Friday, August 1, 2008

Worthy of my Île de Ré sea salt.

There are not many culinary endeavors worthy of my hand-harvested sea salt from Île de Ré, France, but oddly enough, these chocolate chip cookies are one of them. I know what you are thinking... "Chocolate chip cookies and sea salt...Yuck." But don't judge the cookie too quickly, because I have never, and I mean NEVER, tasted a cookie as delicious as this cookie. And this cookie owes its novel and exceptional flavor to the salt!

The secret lies in the sea salt sprinkled on top. I used "Fluer de sel (Flower of the sea)" sea salt described on the package as "hand-harvested in the ancient tradition, when salt was a precious commodity. From salt marshes of France's Île de Ré on the Atlantic coast, it's gathered only three months of the year, when the sun is at its strongest. Neither treated nor washed, Fleur de Sel is rich in Magnesium and imparts an intense, pure salt flavor to foods."

In addition to tasting delicious on cookies, Île de Ré sea salt holds a fond spot in my heart because it comes from a place where I spent a brief amount of time while I was abroad my junior year of college. That semester, I spent my spring leave traveling through France by myself. France was a beautiful cultural experience and a wonderful change from Ireland, where I was studying in Galway, but it turns out traveling alone through France when you don't speak the language can be very lonely.

That is why it was so special when I met up with my roommate Elizabeth partway through my travels. She was abroad in France studying in Nantes. We met La Rochelle for a long weekend midway through my trip. I remember vividly that we rented adorable cruiser bicycles and road to
Île de Ré over a loooooooong 3 kilometer bridge. I don't remember seeing any salt marshes, but I do remember that we stopped at small shops on the island and purchased a picnic, placing each bit of cheese, bread, and fruit in our bike baskets before riding on to a picnicking location. At the end of the day, after riding more than 34 kilometers (thats 21 miles!) on behinds that were not used to biking, we had to waddle like sore cowgirls to dinner at La Petite Souris, or "The Little Mouse" restaurant.

The restaurant was all about cheese, and Liz convinced me to order raclette, which I remember being one of the most amazing meals I ate while I was in France. I actually pulled out my abroad journal to see how I memorialized the experience on paper, and in my entry about La Rochelle I wrote, "Liz convinced me to order raclette, a super fun food that involves toasting cheese in a waffle iron-style utensil and drizzling it over sliced meat and potatoes. The meal tasted delicious. We sat at a table with wooden benches and shared our space with two other French couples." My journaling does not do justice to the experience. I remember being so delighted to be with an old friend in a new place, recovering from our bike ride to with wine and cheese and lots and lots of conversation.

However, I deviate from the purpose of this post, which is to tell you about the most AMAZING chocolate chip cookie I have ever eaten. It's the sea salt, and I am sure the mounds of butter, and the thorough 36 hour chill that makes this cookie what it is. DELICIOUS.

I strongly encourage you to make the batter yourself, as soon as possible. It does need to chill overnight at the least, so you will need some patience. But make the batter now, and by the time you bake the cookies tomorrow you will be good and ready for a warm, gooey, chocolatey rich bite. One last word of advice, we all know baking is a precise art. That is why this recipe is written in both volume and weight. If you have a kitchen scale, think about using it here. As Alton Brown demonstrated on his Good Eats on chocolate chip cookies, the same weight of flour can take up massively different volumes depending on how much air is in between each little flour particle. You half cup one day will be different from the same half cup a different day. Don't take any chances and weight your ingredients. You won't be sorry.

late Chip Cookies
Adapted from The New York Times, David Leite, and Jacques Torres

2 cups minus 2 Tbsp. (8 ½ oz.) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 ½ oz.) bread flour
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. coarse salt, such as kosher
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups; 10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (10 oz.) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (8 oz.) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks, preferably about 60% cacao content, such as Ghirardelli
Sea salt, such as Maldon

Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk well; then set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low; then add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips, and mix briefly to incorporate. Press plastic wrap against the dough, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. The dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, and allow it to soften slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

Using a standard-size ice cream scoop – mine holds about 3 fluid ounces, or about 1/3 cup – scoop six mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, making sure to space them evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and bake until golden brown but still soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool a bit more.

Repeat with remaining dough.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Ohh our behinds were SO sore. I loved that trip with you and I think it's so cute you mentioned it. Hmm, now I want raclette and cookies!!!

I miss you!