Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Neither of my parents are bakers. They don’t follow recipes, nor have they owned more than five cookbooks in their lifetime. Unlike me, you will find my night table teetering with cookbooks and food memoirs, because nothing says sweet dreams more than a post-it plastered cookbook.

My parents are Chinese and cook what they grew up eating. They don’t need instructions to tell them to chop up a quarter cup of button mushrooms and fry it with a clove of garlic over a sizzling hot wok with a tablespoon of oil. To finish a dish, my parents always eyeballed how much oyster sauce to dollop into a bowl, followed by cornstarch and water, then stirred with chopsticks and added to the wok contents to create a sauce binding all the ingredients together. When I lend a hand, my mom would look over my shoulder, order me to add more water, which I did, then bark at me again, more water! more water! Because heaven forbid if the sauce thickens too much, coating the dish with an icky sheen of cornstarch. 

My parents move around the kitchen in fluid movements, like the way my dad ‘whisks’ eggs with chopsticks to make an omelet, furiously breaking up the yolk and adding a dash of salt to the bowl. This was one of the first things he taught me in the kitchen, reminding me to only whisk the eggs in one direction, if you start clockwise, don't change directions and whisk counterclockwise. Why? He didn’t even know, apparently his sister told him it was bad luck to switch directions. It’s just a habit that stayed with him and something I always think about when I whisk eggs.

One night, I was helping with dinner and became the designated egg beater. I grasped the wooden chopsticks between my fingers and tried with all might to aerate the eggs the same way my dad did, with gusto, determined to conjure up a flurry of pale yellow bubbles. But alas, a 7 year old lacked those critical wrist skills. It took me many years to master the ease of whisking eggs into a milky mixture with nothing more than chopsticks.

There are more than twenty dishes that my family makes often, none of which are recorded on paper. I could never replicate the dishes since I would have to go by feel and guesstimation. As a frequent baker, I like following recipes, I enjoy the detailed flow of ingredients and though I may stray from a few ingredients, tinkering and adding my own ideas, the essence of the dessert I’m making is still there so I can always recreate it and bring back those memories tied to them.

These cookies have been on my mind for a while. They’re 100% whole wheat, another quality that intrigues me, I’ve always had an interest in using whole grain flours, but never use them frequently. But I think that’s about to change. I found a recipe for a recipe for buckwheat cookies from Bojon Gourmet, although I’ve only eaten buckwheat flour in crepe-form, folded over ham, cheese and asparagus (a real treat if you ask me), I was stoked to bake with it. 

I didn’t quite know what to expect at first. The dough looked gray, like It’s Overcast and Gloomy Skies gray, definitely not the happy cookie dough that begs to be baked immediately. Still, I made a batch and despite not intoxicating my apartment with that alluring buttery scent hovering from every corner, they were simply endearing. They won me over.

When I opened the oven door to turn the baking sheets, their middles puffed like giant, floating parachutes and when I took them out to cool, their bellies deflated, leaving behind cute dimples. They are golden brown on the outside, magical rings that I swear, are almost godlike haloes. These go suitably well with coffee and are even better when distributed to people you are very fond of. 

There’s a considerable amount of buckwheat, bestowing the cookies with its undeniably gritty, nuttiness, and just when you wallow in its soft pillowy insides, there is a subtle heartiness from the whole wheat flour. These cookies aren’t overly sweet, which makes me like them even more, a mellow, earthy sweetness is punctuated by the combination of brown and white sugar. A pocket of chocolate teases your tongue in each bite, followed by, my favourite part, a speck of saltiness, which I think sets these cookies apart from their typically sugar-laden cousins. 

Go on, bake a batch and let them charm you too.

Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich via Alanna of Bojon Gourmet

Makes 15-16 cookies

I prefer resting the dough in the fridge overnight before making them to yield a thicker, chewier cookie as I’ve raved about here and here. But if you’re impatient (I don’t blame you) you can bake the cookies right away, but your dough will spread more, resulting in a thinner cookie.  

I only had chocolate chips on hand, though I much prefer to use chocolate chunks. I like the unevenness and shards of chocolate in each cookie, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Also, as Alanna notes, this is a small batch of cookies and you can double this recipe if you’ve got a real hankering for cookies.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (60 - 70% cacao mass)
1/2 cup walnuts toasted, cooled, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt. Combine the sugars in a large bowl, then stir in the warm, melted butter. Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract.

3. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until almost combined, then stir in the chocolate chunks and nuts (if using) to distribute evenly.

4. You can either bake the cookies immediately, or cover the dough and let it rest for up to 2 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge, bringing the dough back to room temperature before scooping. In either case, scoop rounded tablespoons of dough and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheets 3 inches apart.

5. Bake the cookies until the edges are just set and the centers are puffed and soft (but not wet), rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom after 5 minutes, for a total time of around 8 or 9 minutes.

6. Let the cookies cool on the pans. Like most drop cookies, these are at their peak when they are just cool enough to lift off of the baking sheet. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for several days at room temperature.

Recipe here!

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