• The Tenuous Purpose

    This Blog is built - not, as some might expect, on a flimsy whim but on a strong and single minded principle.

    That principle concerns Biscuits and their position in the world.

    We are really very keen on biscuits.
    As are many of you out there.
    We think.

    We wish to create an archive of Arrowroot, a backlog of Bourbons and a catalogue of Chocolate Fingers. Anybody can contribute an entry - or dispute somebody else's - provided they are not dull.
    Even Americans who perhaps don't really have the heritage of biscuitry that we are fortunate to have here.

    Or maybe they do and we are unaware of the full glory of the cookie.

    We realise that this whole subject is admirably and concisely dealt with by that excellent and unbeatable website A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Our feeble efforts will be as the kicking of a gadfly in the face of their wisdom and experience but we hope that we may have a small contribution to make.

  • Biscuit Encounters on Twitter

  • The Synod of Biscuitry

    James Alexander-Sinclair of Blackpitts
    Gardener, Blogger, Journalist, Lecturer etc, etc. Much of his life is spent loafing around other people’s gardens issuing directives and generally cluttering up the place. However, like the great Mr Kipling, he does (occasionally) make exceptionally good gardens. (Although even Mr Kipling messed up a bit with the Carrot and Walnut Mini Classics.)

    Mark Diacono of Otter Farm
    He does sterling work growing many inappropriate plants in Devon. He dedicates a great deal of time and effort nurturing a plethora of plants that are (mostly) totally unsuited to our climate. His is a life of such extreme eccentric dedication that to start a Blog about Biscuits seems perfectly normal. He treads gently in the footsteps of people like the great William Buckland,a professor of Geology who claimed that he could tell location by tasting the local topsoil.

Not Your Father’s Chocolate Chip

Pintozzi2When we Americans hear the word “biscuit,” what we usually think of is a bread type thing, served with gravy.  Instead, we use the word “cookie” to mean the small, sweet baked treats most often associated with childhood.

It has been noted that the British are more fond of their biscuits than anyone else.  One possible reason why Americans aren’t as into cookies is the dearth of good domestic commercial cookies.  (Hit Biscuits are wonderful, but one has to go to places like Trader Joe’s to get them.  It’s possible that I acquired a more European taste while studying in Rome.  Those biscotti with the smilely faces provided hours, ok, minutes, of fun by twisting them so the filling gooped out of the eyes.  But I digress.)  On the whole, American mass-produced cookies are way too sweet and almost completely lacking in flavor and texture.  I am completely at a loss to explain the popularity of the Oreo, the cookie equivalent of a Twinkie.  What is that white stuff?  Sugared lard?  Why would anyone want to eat that?

No, the best  American cookies are the homemade varieties, and the quintessential American cookie is the chocolate chip.  In the Talking Heads’ song (Nothing But) Flowers , David Byrne sings, “I dream of cherry pies, candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies.”  It’s also my favorite.

Chocolate chip cookies were the first food I ever prepared.  At age 12, my best friend Sandy showed me how she made them by mixing in some whole wheat flour with the processed white stuff.  That simple deviation from the Toll House recipe on the back of the Nestle Semi-Sweet Morsels bag has lead to the creation of, in my opinion, the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

For me, cooking is like a chemistry formula, with the recipe followed exactly.  Baking is more of an alchemical experience, with tweaking and experimentation.  Lost to my memory is why Sandy and I joined 4H, the organization for farm kids. We lived in a small town and had friends who lived on farms, so it must have been a social thing.  The highlight of our one year in 4H was the County Fair.  While the other kids were entering their cows and sheep, Sandy and I entered the baking competition.  I submitted two entries, one peanut butter cookies, the other chocolate chips.  The judges were wowed by my chocolate chip entry, awarding me the blue ribbon.  My cookies were made with half whole wheat flour and shortening instead of butter.

Butter makes the chocolate chip cookie flat and crunchy.  While some poor misguided souls (such as two of my nephews) may prefer this type, the best form of the chocolate chip cookie requires shortening for a thick, chewy cookie.  For years I made my cookies with it.

Then, I discovered a vegetable-based shortening substitute without the nasty trans-fats.  It even came butter flavored.  The older I get, the more I appreciate dark chocolate, so I Pintozziuse the darkest chocolate I can find to make the cookies.  (Dark chocolate promotes healthy arteries and heart.  Chunks of chocolate work the best.  Mini-chips don’t have enough substance, and milk chocolate chips don’t have enough gravitas.  I also use the darkest brown sugar available, for the most intense taste.

