Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Menage a Trois have a Whopper of a Problem

I hope the title of this post got your attention. My Menage a Trois cookies are a moist, truffle-esque cookie featuring white, milk and dark chocolate (hence the name) and are based on an old recipe of Maida Heatter's called Whoppers. Here is a photo of my approach with the 3 chocolates below.

Versions abound, and for good reason; they are simply extraordinary chocolate cookies. They are also easy to make, and yet, the recipe can go wrong, very easily. The first thing is the baking time. These are supposed to stay moist and almost creamy in their texture. Thirty-seconds to a minute too long in the oven and you loose these qualities. But what I want to call your attention to is the choice of ingredients. Check out this picture below. For this version I used a selection of all dark chocolates (as opposed to white/milk/dark in the menage a trois), but look at the difference between the two piles of cookies in terms of texture and general appearance.

The differences are pretty obvious, aren't they? The ones on the right have raggedy edges, a brittle appearance and are not that attractive overall. The ones to the left are creamy, have a pleasing round shape and a much more voluptuous, inviting look. The difference? The Choice of Chocolate. This recipe begins with butter, unsweetened chocolate and semisweet chocolate all melted together. At the end of the recipe chunks of more chocolate are folded into the batter, and at that stage you can pick and choose chocolates to your heart's content, but it is the first steps, where the chocolates are melted with the butter, that it is vital to choose properly. This melted chocolate forms the body of that batter and different chocolates give very different results, as you can see. Here is another view of the same batch.

This recipe was first written many years ago and the ingredients simply call for "unsweetened chocolate" and "semisweet chocolate". Back then we had very few choices for chocolate and the ones commonly available worked. Now our chocolate choices have multiplied and even at the supermarket there are chocolates that will not work, due to their higher cacao mass and cocoa butter contents. Indeed, the crumbly cookies were made with Scharffen Berger Unsweetened and some fabulous Valrhona Equitoriale chocolate, but these chocolate formulas were Not the formulas intended for these cookies. The properly prepared cookies combined Ghiradelli unsweetened and semisweet along with the butter. As I said, for the chunks folded in later on, I went back to some of my favorite Valrhona and Scharffen Berger choices, but these did not affect the "body" and texture of the cookie. I love every one of these brands. My point is that there are times when one or the other will be the best choice for a recipe.

These days recipe developers cannot approach recipe writing as simply as decades ago. This is why I now make actual suggestions for chocolates when writing a recipe. If one of my recipes calls for "6-ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, such as Ghiradelli", and you use a different chocolate, remember these photos. This is an expensive recipe to make; none of us likes a failure in the kitchen! Best suggestion is to follow baking recipes to the letter; there is usually a very good reason why I am suggesting certain ingredients or techniques.

By the way, the "ugly" cookies did suffer in terms of texture, although they tasted fabulous! The problem is that I only have a close circle of friends to whom I will offer "failures". They truly don't care and appreciate any and all food - especially when its free and someone else made it. On the other hand, I feel as though I have eyes upon me 24/7 and I do not like to offer "bad" cookies, cakes or anything else to most people. I have a reputation to uphold, after all:) But don't worry, I have a large circle of local friends. Nothing goes to waste. 

Here is the recipe for Menage a Trois Cookies, adapted from my A Baker's Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies (Harvard Common Press). Here is a close-up pic to convince you:)

Menage a Trois Cookies

These creamy, truffle-like, dark chocolate cookies are best eaten within a day or two when their texture is at their best. They are packed with white, milk and dark chocolate chunks, hence their name. These are the ultimate chocolate cookie and give you as much of a buzz as a small cup of coffee.

Makes 28 cookies

1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, such as Ghiradelli
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped, such as Ghiradelli
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tablespoons-sized pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks (1/2-inch size), such as Valrhona Equitoriale and Caraibe and Scharffen Berger
3/4 cup milk chocolate chunks (1/2-inch size), such as Valrhona Jivara or Callebaut
3/4 cup white chocolate chunks (1/2-inch size), such as Valrhona Ivoire, Ghiradelli or Callebaut

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 jelly-roll pans with parchment paper.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl to aerate and combine; set aside.

3. Melt semisweet and unsweetened chocolates together with butter in top of double boiler or microwave. Stir occasionally until smooth. Cool slightly to a warm room temperature.

4. Place sugar, eggs and vanilla in mixer's bowl and beat on high-speed using balloon whip attachment. Beat until light and fluffy, approximately 2 to 5 minutes. Gently fold in the chocolate/butter mixture until no chocolate streaks remain. Fold the flour mixture into the batter until just combined.

5. Toss all of the chocolate chunks together in a bowl and remove about one-quarter of them and reserve. Fold the large portion of the chocolate chunks into the batter. Drop by generously rounded tablespoon 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Take reserved chocolate chunks and press at least one of each type onto each cookie top, so that they will show off the white/milk/dark chocolate trio when baked.

6. Bake for about 10 minutes or until tops look and feel dry but the insides are still soft and creamy. The edges will be slightly firmer than the rest of the cookies. They firm up tremendously upon cooling; do not over bake. Place sheets on racks to cool cookies for 1 minute, then slide parchments directly to racks for cookies to cool completely. Make sure these cookies stay flat while cooling. They are delicate while warm.

Store for 2 days at room temperature in airtight container in single layers separated by waxed (or parchment) paper

Good Cookie Tip: These are delicate. Make sure to store them in single layers and keep the layers flat! They will keep longer than 2 days, but the texture will be less creamy and become more crumbly.

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