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I just noticed this is my fourth consecutive post about cookies: chocolate chip, honey-wheat, more chocolate chip (the championship), and now jam thumbprint cookies.

Is it too revealing to note that I also have ginger molasses cookie dough in my freezer, cherry scones on my kitchen counter, and chocolate-marshmallow whoopie pies in the fridge?  The whoopie pies probably push it over the edge, but they were mandatory last night.  Ever since my friend Michaela served whoopie pies at her Oscar party (almost ten years ago!), it’s been an annual tradition in my house.  I also have some carrots and mixed greens in the vegetable bin….

Does anyone else live this way?  I’m not the hoarding type by any stretch, but food does not go to waste in my house.  Not ever.  It’s become a bit of a joke around here.  If I bake a batch of anything — cookies, scones, cinnamon buns — my family must stake a claim after 24 hours or the entire batch will disappear.  Not into the trash (horrors!).  It goes straight to the freezer, carefully wrapped and dated, so it stays active in the rotation.

If something can’t be frozen, I craft a meal around it.  This can get extreme, but, you know, that’s why the culinary category of “hash” was invented.  It can create a bit of anxiety — I’ve got to do something with those lemons/avocadoes/mushrooms/fill-in-the-blank — but it’s not in me to throw something out.  So there it is.

Luckily for me, cookies freeze well.  Not that I even freeze cookies.  I freeze the dough, so I can get that fresh-baked, warm-from-the-oven goodness.  In any event, Dorie calls these “thumbprints for us big guys,” because she adds hazelnuts and raspberry jam.  I’ve always loved jam thumbprint cookies, though these tiny little morsels are more appropriately called jam pinky cookies.  I substituted almonds and I only had strawberry and apricot jam in the house, so these weren’t all that grown up after all.  But they were lovely.  And though they aren’t ideal candidates for freezing, this recipe makes a lot, so they’re in suspended animation.  Waiting for their second act.

Thanks to Mike of Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude for selecting this week’s thumbprint cookies for us big guys.  You can find the recipe on his site or on page 164 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Nobody loves a tie.  We create layers of local, regional, state, national, and world championships and we need someone to be declared a winner, unequivocally.  An unwieldy trophy, a sleek gold medal, or a laurel wreath must be bestowed.  Can you imagine if, after the Final Four or the NFL playoffs, we announced that the two teams about to play for the national championship or the Superbowl could just head home: “Hey, let’s quit while we’re ahead.  You both win!”  Uh-uh.  Wouldn’t fly.

One of the things I love about Wimbledon is that slightly sickening realization I get when two very well-matched players are battling it out.  I’m always aware that this match could, in theory, last forever.  Deuce.  Ad in.  Deuce.  Ad out.  Deuce….  Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe could still be playing their classic 1980 tennis match today, right now.  We cannot let any game end without declaring a clear-cut winner.

Given our love of victors, I’m a little uneasy about the results of my chocolate chip cookie world championship.  Officially, it’s a draw.  Unofficially, I declare the NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe the world champion.  My democratic nature bridles at this edict, this monarchic decree, particularly when I lassoed my neighbors into a one man-one vote system.

But it was a split decision.  The two husbands liked the Ad Hoc cookies best.  The two wives liked the NY Times cookies best.  That left it to the four children, ages 1, 2, 3, and 4, to break the tie.  It was not lost on me that little Ben, age 1, grabbed a NY Times chocolate chip cookie, took a bite, then reached his tiny fist back into the bowl for a second.  I wish I had a photo of his face, smeared with chocolate and cookie crumbs, to insert here, particularly as he cast the final and deciding vote.

I’m very happy to crown the NY Times chocolate chip cookie the winner — it is my personal favorite.  And yet.  I’m aware that new challengers will come along.  This project is not complete until I’ve conducted further testing.  Can’t rest on our laurels now, can we?

Thanks to Cathy of The Tortefeasor for inspiring the sports metaphors and giving me the idea to hold a chocolate chip cookie championship.  She conducted a taste-off between the NY Times ccc, Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” ccc, and Dorie Greenspan’s ccc, so be sure to check out her results.

I saw this week’s recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie and thought, “Come on, I’m not making these.”  They’re made with wheat germ.  What’s next:  flax seed sandies?  Bulgur bars?  Cookies and health food really shouldn’t mix.

This reaction only intensified when it became obvious that Dorie’s chocolate chip cookie recipe set off a series of chocolate chip cookie tastings among Tuesdays with Dorie bakers.  I decided that it’s time to establish my own rubber match between the  NY Times chocolate chip cookie (reigning champ) vs. Ad Hoc At Home chocolate chip cookie (feisty upstart).

