Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #6 – Faux Mrs. Fields’ Chocolate Chip Cookies (or The Ones That Crowned Me “Cookie Mom of the Cul-de-Sac”)

Are you tired of seeing cookie recipes every time there’s a new post on this blog lately? Well, I’m a little tired of posting them, but then I knew that I had to get all six recipes on as soon as possible or they might not all get posted. I’d get distracted by other goodies I wanted to write about, share. That’s just me. A little driven about a few things. Anyway, this IS the last of the recipes for the cookies baked for Christmas 2011 and it’s a fabulous, kid-tested one.

I swear these are the ones that got me dubbed “Cookie Mom” of our street many years ago, by the only “dubbers” who matter – the kids. I have a distinct memory of doling out still-warm, chocolate-chip tummy-fillers to our son Adrian and buddies one afternoon (not that Kristen and friends didn’t appreciate them too). It only took one shout of “Anyone up for a cookie or two?” to get Ade, Jason, Jamie and Eric running to our front stoop, where I offered a plateful. It might’ve been Jason who, eagerly munching on one, commented, “I think you’re the Cookie-Mom of the street, Mrs. Day.” If I was the Cookie Mom, then I guess they were the Cookie Monsters!

Is there anything better than a just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie? Softened chocolate bits nested within lightly-browned dough that gives at the slightest fingertip pressure. Mmmm. I grew up on the Freihofer chocolate chip variety, which were the closest to home-baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies you could buy in our area (my mother wasn’t much of a baker, except for cakes from box mixes, so all our cookies were purchased – luckily, often from Phil’s bakery, barely half-block away!). I’ve tried out a number of variations on these treats since beginning to bake on my own decades ago, and there haven’t been many without at least some good points. But this recipe, which allegedly went around the world touted as the “real” Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe, is my #1 choice. Of course, months after the recipe had probably circled the globe a dozen or more times, Mrs. Fields denied that it was her recipe. I remember buying Mrs. Fields cookies in New York City when there on business back in the ’80s and, bringing them home (couldn’t find them upstate back then), I noticed a statement on the bag saying that, “contrary to rumor,” Mrs. Fields had never sold the recipe to anyone. Who cares if it’s the “real” one, as long as the results are heaven to the taste buds?

I used to rationalize away the fact that I could devour so many of these in one afternoon: there’s oatmeal in them, so they must be healthy, right? Well, I’m not sure that’s truly the case if you’re processing the oatmeal into a flour type consistency. But no matter – they taste good and, if you follow the “moderation in everything” philosophy that helped me to lose almost 20 pounds over a one-year period (although I’d like to “moderate” away another 10-pounds-worth!), then just eat one or two a day along with a wholesome diet (there’s another aspect to that dietary plan: don’t beat yourself up too much if you slip up once in a while either!).

I like them best when just baked and still warm. Still lovin’ them for days afterward. When stored in an air-tight container, they’ll last quite a while. Even if the kids (or adults) leave the top ajar by mistake and they get a bit hardened, just dip ’em in milk or coffee or hot chocolate for a yummy snack!

The original recipe was double this one. I cut it in half and made a couple other changes recently; the “changes” are noted in the recipe itself, but for clarification:

  • One thing I did check ahead of time was whether or not I could substitute whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose stuff. For that information, I sought out one my newer cookbooks, Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains by the King Arthur Flour folks (Countryman Press, 2006). According to King Arthur (I do like writing/saying that… sounds so mythical, mystical!), “Hard whole wheat flour [either traditional whole wheat or white whole wheat] is the equivalent of all-purpose flour: good for anything from cookies and brownies to sandwich bread and pizza crust.” Also according to The King, “Adding all-purpose flour to traditional whole wheat flour lightens the color and texture, and increases the rise of whatever you’re baking.” Not surprisingly, when I did the reverse of that, adding white whole wheat flour to all-purpose made the cookie color and texture a little less “light” but not at all to its detriment.

  • Subbing some whole wheat flour also seemed a good idea healthwise. King Arthur notes that whole wheat flour is higher than all-purpose flour in protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. Sounded pretty good to me!
  • The other change I made this time around was necessitated by a change in the marketplace: I can no longer find 8 oz. Hershey bars (which I would’ve had to halve anyway), so I bought a multi-pack of 6 oz. bars and used one of them (well, I might’ve nibbled a little but still used more than 4 oz. – who was going to argue with more chocolate in a cookie?).

