Last week, we were invited to our friend James’ birthday dinner. I wracked my brain trying to come up with the perfect gift, which gets trickier the older we get, so let’s just say that landing on an idea for James’ gift was tricky. Heh heh heh…
Clothes? Too personal. A book? Nah. A beauty product? Too obviously re-gifted. Finally, knowing how much he loves to bake, I decided on a cake dish.
Easier said than done. A cake dish is something of an anachronism, but, perhaps thanks to all the bake-off shows, it seems they’re slowly starting to come back. Not fast enough for James’ birthday, though. The few I found were either really tacky or really expensive (sorry, James.), or ones that I knew he already was in possession of, so, we settled on three lovely hand-carved wooden spoons from Aubry Wood , which we discovered at our favorite store (and James’ favorite, too), One Mercantile in Great Barrington.
James and his husband William divide their meal duties pretty clearly: Williams makes dinner; James makes the dessert. Both are quite masterful at their respective territories. William chose Mexican for the dinner, and, despite this being his first crack at tacos and guacamole, he kept it 100. James, meanwhile, is an artisan baker. He once made a lemon cake for Ruth Reichl (they’re friends), with one of her recipes and she told him it was the best version she’d ever tasted. Maybe she was blowing smoke up his ass, but she doesn’t seem the smoke-blowing type.
Most people seem to be like James and William, leaning more toward one or the other, but rarely both. Bertrand and I have always cooked, but recently I’ve begun dipping my toe into the flour with growing frequency. It all started with Bon Appetit’s Salted Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake. We pull this one out whenever the dinner guest list is a long one. It’s easy and always a crowd pleaser, and yet, we couldn’t leave well enough alone. After Bertrand got me a smoker for my birthday a couple years back, we started smoking the batter for a few hours before placing it on the oven. Granted, there are always a few at the dinner table who chew slowly, pondering whether they enjoy having a fireplace in their mouth, but I ain’t stopping. Next came the Earl Grey Chocolate Souffle Cake from Athena Calderone’s (aka @eyeswoon) sensorial delightful cookbook Cook Beautiful which, while also being an unusual flavor for a cake, is much more widely appreciated. And recently, our daughter Astrid has gotten me into baking cookies.
When we turned up at her and Eli’s place back in the Bay Area last month, she offered up a plate of flour-less and sugar-free chocolate chip cookies.
“They’re filling, too,” she added.
Now, I’m not a huge cookie connoisseur, much less a zealot. If a bag of cookies shows up in a gift bag, I’ll regift it to the next person I see. I get their appeal, but all I see is lots of sugar and sweet calories that I’d rather spend on savory. But Astrid’s cookies had enough salt and so little sweetness that my mind was a bit blown. And they were filling! Each day of our visit, I begged her to make more; she finally did on our last night when we worked with her in the industrial kitchen she’s renting (more on that endeavor in another post, but it all has to do with taking the crap out of food).
She sent us home with a batch, but I needed to make them myself, so she forwarded the recipe to me. One egg, almond butter, a drop of vanilla and dark chocolate chips. Back to the smoker: I’d found a jar of smoked chocolate chips from this Seattle-based brand called Hot Cakes at This is Story, my friend Rachel’s genius ever-changing theme-based store in Chelsea. so I opted for them instead. Threw everything in the Vitamix, spooned about ten gobs onto parchment paper, then 15 minutes and 350 degrees later, I sprinkled them with sea salt and they were just as good as Astrid’s.
Am I the last person in the world to realize how easy cookies are to make? Mostly, I marvel over what causes them to form into solid pieces—which explains why I failed my science courses—but I suppose that’s chemistry or physics or something (biology? JK..)
With all due respect to Astrid, I decided to improve even further upon the cookie, or, at least, experiment a bit. When the smoked chips ran out, I needed a replacement, but from what fireplacey source? Firing up the smoker required too much effort for a dozen cookies (that weren’t going to be served, or shared with anyone other than Bertrand), then a little jar called to me from the pantry. I perused the salt section of the pantry (Your pantry doesn’t have its own salt section?) and there it was: No. Six Depot Yakima Applewood Smoked Sea Salt.
We had bought this a couple of years ago, and, to be truthful, we had yet to find a dish it worked well with. I love every element within its descriptive name (Fine. I’ve never been to Yakima, but I do love Seattle and the Orcas Islands…), but it either overpowered a steak or created friction within a sauce, but I was finally hopeful. I added a pinch into the gloppy recipe, then sprinkled another pinch on over the solidified morsels when they came out of the oven.
Too excited about my idea to wait for the cookies to cool down, I blew on one, then took a bite.
“Honey!” I beckoned Bertrand from the parlor.
“Take a bite,” I implored.
Now, Bertrand is the reason I’ve lowered my sugar intake significantly. As I’ve written here before, he’s super healthy, so getting him to take even one bite of a cookie required some cajoling.
“They’re Astrid’s cookies.” That did the trick. “But I added smoked salt.”
“Overwhelming,” he proclaimed, looking at me. By returning the rest of the cookie to the baking sheet, I inferred that he meant “overwhelming” the way we use it when we describe a loud band, an ensemble with too many accessories, or our current president.
“What do you mean?”
“Too many flavors,” he explained.
Well, I just disagree. You decide. And, hey, if you’re not a fan of smoked, stick with kosher salt and go talk to Bertrand. I wouldn’t want to overwhelm you, too.
Astrid and Jane’s Savory Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 1 egg
- 1 cup almond butter, preferably Moon Juice brand*
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, preferably at least 70%
- 1 t vanilla
- 2 T cacao powder
- 1 t sea salt, divided
- 1/2 t smoked salt
Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients, except just 1/2 tsp of sea salt and smoked salt, into Vitamix or blender. Mix well. On baking sheet lined with parchment paper, scoop dollops of cookie dough onto baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt, and maybe a tiny bit of the smoked salt. Jokes aside, it is very easy to overwhelm with the salt. Whether or not I admit that to Bertrand is another story…
*A note about the almond butter. I’ve tried this recipe with regular almond butter and I’ve tried it with Moon Juice Almond Butter. I bow down to Moon Juice. When I used regular store-bought almond butter, the cookies were dripping with oil (see below) when they came out of the oven. They eventually dried up, but I believe their taste is superior when either Moon Juice or freshly ground almond butter is used.