Show me a cookie, I’ll tell you a story.
They say taste is the sense with the longest memory. It must be true because my most memorable moments growing up involve food. Baked goods, in particular. With six kids, my mom always had a full cookie jar. With five daughters, she had a full kitchen. On Saturdays my sisters and I would each choose a different cookie recipe, then get out the bowls and measuring cups and tie on our aprons. Mom had only one rule: We had to clean up after. Mine was this: Cross the line and get shot. I was the Berlin Wall of baking. Nobody messed with my cookies.
Ah, sweet memories. There was the time my sister Karen mistook the barrel of diatomaceous earth (for the swimming pool filter) for the flour barrel—both contained white, powdery substances—I almost lost a tooth biting into one of her oatmeal cookies.
Most of my memories are good ones. Even the bad ones have become humorous with the passage of time. Now, whenever my sisters and I get together, a sure way to have us clutching our sides with laughter is to bring up a baking-disaster story. We bond over remembered triumphs as well. The Christmas cookies. Laura’s chocolate cream puffs. The chocolate-dipped sandies Patty made for our dad every year on his birthday.
Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget the wheat germ Mom sneaked into every batch of chocolate chip cookies. Not something I recommend. Chocolate chips and wheat germ go together like Martha Stewart and the Dalai Lama. And speaking of Tibetan monks, I eat like one, so when I indulge I prefer to go all out. Butter, sugar, the works. Otherwise, why bother? Life is short and to deny oneself inhumane. The trick, when treating oneself, is moderation. Which for me means one cookie, not three—or four—or who’s counting?
I also save on calories by living vicariously through the characters in my novels. In One Last Dance, Kitty Seagrave owns a tea room, Tea and Sympathy, and makes killer scones and muffins when she and her sisters aren’t solving the mystery of why their mom, a seemingly devoted wife of 40 years, fatally shot their dad. My Carson Springs trilogy—Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey and Wish Come True—has beekeeping nuns, renowned for their Blessed Bee honey. My cookbook, Something Warm From the Oven, contains several of my characters’ recipes, including one for cornbread with everything but the kitchen sink.
These days it’s all about adapting. To getting older. To the changing book business. To social media,which ate my life. This extends to the kitchen.
One way to make the most of limited free time is to pull more than one rabbit of the hat…er, recipe. With one master recipe you can have an entire holiday cookie sampler, and your friends will be asking, “How DOES she do it?”
So here it is: chocolate chip cookies with variations. No bullshit. No wheat germ.
BASIC CHOCOLATE-CHIP COOKIES
Makes 5 dozen
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (12- ounce package) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, combine the sugars. Cream the butter with an electric mixer or standing mixer, adding the sugars ¼ cup at a time until blended. Blend in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add half the flour mixture, beating just until blended. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture. Sir in the morsels and nuts.
Drop by rounded tablespoon onto the baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly before transferring from the baking sheets onto wire racks. Repeat with remaining batter.
Variation #1: Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Decrease the flour to 2 cups. Increase the granulated sugar and dark-brown sugar to 1 cup each. Increase the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons. Add 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 2 ½ cups of rolled oats.
Beat together the softened butter and sugars. Blend in the vanilla and milk, then blend in the eggs one at a time. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, mixing just until blended. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips and nuts. (You can substitute pecans for the walnuts). Drop by heaping spoonfuls (roughly 2 tablespoons) onto baking sheets. Makes 4 dozen.
Variation #2: Chocolate-Chip Macadamia Nut Cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets.
Decrease the butter to ¼ cup. Add 8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped. Decrease the flour to 3 tablespoons and substitute the baking soda with ¼ teaspoon baking powder. Decrease the chocolate chips to 1 cup. Add 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut. Substitute coarsely chopped macadamia nuts for the walnuts.
Place the butter and chopped chocolate in small microwave-proof bowl. Melt in the microwave, stirring after each 30-second interval (or melt in a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water). Cool slightly. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture. Beat in the dry ingredients. Stir in the chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until edges are done and soft at the center. Makes approximately 3 ½ dozen.
Variation #3: Peppermint Twist Chocolate-Chip Cookies Substitute crushed candy cane for the walnuts.
Variation #4 Chocolate-Chip Peanut Butter Bars
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8 X 8 baking pan with aluminum foil, using enough to create a 2-inch overhang at two ends. Lightly butter the foil at the bottom of the pan.
Decrease the flour to 1 cup. Decrease the butter to ½ cup (1 stick). Add 1/3 cup of creamy peanut butter (such as Skippy or Jif). Eliminate one egg. Eliminate the granulated sugar and substitute 1 cup of packed light brown sugar for the dark brown sugar. Increase the vanilla extract to 1 tablespoon. Decrease the chocolate chips to 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons for topping. Eliminate the nuts.
Place the butter in a large microwave-proof bowl. Microwave until melted, about 1 minute (or melt in a pan set over low heat.) Cool slightly. With an electric mixer, blend in the egg. Blend in the peanut butter, brown sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth. Blend in the flour, beating just until mixed. Stir in the 1 cup chocolate chips.
Dump the dough into the pan and smooth even. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining chocolate chips. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with only a few moist crumbs. Cool in the pan. Remove using the foil overhang. Cut into squares or bars.
Eileen Goudge is the New York Times’ bestselling novelist of 15 women’s fiction titles with more than 6 million copies of her novels in print worldwide. Book One of her Cypress Bay mystery series, Bones and Roses, was just released and she’s working on Book Two, Swimsuit Body. She lives in New York City with her husband, television reporter and film critic Sandy Kenyon. Visit Eileen at her website or Facebook page.