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I am here to tell you

First things first: thank you for the well wishes! That cold was a real heavyweight champion, the type that takes you down so hard that, for five or six days, your eyelids never make it above half-mast. I’m so glad that’s behind me. Though I did sneeze twice as I was typing that last sentence.

A couple of years ago, not long after we opened Delancey, back in the days when I was still cooking there every night and trying to write on the side and living on pizza and cookie dough and adrenaline and contemplating a third career as a mass murderer, my friend Brian came to Seattle. I guess I should specify that we weren’t really friends yet; I had been reading his blog for a while, but we had only met once, the previous spring, when I did a book reading in New York. Anyway, he came to Seattle as part of a vacation, and we met up one morning at the bakery next door to Delancey. We had some pastries and coffee, and then, before he left and I went to work, he reached into his bag and handed me a present from New York, a package of Early Bird Foods granola.

I was intrigued. I eat a lot of granola (except when I’m eating only pizza and cookie dough; see above), but I almost always make it myself. The store-bought kinds tend to be anemically pale and as sugary as dessert, and they cost a small fortune. I’ve written about three different granola recipes on this site - two more than any normal person needs, I acknowledge - and at any given time (except you-know-when; see above), one of them is sitting in a jar on my kitchen counter. But this Early Bird stuff was a gift, and I knew that the giver had good taste, so I tore open the bag, and here I am, two-plus years later, still thinking about it.

(Also, thinking about this film I bought for my Polaroid, and how I will not be buying it again.)

Still, I am not a regular granola buyer. I can't justify the expense, not when I eat it almost every day. But I make an exception for the excellent Marge granola, made by my friend Megan, and whenever Brandon and I go to New Jersey to see his parents, I pick up a bag of Early Bird for us to eat with yogurt in the mornings. (I am not hardcore enough to travel with my own granola. Yet.) So the other day, when I saw a recipe for Early Bird's Farmhand's Choice granola pop up in the brilliant “Genius Recipes” column at Food52, I made a grocery list immediately. And now, a few days later, with a jar of it sitting on the counter, I am here to tell you that a person can never have too many granola recipes. Or, I don't know, maybe you can, but hey, four is a totally reasonable number.

I see that you're not convinced. I can explain. What sets this granola apart, I think, is its texture. It's so light and crisp that it actually shatters between your teeth. This is not the kind of drudgery that makes your jaw ache halfway through the bowl. It's mostly composed of the usuals - oats, nuts, and seeds - but what makes it special is that they're bound together by a dark slurry of maple syrup, brown sugar, and olive oil, and that slurry that caramelizes in the oven to form a thin, crunchy lacquer over each nub and bit. When it bakes, it smells so tantalizing that I felt like clawing the oven door off its hinges. Nekisia Davis, the woman behind Early Bird Foods and its granola, is not shy with the olive oil, and I now see why. Not only does it help produce that terrific, crackly texture, but it also gives the granola a low, rumbling, savory quality that plays up the nuts and seeds and helps keep the sweetness in check. Oh, and she also adds unsweetened coconut chips, those big, flat shards that you might have seen in the bulk bins at your grocery store. They wind up deeply toasted, crackly as a potato chip. And the salt! I know it seems to be a theme around here lately, but this recipe really nails the sweet-savory thing. When Brandon sat down with his first bowl, I asked him if it was good enough to tell you about, and he yelled, YEAH! There you go.

Olive Oil and Maple Granola
Adapted from Nekisia Davis, Early Bird Foods, and Food 52

Nuts and seeds can add up, but I buy mine at Trader Joe's or in the bulk section of my local grocery store, and that helps keep the cost down. I also was able to find coconut chips in bulk. (And if you're wondering exactly what coconut chips are, here's a picture.)

The next time I make this, I might cut back a little on the brown sugar, but I recommend trying it as written first.

300 grams (3 cups) rolled oats
125 grams (1 cup) raw hulled pumpkin seeds
130 grams (1 cup) raw hulled sunflower seeds
50 grams (1 cup) unsweetened coconut chips
135 grams (1 ¼ cup) raw pecans, whole or chopped
85 grams (packed ½ cup) light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
175 ml (¾ cup) maple syrup, preferably Grade B
120 ml (½ cup) olive oil
Dried cherries, optional

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut chips, pecans, light brown sugar, and salt. Stir to mix. Add the olive oil and maple syrup, and stir until well combined. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the prepared sheet pan. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is golden brown and toasted, about 45 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven, and season with more salt to taste. Cool completely on a wire rack. If you'd like, stir in some dried cherries. Store in an airtight container.

Note: Will keep at room temperature for up to a month.

Yield: about 7 cups


You can count on me

I am writing to you today with a wool scarf wound around my entire upper body and a wool blanket tied at my waist. I have a cold, and Brandon has a cold, and before that, he had food poisoning. We are a house under siege.

