Monday, September 21, 2015

The Only Chocolate Chip Cookie

I've been thinking about the meaning of the word "home" a lot lately.  For so many reasons, I suppose.  But there are two that really seem to standout in my mind.

A recent trip to Budapest, one of the most surprisingly beautiful cities I have visited in Europe, brought my family face to face with hundreds of refugees fleeing the war torn Middle East for a better life.  These people were walking from Budapest with the hopes of finding a safe and secure new home in Germany.  Families, young men, and small children carrying their lives on their backs and leaving they only home they have ever known.  You can watch the stories on the news and read about the crisis that is facing Europe right now, but to actually watch the people walking past you is something altogether different.  Clarifying.  And you wonder if these people will ever again feel at "home".  Surely refugee camps, abandoned warehouses and halfway houses can't be the image of the new life they are desperately trying to find.  But all of these places are light years from the hell that was their home.  So maybe, just maybe, there's a glimmer of hope there.

I have a bit of experience with temporary homes myself.  We live a version of a migratory life because of the Navy.  I don't mean to compare myself to a war refugee, not directly anyway.  There is no comparison.  But it's already time to consider the next big move and I feel like we just got here yesterday.  But in many ways it is home.  Driving back from Hungary after the weekend in Budapest where the language is so different from any that I know and then crossing back into Germany I felt an actual sigh of relief and sense of familiarity that comes with being where you belong.  But this place is only temporary.  Just a stop along the way.

I asked my oldest what he thought of if I said the word home to him.  Being only 10 his feeling of what makes home is different from mine.  He said that he thinks of Germany because that is where we live.  Asking myself the same question I get a totally different answer.  My immediate impulse is to think of New Jersey where I grew up, but that doesn't quite feel right.  The picture that lodges itself in my mind is warm sunshine, palm trees, gardens overflowing with tomatoes and lemons and the smell of strawberries in the air as you pass through the fields on a warm day.  And I realize that home for me is not where I grew up but the place where I felt the most myself.  The place where I was the most comfortable with who I am and where I really began to discover who that person is.  My "home" is California.  And while I may never return to live there it will always hold that special place in my heart.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 18-24 cookies.  Adapted from smitten kitchen (originally from Not Without Salt).
For the printable recipe, click here

I have made this cookie several times lately.  It is probably the only chocolate chip cookie I will make for now on.  Yup, it's just that good.  And I've tried a lot of cookies trying to find one that fit my version of perfect.  Soft and chewy in the middle, crisp at the edge and full of flavor (and chocolate!).  The original versions call for chopped chocolate chunks which I actually like just a bit better than chips.  But good dark chocolate chips work just fine and happen to be what I have on hand most of the time so these are chocolate chip cookies.  I played around with the sugars a bit and have even whipped them up by hand instead of using a mixer.  What I don't do is omit the salt. I usually use salted butter so I don't add any to the batter itself but a sprinkling of flaky salt on top is a must. Because I don't have an oven with a digital thermometer, the 360 degree temperature from the original recipe isn't practical to bake the cookies at, so I go for 350 degrees and don't bake the cookies for quite as long as called for.  The end result is a cookie that I have no trouble called "the only one I'll ever bake again".

1/2 cup (8 tbs) salted butter, at room temperature
2 tbs granulated sugar
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
8 oz semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lina a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugars (either with an electric mixer or by hand) until the sugars dissolve a bit and the butter is light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla to the bowl and beat just to mix.  Beat in the baking soda.  Adding the flour slowly, beat until just incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the cookies into heaping tablespoon mounds (I use a small cookie scoop) and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle each with a few flakes of salt.  Bake one sheet at a time for 9-10 minutes.  The cookies will have become golden but the centers will remain just a bit gooey and soft.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 5 minutes.  Remove the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely.  Cool the baking sheet before scooping and baking the next set of cookies.

The cookies will keep in an airtight container for 3 days though they are at their best if eaten right away.

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