But I glanced at the honey wheat cookie recipe — it deserved at least that much — and the recipe is loaded with lemon zest and honey.  I already had wheat germ in the house (we put it in our waffles), so I decided to give this recipe a shot.  Half a batch won’t hurt anyone.

As it turns out, these honey wheat cookies are quite good.  They remind me a bit of my childhood, and I’m not exactly sure why.  My mom cooked from the Moosewood cookbook, and that book is laden with wheat germ and honey concoctions.  My grandma Theda belonged to the Ethical Culture Society, so we may have been served a lot of wheat germ and honey baked goods at that summer camp.  It’s hard to say.  The cookies aren’t much to look at, and they’re rolled in wheat germ(!), but they’re chewy and lemony and oh-so-wholesome.  Next up: the chocolate chip cookie championship!

Thanks to Michelle of Flour Child for selecting these honey wheat cookies.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 81 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

So I had a long post in mind for this week, based on a fascinating Fresh Air interview with Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide.  He talks about the fact that it’s easy to overwhelm the prefrontal cortex of our brains by hyper-multi-tasking, and the brain must compensate by abandoning some of its other important functions, like managing impulse control.  It was all going to relate to how busy our lives become, especially as parents, and how I now understand why some of us must eat chocolate chip cookies every night after the kids go to bed.  Alas, that post had to be abandoned.

This afternoon I got the news that our house — which we’re trying to sell and which was under contract — is now going back on the market.  Long story short, the inspection did not go well.  Mold.  Such a beautiful thing for Roquefort or Gorgonzola.  Not so good for a crawl space.  Sigh.

But I made these chocolate chip cookies and they were good.  Very good.  I’m a NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe devotee, but this recipe has just slotted itself into second place.  The cookies are buttery, chewy, a tiny bit crispy on the outside, and worthy of exceptionally-good chocolate chips (like Valrhona feves, my personal favorite).  The batter comes together very quickly, which is a good thing, especially when the prefrontal cortex loses its way.

Thanks to Kait of Kait’s Plate for choosing this week’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 68 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

A few years ago, my father-in-law and I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies together.  Kind of a bonding experience, in its way, especially since he’s not the chatty type.  Just before we slid the first batch into the oven, I grabbed a spoonful of batter and stuck it in my mouth, as I’ve done since I was old enough to hold a spoon.

He stared at me in horror.  “Did you just eat the raw dough?” he asked.  “Yeah!  Want some?!”  I jabbed the spoon in his direction.  He recoiled as though I had just shouted “En garde!”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead eating raw dough,” he said.  He insisted on calling it raw dough, which somehow made it seem more threatening.

Now I looked at him in horror.  “I’ve never made a batch of cookies without eating several spoonfuls of the dough.  It’s the best part!” I said.

I’m sure at that moment we each felt an acute sense of pity for the other poor misguided soul.  My father-in-law, an infectious disease physician, has taken an oath to protect people from the nasty bugs that hide out in places like raw eggs, bugs just waiting to attack a defenseless gut.  He looks at raw eggs and pictures all manner of human suffering.

I, on the other hand, grew up in a household where our chocolate chip cookie recipe, taped to the back of the kitchen cabinet, had a little handwritten note at the bottom that said, “Remember to leave some dough in the bowl for mom.”  Whenever we cooked together, my mom and I would stand next to the bowl with our spoons and scoop out the perfect ratio of batter/chocolate chips.  And it wasn’t just cookies.  We’d swirl our spoons over the top of brownie batter or cake batter, ostensibly to “smooth it out.”  For years, I underbaked my cookies, brownies, and cakes, trying to hang on to some of that batter-y goodness.  And I still love desserts that have a soft and warm feel, like chocolate pudding cake or molten lava cake.

In any event, these chocolate brownies –Rick Katz’s brownies for Julia — made me think about my father-in-law, because when I tasted the batter, it was noticeably eggy.  For a 9×9 pan of brownies, 4 eggs is a lot.  I dare say, it’s too much.  Once baked, the brownies’ texture was all over the map.  The middle was soft, chewy and sticky.  The edges were browned and crisp.  The space in between, impossibly straddling the two extremes, was kind of chalky.  I much prefer Dorie’s quintuple chocolate brownies.  And, in my opinion, the Baked cookbook still has the all-time perfect chocolate brownie recipe.  Still, it didn’t keep me from “smoothing out the batter” just a bit more than was entirely necessary.  🙂

Thanks to Tanya of Chocolatechic for selecting this week’s recipe.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 91 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Lemon olive oil cake

In the dead of winter, when the days are short and the sun slants low on the horizon, I occasionally yearn for a taste of summer — just a little reminder that summer is coming, despite appearances to the contrary.  I won’t go so far as, say, gazpacho (out-of-season tomatoes are a baaaaaaaaaad thing).  But I need a change from root vegetables, stews, and braises.

