KITCHEN NOTES: Recipe Development::Spiced Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Autumn is finally here - my favorite season of the year. A time between the warmth of summer and the cold of winter. Granted, it's still in the 80s here in Texas, but soon it will start to cool down and we'll be sitting in front of the fireplace looking out of the large picture window at gray skies before we know it.

Autumn is also the time when I start to spend more time in the kitchen. A time when the scent of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg start filling the air. A time when the sweet scent of the hot air from the oven envelopes the kitchen with happiness. It's also a time when the sink and counters overflow with dirty dishes waiting to be washed up for the next batch of cookies or a simple kuchen (cake). Really, anything sweet that needs to be baked.

This week I decided to replace all of my baking spices with freshly ground ones from my favorite spice shop. I drove over to the shop this past Monday (the packets below have the incorrect date on them) after dropping off the younger two at school and bought two different types of cinnamon (the other one being the Saigon Cassia Cinnamon). I decided to use the Organic True Ceylon version for these cookies.

This recipe started as a few scribbles in my kitchen journal - the one I took with me while vacationing in Berlin this past summer. I never got around to baking these, but felt that now was a good time to make something with spices and chocolate. Real chocolate - despite the fact that I have at least seven different bags of chocolate chips sitting in the pantry.

Now, cinnamon that's been sitting around for two years in no way resembles what I purchased. In the past, I've bought all of my spices in bulk from the grocery store. Having discovered the Savory Spice Shop back in March, I now exclusively purchase all of my spices here. The spices are freshly ground each week and their selection is astonishing. Plus, everyone who works there is exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly.

After my last chocolate chunk cookies, I wanted to change the recipe so that I had more of a chewy texture rather than cakey. It's not that I disliked the cakey version. I simply wanted something different. The main changes I made - adding bread flour, more butter, and more brown sugar than granulated sugar. The result was a flat and chewy cookie full of spicy flavours and chocolate throughout.

I scooped out the dough with almost-level tablespoonfuls which yielded in 36 cookies. They didn't last long.


Spiced Chocolate Chunk Cookies

this batch made 36 cookies



100 grams all-purpose flour

125 grams bread flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used the regular Baleine sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I used Organic True Ceylon Cinnamon)

1/2 teaspoon ginger (I used Organic Chinese Ginger)

1/4 teaspoon allspice (I used Jamaican Allspice)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves (I used Madagascar Cloves)

200 grams unsalted butter, room temperature

150 grams light muscavado sugar

50 grams granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoons vanilla extract

100 grams bittersweet chocolate (I used El Rey 73.5%), chopped in half-inch chunks

Vanilla extract not pictured - forgot to photograph it


Heat oven to 350°F. Line three rimmed baking sheets (I use jelly roll pans) with parchment paper.

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In bowl of stand mixer, with whisk attachment and on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy (about 2 minutes). Add sugars and continue beating at same speed for another 2 to 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add whole egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until well incorporated.

With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour mixture. Beat just until combined.

Remove bowl from mixer stand and gently fold in the chocolate chunks.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove dough from freezer. Drop dough by non-rounded tablespoonfuls spaced about two inches apart.

Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully slide paper with cookies onto a large cooling rack.

Continue with rest of dough. This yielded exactly 36 flat and chewy cookies.


THE NOTES (as jotted down in my journal):

My previous attempts at a chewy cookie recipe didn't work. While the cakey version still tasted great, I wanted to see how I could make the cookie more chewy. I spent my summer vacation researching just that and came up with something that worked. The percentage of butter needed to be increased (88% as opposed to 33% in my Amethyst Chocolate Chunk Cookies - in baker's percentages). I also found out that bread flour, due to it's high protein content, was able to absorb more liquid which would result in a more chewy texture. Using brown sugar also contributed to chewiness.

Thus, this recipe was born. And although there are myriads of chocolate chip/chunk cookie recipes...this is another of my versions.

Changes I would try for next time:

There weren't too many notes for this recipe. As I'm never able to "just let things be", I'm always finding something to either change for next time or to create a new recipe.

* Use melted butter. Per my research this summer, and from past experience, I discovered that melted butter also contributes to a more chewy cookie. Somehow I forgot to use that technique here.

* Omit the allspice. My husband mentioned that he noted the taste of baking soda. After tasting a few cookies (all for the sake of experimenting), I noted that it might be the allspice that was overly "spicy" and "peppery".

* Reduce baking time by one or two minutes. 10 minutes as opposed to 12.