Speaking of the mythical, mystical – how about the magical? It’s been a while since I got into any of the “witchy” aspects of food, but seems like as good a time as any. I was curious, so I consulted my handy-dandy Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (by Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn Publications, 2003; originally printed as The Magic in Food, 1990). Here’s what I found: “Whole wheat is best for magical (and nutritional) purposes… Though white bread was eaten by the Roman upper class, it’s a spiritually dead food.” Cunningham advises readers to eat wheat-based foods (bread and all dough products) to bring prosperity and money into their lives. Now, for my gluten-free friends – if they’re looking for prosperity, I’m sure there are other food energies that might help (if you believe in these things, although it certainly can’t hurt when it’s good-for-you items!). Just baking the cookies, I would think of the roundness as a symbol for wholeness (also whole wheat triggers something for me) – isn’t that what we’re all striving for:  to be whole and healthy? That’s prosperity of a sort, a much-desired abundance.

Maybe this recipe should be called Ms. Anybody’s Magical Chocolate Chip Cookies but, for consistency’s sake, I’ve simply added the “faux” to the original title – and provided details for making cookies the kids and whole family will love.

FAUX MRS. FIELDS’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Yields 75-80 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (salted or unsalted- doesn’t seem to matter)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (dark brown will work too, for a slightly different taste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (1 cup all-purpose & 1 cup white whole wheat; original recipe called for all all-purpose)
  • 2½ cups oatmeal (I used quick-cooking oats) – measure oats first, then use blender or food processor to process it into flour-like consistency)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use table salt for this one, not sea or kosher)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet but type is your choice)
  • 1 6oz. Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, grated (original recipe called for 1 8 oz. bar for the recipe that was double this one – lots of luck finding one!)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped nuts (I use walnuts but have, as Mrs. Fields does, enjoyed macadamias in them as well)

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and two types of sugars.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla to butter/sugar mixture, mixing in well.
  4. In another bowl combine flour, oatmeal (previously processed to flourlike consistency), salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  5. Add flour mixture to butter/egg mix in the larger bowl and mix together until well combined.
  6. Add chocolate chips, grated Hershey bar and nuts, and further mix together well.
  7. While the original recipe calls for golfball-sized dollops to be dropped onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart, I tend to make them a wee bit smaller and then slightly flatten them before slipping the pan into the oven.
  8. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes (mine take all of the 8 minutes, maybe an extra one too).
  9. Remove from oven when browning around edges and lightly tanning on top, and let cool for a minute before removing to a rack or platter to cool completely. (Be sure to sneak a couple for your own eating pleasure, however, while still warm.)
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Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #5 – Wurstcakes (á la Diana Abu-Jaber’s Gram)

I met author Diana Abu-Jaber several years ago when she had a book-signing at a local independent book store, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. My friend Jan Tramontano had interviewed her for the Albany Times Union and asked if I would like to join her and another friend, Kathe Kokolias, at the signing. I didn’t buy that particular book – it was a mystery/suspense novel, something I don’t usually read much of – but I’ve read three of Abu-Jaber’s other books: two novels and a memoir, all spiced nicely with food and recipes. I especially loved the memoir, The Language of Baklava (Pantheon, 2005).

We had such a great time at the reading/booksigning! Since she’s originally from Syracuse, NY, her parents drove down to Albany for the event, so we got to meet two of the “highlights” of both Baklava and one of her novels, Arabian Jazz (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), which was fiction based on her American/Jordanian childhood. Her father was particularly entertaining, evoking lots of laughter. So, when I discovered Abu-Jaber on Facebook, I Friended her right away. It was there that I saw her posting for these cookies over a year ago – in a link to a short piece of hers published in Good Housekeeping magazine in late 2010.

Diana’s GH story, “Wurstcakes: A Sweet Holiday Tradition,” includes a sub-title that glides the reader into the narrative: When I was 8, my grandmother was the source of all sweet things. I think those words would intrigue anyone who holds onto special memories of a grandparent. I know it caught me (my particular memory covers making apple pies with Gramma Boyd)! Right then, I decided I was going to make these cookies – but didn’t get around to it during the 2010 holidays. A year later… they were on my Must-Do agenda.