I don’t have a recipe, I work off the one on the back of the Toll House bag, but I use only whole wheat flour, with the amount listed as a starting point.  Then I keep adding until the dough reaches the right consistency.  Like Justice Potter Stewart’s standard for pornography, I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

Then, when the dough is fully ready, a decision must be made: bake it all, or eat some raw.  Yes, the eating of some raw dough has always been part of the ritual of the baking for me, salmonella be damned!  I’ve yet to be sickened by it, but, in the interest of being a good and responsible parent, I don’t let my children eat any raw.  My husband and I accept the duty to lick clean the beater, and consume the scrapings from the sides of the bowl, ourselves.  Sometimes we put some aside to eat raw by the spoonful.  (Chocolate chip cookie dough is the only kind worth eating raw.  As proof, witness the popularity of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, with chocolate chip cookie dough.

The best way to enjoy chocolate chip cookies is still warm from the oven, and dunked in milk, not coffee, not tea.  There’s something about the contrast of the warm, salty-sweet melty cookie with the cold creaminess of the milk that makes the whole taste greater than the sum of its parts; a perfect synergy of flavor and textures which can be justified as healthy eating.

These cookies are almost too good to waste on children.

Barbara Pintozzi

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9 Responses

  1. You were doing so well until you insisted on the barbarian practice of dunking biscuits in milk. Quite out of the question I’m afraid.
    However, the points you have lost will be reinstated for your cunning plan to keep the children safe from salmonella poisoning by licking the spoon on their behalf.
    I suggest you go further and save them from the evils of sugar addiction by eating all the biscuits too.
    They’ll thank you when they’re older.

  2. Variations on Toll House cookies also seem like the most essential American cookie to me, Barbara, and like you, we go for the darkest brown sugar & darkest chocolate. (Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao chips are the current choice.) I’ve replaced half of the flour with whole wheat, but you took it all the way!

    In the early 1970’s we were not worried about salmonella – most of us young moms kept rolls of unbaked cookie dough in the freezer, ready to slice-and-bake for visitors. If my dad and sister came over the dough never reached the oven – they liked it raw and helped themselve, but a decade later we no longer ate raw cookie dough and our younger kids grew up without it.

    That changed last year when we all discovered pasteurized eggs -home made eggnog! gooey brownies! raw dough!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. Mr. Uku – I guess some things are just cultural, and I deeply regret that I am unable to continue my barbarian ways due to lactose intolerance. I would keep all the cookies for my husband and myself, but the kids are just a little too clever, and always ferret out my hiding places.

    Annie – thanks for the tip about using pasteurized eggs, but if I did that, I’d have to share my cookie dough. Tough choice.

  4. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Uku and agree with the learned author. I see nothing at all wrong with dunking cookies into milk. Obviously many people engage in this highly civilized and culturally correct practice, as evidenced by the popularity of the candy bar Cookies n Cream — a feeble attempt to mimic cookies dunked in milk.

    Robin

  5. I’ve never thought to use whole wheat flour in choc . chip cookies. Must try it in my next batch. Great article. I liked the bit about squeezing the gooey parts out of the biscotti.

  6. Mmmmmm, love chocolate chip cookies. There is a restaurant here (New York it’s called, in Rotterdam) that serves them hot from the oven and they are big and crunchy, stuffed full of dark chocolate and yummy! And they use whole wheat too.

    Firmly anti dunking I’m afraid and think milk is revolting. I do appreciate that both you and your hubby sacrifice yourselves by gobbling up all the raw cookie dough. Such dedication to parenthood.

  7. Not only is dunking overrated but so is milk. Filthy evil tasting stuff only acceptable if muffled by some sort of flavouring – I used to have a thing for Banana nesquik. Mind you I guess that a repeatedly submerged chocolate chip cookie might count as flavouring.
    No. Too horrible to contemplate.
    What’s wrong with just eating unadulterated, squashy centred, slightly sicky chocolate chip cookies? In quantity.

  8. Hi Barbara, well put. Thanks for the explanation of the greatest cookie treat known to humans, the warm from the oven chunky chocolate chip whole wheat confection. Dunking is a matter of personal preference, but I don’t understand the milk aversion of some, intolerance nothwithstanding.

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