Bobbette & Belle’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Is there any chocolate chip cookie recipe that doesn’t claim to be the best?

It’s doubtful. But, to be fair, there are a lot of really excellent chocolate chip cookie recipes in this wonderful world of ours. I should know – I’ve baked about a thousand varieties since I’ve known Cedric.

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Although nobody would argue the fact that I have the sweeter tooth, Cedric’s baked good kryptonite is chocolate chip cookies (and apple crumble – or is it apple crisp? I haven’t tried baking this for him yet, though, because I know it won’t be as good as the one his mom makes!)

We eat a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Here’s the thing: when I make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I don’t bake them all right away. Rather, I freeze the dough. Whenever we feel like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies (which, if I’m perfectly honest, is several nights a week), we just take some out of the freezer and cook two single servings. Boom: hot, freshly baked cookies in just 16 minutes – every time.

I’ve tried a few different methods of freezing the cookie dough, and in this post, I’ll outline the best technique I’ve found thus far. But this post isn’t just about freezing cookie dough – it’s about the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from my beloved Bobbette & Belle cookbook.

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The name is slightly misleading because it omits the fact that this recipe contains two cups of large-flake rolled oats. That’s a substantial amount of oats – enough, I would argue, to rename the recipe Ultimate Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. At first, I thought Cedric would resist the oat factor (after all, some people are cookie purists). But when I ran the idea by him, he seemed very enthused at the prospect of oats. So I gave it a go.

It’s a very easy recipe with the usual ingredients (all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, room temperature unsalted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and chocolate chips) + oats. The only place I tend to get creative is with the chocolate chips. First of all, I disregard the suggested 3/4 cup – I pretty much pour in an entire bag of chocolate chips. As a sage friend once pointed out, “When has anyone ever complained that there are too many chocolate chips?”

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Fun fact: I never eat the raw dough out of the bowl. I’m annoyingly hygienic about my baking. On the plus side, if you ever eat my baked goods, you know they haven’t been messed with.

We tend to prefer milk chocolate chips, which are tasty but arguably not as aesthetically pleasing as semisweet or dark chocolate chips. Sometimes, I like to mix two kinds together (usually when they have a “buy two for $5” promo at Craig’s).

While we’re on the topic of chocolate chips, by the far the BEST chocolate chips I have ever had are the Ghiradelli chocolate chips. If they have these at your grocery store, buy the entire stock. I haven’t seen them around in a long time, but next time I find them, I’m buying them by the truck load. The Chipit Hershey Kisses chips are also the bomb, and also not available at my grocery store. Sigh.

 

Okay, so here’s my freezing technique: I cut out little squares of wax paper. I drop a dollop of dough onto the square, then I fold up the wax paper and shape it into the shape of a puck. I push down slightly in the middle so that the outside edges are thicker than the centre. This makes it bake more evenly later on (because the middle will take longer to thaw in the oven than the edges).

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I reuse the little wax paper squares a few times – just be careful when unwrapping them, and you’ll get a few uses out of them.

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Once I’ve wrapped up all my little cookies, I put them in a freezer ziploc bag. When we’re ready to bake, we take a few out of the bag while we preheat the oven. Boom – easy as that.

In our oven, we find 16 minutes to be the perfect amount of time for baking (this is more than the 8 to 12 minutes suggested in the book). If I’m not cooking from the freezer, I still cook them a little longer – about 15 minutes. I like my cookies to be nice and golden – if you prefer them to be super soft and raw in the middle, 8 to 12 minutes is probably more your cup of tea.

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So is it really the *ultimate* cookie? It’s definitely up there and it has become one of my two chocolate chip cookie go tos (the other one is this one – a good bet if you’re not feeling the oats). This recipe definitely deserves its place in the Bobbette & Belle cookbook.

Fougasse: Looks Good, Lacks Substance

It turns out you can’t judge bread by how it looks.

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Case in point: the American Sandwich Bread I blogged about a little while back looks kind of plain, but it tastes wonderful. (I’ve baked it twice this week.)

It goes the other way, too. Sometimes, a show-stopper looking bread tastes a little underwhelming. That’s the case with the fougasse I whipped up this week.

The good news is that baking fougasse is EASY PEASY. It’s in the “raising the bar” chapter of the Bread Illustrated cookbook (a.k.a. my bible). That’s the advanced chapter – but this is not an advanced bread.

However, with its pretty leaf shape, it looks fancy – so if you’re trying to wow guests with your bread baking skills, this might be a recipe to bust out.

Baking fougasse is a two-day affair. Day one is simple and very similar to other loaves I’ve baked: you mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water, do four rounds of fold-and-waits, then pop it in the fridge for 16 to 48 hours. Gotta love a recipe that gives you a bit of wiggle room!

