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Chocolate Whirligigs

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Chocolate Whirligigs.

I first made this recipe while in college and brought a few samples to class to share with some classmates. It was the beginning of the quarter and I didn’t know my new classmates well yet, so when I offered them some cookies and said that I had made them, they didn’t believe me. Apparently, not too many guys make cookies in college, so I had to describe in detail both the ingredients and how I made them before they reluctantly acknowledged that maybe I really had made them.

I don’t make a lot of refrigerator roll cookies since they are definitely a bit more effort than drop-style cookies. This is clearly evidenced by the 27 pictures in the complete recipe gallery. Nevertheless, the break that chilling dough in the refrigerator affords can sometimes be welcome. I took advantage of this and made these cookies over three days.

Chocolate Whirligigs.This was also the first recipe I had to try out my new rolling pin rings. I was thinking about making some myself when I saw these in a specialty shop in Santa Cruz. These little rings come in several thicknesses and go on your rolling pin, making it nearly impossible to roll dough of uneven thickness. A big pastry board or surface definitely helps, and your rolling pin can’t be curved. Getting each layer to be a nice rectangle is enough trouble, so I appreciated not having to worry about the thickness.

These cookies were pretty forgiving when it came to browning. I was a little worried once I realized after rolling that I was going to have chocolate edges on the cookies, which makes for more difficult diagnosis of doneness since the edges are already brown. I used the vanilla portions of the cookies as a guide and aimed for very light browning, which yielded a very delicate cookie, but you can also go for more pronounced browning if you want a crisper cookie.

The original recipe called for unsweetened chocolate, and although there are now excellent brands of unsweetened chocolate like Scharffen Berger, I opted to toss in the 87% Dagoba bar I had sitting around since it was also exactly 2 ounces. As much as I love dark chocolate, even I have limits, and 87% is just too dark for nibbling on. If you are curious, my preference is 72% – 76%. Even though 2 ounces didn’t seem like much, the chocolate flavor in the cookies is wonderful.

Take your time, roll out the dough carefully, and you just might have to convince people you made these yourself, too.

Ingredients for making Chocolate Whirligigs.

Mix 1 cup of room temperature butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 egg yolks and 2 teaspoons vanilla until light and fluffy.

Slowly mix in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk. Beat thoroughly until smooth.

Add 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 3 cups of flour and gently mix with whisk until blended.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the dough, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure even mixing.

Roll the dough into a ball and split into equal halves.

Slowly melt 2 ounces of dark chocolate in the microwave using short, 10 second bursts, stirring between heatings. Mix the melted chocolate into one half of the dough.

Wrap each half of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Roll each dough half on lightly floured wax paper into a 9 x 13 inch rectangle. Trim edges as needed to get a nice rectangle, dusting rolling pin with flour as needed.

Make sure each half is the same size rectangle as any discrepancies in size will need to be trimmed and sacrificed to the dough tasters.

Carefully invert one layer over the other and remove the top sheet of wax paper. Tightly roll the dough from the short side into a roll, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Remove dough from refrigerator and gently press and roll it to get it back into round as best you can. Slice the dough into 3/8 inch slices. Slice all the dough at once or return to fridge between sheets, as slicing is difficult when dough warms.

Place cookie slices on ungreased cookie sheets 1 inch apart.

Bake in 375° F oven for 8 – 11 minutes or until cookies begin to brown.

Immediately remove cookies from baking sheets and transfer to cooling racks.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and exhaustive photo gallery can be found on the Chocolate Whirligigs recipe page.

Oatmeal Cookies

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Last week my son and I had our violin/viola recitals and our teacher asked me to bring some cookies. I decided to make some oatmeal cookies since it has been a while since I made them. I like this recipe because the cookies are a little chewy, and I remember most oatmeal cookies I had as a kid being kind of dry and hard.

Oatmeal cookies always seem like they are supposed to be better for your health, but I don’t think I completely buy into that theory. It’s pretty much the same amount of butter and sugar as most any other cookie. Maybe the added raisins or optional craisins (dried cranberries) are supposed to convert the skeptics.

Once nice thing about this recipe is that it is actually difficult to over bake the cookies. The first batch I made was a little thinner and chewier than I liked (though some prefer them that way) so I upped the flour by 1/4 cup and then they started to behave the way I wanted. If only I had a second chance at the recital.

Ingredients for making Oatmeal Cookies.

Beat together 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 eggs until light and fluffy.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/2 cup of sugar, scraping down sides of bowl to ensure even mixing.

Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Combine 1 3/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon each of baking soda and cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and mix gently with a whisk until blended.

Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed butter and sugar mixture, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally.

Add 3 cups of rolled oats and mix until incorporated.

