Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Weird Recipe Wednesday: Spiced Rosemary Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Weird Recipe Wednesday: Because some recipes are so weird I just HAVE to try them.  My curiosity always gets the better of me.

I was skeptical too, but one bite and these will change your mind. The warm flavors of spiced pecans mingle with a buttery brown sugar cookie and gooey dark chocolate.

The longer I looked at this recipe, the more curious I became.  It sucked me in and I just had to try it.

The first thing that caught my attention was the rosemary.  I'm always up for a unique sweet and savory combination.  One day last fall while goofing off in the kitchen cleaning out my fridge, I came across fresh rosemary begging to be used. I also had a jar of peanut butter and yeast.  WHY do I try to combine these things? Anyway, I ended up making a peanut butter cookie using yeast as the leavening agent....and then I added rosemary and black pepper. They tasted like dog treats (or what I imagine dog treats might taste like.) These, on the other hand, were a much better blend of flavors.  

Sweet and savory meets sweet and spicy when cinnamon, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika are added to the mix.  Now I really needed to make these, my curiosity was killing me.  While the weird factor is what draws me in, I realize it scares most of you away. Don't let theses spices scare you away! Think of the spiced pecans that accompany the holidays.  It's just those flavors in a cookie, see not scary at all.  And oh my goodness, do they ever work in this cookie.  

Brown sugar and rich, buttery pecans are delicately balanced by woody rosemary.  The cinnamon, cayenne and smoked paprika add just a touch of warmth that leaves your taste buds longing for more.  Tie it all together with rich dark chocolate and you've got  a winning flavor combination you won't want to miss.  Please don't freak out about the rosemary, cayenne and paprika; they enhance the overall flavor.  The average person won't be able to pinpoint the exact spices, but they will go back for seconds and thirds trying to figure out what makes the flavor pop.

While the spices drew me in, I wasn't too sure about the actual dough recipe.  First off, there's no egg or egg replacement.  I can deal with that, but melting the margarine feels so wrong.  How can you possibly make good cookies if you melt the fat?  A cookie is born by creaming the fat and sugar until light and fluffy.  Since it's Weird Recipe Wednesday, I decided to give it a chance.  But first I did a little recipe research.  It turns out there is quite the debate on the use of melted butter in chocolate chip cookies.  

Scientifically speaking, creaming the fat creates tiny air pockets for leavening.  Baking soda will not create air bubbles, it only expands bubbles already existing in the dough.  Fat is also a tenderizer. Fat particles coat the flour to prevent gluten formation. Oil or melted fat is the most effective at coating the flour proteins and thus limiting moisture absorption and gluten formation.  While we don't want a tough cookie, we also don't want it so tender that it crumbles and falls apart.   The type of fat used also influences the spread of the cookie.  Butter has a more narrow melting range, giving more spread (flatter cookie). Shortening has a wider melting range and will limit spread (puffier cookie).  The spread of your cookie is also greatly influenced by the type and amount of sugar used.

The acidity in brown sugar sets proteins and limits spread, yet too much sugar of any type will increase spread. The larger the sugar particle size (think granulated vs powdered sugar), the less the cookie will spread.  A combination of sugars is often used to control the spread, browning and moisture. This recipe uses dark brown sugar, granulated sugar and maple syrup. Sugar amount and type also play a huge role on the final texture of the cookie.  Different sugars absorb different amounts of moisture.  This influences how crisp or soft your cookies are the next day.  I could go on for a while, but I'm sure most of you don't care and just want to eat the cookie.  If you are interested, check out BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher.  Her book has a whole chapter on the science of cookies. She says this about cookies, "Here, more than anywhere else in baking, all problems are magnified -- the tiniest variation can totally change the cookie." 

While I was tempted to change the recipe by using butter instead of margarine and creaming the fat instead of melting it, I decided to go with the recipe and give it a fair chance.  The results can be explained by a variety of reasons, but I'll just tell you what happened without getting into too many explanations. Unless you want to hear my whole analysis of the situation? Yeah, I didn't think so.  

The dough was dry and crumbly but could be pressed together with your hands. It was quite similar to a base crust made for bars where the fat is melted and dough pressed into a pan. In my opinion the recipe needs a little more available moisture. I was about to tell you all the ways we could adjust this, but I did say I'd spare you the detailed analysis. 

During baking the cookies spread, but not excessively.  When cooled, the cookies had a slight crunch on the edges and a soft center.  They were tender but not too crumbly. By the next day the cookies were hard and dry (which could be explained by anything from the baking time to the weather and storage method to the actual recipe).  The spices were more notable the second day, but I would suggest eating them the first day. Don't worry, they won't last longer than that anyway once you taste them.    

After reading about flavor and moisture changes, I experimented by refrigerating half of the dough for 36 hours.  Hmmm, I'm not doing so great at leaving out the details am I?  Sorry.  Without getting into any more science of why, all you need to know is this is not a dough recipe to refrigerate. It became overly hard, dry and crumbly and I had to add a little liquid before baking off the rest the cookies.  Alright, I'm ready to stop talking now.  It's back into the kitchen for more experimenting.  

The flavor combination is spot on, but I have a few texture issues with this recipe. Since everyone has their own opinion of what makes a perfect cookie, you might consider adding the cinnamon, cayenne, smoked paprika and rosemary to your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Don't even think about leaving out the pecans. I typically don't like nuts in cookies, but the pecans work beautifully in this combination for a number of reasons. 

Spiced Rosemary Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted slightly from Bitter Sweet

1/2 cup margarine, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

* Preheat oven to 325 degrees F; line baking sheet with parchment paper.
* In a large bowl, combine melted margarine, brown sugar, granulated sugar, maple syrup and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.
* In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, baking soda and salt.  Add rosemary, pecans and chocolate chips, toss to combine.
*  Stir the dry mixture into the wet ingredients in two additions, being careful not to over-mix. Dough will be crumbly.
* Carefully shape 2 Tbsp portions of dough into golf ball-sized balls.  Using your hands, gently flatten to  1/2-inch thickness and place on prepared baking sheet.
* Bake 10-12 minutes or until just cracked and almost set.  Let cool on baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.  Store in an air-tight container.

Food for Thought: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" -Robert H. Schuller

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