If you follow the link above (click on the GH story’s title), you can read both Diana’s article and her grandmother’s recipe, which I cut in half for Christmas 2011 because I was making so many other treats (I’ve included my halved version on this blog). I laughed when I read how her father even slipped into this bit of memoir (more than once). She wrote that her grandmother’s “…Wurstcakes were slim as communion wafers, and even Dad – who was addicted to their crunch – referred to them as her ‘Catholic cookies.’” I loved reading about personal memories surrounding these simple baked treats. Unfortunately, my own first attempt at Wurstcakes did not render “slim as communion wafer” results (probably takes practice), although quite delicious anyway.

Incidentally, my family got a few laughs out of the name itself. As I pointed out the cookies on the Christmas Eve after-dinner platter, to enable easier selections for people, I noted the Wurstcakes and explained, “…these are the Wurst cookies.” I watched confusion immediately plaster across a few faces. “Worst cookies?” “No, no. They’re called Wurstcakes. German or Bavarian or something… not w-O-r-s-t.” They finally got it when I further explained that you roll the dough into sausage-like shapes, like bratwurst, and refrigerate it for a while before slicing. That’s fair warning, dear readers: if you make these wafer-thin lovelies, beware how you introduce them!

This is where I usually write about how I changed a recipe that I used as my guide. Well, the only change to this one was when I halved it. (In the article, Diana says its yield is “Enough for the whole family… and then some!” I decided I required less than that, at least this time around.) Also, she suggests options of either decorating with an almond slice (before baking) or, after baking and cooling, using a simple icing of confectionary sugar and water. I happen to like buttercream frosting, which tasted wonderful on them (although I did the almond thing on about half the batch – and these were heavenly when dunked in either my morning hazelnut decaf coffee or an evening chai latte!).

Here’s an interesting aside: I printed my copy of the recipe in November 2010. In it, measurements for flour and brown sugar appear in poundage terms, which I imagine is the way her grandmother baked—as they did (and still do) in her former homeland. When I returned to the story online today and clicked further to the recipe, I realized that flour and brown sugar measurements have been converted to cups (which is not quite as accurate as weighing ingredients, I understand, but it’s how Americans are used to working with recipes). Also, the instructions for making the confectionary sugar/water icing are included this time around. (OK, confession-time: I didn’t choose to do that icing because I would’ve had to “look it up,” not having used it before; whipping up a batch of buttercream is like second-nature to me and that’s really why I went that way…) So if you want the “in your cups” version, make sure you follow that link… and you’ll also get directions for the icing.

By the way, Diana’s latest novel, Birds of Paradise (W.W. Norton, 2011) includes a pastry-chef mother, so food once again plays into the writing; and the main character in another well-enjoyed (by me) book, Crescent (W.W. Norton, 2004), is a half-Arab woman chef in a Lebanese restaurant. Check out Diana Abu-Jaber’s website for synopses of all these great reads!

 

BAVARIAN WURSTCAKES (with thanks to Diana Abu-Jaber & her memories of her grandmother, Grace Belford))
Yield: about 3½ to 4 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. all-purpose flour
  • ¼ lb. brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in ½ tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I use Roasted Saigon cinnamon)
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

Process:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, spices).
  2. Stir soda/water mixture into dry ingredients.
  3. Add eggs and butter, mixing all ingredients together.
  4. Knead well by hand.
  5. Divide dough into two fat “sausages,” each about 1½” wide (circumference).
  6. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate overnight (or up to one week).
  7. When you expect to bake the cookies, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Take out wurst rolls one at a time, as you slice cookies for baking (keep the other refrigerated until using – they cut better when cold). With a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch slices and place on lightly greased cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  9. If adding an almond as a decoration, push into center of cookie at this point.
  10. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned (but check at 8 or 9 minutes, just in case!).
  11. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
  12. Remove other wurst roll from fridge and repeat with remaining dough.
  13. When cooled, frost or ice at your own pleasure (or not).

