Happy post-Presidents’ Day — a sad time, actually, because now it’s a pretty long slog until the next Monday holiday. But you can bravely face the next few months with a sense of accomplishment and purpose by whipping up a batch of wonderful homemade cottage cheese, the kind that chef Vickie Reh makes at Buck’s Fishing & Camping. It’s creamy, it’s dreamy, it’s just the ticket to give you that warm retro feeling on a chilly day. Bonnie S. Benwick tells us how to do it. And there’s a recipe, of course.
Elsewhere in Food, Delece Smith-Barrow introduces her Guyanese parents to African food with the goal of inspiring them to eat a little more healthfully. But is it a change they can swallow? And Daniel Fromson tells us how the forthcoming Bluejacket brewery and restaurant will alter the landscape of craft brewing in the Washington area.
Got culinary queries? Now’s the time to ask. Join us today at noon for the weekly Free Range chat. If you can’t be there for the live action, just submit a question in advance, then tune in after the chat to see if we answered it. And even if we didn’t, come back to this space next week to see if I answered it as a Chat Leftover.
Here’s one we couldn’t get to in a previous chat:
A colleague brought me some candy bonbons back from the U.K., so I thought I’d make him some American bonbon cookies so we could compare notes. The recipe is from the 1961 edition of “Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook” and calls for a butter-flour-powdered sugar dough. You form a small amount of the dough around an almond or piece of chocolate and then bake. When cooled, you dip the cookie into icing and put a piece of nut or candy on the top. With three doughs, three icings and an assortment of “fillings,” the bonbons are rather impressive. Mine were not. The first batch came out like pancakes instead of little globes. I refrigerated the second two batches of dough, which helped. Are there any other solutions to making butter-based cookies NOT spread when baked?
In the world of cookie complaints, it seems like about half involve cookies that spread more than you want them to, and the other half involve cookies that don’t spread enough.
Fortunately, there are fixes for both.
That Betty Crocker bonbon cookie has a couple of characteristics that make it susceptible to spreading. First, the fat of choice is butter, and though we all love the stuff, we also know that its low melting point encourages cookies to spread and flatten. And second, the recipe calls for confectioners’ sugar. As the estimable Shirley O. Corriher explains in “BakeWise,” the smaller the granules of sugar, the more easily they dissolve and the less the cookie keeps it shape. “Confectioners’ sugar can cause the greatest spread because it dissolves easily,” she notes.
In the case of your bonbon cookies, you did the right thing by chilling the dough. The original Betty Crocker recipe didn’t include that as a step, but it just makes sense. In fact, a very similar recipe appeared a few years ago in a blog on the King Arthur Flour Web site, and it advised refrigerating the dough for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. “You can choose to skip the chilling step for these cookies,” the recipe says, but “they’ll bake up flatter, and not as nicely domed as when chilled.” Interestingly, KAF used a chocolate version of the recipe, adding Dutch-process cocoa powder, which because of its alkaline properties would tend to encourage spreading. Shirley Corriher advises using regular cocoa to lessen the chances of a dough flattening out.
Besides chilling the dough until it’s good and cold, what else can you do? You can bake the cookies on parchment paper; a greased baking sheet helps cookies spread. You can use baking sheets that are light in color, not dark. You definitely should use an accurate oven thermometer to make sure your oven temp isn’t too low, a situation that would work against your getting a nice high cookie. Finally, you can follow David Lebovitz’s advice and use European-style butter, such as Plugra, which contains less water than many standard U.S. butters and therefore helps the cookie shape stay stable.
Give those bonbons another try! They are adorable. I’d love to know how it works out.