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Day two is for shaping and baking. You split the loaf in half and shape it into two triangles. One recipe, two loaves – another win. You let the triangles rise for an hour or so, then you whip out the pizza cutter and slice leaf designs into the dough. This is very, very easy. Once the incisions have been made, you just stretch the dough out with your hands to emphasize the holes.

 

The recipe staggers the shaping and rising of the two loaves so that you only have to bake one at a time.

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The main recipe in the book is for a rosemary sea salt fougasse, but there are also variations for asiago and black pepper (yum), bacon and gruyere (yum), and olive (yuck). I think the latter two would be good (assuming you like olives) because the accoutrements are baked INTO the dough. My qualms with the fougasse is that it’s bland – the rosemary seems like an afterthought and it really doesn’t add a lot of flavour. I think something baked into the dough – like the sage polenta loaf I made – would make more of a statement.

I think I might think too much about bread.

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The texture of this bread was a little meh, too. That might have more to do with the baker than the recipe – it can be hard to tell. It was pretty chewy (read: it gave my jaw a serious workout) and I feel like it got stale way faster than other breads.

If you’re going for an herby savoury bread from Bread Illustrated, I’d suggest opting for something like the focaccia instead. (Actually, fougasse is like the Provencal version of focaccia – the more you know!) However, if your heart is set on fougasse, consider one of the more flavourful combinations.

Mmm, Tacos – Flaca’s Tacos Food Truck

When I used to live in Vancouver, my office was located downtown, just on the edge of Gastown. Lunchtime was glorious because the options for deliciousness were endless: Jules, Nuba, sandwiches at MacLeans (RIP), and my favourite fast food place, Freshii. I spent a lot of money on lunches, and I regret nothing – not only was the food delicious, but I lived for the social hour.

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Photo from Arturo’s

However, without a doubt, my #1 favourite food option was ARTURO’S (or as I liked to call it on the inter-office messenger, R2ros). Arturo’s is a food truck specializing in all things Mexican and all things delicious. It was located steps from my building, which made it a great bet for rainy days. Arturo is a real guy, and he is so awesome. I haven’t lived in Vancouver for more than FIVE YEARS, but he STILL remembers me when I visit his truck for a chicken quesadilla on whole wheat – he always asks how Whistler (or now, Squamish) is. If you’re ever in the ‘hood (West Cordova @ Howe) on a Tuesday to Friday, you HAVE to check it out.

I have tried to convince Arturo to open spin-off food trucks in the Sea to Sky, but so far, he has not. But recently, I heard that there was a new food truck in town specializing in tacos called Flaca’s Tacos. To me, this was very welcome news.

I decided to start following them on Facebook. Here, I discovered that they make their own tortillas fresh. That is something I respect immensely. I kept an eye out on their location updates and made a mental to note to visit if I was ever close by.

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Then, on one fateful sunny afternoon, Cedric and I had a bit of time to kill while we were waiting for some car work to be done. I realized that we happened to be very close to A Frame Brewery, which is where Flaca’s was set up that day. Off to the tacos we went.

The menu is short and sweet: tacos of a few different varieties, including spot prawn ($6), veggie ($3.50), pulled pork ($4), and steak ($4). I ordered one veggie and one pulled pork taco, and a couple of minutes later, our orders were up.

(By the way, we popped into A Frame for a quick browse – check out this cool kids set up! I love these toys – they are made in Squamish and I got a little set for my niece for Christmas.)

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My first impression was that the tacos were on the small side – about the same as the tacos at La Cantina, if you are familiar with the Whistler establishment. My general spending quota for a meal from a food truck is $8 – $12. You’d need at least 3 or 4 tacos to make a full meal of it, which would put you closer to $12 – $18. So it’s not necessarily cheap.

But it’s good – very good. The veggie one was simple but nice, with beans, corn, cheese, and some other good stuff. What really stood out to me was the homemade tortilla. When we ordered, we could see the little balls of dough right in front of us, which were popped into the tortilla press (or whatever that thing is called).

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It was game over – in a very good way – when I bit into the pulled pork taco. It had a nice, spicy kick and the pineapple added a little sweetness. The filling was aces. It was soooo good.

If I was at a market or festival with a wide array of food trucks, I’d definitely made Flaca’s my first pick (unless Arturo’s was there, of course!). In fact, I hear they were at the Squamish market this past weekend. I dream of a day where they make a pulled pork burrito on a homemade tortilla – that would be a killer combo.

Next, I’ll be hunting down the Alice and Brohm (love the Squampty name) ice cream food truck that recently opened – just in time for the summer.

I love this town!

Rustic Wheat Berry Bread (With No Actual Fruit Berries)

Here’s a recipe name that’s misleading: Rustic Wheat Berry Bread.

