July 17, 2011

(Healthier) Chocolate Chip Cookies

whole grain chocolate chip cookies

Most days, I spend most of my time thinking mostly about food.  Buying it. Chopping it. Mixing it. Cooking it.  Eating it.  The bounty of summer makes it easy to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Lately though, I’ve been harboring an irresistible urge to bake something sweet.  I deftly staved it off several times last week by grilling veggies or whipping up a pasta dish or other relatively healthy dinner item.  On Friday, I finally decided that if I was going to succumb to the desire, I was going to make the most of it by attempting to create a slightly healthier version of a baked treat. 

These cookies contain 25% less butter and about 17% less sugar than traditional chocolate chip cookies.  And they’re made with mostly whole grains:  whole wheat flour in place of half of the white flour and a generous amount of oatmeal.  Of course, the true measure of a good cookie is the resulting flavor and texture, and these are not lacking in either.  They boast the ability to satisfy even the most discriminating palate – buttery, sweet, moist, chewy, chocolatey, with a bit of crunch.  Their hearty yet delicate texture is just as good on day 3 as it is fresh out of the oven.  The cookies can easily stand on their own without the addition of chocolate, or they can accommodate any number of other additions, such as dried cranberries or walnuts. 

In a word, they’re perfect.  I like them even better than traditional chocolate chip cookies.

whole grain chocolate chip cookie

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield 60 2" cookies.

1 cup whole wheat flour (“pastry” flour if you have it, but I used the standard variety)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ⅓ cup rolled oats (not quick-cook)
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
optional additions: ½ cup dried cranberries or raisins; ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Combine the flours, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Add the vanilla, eggs, and milk and beat until well combined.

Add the flour and mix until just combined. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, and any other additions.

Using a small cookie scoop or a spoon, distribute dough balls (about the size of a heaping tablespoon) about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until just beginning to turn golden around the edges.  Be careful not to overcook them.  (In  my oven, 8 minutes and 30 seconds was the perfect amount of time.)

Wait about 2 minutes before removing to a rack to cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cookies keep well stored in an airtight container for several days.

whole grain chocolate chip cookies and milk

July 2, 2011

Red, White, and Blue Scones

blueberry-cranberry scone

Just in time for Independence Day, a breakfast (or anytime) treat in patriotic colors.

blueberries and cranberries 

I had my first scone at the campus bakery my freshman year of college.  It was moist and flaky, slightly cakey, and just the right amount of sweet; in other words, love at first bite.  I must have caught them on a good day because I’ve heard several people say that they didn’t like scones (campus bakery variety included) because they always thought they were too dry and crumbly.  Not so with this homemade version.

scone dough

Even though I had every intention of trying my hand at scone-making, it took me ten years to finally do it!  It turns out that they are easy and quick and can take as little as 30 minutes, start to finish.  Perfect for whipping up on a lazy Saturday (or holiday) morning.

scone dough cut into wedges

This recipe is fairly flexible and can accommodate a variety of fruit/flavor additions.  I usually prefer my scones with dried cranberries and orange zest, but 4th of July weekend and the abundance of fresh berries at the market called for a little something extra.  The sweetness of the fresh blueberries is a nice compliment to the tart cranberries and the orange zest infuses the entire dough with a hint of citrus.

scone ready to bake

Red, White, and Blue Scones (Blueberry-Cranberry Scones)
adapted from “Classic Currant Scones” from The Joy of Cooking

Yield 8 scones.

2 cups flour
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, very cold and cut into ¼-inch pieces
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 heaping teaspoon orange zest (from ½ medium orange)**
½ cup dried cranberries*
¾ cup (4 ounces) fresh blueberries

for topping
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons coarse raw sugar

*I went with a combination of dried and fresh fruit because I didn’t want to create too much extra moisture in the batter.  However, based on my results, I think it would work well to substitute seasonal fresh berries, such as raspberries or (pitted and quartered) cherries, instead of dried cranberries. 
**Lemon zest also works well in place of the orange zest.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Using two knives or a pastry blender, cut in butter until the butter pieces are well coated in flour and about the size of small pebbles. (Do not allow the butter to become fully blended with flour or form a paste.)

In a separate bowl, whisk together cream, eggs, and orange zest.

Very carefully fold the blueberries and cranberries into the dry ingredients.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and gently fold together (using a spatula or wooden spoon) until all the flour is moistened.  Use your hands to gather the dough and press against the sides of the bowl to collect any remaining bits of batter and form a cohesive ball.  Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8- to 9-inch disk.  Cut into 8 wedges using a bench scraper or butter knife. 

Place scones at least 2 inches apart on a large baking sheet.  Brush tops with cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. 

Bake for 12-15 minutes until tops are golden and the centers are set. 

Cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes and serve warm.  (Or serve at room temperature.)

blueberry-cranberry scone