tahini chocolate chip cookies

choc tahini cookie 2

I recently met a lovely girl from sydney, australia, named holly. we ran into each other while skiing and I spent the next three days winded, quads burning, trying (and failing) to keep up with her. the best part of those hours was our time on the lift because 1. I got to rest(!); 2. holly, like all australians I’ve ever met, was extremely well-traveled and had a whole arsenal of interesting stories; and 3. I just liked listening to her aussie drawl.

I’ve always been intrigued by accents – it’s so strange how the minute someone begins talking, you know whether or not they have an accent, and if you’re especially worldly, you know exactly where their accent is from. and yet, when you talk, your cadences, your pronunciation, your slang all sound completely normal.

people have told me I sound like an american tv show. like I over-pronounce all my vowels and consonants. they tell me that american english sounds like people trying too hard to speak english. to me, new zealand english is clipped, fast, full of dropped sounds. some london accents sound posh and elegant, like how I wish I spoke english, others sound like the “t” and the “r” sounds just don’t exist. actually, in a lot of accents, it seems like the “r” sound disappears. it almost makes me feel like us americans are doing english wrong.

while riding on the lift, holly and I shared a chocolate chip cliff bar with our fellow lift mate, a marathoner from london. while we chatted, I began to think that food and accents actually are quite similar. there are so many variations on the same dish – take chocolate chip cookies, for example. christina tosi of momofuku milk bar throws pretzels and potato chips into hers; jacques torres lets his sit for at least 24 hours before baking. they’re all recognizable as a chocolate chip cookie, yet all clearly distinct.

then, by serendipity, one of my favorite dessert bloggers posted a lovely new spin on a chocolate chip cookie that I just had to try. I’ve had a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe for a while now, but this recipe really might be my new favorite. in fact, it is so good, tahini may replace peanut butter as my new favorite condiment. and I ate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every school day in high school. what can I say, I eat like an american tv show too.

choc tahini cookie 1

makes 12 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (>60% cocoa; I use ghirardelli 70% cocoa chips)
flaky salt

molly yeh. salted tahini chocolate chip cookies. my name is yeh. 6 jan 2016. accessed 16 jan 2015.

1 in a bowl, cream the butter*, tahini, and sugar until light and fluffy, ~5 minutes. add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, then continue mixing for another 5 minutes. (I mixed by hand with a spatula, but you can also use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.)
2 sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. using a spatula, fold flour mixture to butter mixture until just combined. fold in chocolate chips.
3 line a baking sheet with parchment paper. using a 2-oz ice cream scoop, scoop 12 dough balls (I just used the standard-size one I have at home and it worked fine.) wrap baking sheet with plastic wrap and place in freezer for at least 12 hours (do not skip!). (if you don’t have enough room in your freezer, you can put them in the fridge until hard enough to move them to a plastic gallon bag without getting squished.) cookie dough can be frozen for up to 6 months.
4 preheat oven to 325ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or save the parchment paper from before and reuse). space the cookie balls at least 3-in apart to allow for spreading. bake for 13-16 minutes, until just golden brown around the edges. they will still look fairly unbaked in the middle. sprinkle with flaky salt immediately after they come out of the oven. allow to cool for ~20 minutes on the baking sheet (the center will set and finish baking).

*if your butter is not room temperature, melt a bit of it at a time and mix with the butter until it becomes a creamy consistency.

vanilla bean shortbread

vanilla bean shortbread 1

I still remember the first time I read “the love song of j. alfred prufrock.” since I was young, I have been fascinated by the idea of perfection, which morphed later in life into an interest in the literary elevation of the ordinary. in “love song”, eliot captures so many normally inconsequential occurrences, from rolled trousers to thinning hair to life measured in coffee spoons, and imbues them with portentous significance. these moments flow together and against each other into a poem that is at once a dismantling of eternal perfection and a “love song” to the passage of time measured in mundane moments, more specifically to the way that the passing of time slowly but steadily brings about disintegration.

and yet, rather than feel dread, eliot writes with a certain acceptance – after all, the universe inclines naturally towards entropy.

