Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: cookies

What to eat, read and watch while you’re quarantined

2

Part 1

My survival kit includes Toll House cookies, good mystery novels and classic noir films

 

I’m a slow learner.  But yesterday I dredged up useful cooking tips from a silt-laden inlet of my brain to help me turn out a batch of Toll House cookies.  They are the quintessential homemade comfort sweet to help you through the days ahead.  Chocolate is a mood enhancer; dark chocolate contains antioxidants.  So let’s talk cookies. 

While I’m at it, I will recommend some good mysteries I’ve been reading and offer a few words about streaming noir. Here is my survival guide, a delicious tonic for your confined isolation and a supplement to the daily dose of numbers TV news so efficiently serves you.

Chocolate chip cookies are as American as baseball, which regrettably is on hiatus, and they’ve been a hit since 1937 when Ruth Graves Wakefield accidentally invented them. She and her husband Kenneth started the Toll House Inn near New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the 1930s. According to the Facts About Chocolate website, Mrs. Wakefield wanted to bake chocolate cookies one day but didn’t have any Baker’s chocolate.  Substituting, she chopped up a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar and stirred it into her dough.  The chocolate was supposed to melt and spread throughout the dough.  It didn’t, and the chocolate chip cookie was born.   

Unfortunately for Mrs. Wakefield, in 1939 she sold the recipe to Nestle for $1, according to a 2013 New Yorker article, although she became a paid consultant for Nestle, published successful cookbooks and her Toll House name will forever be attached to the cookie.

As to the recipe, it has no doubt changed over the years, but the one you find on the back of the yellow Nestle semi-sweet morsels package can hardly be improved upon.  As we live at 5,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I modify most cookie recipes for the altitude and I occasionally experiment with different recipes, but for Toll House, I stick to the package.  It even includes perfect high-altitude adjustments. Be sure to stir in pecans.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things to make the chocolate chip baking experience a little easier—mainly on the clean-up. Having baked these addicting treats for more years than I care to admit, improvements in my technique sadly have come but slowly. 

One recent revelation involves the annoyance of being showered by flour dust as you add dry ingredients to the butter, sugar and eggs in a running mixer.  I figured out—all on my own—that if you stop the mixer, pour in some of the flour mixture and use a spoon to cover it with the batter already in the bowl, you can start beating again without the snow storm.

My second epiphany: parchment. Even though I use insulated cookie sheets to prevent burning, Toll House cookies sometimes stick. Simple solution: put a sheet of baking parchment on the cookie sheet.  The cookies will slide right off the sheet.  I realize this is not a culinary secret known only to an exclusive set of Cordon Bleu pastry chefs, but for someone who bakes just two or three times a year, it was a breakthrough.  One tip that might be a little less than a century or two old:  get a non-stick silicone baking mat. 

After you’ve eaten half the batch of chocolate chip cookies, even before you’ve pulled the last cookie sheet out of the oven, you might want a change of pace.  (Full disclosure: I have eaten about seven—no, maybe eight cookies—in the time it took me to write this.)  The change of pace I recommend is one of the easiest cookie recipes I’ve ever seen. I received the recipe for these delicious treats from my daughter in law, Brandi.  Taste them and you won’t believe there’s only three ingredients—and that they are so easy to make:

Brandi’s Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
1 egg
1 cup of peanut butter – crunchy style optional
1 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or until they are light brown.  As they cool on a rack, the cookies will become firm. I’ve been using massively rounded teaspoonfuls to make a good-sized cookie.

Now that you’re getting comfy with a plate of cookies and milk, (or tea or coffee), the next step is a good book.  My reviews include Where the Crawdads Sing, a sort-of mystery; The Zebra Striped Hearse, an oldie from one of the masters of the PI genre; a chilling story of contagion from a Nobel-winning author; an unabridged-dictionary-size collection of short noir, and more. 

The next episode of my survival guide will arrive in this space tomorrow.

Links:

A history of the chocolate-chip cookie, The New Yorker  https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/sweet-morsels-a-history-of-the-chocolate-chip-cookie

Facts About Chocolate  https://facts-about-chocolate.com/history-of-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe  https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/174864/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

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