Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Burning Tuesdays with Dorie

I joined the Tuesdays with Dorie virtual baking group. This sounded like something fun. And, because they require that you own the book from which we're cooking, gave me an excuse to buy another cookbook. I love excuses to buy new toys.

This is my first official posting for the group ... very exciting!

As I write this, keep in mind that perhaps I'm a little annoyed than others might be because I had to first make the granola to use in this Science Fair Gone Wrong episode. Don't worry, everything turns out OK in the end. It's a happy story with a sad middle. I'm still thoroughly impressed with the quality of Dorie's book, Baking.

Ingredients & Procedure

Normally, I list exactly what I use. But, since this is from a book that is in-print, I'm going to respect Dorie's copyright and leave the ingredients to be a mystery to those who don't have the access to the book. Sorry.

I will, however, say what I did differently. Not a whole lot, really. First, I used cashews rather than peanuts. Why? Because there were no peanuts for sale here right now. Supplies of some kinds come in waves. Right now, it's ebb tide for peanuts. Next week we'll have tons.

I also substituted oatmeal for wheat germ. Why? Again, not available here. And, not just "now" ... more like "never". I put 1/2 cup into the food processor and gave it a few pulses ... the oatmeal quickly got the consistency of wheat germ. And, I had the 1/3 cup that I needed.

Besides those two substitutions, I followed the recipe precisely.


And, that's where things went wrong ...

See, the recipe calls for baking these delicious balls of yummy nutritional goodness at 375F (190C). Even in my addled state (I'm recovering from a moderate concussion sustained last week ... which just compounds my usual brand of stupidity), I thought "hey, isn't that a bit hot for these sugary, buttery, carb balls?" To top that off, the recipe said 10-12 minutes in the oven.

Let's pause for a minute here (mostly because I need to, the gerbil powering my brain is tired) ... I'm a BBQ fanatic. I'm in the camp that is nearly zealous about the difference between grilling and BBQing. Slapping a steak on the grill at 600F+ is NOT BBQing. It's GRILLING.

Why does that matter? Because I love a good glaze on ribs. And, a glaze is basically tasty sugars suspended in some kind of solution with a secret blend of herbs and spices. I know the dangers of getting sugars too hot. They burn. They burn fast. And your food is destroyed.

So, the Granola Grabbers ... what are they? Butter, nuts, granola (which is just nuts and sugars, mostly), flour, and a little extra. You know, your typical granola-filled mound of snack-food wonder.

What does that mean? High temperatures are the bane of their golden brown and delicious (thank you, Alton) existence. These cookies can be made at that temperature, and I'm sure many of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers are doing so, but it makes the process risky. Home baking shouldn't be risky.

Anyway, even with some trepidation, I pushed forward. I made the recipe as it was written. Dorie is clearly someone who has forgotten more about this topic than I will ever know. I've been known to be wrong in the past (not that I'll admit to that in court).

I put a dozen heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of dough onto each of two baking sheets and pressed them down slightly as instructed. Then, into the 375F oven with them. Two thirds of my cookies were dead. Oh, the humanity! The tops looked so good. But, the bottoms, oh, the bottoms ... dark brown to black.

Maybe my oven was set wrong? No, oven thermometer read 375F on the nose. What about the time in the oven? Only 9 minutes. I check the start time and stop time on my cell phone (I have a second "hand"). So, they weren't even in the full 10 minutes.

By the looks of the results, some time about 6 or 7 minutes they would have been fine. Still, that's not what the recipe said.

I still had a third of my cookie dough left. I was not going to give up.

I fell back on my BBQ skills and decided to go lower and slower. 300F (150C) for 15-18 minutes. That seemed much more appropriate for these butter-sugar-carb balls.

The cookies turned out perfectly. Golden brown on the bottom, cooked on top and in the middle.

Why?

Why is important to me. It's why I love watching Alton Brown. It's more than just "hey, slap this and that into a pot and cook it" ... one walks away from his shows with a deeper understanding of the cooking process.

375F for 10-12 minutes is fine if you can watch the cookies like a hawk. If they cook a little faster for some reason in your oven, you're there and can take them out immediately upon completion. This is just fine for a professional kitchen. From what I saw, I think there's a 30 second window when the cookies are perfect with this technique.

However, this book is intended for the home audience. I don't know about you, the reader's home, but we have distractions here. Life happens daily. For this kind of environment, a 30 second window is just too narrow.

