I get to play professor this quarter. That’s right. Professor. And not for your typically math, English, or science class. No, no, no. I get to play professor for one of those elusive higher education subjects. Community building to be exact.
Given the focus of the class, my co-teacher and I made it one of our many goals to establish a strong sense of community within the classroom. And in my opinion, there’s no better way to build community than around food. After all, our adviser for the course has told us repeatedly that community is created out of shared self-interests. And isn’t it in every one’s self-interest to eat a cookie now and then? With my strong belief in the community building power of food – If you doubt me, spend some time on a college campus. At the mention of free food you’ll certainly be faced with a stampede of hungry, poor students coming together under the mutual desire to have a full stomach. – and the requirement we hold office hours, the decision was made that we would try bringing food to office hours hoping that it would be an extra incentive to come.
On the topic of goals, sometime in late August I read a “New York Times” recipe dating way back to 2008 for chocolate chip cookies. The article accompanying the recipe bore the tantalizing title “Perfection? It’s Warm and Has a Secret”. The article described the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie detailing the baking tactics of cookie geniuses, Ruth Graves Wakefield, Jacques Torres, and Dorie Greenspan. Inspired by the “New York Times” and their noble quest I decided to make it my very own goal to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe by the end of fall quarter. I had every intention of starting with the Times recipe but had a sudden change of heart after reading David Lebovitz’s version of the chocolate chip cookie, which he claims is even better than that in the Times. Extensive research proved Lebovitz’s recipe was indeed loved by many a baking fanatic. So it was his recipe I knew I would attempt as soon as I had a reason to bake cookies.
And these office hours were my reason. With them, I could kill two birds with one stone. That is, take a step towards achieving that somewhat immeasurable goal of building a strong sense of classroom community and another step towards that perhaps equally immeasurable goal of finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. (Not to mention, if people actually showed up to office hours I would be able to pawn off my cookies and avoid the danger of having massive amounts of them just chilling out in my apartment. As you probably well know, my self control when it comes to anything remotely sweet is not so good.)
So now you ask, did my belief in the power of food hold true? Did people actually show up to office hours even though they routinely go unattended? I mean, in three years of college I’ve gone to office hours maybe four times. Not something I’m proud of but something that is none the less the truth. My students are either far better students than I am or I have found the missing ingredient to office hour attendance, food. They showed up. They stayed and talked. They ate cookies. Success. Made an even bigger success by the fact that I still have dough sitting in my freezer just waiting to be baked in to the arguably perfect chocolate chip cookie complete with chocolatey, nutty, chewy with a touch of crunchy, outer-edge goodness.
David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz
My family always jokes that I never follow recipes even when it comes to baking. This time though they’d be surprised. I made no changes. That’s right, I followed the recipe to a tee minus the fact that I didn’t bother toasting the nuts seeing as how I have an affinity for burning them. In terms of ingredients, I used pecans for the nuts (although I think walnuts would be equally delicious) and used half semisweet chocolate and half bittersweet. I know it’s more expensive, but splurge for good chocolate. You’ll thank yourself later. Make sure to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours too. It’s the secret to the texture. Again, you’ll thank yourself later.
Also, the recipe notes that the dough logs can be refrigerated for one week or frozen for up to one month. I sliced all four of the logs as instructed below, rewrapped two in plastic wrap, and stuck them in the fridge. Already slicing them makes it that much easier to pull one out and bake it off!
Makes about 48 cookies
2 1/2 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (215 g) packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (about 225 g) nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, or macadamia nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
14 ounces (400 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/2- to 1-inch (1.5- to 3-cm) chunks or 3 cups (340 g) chocolate drops
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla on medium speed just until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, then stir in the flour mixture followed by the nuts and chocolate chunks.
On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into quarters. Shape each quarter into a log about 9 inches (23 cm) long. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, preferably for 24 hours.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Slice the logs into disks 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick and place the disks 3 inches (8 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. If the nuts or chips crumble out, simply push them back in.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies are very lightly browned in the centers, about 10 minutes. If you like soft chocolate chip cookies err on the side of under baking.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack. Baked cookies can be stored in an air tight container for up to four days.