the recipe in a backlash kind of way. You know, can it really be that [expletive deleted] good? (Her words, not mine).

In a word, yes. Lord, yes.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever encountered a chocolate chip cookie – well, one that came out of my oven, anyway -- that simultaneously hits all the right chewy-crispy-cakey parameters, or so readily satisfies my insatiable chocolate-butter-brown sugar hunger.

This is one glorious nod to the Toll House tradition, but cleverly updated to appeal to more contemporary tastes. For starters, there’s a palate-teasing sea salt tickle, and what feels like a metric ton of wickedly dark bittersweet chocolate. And it's dang good-looking, too.

There’s just one caveat: This is a recipe that requires some serious planning. And patience.

For starters, instead of the standard all-purpose flour, you’ll need cake flour and bread flour.

“Doesn’t one cancel out the other?” quipped another colleague, one who knows a thing or two about King Arthur's output.

She was referring to gluten levels. Look at it this way: The gluten levels in all-purpose flour hovers around 12 percent. By comparison, coarse, sturdy, high-protein bread flour has a gluten level anywhere in the 13 to 14 percent range, while soft, finely ground cake flour usually chimes in, gluten level-wise, anywhere from 7 to 9 percent. Crunch the numbers, and the recipe’s near-50/50 bread flour/cake flour blend would seemingly add up -- or, in this case, even out -- to an all-purpose replica, right?

Wrong. This cookie has a texture unlike any other chocolate chip specimen I’ve ever prepared using all-purpose flour. It reminded me of the thick, chewy and deeply golden brown chocolate chip cookies I used to encounter at a favorite coffeehouse and had tried to replicate at home, to no avail. Now I know their secret.

By some fluke, I happened to have both flours in my pantry. That’s not usually the case, and if I had run across the recipe, minus my colleague’s endorsement, I probably would have cast it aside as a shopping hassle. Don’t make the same mistake.

Here’s what really stopped me: After preparing the dough, it needs to be refrigerated for at least 24 if not 36 hours. To relax the aforementioned glutens, I suppose, and it works; did I mention how incredibly tender these cookies are? (Although for that length of time, I fully imagined those dang glutens to be resting in a full-on Savasana, or corpse pose in yoga parlance).

Although here's the thing: Turns out, it's not really about glutens. The password of the day is hydration. Specifically, those long hours in the refrigerator allow the eggs' moisture to fully insinuate itself into the dough's dry ingredients. Oddly, the initial result is a drier dough than the Toll House standard -- and yes, it's a bit crumbly, but it still manages to hold together when formed into a ball -- but one that transforms itself in the oven's heat into a caramel-hued beauty. 

Waiting an entire day to pull together a batch of cookies seemed preposterous, until another colleague reminded me of a previously unconsidered yet wildly appealing side benefit.

“It’s more time for you to go into the refrigerator and sneak some cookie dough,” she said. Good thinking.

Another potential dealbreaker? Chocolate. As in, you can’t believe how much you have to buy. We’re talking investment-grade shopping here: 20 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. Specifically, chocolate that clocks in or above the 60 percent cacoa range.

The recipe specifies whole Valrhona fèves, which are spectacular-tasting, oval-shaped works of baking art that are as expensive as they are elegant (and, unlike the familiar but waxy Nestle's chip, their melting qualities are second-to-none). Amazon sells 2 pounds of 66 percent cacao for $32.95, and you’ll have enough leftovers to contribute to future batches.

The thoughtful buyers at Kitchen Window in Calhoun Square maintain an impressive range of Valrhona fèves (from percentages in the mid 50s up to the low 70s), bless them, with prices in the $15-$16 per pound range.

However, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to deal with Amazon or get myself to Uptown; I could barely muster the gumption to drive to one of the two supermarkets -- Lunds or Whole Foods Market -- in my St. Paul neighborhood.

Through trial and error, I found myself partial to the Divine brand bar, which chimes in at an intense 70 percent cacao. It makes a favorable impression not just for its forthright flavor, but also for its thick-ish heft – ideal for creating impressive-looking chocolate chunk cookies – as well as the way each bar is conveniently scored for breaking easily into cookie-size pieces. There’s one caveat, however: price. A 5.3-ounce bar is $4.99 at Whole Foods Market (find it in the candy aisle, not the baking goods aisle), and to pull together a batch of these cookies you’re going to drop $20 just on chocolate.

Yikes. After a bit of research, I discovered that that’s actually not that bad, believe it or not. The more mainstream option is Ghirardelli (a 60 percent cacoa product); five 4-oz. bars set my debit card back $18.45 at both Whole Foods Market and Lunds/Byerly’s. It’s considerably cheaper at Target: $2.49 per bar, or $12.45 for a batch. (I'm definitely venturing into Mr. Tidbit territory here with all this price comparison chatter, but I consider any proximity to Al Sicherman to be a great thing).

When I later kvetched about this Gold Card-esque expense to my colleague, she shot me one of her trademark oh, please looks.

“I buy Ghirardelli chips at Target,” she said (the requisite 20-oz. bag, all that the recipe requires, is currently a very reasonable $5.99 at the Bulls-eye). Sure, there's a flavor trade-off; the Ghirardelli doesn't match the luster of the Divine (or the Valrhona), but it's not bad. Perfectly fine, actually. Why didn’t she clue me in on that factoid right off the bat? Probably to teach me a lesson.

“Do me a favor,” she said. For sharing this amazing recipe? Anything.

“Tell people they require love, time and money to put together," she said. "I make them for so many people and they think they’re created by magic.”

Done. After baking them myself, I’ll not make that assumption, ever again. Now that I had her attention, what else has she learned about the recipe after baking dozens of iterations over the past few years?

