C for Chemistry and a Cookie

Pretty sure I got a solid C in high school chemistry. I took it over the summer months and I’m confident the only reason I got that C was because my teacher was friends with my dad, who was a guidance counselor at my school. I remember spending most days getting out of class on the pretense that I was going to see my dad for some important reason or another, which for me was asking him for a snack from the vending machine or to snag me one of the donuts that were intended for faculty only.

So any chemistry I might have learned at one point, well, that didn’t happen. Side note: I also took every math class from 8th grade on twice. My spectacular performances in chemistry and math may be why I avoided baking for so long. I learned to cook through jobs in kitchens in college and I always enjoyed the freedom to experiment and create. But baking? Frankly, it scared me. It seemed too exacting and scientific.

I got over that fear. The need to be learning new things all the time overpowered the fear and I dove in a few years ago. Starting out mostly sticking to recipes, I recently began branching out on my own into the scary nether regions of recipe substitutions and adaptations.

Let’s get chemical! Chemical!     (I also like to substitute words in songs, creating ridiculousness.)

Moving on, cookie time. The other day at work we were informed about a office-wide meeting. I’m a hater of meetings. Not only do I not enjoy groups of people collected in a small space, I hate dumb questions. Those people that say there are no stupid questions are idiots. Call a pointless meeting and you’ll hear a stream of stupidity in the form of questions. They exist.

So I thought, if we’re going to have to sit through a meeting, might as well have something good…like a cookie. I went home and looked around at what I had on hand and found the rest of the white chocolate chips from a previous cookie endeavour. Decided I needed to get rid of those faux chocolately things and since I didn’t have any macadamia nuts, I kept looking for something to go with those little bastards.

Finding nothing that peeked my interest inside, I did what I often do when I need inspiration in the kitchen—I went out to the garden. Running my hands through the rosemary and basil bushes, pulling rose petals of he loves me/he loves me not, plucking chamber bitters from under the peppers, and crushing thyme in my palm. It wasn’t until my foster puppy ran through the lemon verbena, her paw stomping on a branch, releasing that sharp, clean, grassy-citrus scent, that I knew what would pair with the white chocolate.

I clipped a few pieces with both mature and baby leaves and headed back inside to try a new cookie–lemon verbena and white chocolate chip.

20160817_183432.jpgDeciding to use my usual cookie recipe as the base, I thought infusing the herb into the butter would work best. Instead of bringing the butter up to a fast browning, I put it on low and chopped about 12 leaves into it to warm for twenty to twenty five minutes. After that time, I then turned up the heat to medium high and browned the infused butter.

I tasted the butter before adding the rest of the ingredients and it wasn’t quite lemony enough for me. Lemon desserts are my favorite and I need more to balance with the sweetness of the chocolate, so I added about 6 raw, chopped leaves into the flour.

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Cut the sugar by a quarter from the regular recipe and only did one tablespoon of vanilla extract. I took the risk of messing up the chemistry of the cookie because I didn’t want the savory verbena to be overpowered. The dough ended up coming together despite my changes. Dropped large portions onto the baking sheet hoping the bigger size would even out the flavors and give me the texture I wanted.

After an excruciating twelve minutes, with a flip halfway through, I pulled the sheet from the oven and stared at them while they cooled. They were a beautiful blonde, slightly darker around the edges, the white chunks were highlighted by the visible bits of verbena and the smell was intoxicating. I was pleased with the appearance. Once I felt like I had waited long enough, I made my chamomile tea, grabbed one of those fancy pants cookies, and dove into the deliciousness.

Chemistry and math be damned, I did it.

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Lemon Verbena and White Chocolate Cookies (mine made 12 extra large cookies):

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg yolk

1 large egg

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

15-20 leaves fresh lemon verbena

Melt 10 tablespoons butter in pan on low along with about 12 chopped verbena leaves. Allow that to warm for about 20-25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 and get a cookie sheet ready with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, add baking soda and 6 raw, chopped verbena leaves. Set aside.

Bring the butter on the stove up to medium high heat and brown it. Once it has that nutty aroma, pour it into a bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, sugar, and eggs. Whisk for 30 seconds, let sit for 3 minutes. Repeat that two more times.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips.

Measure out dough into about 2 inch balls. I ended up with exactly 12. Bake on middle rack for 6 minutes, flip sheet around and bake another 6 minutes. Pull from oven and set the sheet on cooling racks. Allow to cool long enough to set…

then try not to eat all of them at once.

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Hello, 2016. Here’s a pie…to start.

You could say I’m fashionably late to this year’s domestic endeavors party. Seeing that it’s the end of April, that might be a slight understatement. Or a massive one. Either way, here we are.