At 300F, the cookies stay in the "perfect" state for a lot longer as they aren't browning as quickly. This allows the distracted home cook to blink or, more likely, have to deal with one of their offspring and still produce the fabulous and delicious results that we all want.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious. Fantastic. Marasa. They even ate the burned ones!

Unfortunately, due to the burn damage, there weren't enough to pass out to the usual suspects for testing. I'm not going to hand out burned cookies to my friends ... I even told my family to toss the burned ones, but they refused and ate the blackened little guys.

Conclusions

This is a great recipe. It just needs a slight adjustment ... 300F (150C) for 15-18 minutes ... to make it appropriate for the home baker.

My entire family of highly picky eaters wants more ...

19 comments:

Mike Spoodles said...

Welcome to the group! I did the exact same thing with my first batch. Must be a guy thing!

James said...

Thanks!

suburban housefrau said...

I wonder where in your oven you put the lovely goodies... too close to the top?

Melissa said...

Welcome to Tuesdays with Dorie! Sorry you had a batch that burned. My first batch was a little too crisp and overdone (but thankfully not burnt), so I ended up baking the rest for about 9 minutes. If I make these again, I'll take your suggestion of lowering the oven temp. Thanks!

James said...

Housefrau, actually, near the bottom third of my oven. Definitely not at the top.

Melissa, you're welcome. That's why we all post our ideas and experiences. Out of the group we're bound to discover new things. I know I've tried a LOT of things that I've read on various blogs and have been very happy that I did.

Christine said...

Welcome to the group! Sorry you had a burn batch but you didn't give up! Can't wait to see what you do next week!

Jacque said...

Oooh, bummer! Nothing worse than burned cookies. :(

When you say oven thermometer you mean you have one inside the oven to double check the oven setting? I actually have two of them in my oven. The temperature does tend to drift after a while.

Anyway, great job with your baking adventures!

James said...

Christine: Thanks! I think I'm going to try something a little different ... not sure what. I know that working with the ganache and ice cream here in the Philippine heat will be a challenge.

Jacque: Thanks! Yes, I mean exactly that. I only have one oven thermometer at the moment. If I get serious about baking, I'm actually tempted to put in four ... one for each corner. I'm sick that way.

Pamela said...

Welcome to TWD. That stinks about the burned cookies, but at least you got a few out of the deal. They looked great, though.

James said...

Pamela: thanks!

Sweet Peace said...

I totally agree about the temperature. I almost panicked with my first batch, then realized i could turn the knob on my oven, duh.
I also have no shame about eating just the top of something I have burnt... but asking others to do that is uncouth. :)

James said...

Sweet Peace ... haha! To me "burnt on the bottom so I can't pass them out" is the secret code-phrase for "I can scrape it off, more for me!"

Molly Loves Paris said...

Hey, the next project will be completely different. Bon chance and welcome to TWD. Perhaps you should have (1) cooked a small test batch, (2) turned the heat down - maybe your oven has a bad thermostat, and (3) put the one cookie sheet under the other for insulation.

James said...

Molly,

Merci!

1. Next time I will. Lesson definitely learned!

2. It's a gas stove, no thermostat.

3. Given the construction of the stove, the heat is already indirect already.

In a way, I'm glad I burned them. Failures give good opportunity for reflection.

Next week ... yes ... this weekend the weather is supposed to be 90F (32C) with a mere 65% humidity. Working at that temperature with ice cream and chocolate should provide me with another opportuntiy to learn.

The DeL Sisters said...

Welcome! You will not have to worry about burning next weeks recipe! Glad you found the right temp. and your kids liked them!

Liz said...

I agree--375 is too hot for most cookies, IMO. I did mine at 350 for about 10 minutes and they turned out nicely. I also wonder if baking sheets have anything to do with it? I have some insulated baking sheets that are awesome, and then some cheaper single-layer sheets that tend to overcook the bottoms of things, especially when they're lower in the oven. I always use two of the sheets in a double layer if I have to use them at all.

Glad to hear the final batches turned out, though!

Erin said...

Welcome to the group. I am sorry to hear about the batch that burned. I wonder if they were too close to the bottom heating element. Sometimes the recipe tells you to put two cookie sheets in and rotate them. I alway just use one right in the middle. I am paranoid like that :)

PANTRY REVISITED by Peggy said...

Sorry about your burned cookies, but welcome to TWD. I'm sort of new myself so from one newbie to another, hello and welcome!

James said...

Thanks Peggy!