That, however, has not prevented me from getting that salted chocolate cookie recipe that you wanted. Nor has it stopped me from eating said salted chocolate cookies. You can count on me.

I’m going to cut right to the chase, because I don’t want to get to get between you and your cookies, and also because I have an appointment with a down comforter. Here’s what you need to know.

My friend Renee, she who brought the salted chocolate cookies on our crabbing trip, owns a restaurant called Boat Street Café. (If I’m being thorough, she also co-owns The Walrus and the Carpenter.) The cookies in question are currently served at Boat Street, where I believe they keep company with a dark chocolate pot de crème. They’re adapted from Tartine, from a recipe called Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies, which calls for half a pound of melted bittersweet chocolate. HALF. A. POUND. Plus cocoa. The original version of the recipe is a drop cookie, but Renee and her cooks make theirs a slice-and-bake, which looks a little more elegant. And before slicing, they roll the log of dough in sugar, so that the cookies wind up looking like they’re wearing sequined collars - which, now that I’ve typed that out, sounds exceedingly twee, but it feels nice when it crackles between your teeth. They also add a pinch of Maldon salt, just a few flakes, to the top of each unbaked cookie. It’s not a lot, but it’s what makes the cookie work. It wakes it up.

What I’ve been wanting to say for the past half hour, actually, is that these cookies taste the way I always wish brownies would. Because that, that right there, is what you need to know.

Now, lest you spend a lot of time comparing the photographs above with the photograph of the cookies in my last post, I should tell you that my cookies didn’t turn out exactly like Renee’s. I don’t know why, but mine are thinner and softer. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but hers had a sandy, shortbread-ish quality, I seem to remember - unless I was going after them like a real animal and accidentally ate some of the beach? I can’t figure it out. Brandon told me yesterday that he also suspects that Renee adds some chopped chocolate to the dough, which is a great idea. I’ll try that next time. Either way, I am not complaining.

Salted Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and from Renee Erickson and Boat Street Café

Renee tells me that when they make these cookies at Boat Street, they use Valrhona “Guanaja” 70% chocolate, so that’s what I used, too. Whatever brand of chocolate you choose, make sure you love it, because that’s what the finished cookies will taste like. 70% cacao is ideal, but anything above 60% will do the job. And if you can’t find Maldon salt, a coarse sea salt will probably be just fine.

At Boat Street, they make these cookies quite small, about 1 ½ inches across. At home, I made half of the dough into small cookies, and I made the other half into more normal-sized ones, about 2 ¼ to 2 ½ inches across. I think I prefer the latter. In any case, if you want small cookies, divide your dough into four portions, and shape each portion into a skinny log, about an inch in diameter. For larger cookies, shape your dough into two logs, each about 1 ½-inches in diameter. Whichever way, you’ll wind up with a lot of cookies. I forgot to count them before we started eating them, so I don’t have an accurate yield size for you. Sorry! But really, you’ll have a LOT.

Last, note that this dough tastes best - and is easiest to work with - when it’s been allowed to rest in the fridge for a day or so before baking.

225 grams (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
155 grams (1 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams (½ cup plus 2 Tbsp.) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
115 grams (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
225 grams (1 cup plus 2 Tbsp.) sugar, plus more for rolling the logs
2 large eggs
¼ tsp. table salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
75 ml (1/3 cup) whole milk
Maldon salt, for finishing

Pour water into a saucepan to a depth of about 2 inches. Bring to a simmer. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl that will rest securely on the rim of the saucepan, and place it over – not touching – the simmering water. (Make sure that the bowl is completely dry before putting the chocolate into it, and take care that no moisture gets into the chocolate. Moisture will cause it to seize.) Heat, stirring occasionally, just until the chocolate melts and is smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the sugar, and continue to beat until the mixture is completely smooth and soft, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the salt and the vanilla, and then add the melted chocolate, beating to incorporate. Add the milk, and beat until combined. Finally, add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. The dough will be quite thick and stiff.

Depending on what size cookie you’d like to wind up with (see headnote, above), divide the dough into 2 or 4 portions. Put each portion on a large piece of plastic wrap, and shape into a log, using the wrap to help you smoosh, roll, and smooth it. Twist the ends to seal. Chill overnight. (If you’re into advance planning, the dough can probably be kept in the fridge for at least a week, or frozen for longer keeping.)

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put another sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Take a spoonful or two of sugar, and pour it onto the parchment, making a ridge of sugar of approximately the same length as your dough logs. Remove a log from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll in the sugar to evenly coat. Using a thin, sharp knife, slice the dough into ¼- to 1/3-inch slices. (If you’re making small cookies, the 1/3-inch thickness is best.) Lay the slices on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Sprinkle each cookie with a few flakes of Maldon salt.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until the top of the cookies looks set but still feels a little soft to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack, and leave the cookies on the pan to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.

Note: These cookies will keep at room temperature for several days.

Yield: a lot