Monday January 27, 2014 | 06:51 AM

The Sunday cook is like the Sunday sauce—both are done on Sundays, a time for pleasurable pastimes. And I found that I was actually doing it all  yesterday.  The Sunday sauce (also called gravy) was in the works for dinner that night, and the recipe will be featured in this upcoming Wednesday food blog.  It will be the kickoff of a series, “In Search of Red Sauce,” from Italian-American home cooks in Portland.

But I took up two other diversions with cooking projects that were as different as peaches and parsley.

One was for a blackberry cobbler, which I served with vanilla ice cream that I made the previous night to accompany a sour cherry pie (the last of my stash of frozen local cherries) that I was taking to dinner at a friend’s house.   The ice cream was Philadelphia style: 3 cups raw heavy cream, 3/4 cup sugar and the seeds from one Tahitian vanilla bean and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Last summer's blackberries, defrosted and ready to use

Yes the berries in both baking projects were so out of season, but if you stockpile summer berries and fruits in the freezer you can re-live August without feeling etiolated whatsoever in the frigid thunder of January’s tundra.  That I did happily like adding riches to rags.

Blackberry cobbler with a lard crust made with 2 cups flour, salt, pinch sugar,  4 ounces pure lard, 1/3 cup water for top and bottom crusts

Sour-cherry pie made with berries frozen since last summer

But that being Sunday and spending most of the day cooking, I took a turn and made chocolate chip cookies as well. I’ve been perfecting my chocolate chip cookie recipe for years, trying new techniques or ingredients to see which work best. 

You can’t go wrong by following the recipe for Toll House Cookies on the back of the Nestlé’s package of chocolate chips.  But that recipe has always confounded me because of one little ingredient: It instructs to add one-quarter teaspoon water to the dough.  What possible difference can that little drop of water make?

I’ve stopped adding it, though I still add the pinch of baking soda that it calls for; and there too I’m not sure what that’s supposed to do.  I suppose it triggers a chemical reaction, but I’ve yet to notice a difference when I’ve left it out.

But I think I’ve hit on the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookie ever.  Of course a statement like that is all relative since one person’s pleasures are not necessarily another’s.  But I daresay these were incredible cookies.  Here’s what I did.

A few years ago, when Jarrod Spangler was the butcher at Rosemont Market he started rendering leaf lard to sell at the shop, and it’s still sold there.  He called it The New Olive Oil.  Certainly it was clever to describe it that way.  But this lard is very different from the kind you see in the supermarket, which is over- processed and hydrogenated. 

In fact, pure lard is no more detrimental to a healthy diet than olive oil.  Fat is fat no matter how you slice it, but here in its pure form it’s basically OK in moderation. 

One day at the shop when I stopped in to buy lard, Jared said to me that he and his wife made chocolate chip cookies the other night using lard because they didn’t have enough butter and wound up using half butter and half lard.  He said they were great cookies.

I finally tried it myself.  And the difference is that the cookies come out very crisp instead of being mushy and cakelike, which so many are. 

I did a few things differently, however.  I used slightly less flour and added brewed coffee to the cookie dough. They’re baked on buttered cookie sheets so that when the cookies emerge they have this incredible crispy, brown-butter edge.

Crispy chocolate chip cookies

Another key point is to use high quality chocolate chips.  In this batch were Guittard chocolate chips, which are larger than the usual chip size and have great flavor.

Crispy chocolate chip cookies

Servings: about 24 cookies

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

4 tablespoon pure lard, at room temperature

6 heaping tablespoons light or dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons granulated white sugar

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon brewed coffee

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugars together. Beat in the egg.  Add the flour and mix well.  Add the coffee, vanilla extract, walnuts and chips.  Mix until well blended.

Lightly grease one or two cookie sheets with softened butter; re-grease before baking the next batch.

By the soupspoon (or tablespoon) scoop out dough and roll into a ball about 2 inches in diameter.  Place on cookie sheet and with the palm of your hand, flatten each ball, making sure there’s enough room for the cookies to spread while baking. 

Bake for 6 minutes, rotate cooking sheet and continue for another 5 to 6 minutes or until cookies are a golden brown and edges are crispy. 

Let rest on sheet for 1 minute then remove with a spatula to a cooling rack until completely cool.  Store in a ceramic cookie jar or cookie tin.

 

 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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