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #4 – Cry Babies (My Mom’s Favorites)

These cookies were my mother’s favorites. I was required to bake them each Christmas, once the recipe came into my hands from a co-worker at the time, Marie Armer (a woman from whom many recipes were received)! Marie was always bringing goodies into the office. We used to tease her about it, saying this was part of her Italian Mother persona, the feed-’em-and-they feel-better philosophy. In fact, she made the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted – and I have that recipe too (yes, I’ll post it when I next bake it).

It’s not surprising that Mom would love these little “babies” since I recall that she also found it hard to resist picking up a package of Freihofer’s Hermit Cookies when I’d take her grocery shopping (she didn’t drive so this constituted my Saturday mother-daughter bonding ritual – to Price Chopper for the week’s sustenance). To me, Cry Babies are similar to both hermit cookies and molasses cookies, with a bit of the gingerbread thrown in (there is, after all, ginger as one of the ingredients). I enjoy them too, although not nearly as much as Mom did. I must admit that any sort of molasses cookie doesn’t usually make it to the top of my list. So I made a half-batch this time and still had plenty to add to gift-plates of sweets, with more cookies left over than we could eat in this house!

I’ve noted my changes to Marie’s original in the recipe below. As for the cookie’s name, I don’t know where that came from—but could we presume, based on Mom’s opinion, that they’re so sweet and heavenly that they might bring tears to your eyes?

CRY BABIES
Makes lots of cookies – at least 3-4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses (darker the better)
  • 1 cup shortening (I use butter, softened)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (I use Roasted Saigon Cinnamon now, but regular is fine)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger (recently discovered Roasted Ginger dried spice – try it!)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg (this is my addition to the recipe; not in original received from Marie)
  • dash of salt (I tend to use sea salt)
  • 5 cups sifted all-purpose flour (flour should be sifted before measuring
  • 1 cup hot coffee mixed with 1 level teaspoon baking soda
  • chopped walnuts (optional – amount to your own taste; I use up to a cup)
  • raisins (also optional but I always include them – amount to your own taste; I use up to a cup)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another bowl, mix sugar, molasses, shortening (or butter) and eggs in a large bowl, beating until blended.
  3. Sift together cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and previously-sifted flour.
  4. Add flour/spices mixture to the sugar/molasses mix, alternating with addition of the hot coffee/baking soda mixture, blending with mixer as you do so.
  5. Add nuts and raisins (if using them), stirring into batter.
  6. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Remove from cookie sheet after cooling for a minute or two.
  9. When fully cooled, Cry Babies can be frosted with a butter cream frosting, adding a nice contrast to the gingerbready/molasses cookie flavor. If you want to freeze them, don’t frost– wait until they’re defrosted for that! 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #3 – Walnut Squares

Chef Santa, sitting on my cookbook shelf, rules the kitchen during the holidays.

These are so easy to make. For me, they were this year’s favorite, although not at all new in my repertoire of Christmas cookies. For some reason, I reached for these more often this time around, until they ran out. Bill loves them too. My mom loved them. (I think Santa does too.) In fact, I can’t think of anyone who’s tasted them who hasn’t loved them. I do find that I can’t eat more than one or two of these morsels at a sitting because they’re so rich tasting, but then that’s me. Your sweet tooth might support plenty more.

The recipe came from a former neighbor at least two decades ago and who knows where it originated. I haven’t changed a thing from the “original” I received after my first tasting. They’re more “brownie cookie” than “bar cookie” – but who needs to define them as long as they’re sweet and luscious? They also seem to taste even better to me the next day after they’re baked, and the day after that, and…

 

EASY WALNUT SQUARES
Yield depends upon size of each square; small squares can produce as many as 25 to 30.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter (unsalted preferred)
  • 1½ cup brown sugar (dark preferred, but light OK)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Process

For the bottom layer:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Stir together flour (1 cup) and sugar.
  3. Cut butter into flour/sugar mixture.
  4. Pat the resulting mixture/dough into an 8” x 8” square pan.
  5. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, while mixing ingredients for top layer.
  6. After removing from oven, maintain oven temperature for baking the top layer.

For the top layer:

  1. Beat the eggs for about 1-2 minutes, until well-mixed and a light yellow.
  2. Add brown sugar, 2 tbsp. flour, vanilla, baking powder, chopped nuts and salt – and beat well.
  3. Pour mix onto the pre-baked bottom layer.
  4. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes (but check after about 30 minutes). When done, top will be crackly but underneath will remain slightly gooey (mine usually take about 35 minutes to get to this finished stage).
  5. Remove from oven and cut into small squares.
  6. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan.