Add 1 cup of raisins and stir in by hand to minimize tearing the raisins.

Roll into 1 1/4 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 11 – 13 minutes in 350° F oven. Remove and let cool on sheets for 1 – 2 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and exhaustive photo gallery can be found on the Oatmeal Cookies recipe page.

Snickerdoodles: The Common Cookie with the Uncommon Name

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Snickerdoodles. I can’t think of too many other cookie recipes with a silly name that gives you no clues about what is in it, what it looks like, who created it or perhaps who frequently consumes them. What is certain, however, is that there are as many versions of this recipe as there are theories about their origin. Snickerdoodles are one of the early recipes I remember baking with my mom 30 years ago. Essentially a sugar cookie with a little cinnamon on the outside, what isn’t there for a kid to love?

As a recipe, I think snickerdoodles are pretty forgiving and hard to mess up. Perhaps that explains the many variations of the recipe. It would be interesting to take a half dozen variations head to head to see what the differences are. Depending on your mood, you can bake these crunchy or soft and the two textures result in very different cookies, equally delicious (though I like them a little soft in the middle).

There are a lot of people that debate the cream of tartar in snickerdoodles. The accepted explanation indicates that the cream of tartar acts as an acid to assist the baking soda. I can see how this would makes sense given my college background in science, but the ingredients in this recipe aren’t all that different from the popular chocolate chip cookie, so I don’t know if the cream of tartar does all that much for the baking soda and probably alters the taste just enough to make it worthwhile to leave it in. Maybe someday I’ll experiment with it, but after 30 years with this snickerdoodles recipe, I don’t have any complaints.

Ingredients for making Snickerdoodles.

Cream 1 cup butter, 2 eggs and 1 1/3 cups of sugar until light and fluffy.

Add 1 teaspoon baking soda to 3 cups of flour.

Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cream of tartar to dry ingredients.

Add a pinch of salt and mix dry ingredients until thoroughly blended.

Slowly add dry ingredients to butter, egg and sugar mixture, scraping sides of bowl occasionally to ensure even mixing.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture made of 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 3/4 cups of sugar.

Arrange dough balls evenly on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes in 375° F oven until lightly browned. Let cool for 1 minute on cookie sheet before cooling on racks.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Snickerdoodles Cookies recipe page.


Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

As a kid, I loved pirouette cookies by Pepperidge Farm. Light and delicate, the tube shape also makes them fun to eat. Over the holidays, a neighbor made some cat’s tongues, for which I am still awaiting the recipe, and the cookies reminded me of flattened pirouettes—shaped like a cat’s tongue, of course. Once I get the recipe from her, I will be sure to share it here. While waiting for the recipe, I got to thinking about making pirouettes, especially since they go really well with gelato (see photo from my last post about gianduja gelato). When I noticed that this recipe calls for just egg whites and the gianduja gelato needed the yolks, I knew I had to make them together.

When I first made these cookies, I followed the original instructions, which said to spread the dough with a spatula. That turned out a lot easier said than done, and I just ended up with some messy blobs. I thought about ways to get the dough to spread more, and figured that since these cook so quickly already, why not just add the dough to hot cookie sheets?

I placed the silpat-lined cookie sheet in the oven and let it get nice and hot. I then removed the sheets from the oven and spooned on the dough. It definitely spread better, especially around the edges, where the dough was a little runnier. Finally, I thought I would heat a little dough in the microwave for just a few seconds. Just 8 seconds for 1/2 cup of dough resulted in a thick batter I could coax into pouring without losing any volume. Combined with the hot cookie sheets, this worked really well. After pouring 4 equal dollops on the hot cookie sheet, I tilted the sheet at all angles to help the dough spread into thinner, larger circles.

Handling hot cookies
These cookies come out of the oven hot, but if you work quickly and utilize the spatula and wooden spoon handle enough, you don’t need to wear any kind of gloves while rolling the cookies. The finished cookies are very similar to Pepperidge Farm’s pirouettes, though I think these are a little more buttery. The original recipe instructions advised against browning anything but the very edges, but I found that minimal browning resulted in a cookie that wasn’t very crunchy. We liked the over-browned ones more for this reason, so definitely err on the side of too dark than too light since they are more forgiving for over-browning. I made these two weeks ago and they are still crunchy.

Ingredients for making Pirouette Cookies.

Beat 1 cup of room temperature butter, 1 cup of sugar and 4 egg whites together until fluffy.

Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Slowly mix in 1 cup of flour until just blended.

Scoop out 1/2 cup of dough and heat for 8 seconds in microwave to thin and warm.

Pour a tablespoon of dough onto preheated, silpat-lined cookie sheet. Once dough for 4 cookies is poured, tilt cookie sheet at all angles to spread dough.

Bake for 4 – 6 minutes in 400° F oven until edges brown. Use spatula to lift hot cookie from cookie sheet and place over handle of wooden spoon.

Drag one hanging edge of cookie under wooden spoon and then lower wooden spoon to begin rolling, pressing on seam when finished.

Place rolled pirouettes on lowered cooling rack to cool and help prevent unrolling.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Pirouette Cookies recipe page.

A Valentine’s Treat that is a Simple Feat

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

I knew I wanted to make some cookie for Valentines Day, and I thought some heart shaped sugar cookies would do the trick. What better way to say, “I love you”, than with a heart shaped cookie? It was late January when I set out to find some heart shaped cookie cutters, so I figured that it would be easy to find some heart shaped cookie cutters at the mall. I went to 4 different kitchen supply stores and nothing. Finally, Crate & Barrel came through with a 3-piece set. I guess marketing hasn’t gotten the jump on Valentine’s Day like it has on Christmas.

For some reason, I always think rolled cookies are a lot of work, but they really aren’t that much extra effort. The really cool thing is that most other people also think they are a lot of work, so when you present them with a heart shaped cookie made with different colored dough, they really think the cookies are extra special.

This recipe calls for what I thought was a lot of food coloring—up to 1/2 teaspoon—but unless I added 1/4 teaspoon or more, the color was just too pale. I also found that it’s nearly impossible to have too much sanding sugar; a couple different colors really add a nice touch.

These are the first cookies I have listed on the site that do not have any leavening, so they have a nice shortbread consistency. This recipe is also has a pretty short list of ingredients, so you are almost guaranteed to have them on hand. I made these cookies twice in the last 2 weeks, and both my kids and my wife’s co-workers really enjoyed them. Use coarse sanding sugar as it adds a little crunch to the texture of the cookie.

Below are some of the highlights of making this simple, but delicious sugar cookies.

Ingredients for making Valentine Sugar Cookies.

Beat 1 cup of room temperature butter until fluffy.

Sift 3/4 cup of powdered sugar to remove lumps.

Use a whisk to gently mix 2 1/4 cups of flour with the sugar.

Slowly add about half of the sugar and flour into the butter.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the dough and then finish adding the flour and sugar mixture.

Form the dough into a ball and split in half. Return half of the dough to mixer and mix in 1/2 teaspoon of red food coloring.

Roll the uncolored dough until 1/4 inch thick. Repeat for the colored dough.

Cut out large and small heart shapes, cutting the small shapes from the insides of the larger cutouts.

Assemble the cookies on a silpat baking mat using contrasting colored dough, gently pinching them together at the seams.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with red and pink sanding sugars.

Bake for 13 minutes in 350°F oven until edges just begin to brown. Remove from oven, let rest on sheet one minute, and then transfer to cooling racks.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Valentine Sugar Cookie recipe page.

Got Zest? Make Lemon Sugar Cookies.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I’m still in the midst of lemon season, so I have been busy making recipes with lemons. I have a huge bag of Meyer Lemons and so I wanted a recipe that would help use them up. Making the extra strength Meyer Lemon Sorbet recipe helped, but I still had almost a dozen lemons leftover. My wife and kids had been clamoring for another batch of sugar cookies since I made Old Fashioned Sugar cookies (with just a hint of orange). When I saw this recipe for Lemon Sugar Cookies, I knew I could address two goals at the same time.

This recipe calls for a lot of lemons. In fact, I can’t recall any other recipes I have made that call for 1/3 cup of lemon zest. Surprisingly, the baking process obscures a good deal of the zest, but they still have a nice lemon flavor. These cookies are also a little less delicate than the Old Fashioned Sugar Cookie recipe. Perhaps the 400°F oven played a part in these last two cookie traits; most recipes are 375 or 350. The coworkers at my new job don’t gobble up cookies like at my last couple jobs, so I now give most of the cookies (gotta save some for the kids’ lunches) to my wife for her to take into her work. She said that the cookies were all gone by 10:30 AM. That’s more like it.

Ingredients for making Lemon Sugar Cookies.

Mix 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 egg until light and fluffy.

Juice 1 lemon to yield 2 tablespoons of juice.

Add 1/3 cup of lemon zest (yes, 1/3 cup—about 6 lemons worth) and mix well.

Mix together 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon of salt until blended. Gradually add this to butter mixture, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and gently roll in sugar before placing on silpat baking mat.

Flatten dough with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Press down until ball is half inch high.

Bake in 400°F for 9 – 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Transfer cookies from baking sheet to cooling racks and let cool.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Lemon Sugar Cookie recipe page.