I love too, that in this poem time is not a sequential concept, but instead becomes something more like tangled and bunched string, how at moments we can seem to have enough time left in our lives, or too much; too little, or none at all.

in modern society, the tradition of a formal, mid-afternoon respite has been forgotten by the younger generation. to us, every moment is somehow measured and aging has become something to avoid, to rail against with all of one’s strength. we spin ever-forward, we pause to catch our breath, we commence again.

baking has long been my solace – when I find a free moment, I love to fill my space with the scents of sugar and butter. I roll out some shortbread or cookie dough, I boil a kettle of tea. I sit and I read, and time falls away.

the love song of j. alfred prufrock [excerpt] | by t.s. eliot
there will be time, there will be time
to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
there will be time to murder and create,
and time for all the works and days of hands
that lift and drop a question on your plate;
time for you and time for me,
and time yet for a hundred indecisions,
and for a hundred visions and revisions,
before the taking of the toast and tea.

 
makes one 8•8-in pan

255g (1 cup + 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 tsp kosher salt
beans scraped from 1/2 vanilla pod
255g (1 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp) all purpose flour
75g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) cornstarch
70g + 55g (1/3 cup + 1/4 cup) granulated sugar, divided

 
elisabeth m. prueitt and chad robertson. tartine. san francisco: chronicle books, 2006.
1 preheat oven to 325ºF. butter an 8×8-in glass baking pan.
2 place the butter in a mixing bowl. the butter should be soft – with the consistency of mayonnaise. (if it is not, melt small portions of butter and mix into the rest of the butter, repeating until all of the butter is soft.) add salt and vanilla beans to butter and mix well with a wooden spoon until it dissolves completely.
3 sift flour and cornstarch together into a bowl.
4 add 70g granulated sugar (I used vanilla bean-infused sugar to add more vanilla flavor) to the butter and mix until just combined. add flour and fold into the butter just until a smooth dough forms.
5 press dough evenly into prepared baking dish. (the dough should be no more than 2/3-in deep. bake until top and bottom are lightly browned, ~30 min. very gently shake shortbread loose from the sides of the pan (the shortbread is very delicate, so be careful), then place the pan on a wire rack to cool until warm to the touch.
6 sprinkle shortbread with the remaining 55g granulated sugar. tilt the pan so sugar evenly coats the surface, then tip out excess sugar. while the shortcake is still warm, cut shortbread with a thin, sharp knife into 32 rectangular fingers (1-in x 2-in), or whatever dimensions you prefer.
7 chill pan throughly before removing shortbread. using a small offset spatula, gently lift shortbread out of the pan. shortbread will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for ~2 weeks.

rice crispy treats

rice crispy treat 1

a few years ago, I studied abroad in beijing. I had heard about the air quality and imagined that it would look something like los angeles, but the reality, a greyish-yellow fog that often obscured buildings across the street, was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. within days, I had developed a hacking cough that made it nearly impossible to speak in full sentences, a condition that ex-pats termed the “beijing cough”. 

a few weeks later, my cough had finally disappeared and my abroad program held a food preparation contest judged by our chinese professors. my friend and I, both huge dessert fiends, wanted to do something sweet, but in the hot and humid beijing climate, we did not want to use too much heat. we settled on rice krispie treats, trekking to a large carrefour to find marshmallows and rice krispie cereal, then melting it all together in a giant pot we borrowed from a chinese student. we actually ended up winning the contest because our chinese professors had never seen rice krispie treats before and thought they were really exotic and creative!

the contest took place on one of the few sunny days of that summer. the sky was a clear cloudless blue. the night before, a thunderstorm had hit with raindrops so huge, they hurt when they hit my bare skin. we half-joked that the government could control the weather, could create a rainstorm so ferocious that it washed away all the pollution. whether it was true or not, the day after  a thunderstorm in beijing was always clear and blue.