Pie. Of course I’m starting with a pie. Pie4lyfe…or something. Anyway, I was bored at work and clicking around on the internet (just kidding, Debbie, I’m always busy busy bzzzzz) when I paused on a Garden & Gun article about a pie I had previously saved multiple times in different recipe storing apps, because I might not have the best memory, so I need many reminders. It’s called an Atlantic Beach Pie. The ingredient list caught my attention first, and the steps seemed super easy. I’m all over easy, so I was all over this pie.

Lemony desserts have long been the twin flame of my sweet-sensory taste buds’ life. Growing up, my dad would go out and get doughnuts on Saturday mornings from the local place on the edge of our neighborhood. He would come back with an assortment that included a lemon-filled. Nobody would ever grab for or ask for that one. We wanted the chocolate and sprinkles or cinnamon sugars. At some point, I picked up on his possible trickiness, so I tried one of those strange things–instantly hooked on that gooey tart treat. I don’t know whether it was just because I always wanted to be doing whatever my dad was doing or whether I actually liked the taste, but from then on, I’ve always added at least one lemon-filled doughnut to the dozen.

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The Atlantic Beach Pie is a new addition to my lemontastical-dessert addiction. The recipe calls for a half cup of either fresh lemon or lime juice. Or a mix of both. I decided on a mix, doing two large lemons and one smallish lime. The rest of the filling is just egg yolks and a can of sweetened condensed milk. Simple. As usual, I couldn’t follow the straight forward directions, so I started thinking about what other flavor I like with lemon. Thyme.

Any time I can incorporate foods I grow myself into a recipe, I’m on it like my dog on a spoonful of peanut butter. Out to the garden I went to cut some fresh English thyme. One thing I have learned, even if I’m not going to follow the instructions to a T, I do collect and measure out all ingredients ahead of starting any step. 

After gathering everything up and reading the directions just one more time, I got to work on the crust. I think one of the reasons I adore lemon desserts so much is that they are not overly sugar-laden in flavor. The tartness of the citrus brings something more to the tongue, and I appreciate that. Along those same lines, I tend to crave a salty pop to sweetness, which made the idea of a saltine cracker crust very intriguing. I did the full 1 1/2 sleeves of crackers with the higher end of the range of butter, of course, but I cut the sugar to somewhere in between 1 1/2 and 2 tablespoons. Cutting back on sugar is my M.O. Those Wilford Brimley commercials really worked on me–I hear him saying “DIABEETUS” in my mind every time I look at the amount called for in recipes.

Pretty sure I screwed up the intended texture of the crust…and won. The instructions said 20160426_194803.jpgsomething about using a food processor or your hands to break up the crackers finely, but not to dust. Well, those two methods would result in two very different outcomes, if you ask me. I chose hands out of pure laziness of not wanting to dirty up my food processor. I ended up leaving the saltines on the larger chunk side thinking that kneading in the softened stick of butter would break them up further. Didn’t really happen that way, but I went with it. Turned out that the larger cracker pieces held up against the creamy filling and added a welcomed textural experience to each bite. Baked, the crust was golden gorgeous.

Next up was to make the filling. I took the suggestion of mixing fresh lemon as well as lime juice and used two large lemons and one smallish lime to equal the half cup of liquid needed. Mixed in with the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks, this is when I added my very finely chopped thyme from the garden. I only did one heaping teaspoon of the thyme, figuring it would be enough to tell if I like it, but not enough to completely ruin the pie if it wasn’t right. Turned out the thyme blended splendidly, adding a grounding, earthy flavor to the lightness of the citrus. I’ll probably use closer to a full tablespoon next time.

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After baking it until the filling set, I cooled the pie and put in the fridge until the next morning, since I had planned on bringing it to work. I like sharing my baking trials with coworkers and then hearing them complain about gaining weight… . Anywaaaay, the next morning I got my arm workout with the whipping of the cream for the top.

20160426_071205.jpgFollowed the classic call for heavy whipping cream, granulated sugar, dash of vanilla extract, and a chilled metal bowl and whisk. Boom. Delicious peaks of fluffy goodness to mound up on top of the pie. I like extra whipped cream or meringue on my pies, so did 1 1/2 cups of cream. Again, cut the amount of suggested shug in half.

I‘d say, even with my tweaks, the pie was a success. Not sure why I can’t just follow the instructions given to me, but I know my mom isn’t surprised. I purtied up that pie with some edible violas, which the entire staff avoided by cutting around awkwardly, and a few sprigs of the English thyme on top. The saltiness of the cracker crust with the tartness of the citrus filling and the sweetness of the whipped topping makes for one excellent dessert. This one will definitely be a repeat performance in my pie repertoire.

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For the crust:

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers

1/2 cup softened, unsalted butter

1 1/2-2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the filling:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup fresh lemon or lime juice (or a mix of both)

fresh thyme, very finely chopped

Whipped cream topping:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

splash of vanilla extract

Chill the metal bowl and whisk in the freezer for about ten minutes before whipping it real good until peaks form. Do this right before serving; although, mine stood up perfectly fine for over 24 hours.

PIE

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