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Sherry Yard's Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sherry Yard's Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am having a very odd week. On Monday, just after I'd dropped Hugo off at daycare (thankgodthankgodthankgod), I slipped on some just-formed black ice on the sidewalk. There was no time to catch myself, no time to even register what was happening before I slammed my head against the cobblestones. It was all very upsetting, as you can imagine, what with bits of tooth suddenly loose in my mouth and blood on the sidewalk and a momentary loss of vision and all that pain, pain, pain.

A good Samaritan helped me and I was the first in the ER that morning, so I was seen and treated in record time and in the grand scheme of things, of course, I was very lucky: The tooth I broke was a molar, the blood came from a cut under my chin, I don't have a concussion and Hugo was safe and sound in his cozy little Kita (thankgodthankgodthankgod) while all this happened. But I've spent the remainder of this week in an ugly little fog. Part of it is the pain - my jaw muscles are all seized up due to the shock and I have bruises all over my body - and part of it is a strangely thick feeling of sadness that I can't really explain. I mean, it was really just a harmless little accident. So why has it left me feeling so ravaged?

What I'd like most right now is to crawl into bed and spend a few days being very, very quiet - but if someone came and offered me a few of these cookies, freshly baked - I wouldn't kick them out either.

Sliced cookies

I first made them a few months ago, after reading about Martha Rose Shulman's secret double life, and found them to be, in fact, quite perfect. They're chewy in the middle and just a tad crisp on the edges and because of the chopped chocolate, every bite you take is infused with chocolate and caramel flavors. They're pretty flawless. And as you probably know, once you find perfect chocolate chip cookies, it's sort of difficult to find much additional language about them. If they're great, they just are; if they're not, you have to keep looking. I herewith declare my search to be over.

But my favorite thing about these cookies is that once formed into logs, they can hang out in your freezer for quite some time, resting until you have friends over and need a last-minute snack or dessert or have smashed your head on the sidewalk and are feeling fragile and in need of cosseting (provided you can still chew).

And with that, folks, I'm off to be quiet and heal. Have a great weekend!

Sherry Yard's Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 4 dozen cookies

185 grams (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) baking soda
115 grams (4 ounces/1 stick) unsalted butter
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
80 grams (1/2 cup packed) light brown sugar
2 grams (1/4 teaspoon) salt
1 large egg
5 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla
225 grams (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, cut in 1-inch pieces (or use coins)

1. Sift together flour and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and paddle. Add sugar, brown sugar and salt. Continue creaming mixture on medium speed until it is smooth and lump free, about 1 minute. Stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl and paddle.

2. Add egg and vanilla and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until they are fully incorporated. Do not over-beat. Scrape down sides of bowl and paddle.

3. On low speed, add sifted flour mixture. Beat slowly until all of the flour is incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add chocolate chunks and mix in.

4. Heat oven to 350 degrees with the rack positioned in the lower third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spoon heaping teaspoons of dough 2 inches apart onto baking sheet. If not baking right away, remove small handfuls or spoonfuls of dough from mixer and plop them down on the middle of a sheet of parchment or wax paper, creating a log about 1 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Fold parchment over, creating a sausage. Chill for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Using a serrated knife, slice chilled dough into 1/3-inch-thick rounds and place them 2 inches apart, in staggered rows, on parchment-lined sheets and proceed. (Dough will keep, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Thaw frozen dough at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing.)

5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned, rotating the baking sheet front to back halfway through. Remove from heat and slide parchment off baking sheet and onto a work surface. Allow cookies to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, or for at least 20 minutes before storing in an airtight container. Repeat with remaining dough. Cookies will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.

How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract

New Year's resolutions! Do you make them? I do. I know, I know, yawn, but I can't help it. I do feel like there is something about turning the page from one year to the next that gives you the glorious sensation of having a clean slate in front of you to fill with all your wonderful scribblings. Like every year, I put down "exercise more" and "eat less sugar", but now I've started adding "be more patient", because oooh that little child of mine, and "get more organized" and "email less" and other exhortations that sort of kill me with their mundanity but are increasingly integral to my peace of mind. Once we get all those self-improvement things out the way, though, we get to the really fun stuff - like "make your own vanilla extract" and behold, it is only January 15th and I have already knocked this one off the list! ROAR!

Though to be fair and honest, there could be nothing less challenging about making your own vanilla extract. In fact, it is so easy, so ridiculously nothing that I'm almost sort of appalled that we've all been keeping Nielsen-Massey and McCormick in business all these years. (And that us expats have been wasting precious suitcase space on meticulously wrapped bottles of extract.) No more!