I cannot even remember what my friend and I won – it was probably some coupons to a local bubble tea store. but I do remember eating warm watermelon in the sweltering heat, happy to be able to see across the street for the first time in weeks and feeling like I could breathe again.

in the wake of dangerously high levels of air pollution that have made the city almost unlivable, beijing has issued its first red alert for the first time. and for the first time, the chinese government has put environmental concerns before its emphasis on rapid economic growth through industrialization and signed on to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

and here in the northeast, global warming has now made it possible to frolic on a beach in december, then head into the city for some outdoor ice skating (because apparently we still are willing to waste energy for “winter traditions”). so save some energy and add these (super-legitimate chinese teacher’s) award-winning, no-bake rice crispy treats into your holiday sweets repertoire. 

rice crispie

makes one 8•8in pan

1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla paste
1 10-oz bag marshmallows
heaping 1/4 tsp kosher salt
6 cups rice krispie cereal

deb perelman. salted brown butter crispy treats. smitten kitchen. 2 nov 2011. accessed 22 dec 2015.
1 grease an 8×8-in square pan.
2 in a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. using a silicone spatula, stir frequently until it turns brown and begins to smell nutty. immediately turn off the heat and mix in the vanilla paste.
3 stir in the marshmallows until smooth. if they are not completely melted, stir over low heat until completely smooth. add salt and stir until well-combined.
4 remove pot from stove and stir in rice krispie cereal. using spatula, quickly press into prepared pan.
5 let cool completely (~1 hr), cut into squares, and serve.

pumpkin snickerdoodles

pumpkin snickerdoodle 2

my first memory of baking was as a child, standing on a new purple rubbermaid stool and feeling important as my sister and I measured out ingredients for snickerdoodles and mixed them together under the watchful gaze of my college-aged aunt.

my aunt had seemed confident and in control at the time, but when the cookies came out of the oven and we tried them, she had this look on her face that I didn’t understand at the time. however, after years of baking, I have finally come to recognize as the expression I wear every time someone first tries my baked goods, or reads something I’ve written for the first time – that desire for approval.

when I was a child, I baked for myself. even if everyone else thought gummy worms in muffins was weird, if I liked it, I was happy. but as I grew older and fell into the routine of endlessly seeking approval for papers, for piano, for most of my decisions, I began to develop worries that even if I loved something, others would not. and when others expressed disappointment or concerns, I took in their comments as a reflection of my personal flaws.

it’s strange to look back on that moment when my aunt watched my sister and I take the first bite of her cookie recipe and recognize that in that moment, my aunt, a fiercely independent world traveler and one of the smartest people I know, was vulnerable to the opinions of two kids.

as I navigate 23 (apparently the age when nobody likes you), I am still trying to figure out my next move. but there’s something I realized – not everyone has the same tastes, and not every decision can be met with unanimous approval, and ultimately, my image of adulthood was not truth, but (mis)perception.

we’ve been told that growing up means letting childhood become memories, but I don’t want to just remember the girl who tried to bake bread in a car parked outside on a hot summer day (and then tried to eat it, to her mother’s dismay). I want to take a lesson from her that life has no recipe, that really, no one has it all together and it’s okay to do things (and even totally mess them up) because you want to, not because it is the formulaically “right” thing to do.

my sister has started her final year of dorm living; it is a bit shocking to think that we are now both older than my aunt was back then (and even more shocking to think that my aunt is married and about to have her first child!). I sent my sister some pumpkin snickerdoodles, a combination of her favorite cookie and favorite fall ingredient. fluffy, tangy, and with warm spiced pumpkin flavor, these snickerdoodles are as delicious as those of my childhood memories.

pumpkin snickerdoodle 1
makes 30-36 snickerdoodles

3 1/4 cup (406g) all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 + 1/8 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
scant 1 cup (185g) sugar
3/4 cup (150g) light brown sugar, packed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (187.5g) canned pumpkin purée
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

jaclyn bell. pumpkin snickerdoodles. cooking classy. 24 oct 2014. accessed 17 sept 2015.