* Let cookies sit on baking sheet until slightly cooled. I took the cookies off the baking sheet immediately. Will let them cool down slightly next time.

* For another version...omit the chocolate. My original notebook scribbles did not include adding chocolate. It was simply a spice cookie. 


KITCHEN NOTES: Recipe Development::Almond Peach Cake

"What do you think?", I asked my husband as he cleaned his plate.

"It's good", he says.

"That's it?", I reply.

"Can I have more?", he asks.

I guess I'll take that as my answer, although I would have liked a little more input. Which flavour stood out more? What was the overall texture? You know, questions that are important to know when coming up with a new recipe. Having another opinion helps. So, when I asked what I should change for next time, aside from reducing the baking time, he replied "Nothing. It's perfect as is." I can work with that, but I'm not one to simply leave things as they are - particularly when it comes to desserts.

Originally, I called this cake "Cake Inspired by Summer". At least that's how it's written in my journal. For some reason, I find myself experimenting with a new recipe shortly before it starts to get dark, which means that step-by-step photos are few. In this instance, it was after 18,30h when I gathered together the ingredients and started to measure and write down the quantities of each ingredient.

This recipe started out as a desire to have a simple Summer cake using the dozen or so apples that are scattered about in the refrigerator. Instead, I decided to use one of the three peaches that were starting to soften. They were still mostly firm - I'd just bought them two days before but had left them in the paper bag together (touching each other as they shouldn't be) so a few started to bruise.

These were local peaches - from Fredericksburg. Sweet and delicious. I looked up the "PEACHES" section in The Flavor Bible and selected a few choices of flavours that would compliment the peaches: almonds, cream, rum, and brown sugar. I used the white rum but think that perhaps I should have added one tablespoon to the batter and the other to the peaches.

As the butter was mixing with the caster sugar in the stand mixer, I walked away from the counter to my journal to jot down a few notes. A moment later I heard a subtle cracking sound.

"What was that?", my husband asked. I turned to find that one of the eggs had rolled off the counter and splattered on the floor. My husband suggested that I simply scoop it up and use it. Did I? No. I threw it away, cleaned up the floor, and took another egg out of the refrigerator and placed it in a cup of warm water to quickly bring it up to as close to room temperature as possible before I had to add it to the butter and sugar.

I have the tendency to overthink my work. I strive for perfection knowing that the state of perfection does not exist. Despite the overbaking, the cake was delicate and flavourful.

I will be making it again soon - with a few minor changes.


Almond Peach Cake

one 8-inch cake



1 peach, diced

2 tablespoons white rum (I used Oronoco)

1 tablespoon dark muscavado sugar

170 grams unsalted butter, room temperature

150 grams caster sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

150 grams cake flour

125 grams almond meal (finely ground almonds)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

30 ml heavy whipping cream



Heat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, combine the diced peaches, rum, and dark muscavado sugar. Set aside.

Butter bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment round and butter that as well.

In bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and caster sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy (5 or more minutes), scraping down sides of bowl as needed. In the meantime, prepare other ingredients.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

To the fluffy butter and sugar mixture add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until combined.

Reduce mixer speed to low and alternate adding the flour mixture with the cream, starting with a third of the flour mixture and ending with the cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Top with the drunken peaches.

Bake for 45 minutes (I baked this for 52 minutes and it was too long), or until skewer inserted in middle comes out with a few crumbs attached. Remove cake from oven and let cool on a wire rack. We waited until the following morning to eat it.


THE NOTES (as jotted down in my blue journal):

What started out as a light Summer apple cake, turned into a delicious almond peach cake. The intention was the same - simple and flavourful. If you're patient to wait until the following day to eat the cake, you'll notice that the flavours have had a chance to develop further. Coffee and cake. Perfect for a warm Summer breakfast.

Changes I would try for next time:

* Reduce baking time. I baked the cake for 52 minutes at which point the sides started to brown more than desired. In reality, I was outside watering the herbs in their containers and didn't monitor the oven. I will try 45 minutes next time.

* Reduce sugar and salt. I know that I wrote this down in the journal, but I'm not sure I'd touch the sugar next time. Perhaps I will reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon salt.

* Make more moist. I need to experiment with this challenge - more butter, more eggs? I'm guessing that reducing the baking time will help with this, so I might not make any changes to the eggs and butter for the second version.

* Substitute cake flour. The cake needed more structure. It wasn't too bad but I'll need to experiment with a higher protein flour.

