Thursday, June 7, 2012

Care and Feeding of a Distant Friend

Crackles, To Go
Just in time for her quick visit to the U.S., I am writing about my friend Jessica, and the care package I sent her in Beijing, China.
Having been advised that it might take a long time to arrive ('the long boat to China'), I did a little research to see which type of cookie might stay fresh the longest. Too much moisture might lead to mold, too much butter might make them go stale, and too delicate a structure would have them arrive in a thousand pieces. So I settled on these:

Chocolate Polka-Dot Mint Crackles (adapted from A Baker's Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, a great book for all you want to know about cookies)

5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 c flour (I used 1 c all-purpose, 1/2 c pastry flour, 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour)
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 eggs
2 c granulated sugar (I reduced it to 1 c white sugar, 1/2 c brown sugar)
1/2 t mint flavoring (I made half a batch this way, the other half with 1/2 t cardamom and 1/4 t black pepper)
1/2 c white chocolate chips (I despise white chocolate, so went with semi-sweet)
about 1/2 c granulated sugar for rolling
about 1/3 c powdered sugar for rolling

1. Place chocolate and butter together over low heat in a saucepan until mostly melted. Remove from heat and stir together until completely melted and smooth.
2. While that is cooling, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
3. Then in a large bowl, combine eggs, 2 c (or less) sugar, and your flavoring together (whether mint or cardamom or some other combination), and beat until thick and creamy. Stir chocolate mixture again to smoothness, then beat into egg mixture until it smooths out too. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the large bowl, mixing gently. Gradually add remaining flour, stir to combine, then add chocolate chips.
4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight (it will thicken to fudge consistency).
5. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Put the rolling sugar and powdered sugar in containers (I used an oval tupperware for one and a plate for the other- the tupperware with sides was handy to shake instead of handling the dough a lot).
7. Dip into the dough and roll pieces into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in the granulated sugar first, then in powdered sugar to coat, shaking off excess. Place balls on cookie sheets 2 inches apart and squash tops slightly.
8. Bake until puffed and crackly in appearance. Since my oven is on crack, I rotated the sheets at 4 minutes, then baked for 5 more, but the book recommends 12 minutes. Only you know your oven well enough to judge.
8. Let set a minute on sheets, then take off with a spatula and place on wire cooling racks until firm and cool.
Makes 4-5 dozen.

They're a pretty cookie, but two words of warning. When you start dipping and rolling, your hands will get dirty. Like, mudcake dirty. And it would be ideal to have an assistant to open the fridge door or move the baking baking sheets around so you don't get little blobs of it EV-ERY-WHERE.
Second, if you are waiting between rolling the first batch and the next, put the dough back in the fridge. My first attempt showed quite a difference between those that went into the oven straight from the fridge, and those that waited around while the first batch cooked and cooled. Don't let this happen to you!
They come out very soft and chewy, and lend themselves to easy variation, so this recipe is definitely a favorite to keep in your back pocket... as long as you have 8 hours to chill!

Do you have a good story or recipe for sending cookies (that made it!)? Do tell! I would love to hear in the comments below.

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