Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dough Temperature: Chocolate Sugarsnaps

Baking cookbooks frequently extol the importance of proper temperature ingredients- very cold butter, room temperature shortening, etc. As any baker knows, those are critical. Butter that's too soft creates thin, greasy cookies, butter that's too cold doesn't whip enough air in, warm egg whites whip more volume, and so on. Knowing these types of things is what helps a recipe succeed, when it may not have worked for others.

But what about dough temperature? Is that as critical as the ingredient temperature? At some point or another I'm sure we've all been racing through a recipe we plan to serve later that day only to be confronted with the words "Chill dough overnight." Ahh! Guess we didn't read through the recipe carefully enough. Now what?

I've always wondered how important chilling overnight really was. Can I do it for two hours and call it a day, especially if i split the dough into smaller chunks? Do I really have to chill at all?

So I did a little experiment. This is by no means scientifically sound or even remotly exhaustive. But I thought it was interesting and so I'm sharing my results. This recipe for Chocolate Sugarsnaps called for 30 minutes chilling time. I said to myself, how can that possibly do anything? So I prepared two baking sheets full of cookies. One batch went in the oven and and one was chilled as required.

And you know what? It made a big difference! Check out the picture at the top of this post. The cookies on the left are the ones that weren't chilled. They came out flatter and spread more, while the other cookies had a better, more visually appealing puffier shape. The taste was similar, save for a slightly more greasy feel on the unchilled batch.

I shared these results with my best friend Jenn and she told me she always chills her dough or cookies before baking them, even if the recipe doesn't call for it. So I think I'll be doing that in my next few recipes.

And of course I'll post the recipe here that I used for the sugarsnaps. It's a chewy sugar cookie dough flavored with quality chocolate and rolled in a coating of granulated sugar. I found these delicious (and I am not really a chocolate person), but I'll warn you of something I've noticed over the years: people just don't seem to gravitate towards chocolate colored cookies. I've made these, sables (which were AMAZING), and chocolate white chocolate chip cookies, and I always am greeted with the same reaction: "Those cookies don't really look that good. Yeah they taste good, but I don't know. The look is kind of unappetizing." Maybe that's just my group of friends though. Anyway the point there is, know your audience! They're really delicious but if you have a group that's picky on looks, well, you might want to stick to regular sugar cookies!

Chocolate Sugarsnaps, adapted from Carole Walter's Great Cookies

1 cup flour, spooned in and leveled
2 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 cup granulated sugar, divided into 2/3 and 1/3
1/2 lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
10 oz fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted

Strain together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and lightened in color. Add 2/3 cup of the granulated sugar in a steady stream, mixing to combine. Add brown sugar and mix until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, mixing to blend and scraping the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla and chocolate.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions, and mix just until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30-40 mins.

Position shelves to divide oven in thirds. Preheat to 375 and line baking pans with parchment.

Put the remain 1/3 cup of sugar in a plate. Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in sugar to coat. Place on sheets, 1 1/2 in apart. Bake for 8-9 minutes if you want your cookies chewy, 10-11 for crisper cookies.

Remove from oven and let rest for ten minutes, then use a metal spatula to transfer to cooling racks.

Stored airtight, these cookies will keep for 2 weeks.

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