* Use whole milk instead of cream. Perhaps use 3 tablespoons of whole milk instead of the 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Might also contribute to the moistness.

* Reduce almond meal/increase flour. Also need to experiment with this change for next time. Perhaps 175 grams cake flour and 100 grams almond meal.

* Add rum to batter and peaches. Next time I will see what the difference will be when I split the rum between the batter and the peaches.



KITCHEN NOTES: Recipe Development::Amethyst Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I ventured into my garden yesterday evening and looked at the beautiful flowering Amethyst Basil plant - the flowers a rich orchid color, the leaves an interesting combination of bright green and deep purple. I walked to the chocolate shelf in the pantry and took out a bar of Valrhona Caribe (66%) chocolate and wondered how the combination of basil and chocolate might work out in a chocolate chunk cookie.

A few weeks ago, I started researching and developing a recipe for chocolate chunk cookies. I realize that there are countless versions out there for the "best" chocolate chip cookie and that my pantry is well stocked with at least 9 bags of chocolate chips purchased long ago, still waiting to be used. However, I wanted more than small chips of chocolate. I did a quick search on Google for "basil chocolate" and stumbled upon a recipe  for a chocolate cake using sweet basil. One day I will need to make that cake. For now, I decided to chop up almost the entire bar of chocolate into 1/2 inch pieces instead of using the chocolate chips.

I then selected the nicest leaves on the plant (about 20 of them) and pulsed them in the food processor together with granulated sugar.

I thought about adding lemon zest, then decided against mixing together too many flavours and saving that thought for another cookie recipe in the near future using sweet basil instead of the Amethyst basil. My intention was to make a thin, chewy cookie which is why I used baking soda, brown sugar, and melted butter. I found an informative article about the differences of using baking soda and baking powder. The recipe started out using one whole egg and one egg yolk along with 113 grams (one stick) of unsalted butter. However, as I was mixing the dough, I realized my mistake of not using enough liquids.

A quick decision had to be made: add a cold egg or melt more butter and wait for it to cool. I chose adding an egg as I didn't have the time to wait for butter to cool. I also didn't have time to wait for an egg to reach room temperature even though I realize I could have warmed it in a bowl of warm water. Regardless, the dough came together nicely. After chilling the dough for 30 minutes in the refrigerator, I baked up a batch of nine cookies curious to see how they tasted. The result? Yum! noted in my recipe journal - a note I use when the recipe is worth trying again.


Amethyst Chocolate Chunk Cookies

this batch made 25 cookies



113 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled

10 grams Amethyst basil leaves (about 20 leaves)

125 grams granulated sugar

225 grams all-purpose flour

113 grams cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

100 grams dark muscavado sugar

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

180 grams Valrhona 66% chocolate, chopped in half-inch pieces



Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove saucepan from heat and let butter cool to room temperature.

Combine basil leaves and granulated sugar in food processor and pulse until leaves are finely chopped. Set aside.

Stir together the flours, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour in the melted butter. Add the basil sugar and dark muscavado sugar and beat on medium-high speed until creamy (took over 5 minutes). Add the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and continue to beat for another minute. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Beat just until combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Cover and chill the cookie dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line a baking sheet (I used a jelly roll pan) with parchment paper and drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls spaced about two inches apart.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet - or eat the cookies warm if you're as impatient as my children.


THE NOTES (as jotted down in my blue journal):

I started out wanting a flat and chewy cookie. After researching what would contribute to the flatness of a cookie, I discovered that using melted butter, brown sugar, and baking soda instead of baking powder would do the trick. However, this batch of cookies turned out soft, cakey, and not the least bit flat. No regrets on that "mistake" though. Flat cookies will be the challenge for yet another recipe (with my omitting the cake flour).

The dough needed more liquid with only one whole egg and one egg yolk, so at the last minute I added another whole egg. The result was a soft, cakey cookie that had a great taste with flecks of basil throughout.

Saffron, my 5-year old daughter, said the cookies were very messy and that perhaps I should make them without chocolate next time. No chocolate?! Is this my daughter? I do plan on developing another cookie recipe with the sweet basil and lemon zest, so I will reduce the chocolate in this recipe my dear daughter. :)

Changes I would try for next time:

* Use more melted butter instead of an extra egg (170 grams butter)

* Reduce chocolate amount to 100 grams instead of 180 grams to partially satisfy my daughter's request. :)

* Sprinkle Pink Himalayan Sea Salt on top of cookies before baking


***For the flatter cookies, I will experiment with using all-purpose flour as the only flour.