This weekend, we had a big snow storm in North Carolina.  We’ve been snowed in for three days and they just announced that school is cancelled tomorrow as well.  Despite all the snow, or maybe because of it, I wanted to bring a little ray of Tuscan sunshine inside the house.

This lemon olive oil cake was perfect.  It’s light, tender, lemony, with a hint of olive oil.  The cake offers almost endless variations for those who love to mix and match flavors: add savory herbs (thyme, lavender), sweet spices (nutmeg, cloves, cardamom), tangy citrus (orange juice, lime zest), ground nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), liqueurs (Grand Marnier, Amaretto), whatever you like to make it your own.  Like Tuscany itself, the cake is light, glowing, soothing, beautifully understated.

Apparently, olive oil cakes have caught on like wildfire at veddy fency coffee shops, and now I know why.  Pour yourself an espresso and give this one a try.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Adapted from The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco

Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf

Unsalted butter, softened, for the pan

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk [1% is fine, too]

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon Demerara sugar

Good quality lemon olive oil, for drizzling [or substitute a confectioner’s sugar/lemon juice glaze, or let the crunchy sugar topping stand alone]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, granulated sugar, and lemon zest.  Set the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water and whisk until the mixture is warm to the touch, about 2 minutes.  Transfer the bowl to an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium speed until the mixture thickens, is pale yellow, and forms ribbons when the whisk is lifted, 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, milk, and lemon juice.  When the egg mixture has thickened, slowly drizzle in the oil mixture with the machine running.  Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and mix just to combine.  Drizzle in the butter and mix just to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the Demerara sugar.  Bake, rotating the pan once after 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden, the center bounces back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  [Keep an eye on the cake as it cooks.  Mine was done after 35 minutes.]  Unmold the cake from the loaf pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack.  Serve at room temperature or toasted, with slices drizzled with lemon olive oil, if desired.

The cake is best eaten the day it is baked but can be kept at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

This cocoa-banana bread exposed a serious flaw our new house.  And it’s not just a matter of taste, like ugly counter tops or bad wallpaper.  No, it’s the oven.  For all you inveterate bakers out there, you know this is a problem not to be taken lightly.

So, here’s the situation.  The oven has all digital controls.  I can’t just twist a knob to 375 degrees and walk away.  I have to program the temperature by pressing buttons.  That makes my oven sound hip and cool and futuristic.  It’s not.  It’s old, tiny, and poorly designed.  Because these very same buttons control the timer.

The cocoa banana bread cooks for 30 minutes, then it’s tented with foil to avoid over-browning.  So I program my oven, set the timer for 30 minutes, and go on my merry way.  After 30 minutes pass, I hear the timer, turn it off (as one will do with noisy beeping sounds), tent the pan, reset the timer for another 30 minutes, and go on my merry way again.  When the timer goes off a second time, I return to the oven to check the bread.  It hasn’t risen properly and it’s still more batter than bread.  Hm.  I set the timer for another 15 minutes, stick it back in the oven, and realize the oven is cool.  Not cool as in “groovy.”  Cold.

I bring all of my Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to bear and realize, with sagging shoulders, that when I hit “clear” to stop the timer from beeping after the first 30 minutes, it also cleared the temperature to zero and turned off the oven.  Sigh.

My daughter wanted to take a bike ride through our new neighborhood so I put the bread back in and willed it to cook fast.  After another 20 minutes, I pulled it out even though it still left streaks on the tester.

After our bike ride, we came back inside to try the bread.  Chocolate and banana struck my husband as a weird combination, but think banana splits and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  They work.  This bread does, too, in flavor.  But the texture is unforgivably dry.  Every time I cut a slice, a shower of crumbs decorates my counters.  Days after we finished up the bread, I still found cocoa banana bread crumbs in various corners of the kitchen.

My 4-year-old, who never pulls a punch when it comes to evaluating my cooking, was spot on in her assessment.  I said, “Do you think it’s good?”  She said, “Yeah, it’s good.”  I said, “Do you think it’s really good, or just ok?”  “Just ok.”

Thanks to Steph of Obsessed with Baking for providing yet another reason to start shopping for a new oven.  You can find the recipe for this cocoa banana bread on her site or on page 46 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.