Okay, so here's what you do: First, get yourself some vanilla beans. Nowadays you can get amazing deals on vanilla on this here internet. For example:

Shipping to the US:

Vanilla Products

Vanilla Saffron


Shipping to Europe:

Madavanille or Madavanilla

Cap d'Ambre Vanille

Vanilla Mart

Next, get yourself a bottle of alcohol. Vodka's a pretty great choice, since it's available everywhere and doesn't have much of its own flavor. I suggest getting a 500 ml bottle. (You can certainly use bourbon or rum, but for a neutral vanilla extract, vodka is good. If you happen to live in Italy or another country where pure alcohol is cheap and plentiful, you can buy that instead. Then use only 250 ml of alcohol and 250 ml of water.)

Now for the hard work. Select eight plump vanilla beans. Open the bottle of alcohol. Split the beans lengthwise and carefully scrape out all the seeds. Put the seeds in the bottle of alcohol and then the split beans. Close the bottle. Shake. Store. DONE. See what I mean? Stupid easy.

The recipe is easily doubled or halved or quadrupled or whatever. You can make many little bottles as gifts or one big bottle that you share with no one. It's up to you! Now, the longer you let the extract sit, the more flavorful it gets - but it's pretty much ready to use after a week or so of sitting. The best thing about this stuff is that every time you use some of your glorious homemade vanilla extract, you can top up the bottle with a bit more alcohol. Vanilla beans are so intense that they can handle being used a few times over.

And with that, I'm off to work on my other resolutions. Like meal planning! On that list thanks to you helpful folks.

Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings

Steamed lemon pudding

I'll tell you, up until the last minute it was going to be a pavlova. It was going to be crisp and marshmallowy and billowy and beautiful, spotted with ruby-red pomegranate seeds floating on top of a thick tide of yogurt cream. Spectacular, I tell you! And also way too much for a lunch party of five. I came to my senses just before dinnertime on Sunday evening, making a quick U-turn to steamed lemon puddings from none other than pastry queen Karen DeMasco (she of the cashew brittle and the carrot cupcakes which are among the best things to ever come out of my kitchen, well, until these lemon puddings).

A big thanks goes to reader Jenny who reminded me of them - they'd been on the docket here for years, languishing away while I dallied with chocolate cakes and spice cookies and citrus salads. Back when the New York Times was still doing columns with chefs, Tom Colicchio wrote about his brilliant pastry chef and her lemon puddings. They were, Tom said, "not too rich" and "foolproof", which was all I needed to know this time around. I could make them in advance and then either warm them up or unmold them and serve them cool.

Lemon sugar

Steamed puddings are funny things, hybrids between a soufflé and a pudding and the lightest of cakes. Their name sounds wholesome and old-fashioned, at least to me, sort of like something I imagine Victorian ladies eating with tiny silver spoons, but the flavor is sharp and modern and bright - it fairly screams LEMON LEMON LEMON.

To make them you first grate lemon peel into a bowl of sugar and add flour to that, but my tip to you, before you add the flour, is to massage the lemon peel into the sugar. The already fragrant oils are released even more as the sugar works as an abrasive and it's just one of those delightful little kitchen tasks that makes you happy to be working - a few extra seconds of work that feel good.

Then you beat buttermilk and egg yolks and 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (which in today's case were precisely two very juicy lemons) together and in a separate bowl, whip the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, nothing further.

Soft peaks

The egg whites are carefully stirred (proper folding is difficult because the batter is so liquid) into the buttermilk mixture until it's light and cloudlike and then you ladle it into buttered and sugared ramekins which are placed in a water bath and baked until they're puffed and golden-brown and cracking slightly. I found the transfer of the water-and-ramekin-filled baking sheet into the oven to be the most stressful part of this whole thing. (Which is to say that a. I am clearly easily stressed and that b. this recipe is ridiculously easy.)

Steamed lemon puddings

The lemon puddings are spectacular when you take them out of the oven, quivering and burnished and puffed-up, but they lose height and slump down pretty quickly as they cool. Never you mind. When you take a spoon to the ramekins a little later, you'll find that what they've lost in beauty, they've gained in total deliciousness. You'll also find a tender, light little cake on top obscuring a silken lemon curd beneath and although you will try to eat your steamed lemon pudding just as those dainty Victorian ladies once did, politely and slowly, it will be very very hard, especially once you realize that the problem with individual servings is NO SECONDS.

Happy birthday, Mami!

Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings
Serves 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons flour
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pint blueberries, optional
2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped, optional

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter six four-ounce ramekins or foil muffin cups. Dust each with 1 teaspoon sugar, shaking out any excess.