While a strawberry-raspberry bread sounds weirdly appealing, this recipe contains neither. Rather, it has wheat berries, which are just little grains that apparently people use to make stuff. I thought I’d have a hard time finding them at Nesters, but when I asked about them, the clerk knew where they were immediately. I am always so impressed when the clerks know exactly where obscure ingredients are, as an aside. There must be ten thousand different products in a regular grocery store.

I digress.

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The rustic wheat berry bread is basically a fancy way of saying whole wheat loaf. But it’s a little bit cooler to make than your usual whole wheat because you get to soak the wheat berries and then pulverize them into some kind of wheat goo. Behold:

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Step One: Soak the “berries”

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Step Three: I can’t believe it’s not hummus!

I have to say, I felt awfully fancy soaking wheat berries. I remember going to a Cornucopia event once and the presenter was talking about soaking all these grains and nuts and sprouts and things, and it all sounded great but like an awful lot of work. Well, I’m officially a soaker now. Maybe this was a gateway recipe into a world of soaked food. I better buy some more small bowls!

The wheat berries have to be soaked for 12 to 24 hours. I erred on the conservative side and left them soaking for 24 because there’s a little troubleshooting text box that says “Problem: The wheat berries don’t completely break down. Solution: Soak the berries for at least 12 hours.” I thought I could really just avoid the whole problem by giving it a full day. It worked.

You also have to make a sponge for this recipe. I made it at the same time I soaked the berries because it can sit out for 24 hours. Boom – perfect timing.

After a restful 24 hours, the remainder of the recipe involves the usual flour mixture + sponge, mixing, waiting, mixing, waiting, folding, waiting, etc.

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After all was said and done, my dough looked tinier than usual. This is not a loaf that would command $15 at a Farmer’s Market. More like $5.

I think my horrible slashing (i.e. the cutting into the dough) is partially to blame. I don’t use a cool razor thingy like they do in the book – I just use a kitchen knife. I used to use kitchen shears, but it gave it a puckered look. I tried to make a snazzy square slashing shape, but my cuts were in adequate and it just looks a little bit pathetic.

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It may be tiny and pathetic, but it was tasty. If I’m fully honest, I’m not sure it’s worth going out and buying wheat berries and going to the trouble of soaking and all that – this bread isn’t that much different than a regular pain de campagne. However, since I still have half a box of wheat berries, I’ll certainly make it again. Next time, I’ll be a little more aggressive with my slashes. Zorro style.

A Savoury Sage-Polenta Bread

I’ve shied away a little from some of the more savoury bread recipes in Bread Illustrated. I think that’s because I consider them a little less versatile (i.e., not so tasty with Nutella in the morning). But I’m pleased to say I’ve finally dipped my toes into the world of savour with the Sage-Polenta Bread recipe – and it was delicious!

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As the recipe name would suggest, there are two star ingredients in this loaf: sage and polenta.

The sage is just right – enough to give it a nice, herb-y flavour, but not so much that it screams “SAGE!!!!!!” in your face. The four teaspoons of minced sage provide a subtle but present taste.

The polenta is pretty cool – you don’t just use cornmeal, you actually whip up some polenta and mix it into the dough. Whereas the sage lends to the flavour, the polenta is all about the texture. It gives the bread a substantial quality that’s hard to describe – not quite dense, but definitely hearty. It would be a great bread to pair with a nice soup in the fall or winter, or to support a fully loaded sandwich (you know the kind – with artichokes and roasted red pepper and fancy deli meat). The cornmeal also plays a supporting role in the crust. While most loaves are dusted with flour, this one is dusted with a combination of flour and cornmeal. This gives the crust an appealing grit (but don’t worry, it’s not overpowering – it’s not like eating spoonfuls of raw cornmeal).

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As for the recipe itself, it’s a two day affair. You start by making a simple sponge, which sits for 6 to 24 hours. Then you whip up some polenta, let it cool, and divide it in half: some gets mixed into the sponge, while the rest gets added to the dough a little while later.

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It’s usual bread business from here (lots of waiting and folding), and then comes the fun part: shaping the loaf. This recipe called for an almond shape loaf, which feels fancier than the usual ball (or should I say boule) shape. After the initial shaping, you let it rise under a couche (i.e., a dish towel, in my kitchen) – as you can see, I had a little gaping at the seam, but I just pinched it all together and it was good as new.

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Uhh… what happened?

I loved this loaf. It’s made me more amenable to some of the other recipes in this book. Fig and fennel, caramelized onion… what next!

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Good as new!

Bobbette & Belle’s (Sober) Drunken Mixed Berry Pavlovas

Yes! It’s time for sweet treats again!

I hosted a few girlfriends for dinner the other weekend, which seemed like the perfect excuse to try another recipe from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook that I’ve been baking my way through. The recipe for Drunken Mixed Berry Pavlovas seemed like a good pick for celebrating the start of summer – it’s light, it’s full of berries, and it was the perfect treat to cap off the first truly hot day of the year. (There have since been plenty of scorchers – summer is officially here.)

The bulk of this recipe is preparing the meringues. This is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get recipe: if you follow the directions, your meringues will turn out exactly as they’re supposed to. At least, that’s what happened to me – and trust me, it doesn’t always work out that way.

First, you whip up four egg whites, then you gradually add in granulated sugar and fold in cornstarch, vanilla, and vinegar (seems weird, but you can’t taste it). Some meringue recipes call for piping out the little bowls, but this one goes the rustic route: you just scoop out six mini mounds of meringue and smooth them out into nests. The pro tip from the book: wet your spoon with hot water to keep the meringue under control.

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The meringues take an hour and fifteen minutes to bake, and then you have to let them cool in the oven for at least as long. They’re supposed to remain white – mine were more of an ivory or possibly even a rose gold if you squint hard enough (I just think rose gold meringue sounds so trendy).

The “drunken mixed berry” part comes from the berry topping. Though I followed the meringue recipe to a tee, I took a few liberties with this part. I kept my topping sober and omitted the three tablespoons of Grand Marnier, which meant my topping was less liquidy. I also skipped out on blueberries because I had to stay within my monthly grocery budget and the strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries seemed sufficient. I omitted the lemon and mint garnish because that felt too fancy – but don’t worry, I kept in the whipped cream (I even whipped it “just before serving” as instructed, even though that is such a weird step when you’re hosting people for dinner and don’t have an at-home chef on hand to do it for you).

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My little pavlovas were delicious and made a wonderful dessert. The meringue was spot on – the outside was light and crispy, and I believe the term “melt in your mouth” was developed specifically to describe meringue. The insides were chewy and just moist enough, making it delicious and virtually impossible to eat without using your hands.

Apologies for the non-fancy photos – Cedric had the nerve to take his camera on a ski trip, leaving me with my measly iPhone to capture the meringue memories!

The Humble American Sandwich Bread

This post is a shout out to American sandwich bread (specifically, the recipe for American sandwich bread in the Bread Illustrated cookbook).

I will admit that I almost didn’t deem this recipe worthy of its own blog post. It’s just sandwich bread, after all. But then I decided that sometimes, the most exciting recipes are the ones that take something totally normal and turn them into something completely mouthwatering that makes you want to devour the entire loaf before it has fully cooled. (Just me? Maybe.) Case in point: my homemade kaiser buns.

Since my sourdough culture has blossomed (matured? ripened?), I have taken to baking sourdough breads (a regular loaf or an Auvergne crown) on Mondays. Well, technically, I start the baking process on Mondays – but the bread isn’t actually ready until Wednesday. Gotta love sourdough!

Now, if our bread consumption is above average on a particular week (such as a recent week, when I shared the bread with my book club), then I need something simple that will fulfill our toast and sandwich requirements and that preferably does not take three days to bake.

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The answer to my breadly prayers: American Sandwich Bread. The back end is a stump because I always saw off the crusty ends when the bread is still warm and eat them on the spot. Mmm.

Normally, my go to loaf is the Easy Sandwich Bread in the “Starting from Scratch” chapter. This dough is easy peasy – it only takes about two hours to throw together, I always have all the ingredients on hand, and I’ve figured out how to take even more shortcuts (skip the egg wash and the butter glaze).

But today,  I decided to mix it up a bit and try the American Sandwich Bread recipe in the “Sandwich Breads” chapter. Yes, there is an entire chapter dedicated to sandwich breads. Rejoice!

The ingredients in the American sandwich bread recipe are virtually identical to those in the easy sandwich bread recipe, except for the former calls for some whole milk (we had 2% in the fridge, so that’s what I used). I made the whole-wheat variation, although I realized at the last minute that the variation called for 3 tbsp of toasted wheat germ. I don’t have this, so I didn’t include it.

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Rise, baby, rise!

The process between the two recipes is similar, except the American sandwich bread calls for just a little extra at each step: extra time in the mixer, extra time rising, extra effort in shaping. While the easy sandwich bread batter is just poured into the loaf pan, the American sandwich bread is rolled.

The result? The two breads taste pretty similar, but I think the American sandwich bread has a slightly more polished look to it. (Photographed: American on the left, easy on the right.) When you slice into it, it just looks a little prettier than the easy bread. It’s really not that much more effort to make, so I’ll probably make this one again. After I’ve tried the other 9 recipes in this chapter, that is.

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