1 in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cream of tartar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice for 20 seconds; set aside.
2 in bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream together butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar (until combined; not pale and fluffy). occasionally scrape down sides and bottom of bowl throughout mixing. mix in egg yolk, then mix in pumpkin and vanilla extract. with mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredients, then mix until just combined.
3 divide dough in half and cover each half in plastic wrap, then chill for 45 min to 1 hour.
4 preheat oven to 350ºF. in a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup sugar with 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon. scoop dough out, ~2 tbsp per ball, then roll dough in cinnamon sugar mixture until evenly coated and transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. space cookies ~2 in apart and using your palm, flatten cookies slightly.
5 bake 12-14 minutes (slightly under-baked, as they’ll continue to cook on the baking sheet after being removed from the oven.) cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

blueberry lemon madeleines

lemon blueberry madeleine 3

for years, paris was my favorite city I’d never visited.

then (as these things always go) the opportunity to visit paris for three days was suddenly thrust upon me. when I arrived in paris, I had unexpected difficulty contacting my friend. I ended up having my first meal in france with a kind older lady I had met on the train (who probably took pity on the pathetic american tourist with shoddy language skills and a dead phone). after that somewhat disastrous first night, I overcame my embarrassment about how much french I had forgotten and had lovely conversations with shopkeepers and chocolatiers and random people in the stairwell. a shopgirl suggested I wander through saint-germain, where I sampled chocolates and perused the excellent summer sales.

my friend and I also visited versailles, did one of those boat tours up and down the seine, and took silly pictures of the ornate hairstyles on sculptures in the musée d’orsay. to be a tourist these days is viewed as a bad thing, but really, what is so wrong about exploring the hallmarks of a country’s culture – celebrating its art, its history, and paying homage to its heroes?

paris diptych
gothic arches and stern visages at musée d’orsay and notre dame.

I was lucky to somewhat have it both ways – I spoke enough of the language to navigate stores and cafés where the staff only spoke french. through smalltalk with friendly parisians, I found that the negative stereotype of the french as snobby simply did not hold true, and learned about some of their favorite parts of the city. but I also do not believe in “how to not be a tourist” – to pretend to be a local is to put on airs and be exactly that snob that locals (and everyone, really) dislike. on foreign soil, I’ve found that best way to enjoy it all is to be myself, admittedly cheesy and over-excitable personality and all.

so do all the mainstream activities that you want, and don’t disdainfully avoid the famous landmarks (they’re famous for a reason). visiting a new city is not about finding that hidden café or unknown designer boutique and bragging about it later – to be a “local” is not that superficial. learn some phrases (maybe fall in love with a new language) and share some anecdotes, explore some smaller streets and engage the different people that you meet. visit a place in the way you want, not how some supposedly enlightened travel expert, or some article called “eat like the locals” or “where the locals actually hang out” said to.

these are trite words that I have heard uttered many times, especially this past summer, but triteness does not make them any less true: “it is your journey – don’t let others tell you how to live it.”

p.s. I’ve attempted madeleines before with decent results, but this recipe is addictive. intense citrus flavor, juicy blueberries, a crisp exterior with a fluffy, cakey interior…I ate four in one sitting and I’m not ashamed.

IMG_6844
yep. that classic musée d’orsay clock shot.

places I loved
le temps des cerises | a lovely quaint café in the bastille arrondissement with delicious, authentic bistro fare.
michel chaudin | probably the best chocolate I’ve ever had. perfect size, perfect texture, somewhat conventional flavors all perfectly executed.
richart | small (expensive!) chocolates in intriguing flavors – the herbal ones are especially interesting. (and the macarons are delicious as well.)
dalloyau | I wandered in and ended up splurging on the opera cake, some kind of raspberry tart, and a peanut pastry. they were all awesome.
maje | maje’s stock store on rue du cherche-midi carries edgy, funky styles from previous seasons for a fraction of the price.
what for | I bought the coolest shoes I will ever own here. it’s usually pretty pricey, but during the big summer sale, most items were around 50€.
carrefour | oh man, I love this place. if you’ve never heard of carrefour, it’s a cavernous megamarket with fresh produce, solid selection of prepared foods, surprisingly cute shoes – and some of them even have (decent) conveyor belt sushi.

