Panko chocolate chip cookies have a nutty flavor and great texture.By Zester Daily Staff
When it's time to bake, we think almost exclusively of sweet ingredients from sugars to fruits to chocolate. But sometimes the perfect dessert gets its special flavor or texture from a surprising -- savory -- ingredient. Consider Panko Chocolate Chip Cookies and Brown Butter Bacon Shortbread the next time you need a conversation-starting dessert. Here's the special ingredient for each recipe:
#1 -- JAPANESE BREAD CRUMBS
Panko is one of those formerly obscure items that has become, seemingly overnight, a staple in many American kitchens as well as in the kitchens of retired Americans in the Caribbean and beyond. Compared to other familiar Japanese products like soy sauce (first made 3,000 years ago), panko is a relatively new invention.
During World War II, Japanese bakers began to bake bread without ovens, using electric current and producing large crustless loaves. Sliver-shaped crumbs were made by passing the loaves through special screens.
Panko has been produced on an industrial scale in the U.S. for 30 years, and distributed to Japanese restaurants around the world. In the last 10 years it has crossed over from restaurants and specialty stores to supermarkets. It is now being used in recipes as varied as eggplant Parmesan and potato latkes. American cooks value panko for the light, crunchy coating it gives to fried foods. In contrast to Italian-style supermarket bread crumbs, which are hard and pebbly in texture, panko crumbs are flaky. They absorb less oil than conventional bread crumbs, so they stay crisp during and after frying.
I love crispy fried chicken breasts, but as a baker I wondered whether this focus on frying was limiting my use of panko
I decided to test panko in an simpler recipe. I thought of some chocolate chip cookies I had made years ago with a couple of cups of crushed rice cereal added to the dough for crunch. Instead of cereal, I'd use panko. With the substitution, the recipe became even simpler, since I didn't have to crush the crumbs. The most difficult step was the math I had to do to figure out how much panko to use in place of the cereal (if you want to use puffed rice cereal, measure out two cups and then crush to get a cup of crumbs). The result was a light, tender cookie with a little bit of crunch. The slightly wheaty flavor of the cookies, compared to the more neutral flavor of the rice cereal cookies, was a bonus.
Panko Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 24 cookies
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl.
3. Cream the cooled melted butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips and panko.
4. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each cookie.
5. Bake until golden around edges but still soft on top, 10 to 11 minutes. Slide cookies, still on parchment, onto wire racks to cool completely.
Contributing: Lauren Chattman
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#2 -- BACON
The combination of sweet and salty flavors has been irresistible to me as long as I can remember. Chocolate-covered pretzels? Love them. Salted caramels? Ditto.
I wanted to re-create that sensation in the form of a cookie that was mostly sweet, but with an unexpected savory twist that would take it dangerously close to -- but not quite at -- cracker territory. My goal was something that would feel just as comfortable sitting on a plate of appetizers as on a plate of desserts.
Shortbread, buttery but not overtly sweet, is rich, but often boring. It was the perfect cookie for my makeover. Unlike chewy drop cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter or oatmeal), shortbread doesn't taste better when underbaked. It only develops complexity when it's allowed to stay in the oven for a longer time than most cooks would consider comfortable, and baked at a lower temperature so the cookie is browned inside and outside.
I started by browning the butter, a process that separates the fat from the milk solids (sugars and proteins), giving the butter a warm, nutty flavor. Next, I added the first of three savory elements: fresh sage leaves, cut into a chiffonade and fried in the brown butter. To further boost the caramel notes of this cookie, I substituted dark brown sugar for granulated.
My game-changing ingredient? Bacon. In a span of a couple of years, bacon has gone from dessert taboo to super-trendy ingredient in everything -- chocolate bars, doughnuts, brownies, ice cream, bread pudding and cupcakes. Cooked up super crisp, roughly chopped and folded into the dough, it provided sharp jolts of smoky, salty goodness.
The final touch: Sprinkling the shortbread with fleur de sel just before baking. It provided an initial hit of saltiness on the tongue that the cookies needed.
An hour later, as my house filled with an unusual and wonderful combination of aromas that would make both a sweets-lover and bacon fiend cry, I knew I had a winner.
Brown Butter Bacon Shortbread
Makes 20 shortbread cookies
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons very thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup confectioner's sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup coarsely chopped crisp-cooked applewood-smoked bacon (6 slices)
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling
1. Place butter in a large light-colored (not nonstick) saucepan and cook over medium heat until brown flecks appear on the bottom of the pan and butter releases a nutty aroma, 6-7 minutes. Off heat, add sage and stir until shriveled and crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until almost firm, about 1 hour.
2. Preheat an oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, confectioner's sugar and salt; set aside. Place butter mixture, brown sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold in bacon.
4. Place dough on the prepared baking sheet and press into a 6- by 10-inch rectangle about ½-inch-thick. Using a sharp knife, score the dough lengthwise down the center. Score the dough crosswise at 1-inch intervals. You should now have 20 scored rectangles. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with fleur de sel.
5. Bake until the shortbread is golden brown and set, 55 to 60 minutes. Set the baking sheet on top of a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Gently transfer the parchment paper to a cutting board and carefully cut the shortbread into pieces along the scored lines. Transfer the shortbread to the wire rack and let cool completely, about 2 hours.
Contributing: Sandra Wu
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