“One thing I do is take them from the oven while the center appears raw, then finish cooking on the pan,” she said. “I guess it depends whether you like gooey – I do – or crunchy, which some people do.” (Or follow the sage wisdom of blogger David Leite, who suggests baking until "the tops have the caramel folds of a Shar Pei." Heh. Leite also wrote the original story in the Times.)

She also suggests using dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar. “I just like it better,” she added. That said, "You have to follow the recipe," she warned. "You can't not use cake flour and expect them to work. I can't tell you how many people think they can get the same cookies when they try to short-cut the recipe."

Still, I had a question. The recipe yields enormous cookies, too large for even my pig-at-heart tastes. Could I make them smaller? “I do,” she said. Good to know.

And I love what she revealed about the sea salt finishing flourish.

“Anyone who notices the salt immediately gets on my list of favorite people,” she said. “People ask me about the recipe like it’s some sort of secret. I send them the link and yet no one seems to make them.”

Their loss.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From the New York Times. Adapted from pastry chef Jacques Torres and others.

1 3/4  c. plus 2 tbsp. (8 1/2 oz.) cake flour

1 2/3 c. (8 1/2 oz.) bread flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1 1/4 c. (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) light brown sugar

1 c. plus 2 tbsp. (8 oz.) granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/4 lb. bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves (or chips, or chopped bars), at least 60 percent cacao content

Sea salt, for garnish

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, bread flour, baking soda, baking powder and coarse salt, and reserve.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat until light and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape down sides of bowl and add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix until fully incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Drop chocolate pieces in and, using a spatula, incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. (Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto prepared baking sheets, placing dough at least 2 inches apart (about 6 cookies per baking sheet), making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle cookies lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool a bit more. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Bake this chocolate chip cookie, part 1

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 26, 2015 - 8:05 AM

Winter in Minnesota, that time of year when the populace obsessively focuses on the creation and consumption of carbs.

For me, that means sweets. The easier-to-make, the better, since sub-zero temperatures tends to blanket me in a kind of hankered-down inertia. And in the world of baking, little is less complicated (and more satisfying) than pulling together a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

This wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution, but I’ve decided to designate 2015 as the year when I adopt a new chocolate chip cookie recipe ideal. Specifically, one that surpasses the classic Toll House formula. You know, the one printed on the back of Nestle's semisweet chocolate chips package; I think I've had it committed to memory for more than 30 years, that's how long -- and how often -- I've been baking it.

(So far, I have four recipes that I want to test-drive. If you’ve got one that you'd like to share, please send it my way, to rick.nelson@startribune.com).

The first comes from an unlikely source: Thomas Keller. The nation’s highest-profile practitioner of haute cuisine might not be the top-of-mind source for a plebian chocolate-chip cookie fanatic, but then a friend reminded me of “Ad Hoc at Home,” Keller's coffee table cookbook from 2009.

Naturally, this invaluable hands-on guide to Keller's brand of cleaned-up comfort-food fare contains a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it's a doozy.

What I appreciate about this recipe is that Keller subverts the familiar Toll House process in several intriguing and ultimately winning ways.

First, butter. Instead of the whole room-temperature thing, he prefers the butter cold. It's cut into small pieces, as if you’re preparing a scone or a pie crust rather than a cookie (not to worry; the diminutive shape makes even the coldest butter fairly malleable under the force of the mixer's paddle). That half-hour you needed to devote to drawing the butter to room temperature? It's gone. Hello, impromptu chocolate chip cookies.

Here's another departure from tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie practices: No vanilla extract. I’ve forever associated that flavor with chocolate chip cookies, so it felt odd to leave such a key element on the sidelines. But since Keller calls upon dark brown sugar (rather than the far more standard golden brown sugar) the cookies take on a slight (and utterly delicious) molasses cast. You know what? I ddn't miss the vanilla, at all. 

When it comes to chocolate, Ad Hoc's version bolsters the familiar semisweet taste with bittersweet, a 50/50 mix. Instead of using chips, the recipe calls for chopped chocolate bars, and includes a brilliantly Thomas Keller-ey tip: he shakes the chopped chocolate in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any “dust,” a step that ultimately keeps the cookies’ appearance clean and tidy. 

On the rate-a-taste scale, the results are nothing short of terrific, a deeply golden, not-too-sweet treat that caters to adult cookie tastes. They might start out as a ball of dough, but these are cookies that spread out as they bake, their centers collapsing into wrinkled semi-flatness under the stress of all that butter, sugar and chocolate.

Texture-wise, they're nicely crispy, especially on the bottom; all that dark brown sugar richness yields a heck of a lot of caramelized goodness. Yet the thin-ish insides (this is not a thick cookie) remain gently chewy, and not the least bit doughy.

Ease of preparation? A total snap.

Is this a recipe worthy of a repeat performance? Absolutely.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Note: From “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan, 2009) by Thomas Keller.

2 1/3 c. plus 1 tbsp. flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. kosher salt

5 oz. 55 percent chocolate, cut into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/4 c.)

5 oz. 70 to 72 percent chocolate, cut into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/4 c.)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, divided

1 c. packed dark brown sugar

3/4 c. granulated sugar

2 eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

Working in several batches, place chopped chocolate in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust,” discarding small fragments.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat half the butter until fairly smooth, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar and remaining butter and beat until mixture is light and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate.

(Dough can be refrigerated, shaped or unshaped, for up to 2 days, and frozen for up to 2 weeks; shape cookies on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then transfer unbaked cookies to a freezer container. Defrost cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking).  

Shape 2 tablespoons dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 or more inches between them (cookies will spread). Bake until tops are no longer shiny, about 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking.

Remove from oven and cool for 2 minute before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

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