2. In small bowl, mix remaining sugar with flour and lemon zest. In large bowl, lightly beat egg yolks, and stir in buttermilk and lemon juice.

3. Whip egg whites until softly peaked. Whisk sugar mixture into buttermilk mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites in thirds. Spoon batter into prepared containers. Place in baking pan, and add hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins or tins. Cover pan completely with foil.

4. Bake about 15 minutes, until batter begins to puff. Remove foil, and bake another 15 minutes or so, until tops begin to brown and are springy to touch. A little cracking is fine.

5. Remove from oven, and serve warm. If you make the pudding in advance, allow it to cool to room temperature, and unmold to serve, or reheat in warm water bath, and serve warm. Fresh blueberries and whipped cream can be served alongside, but I served them plain and they were divine.

David Tanis's Ambrosia

David Tanis's Ambrosia

Happy New Year! I hope you all had restorative, calming breaks. Max was home for 16 blissful days and we enjoyed every single one. Even Hugo played along and stopped waking up at 5:00 am, for which we are both endlessly grateful. We may even buy him a pony in gratitude? A tiny motorcyle? His very own African elephant baby?

I know it is hopelessly unhip to admit to eating healthfully in January, but I can't help it. In the grand German tradition, we started eating piles of Christmas cookies all the way back on the first Advent and by the time New Year's rolled around, after the roasts and the jelly doughnuts and the Stollen and panettone and everything else, it would have been a freaking miracle if our pants weren't tight. Ahem. My pants. Also, I now have that sort of unpleasant sensation of being completely sugared out. Of being sated down to the tips of my toes. Best remedied by eating lightly and cleanly and by getting out and moving.

But I was invited to a lunch party yesterday and was tasked with bringing dessert. What was I going to do? I couldn't bring myself to even make a pan of brownies. (The last pan I made, David's dulce de leche brownies, was just after New Year's and while they were perfect, I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a few bites. Like I said, sugared out! To the tips of my toes!)

Instead, inspired by something I read online from Amanda Hesser about a reinvention of that old Southern dessert ambrosia, a mix of sliced oranges and shredded coconut, I turned to David Tanis's lovely book, A Platter of Figs. David Tanis updates the dish with just a few simple touches, turning it from simple and retro into something far more elegant, complex and delicious.

Segmented citrus

Instead of just using oranges, David has you use grapefruits, blood oranges, kumquats and navels (I didn't have navels, so used clementines). The grapefruits are segmented, the oranges are peeled and sliced and the kumquats are sliced, so you not only have a whole dance of different citrus flavor going on, but layers of texture too, especially once the soft pineapple and spiky coconut are tossed in. Some versions of the old ambrosia add canned crushed pineapple to the mix, but here, David has you dice up fresh pineapple, which adds an element of pure sweetness to the dish. And instead of sweetened shredded coconut, use unsweetened shredded coconut (I used a mix of flaked and shredded, just for fun). David's original recipe makes an enormous amount of ambrosia, so I scaled down the citrus a bit to the quantities below and it served 6 of us at the end of a 3-course lunch quite well.

David's ambrosia is the perfect winter dessert - seasonal and juicy, deeply satisfying and delicious, and beautiful to boot. I'm in love.

But next week is my mother's birthday and I am, of course, in charge of dessert. And while I adored the ambrosia, I'm not sure it's birthday party material. I want to find something that's celebratory and special, but still relatively light. So what can I make? A wintery pavlova? An angel food cake? A towering croquembouche filled with nothing but sweet, delicious air? Help a girl out, folks!

David Tanis's Ambrosia
Adapted from A Platter of Figs
Serves 6

2 pink grapefruits
2 blood oranges
2 clementines
8 kumquats
1/2 ripe pineapple
Sugar, if necessary
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. With a sharp knife, cut off the tops and bottoms of the grapefruits, blood oranges and clementines, then peel, making sure to remove all the white pith. Working over a bowl, section the grapefruit into wedges, cutting between the membranes. Before discarding, squeeze out the grapefruit carcasses into the bowl, they should yield quite a bit of juice. Slice the blood oranges and clementines into 1/4-inch rounds and add them to the bowl. Slice the kumquats into the thinnest rounds possible and add to the bowl. Peel and core the pineapple, then cut into small pieces and add to the bowl. With your (clean) hands, mix the fruits very gently. Taste the juice and if absolutely necessary, add a bit of sugar. Cover and set aside for up to several hours.

2. Just before serving, sprinkle the coconut over the salad. Toss gently and serve immediately.