This is a post about cookies, an astounding cookbook, and a teensy bit about boys. Skip to the bottom if you just want the cookies. I understand. The real issue here is infusing browned butter with chilli and then mixing it with big shards of dark chocolate.
Anyway. The sun is finally shining, and the spring cleaning is underway, but today I’m taking a brief trip back to December. It was Christmas morning – too early for everyone else, because I’d been awake for hours with excitement – and the seven of us, all long legs folded and squished into various corners of the living room, were diving into the frankly ridiculous pile of presents.
My mum was frowning, watching me tear open the wrapping paper on a gift she’d bought. Pulling it off like a 5-year-old, I revealed the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book. I’d not requested it; she’d gone a little off piste, based on a love for the Cook’s Illustrated magazine. “Is it okay? It’s not in colour! It came and I panicked because…it’s not in colour. And it’s full of drawings!”
Of course it was okay. It was perfect – old school drawings are half the point of Cook’s Illustrated, along with rigorous testing and gloriously geeky scientific explanations. I put it to one side, carried on unwrapping other gifts, every now and then just resting my hand on its cover or flicking to the contents to see what awaited.
At the time, I reluctantly gave it second place on the list of the best Christmas presents of 2014, an oh-so-close runner up to the boy who’d popped into my life at around the same time, only to rearrange it just the tiniest bit – like a visitor who returns a book to the shelf at the wrong point in the alphabet – and then swiftly leave again. I’ve learnt lessons from both, but only one of these two things has ever brought me incredible cookies, so Cook’s Illustrated, you get the #1 spot. Good work.
It’s been sat on my desk ever since I returned to London in January, untouched but reminding me every morning that I should just pick it up and let it take me away. It’s a hefty thing, not a book for flicking through in a shop – it commands a cup of tea, a comfy chair, and your fullest attention. Yes, it’s cake and cookies and all the best things, but more than that, it’s the science behind all of them. It teaches you new words and tells you why you have to pay attention to the colour of your baking tray. You will feel bad about writing the British conversions in the white space, and then you’ll remember the warmth that spreads through you when you spot your mother’s handwriting in the margins of old books, and just go for it, in your neatest scrawl.
Or to be less verbose: if you care about the science behind cake, buy this book. Let’s get to the cookies, shall we?
- Allow the baking tray to cool between batches. Using a hot tray will melt the dough prematurely and give you overbaked edges. Ew.
- Don’t be tempted to make smaller cookies. Using the right amount is important to ensure you get the crunchy edges and chewy middle.
- We add the chilli in two ways – first infusing the butter with fresh chillies, and then adding a little mild powder to the mix. It’s kind of weird – a flavour that you taste more with your nose than your tongue.
- Check the ingredients in your chilli powder! Different brands use the same name for different powders – use one that’s just chilli powder, not one of the ones that’s a blend of spices like chilli, cumin, and garlic! Unless you want your cookies to taste a bit like curry.
- Like all cookies, they’re best served warm. If preparing ahead of time, pop them into the oven for about 4 minutes before serving just to get that gooey, melty centre again.
Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book.
Yields 14-16 large cookies
190g plain flour