Daily challenge

It’s been awfully serious around here lately, with the rantings about how ridiculous Pinktober is, and the caterwauling about how insulting the pinkwashing has become to those of us who’ve walked a mile or two in the pink slippers, and how Breast Cancer Awareness Month makes me want to punch someone, anyone, in the brain, and the gravity of living among the distinct possibility that the cancer that so rudely interrupted our lives will come back for an encore.

To combat the seriousness that has overtaken The Belly, I give you my take on the Word Press Daily Prompt challenge. Here’s how it works: every day Word Press presents a daily prompt to get all of us bloggers a’bloggin. This is my first time to partake, so here goes….

The challenge today is this:

Take a complicated subject you know more about than most people, and explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.

My subject isn’t all that complicated to me, but isn’t that the beauty of life — that something that challenges one person is something that another person breezes right through?

So here’s my subject: how to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

This process could no doubt be much simplified by scooping pre-made dough out of a tub, by breaking & baking, or by slicing a round off of a log of cookie dough. All three of those options do indeed produce chocolate chip cookies, but not the perfect chocolate chip cookie. In fact, when my favorite boy was just a wee lad, a friend of ours, who was childless at the time, invited him to make cookies with her. He already had a powerful sweet tooth at that young age, so he eagerly agreed to help. He headed for the pantry to get the flour and sugar, and our friend stopped him to show him the roll of cookie dough. She explained that she doesn’t do it the way his mommy does, but that she employs the slice & bake method. He looked at her with genuine puzzlement and asked, “So how does that work?”

Ahhh, from the mouths of babes.

Back to the perfect chocolate chip cookie. This recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated, and it’s a winner. The secret is in the prevalence of brown sugar and using butter that’s been melted, not just softened. If you really want to go all out, instead of just melting the butter, you can brown it on the stovetop until it gets brown and smells nutty.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Take a stick and a half of butter. Unwrap the paper and melt the butter in the microwave. Cool the melted butter while you gather the rest of the ingredients.

Measure out a cup of brown sugar (pack it down into the measuring cup to ensure maximum sugary-ness), then a half cup of white sugar. Pour both into a mixing bowl with the cooled, melted butter. Beat for a few minutes, stopping the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.

Once the sugars and butter are combined well, add a teaspoon and a half of vanilla extract (splurge on the good stuff, not the junky stuff) along with one egg and one egg yolk (I save the unused egg white and cook it for a few seconds in the microwave as a treat for my dog). Mix the butter-sugar combo and the egg/yolk/vanilla until combined.

Measure 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a good-sized bowl. Whisk a few times to mix them up, then add to the mixing bowl with the butter-sugar-egg-egg yolk-vanilla mixture. Mix on low speed very briefly — just until combined but not so much that the dough gets overmixed, which will result in disappointingly tough cookies. If you really want to, you can mix the flour-baking soda-salt mixture in by hand. Add one bag chocolate chips–whichever degree of chocolatey-ness you prefer–and stir, either on low speed or by hand, until chips are incorporated but again being careful not to overmix.

If I were making them for myself, I would also add a generous handful of toasted pecans, but I don’t make them for myself because I’d have to spend even more time in the gym.

Once the perfect chocolate chip cookie dough comes together, grease a cookie sheet and scoop out a good-sized bit of dough. For Texas-sized, send-you-to-the-gym-for-all-eternity sized cookies, use about a quarter cup of dough per cookie. For a more modest, I-can-eat-two-because-they’re-small sized cookie, use a heaping tablespoon of dough.

Roll the dough into a ball, then pull the dough apart into halves, with the jaggedy edges facing each other. Rotate the halves until the jaggedy edges are facing up, then smoosh the two halves back together so that you have one cookie again, but with a jaggedy, uneven surface on top. Once they bake, those jaggedy edges result in a bumpy top to the cookie that looks beautiful and conceals slightly the chocolatey goodness that’s contained within.

Now for the purists, put one jaggedy-topped cookie in the middle of your greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 for 6 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for another 4 minutes or so, to ensure even browning. For the giant-sized cookies, bake for 12 to 14 minutes total; for the human-sized, bake a few minutes less. Degree of doneness is a personal preference, so adjust your baking time accordingly to ensure cookies that are slightly gooey in the middle or crispy around the edges. They should be light golden brown when you take them out of the oven. The purpose of the single, test cookie is to figure out the exact baking time.

Once you figure that out, scoop out 12 more balls and bake to your specification. In the meantime, eat some of the cookie dough. You won’t be sorry.

Leave the baked cookies on the cookie sheet to cool completely. You may need to remove one cookie before cooled, for quality-control purposes.

And that, my friends, is how to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie.