Saturday, June 30, 2007

Chocolate cookies and chiles...who'da thunk?

Some time ago, I happened on an amazing recipe for Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. The recipe is pretty simple and also original in that rather than using standard issue rolled oats the cookies use steel-cut or Irish oats. Though great, I was bothered by the seemingly needless inclusion of a mere two tablespoons of oatmeal. The average oatmeal cookie is full of oats, whereas with these cookies the oats were more of an al dente punctuation. I couldn't help but think "Are these oats even necessary? Can I do away with them and still obtain the same cookie?" I'm afraid that I didn't follow up on those thoughts...until today.

I took a long, hard look at the recipe and decided that it needed some tweeking, for the better I assure you. I first decided to double the recipe, as the original only yielded 12 cookies. Seriously...who bakes only 12 cookies? I then turned my attention to the oats, and thought of removing them from the recipe. At first I had been hesitant, as doing so could throw off the moisture balance in to cookies. However, I decided that since steel-cut oats take so long to cook and absorb moisture (about 20 minutes in boiling water) I figured that they would not have enough time to absorb any moisture from the dough to begin with. So out with 'em! Next I changed the semi-sweet chocolate chips to bittersweet chocolate chunks. The darker the chocolate, the better--in my book anyway. I also increased the amount of chocolate chunks from 1/4 cup (1/2 cup in the doubled recipe) to 2/3 cup in order to make up for the lost mass of the oats and besides, more chocolate is better, yes?

Finally came the biggest change in the recipe. I had thought back to the many instances I had read about, or seen segments of Food Network about chocolatiers and confectioners who had added the heat of chilies to chocolate truffles and fudge with great results. The Aztecs also added chilies to their chocolate, and if it's good enough for them, well, who am I to argue? I therefore added the new secret ingredient...

one teaspoon of dried chipotle powder.

You don't really feel the heat when you first bite into the cookie, until you swallow, then the heat makes its debut in the back of your throat. As you eat the cookie you can feel the heat slowly accumulating in your mouth. It's not an intense heat by any stretch of the word. It's a mellow, pleasant warmth that augments the rich chocolate body of the cookie. If the cocoa is the soul of the cookie, then surely the chipotle is the passion within that soul. It gives that extra kick to life.

Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cookies

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened (natural) cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/2 - 1 tsp. chipotle powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Heat oven to 350° F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Sift together first 5 ingredients into a bowl. In a mixer, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla, beat until well blended. Add flour mixture and bet until moist clumps form. On low speed, mix in bittersweet chocolate chunks, just until evenly incorporated.

Shape half of dough by heaping tablespoonfuls into balls, flatten into 2 inch rounds. Place rounds onto parchment paper, spacing evenly, about 2 inches apart. Repeat with other half of dough.

Bake until center is slightly firm and top is nicely cracked, about 12 - 14 minutes. Cool on sheet pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Cool completely.


Makes 24 cookies.

Friday, June 29, 2007

First Posts and Lavender Honey

Ah, my first posting in my first blog outside MySpace. Now don't get me wrong, I like MySpace and all, and will keep posting personal blog entries there for my own purposes and for my personal friends, but lately I've been wanting a better outlet for thoughts on cooking, art, music, and poetry--to name a few things. Will this blog stick? We'll just have to wait and see.

Let's start this blog off right with this morning's experiment in making my own Lavender Honey.

When looking for dessert possibilities for Independence Day I happened upon a recipe for Lavender Honey and Yogurt Pie, courtesy of One of the starring ingredients is, as the name suggests, lavender honey. I, of course, don't stock many such items at home and I knew that I would never find it in any stores around here at a reasonable price, I therefore did a little research on the stuff and how to make it. It seems that there are two schools of lavender honey; one is that it is honey made naturally by bees from the nectar of lavender flowers. Of course I could never make, nor afford, enough for the recipe. The other type is honey that has been infused with the flavors, oils, essence of lavender flowers. This I could do, and at a reasonable cost.

I took advantage of a sale at Winegar's and got a couple of 12oz bears of Western Family honey, and bought a small bag of dried lavender flowers at Good Earth Natural Foods, my favorite source for health food items, and something of a dangerous addiction for me.

After looking at myriad recipes for home made lavender honey online, I combined a few of them and settled on 12oz of honey (which equals about 1 cup) and four tablespoons of dried lavender buds. I poured the honey into a double boiler and folded in the lavender and put it over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

I then strained the honey through a sifter and bottled it.

The results are amazing. The flavor of the lavender is very apparent, but not at all overwhelming. Sweet and floral, I'd easily use this honey beyond the pie recipe. Can you imagine this honey in a cup of green tea, or drizzled over fresh, grilled peaches?

This experience also has me thinking about other possibilities. How about chai honey, flavored with cardamom, anise, cinnamon, and ginger? Or maybe something simple, like chamomile honey, or rose honey? I think I'm going to have to explore this avenue a little further.