lemon blueberry madeleine diptychmakes 12 madeleines

80g (2.75oz) butter, very soft
100g (3.25oz) caster sugar (I used regular white sugar)
2 eggs
zest from 2 lemons
pinch of kosher salt
100g (3.25oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
24 blueberries

fanny zanotti. paris pastry club. london: hardie grant books, 2014.

1 cream butter with a tablespoon of sugar. whisk the remaining sugar with eggs, lemon zest, and pinch of salt in a separate bowl until light and fluffy.
2 gently fold in flour and baking powder until just combined.
3 scoop out a third of the batter into the butter and mix vigorously. transfer into the remaining batter and fold in very gently.
4 scrape the batter into a plastic piping bag (or a strong plastic bag) and chill for minimum 3 hours, maximum 3 days. (I refrigerated overnight.)
5 preheat oven to 430ºF. butter and flour a madeleine pan.
6 snip a 1/2-in hole from the tip of the piping bag and pipe batter three-quarters of the way up the prepared molds. stick two blueberries in each madeleine. reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake for 11-14 minutes, until edges are deep-golden brown and the domes are just beginning to brown.
7 remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack.

chocolate chip cookies

chocolate chip cookie 1

over the years, I have tried many cookie recipes involving somewhat exotic steps: brown the butter, or melt the butter then steep the tea bags in the butter, or even use bread flour and cake flour and refrigerate the dough for over 24 hours, etc. some have resulted in failure made more painful by hours/days of effort; others have turned out surprisingly well.

but sometimes its not worth it to spin the roulette of fastidiously fancy baking. sometimes, you want a back-to-the-basics, surefire recipe.

last week, after somewhat foolishly agreeing to both bake enough sweets for 40 people and work overtime, I found myself in dire need of a fast and easy classic cookie recipe. as the clock ticked towards midnight, I whipped these together in record time and was asleep by 1am.

I am a notorious over-planner – I spend weeks on researching everything from vacation plans to every article I could possibly need for my papers. I stressed over the fact that I had not tested out the cookie recipe beforehand – they could be terrible! (or worse, decent, but disappointing.)

the cookies came through. they were chocolately and soft and chewy with a little kick of salt, my ideal kind of chocolate chip cookie. one greedy coworker even took five for his “friends”. (I am certain he ate all five – one for each of his thieving sausage fingers – gleefully on the bus ride home.)

but whatever, I’m not too mad. (though I’m not above publicly shaming him: shame on you! learn how to share!) I learned a wonderfully easy new cookie recipe that I am happy to share with you (in a way my coworker prevented me from sharing with others).

…okay. maybe I’m still a little salty.

chocolate chip cookies 2
makes 18-20 cookies

1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
2 tbsp (25g) turbinado sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (165g) packed light/dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 + 1/8 tsp fine salt
1 3/4 cup (220g) all-purpose flour
1/2 lb (225g) bittersweet chocolate (I used ghiradelli 70% chocolate disks)
flaky sea salt

ashley rodriguez. chocolate chip cookies revisited. not without salt. 27 june 2010. accessed 23 may 2015.

1 heat oven to 360ºF. line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2 in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (~5 minutes). scrape down sides, then add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated.
3 scrape down sides, beat in fine salt and baking soda until combined, then add flour at low speed until just mixed. the dough will look a little crumbly. using a spatula, fold/stir in chocolate chunks.
4 scoop cookies into 1 1/2 tbsp mounds, spacing at least 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet(s). sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. bake for 11/12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft on the inside. remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.