 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #1, Risotto Cookies

Remember those old commercials for Dunkin’ Donuts? There’s this one lonely guy up at a god-awful hour, heading to work (or maybe he’s already there) – it turns out he works at Dunkin’ Donuts, of course – and the oft-repeated phrase became, “It’s time to bake the donuts.” Well, it didn’t get to be “time to bake the cookies” this year until really, really close to Christmas; which meant I was putting it off until almost too late. Still, I managed to come off with six kinds of cookies, some brownies and a chocolate confection (that almost failed but I managed to save it). All the cookies but one were old favorites, and the non-oldie came from a writer friend I’ve never met in person (that story will come with the recipe later on). The brownies wound up coming from a Ghirardelli box mix, with some additions to it.

No wonder that, after the bake-rush, I had to take a break from even the thought of cookies and chose to first post recipes for the main dish, Christmas Eve buffet items! But now, “It’s time to post the cookies,” starting with the one that’s probably most people’s favorite. At least it’s #1 with my husband.

This recipe originally came from a woman with whom I used to work, Annette. She brought these treats into the office sometime in the late 1970s (or maybe early 80s) and we all asked for the recipe after just one taste. There was even a time when it was a big deal in that office for a few of us to bake for weeks before Christmas to pile up individual gift plates of cookies for our supervisors and their families. We’d bring in our cookies and sort them to plates or tins early in Christmas week, before folks started to take holiday time off. I recall starting the baking process in mid-November, making cookies that freeze well (including some to be frosted when thawed). I can’t imagine doing all that now, since I remember working through something like a dozen different recipes most holiday seasons– it seemed I felt compelled to ensure a variety of tastes, textures and colors! (That was a great office in which to work, except for the calorie intake.)

A few years later, my hubby came home from work one night and told me the women in the office were organizing a cookie exchange and, if they wanted to, the HVAC techs were also invited to participate. Since he can be quite literal sometimes, Bill decided he had to be the one to bake, that spouses weren’t supposed to do it for them. Even though he’s not much for cooking and he’d never baked before, he said he was going to make his favs, Risotto Cookies. It helped that he knew they were easy to make, along with the fact that the recipe produces a large batch of goodies! Not surprisingly, they were a great hit; however, no one believed that he baked them himself. He was the only MAN who’d baked his own cookies – one of the few men who even participated in the exchange.

I have no idea why these rich little cookies came to be named “risotto” since Italian recipes dubbed “risotto” are labor-intensive rice dishes which acquire their creaminess through almost constant stirring. No rice here. Perhaps the baker of origin started out calling them “Ricotta Cookies” and a typist somewhere misread and thus renamed it. As far as I’m concerned, either label could evoke an instant response when I hear or read the word – taste buds begin to crave them (how much more “Pavlov’s Dog” can one get?). They’re especially sweet and yummy if you ice them with buttercream frosting.

Oh yeah—you use your hands for the final mixing, so be prepared for a slightly messy end-procedure (have a towel on hand). This is not dough—it’s moist!

RISOTTO COOKIES
Yields a huge number of cookies, depending upon size. Minimum of 50-60.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 sticks butter, melted and cooled (my original recipe calls for margarine; I don’t cook or bake with margarine any more)
  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese (I usually can only find a 15 oz. container in stores, which works fine)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar.
  3. Separately, in another bowl, mix eggs into the cooled butter, one at a time.
  4. Add butter/egg mixture to the dry mixture, stirring in well.
  5. Add ricotta to the bowl, combining it well with your hands.
  6. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. (I’ve been known to do larger dollops.)
  7. Bake for approximately 12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned (you can lift one with a spatula, to check it, when you begin to see browning around the edges against the cookie sheet).
  8. Remove from oven and allow to rest on pan for a couple minutes before removing.
  9. Cool completely.
  10. Whether to frost them or not is the baker’s choice. I like them with a standard buttercream frosting and then I’ll add different colored sprinkles to half of the batch. I’ve been known to simply sift confectioner’s sugar over them. I’ve never done it, but a confectioner’s-sugar-and-water icing would work as well.