I got my start in adapting recipes and baking at the age of eight, when I realized I loved cookie dough, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the alternating result of either spongy, cake-like biscuits or flat and crispy baked cookies my mother turned out. So I took it upon myself to read, learn, and adapt a recipe from The Joy of Cooking to suit my own tastes – both to create the best tasting dough for bingeing and a baked product that was flavorful and the right moist, chewy texture. Over the years, I used the resulting chocolate chip cookie recipe as a base for other variations – oat-free, egg-free (with bananas – horrible product that I attempted in college and baked in a toaster oven; I never made it again), chocolate with dark or white chocolate chips, chocolate cookie pizza, oatmeal cranberry white chocolate, oatmeal with both butterscotch and milk chocolate chips….the list was endless.
I learned a few lessons along the way that I’d like to pass on. First of all, I avoid baking powder. My mother always used it, but I found that its metallic flavor harshly detracts from the buttery vanilla notes in the cookie dough and tends to produce a more cake-like texture. Additionally, baking temperature matters. I bake at a higher heat than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Why am I forsaking the Holy Grail of baking temperatures? The lower the heat on the typical chocolate chip cookie, the more they spread and the flatter they tend to bake (longer and lower), while counterintuitively, baking the cookies closer to 375 for a shorter duration is more likely to produce a chewy, fluffy cookie. I finally settled on 365 degrees as a compromise, particularly since 375 sometimes produces cookies that puff up nicely and quickly but collapse as they cool.
Last summer, I decided to try something different – a little bit of an adult kick, if you will. I spotted packaged, dried mandarin oranges at Trader Joe’s; they were too sweet for me to enjoy snacking on them, but I got it in my head that they might work well in a cookie. To extract the orange flavor and sweetness a bit more, I chopped the oranges and soaked them in a few tablespoons of vodka. The resulting orange-vodka flavor was subtle but pleasant. If you would like to substitute another dried fruit for the mandarins, go ahead; the possibilities are endless – pineapple soaked in rum with white chocolate or butterscotch chips instead of the dark chocolate or blueberries in vanilla vodka, for starters. Whichever variation you prefer, I believe you’ll find this to be the best chocolate chip cookie dough you’ve tasted – it may be hard to save enough for baking, but if you do, the baked cookies are just as good!
Oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies with vodka-spiked mandarins
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 c. granulated sugar
- 1/2 c. light brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda (sodium carbonate)
- 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. chopped, dried mandarin oranges
- 2 tbsp. vodka
- 1 1/2 c. whole rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
- 1 c. dark chocolate chunks or chips
In a small dish, steep dried mandarin oranges in the vodka, covered, for about two hours.
Preheat oven to 365 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until fluffy. Beat in both sugars by hand. Add egg and continue to beat briskly by hand – no electric mixer needed. Mix in the vanilla, almond extract, salt, baking soda, and flour. Add in the oranges and up to 1 tbsp of vodka remaining after evaporation. Fold in the oats and chocolate chunks. Chill for about 20 minutes or until pliable. Roll into 1 1/2 inch spheres and arrange on a baking sheet with ample spacing. Bake for 8-10 minutes on 365 degrees.
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