Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Say crack again.

Boys and girls, I'm here today to talk to you about crack.

Or rather, crack cookies, as my brother and I affectionately refer to those toxic, toothachingly sweet pillows of flour and sugar sold at grocery stores across America. You know exactly which ones I'm talking about. The ones with the inch-thick layer of day-glo frosting. Pretty much the only reason I looked forward to piano recitals as a child.

Despite my well-documented love for dessert, I'm actually a pretty healthy eater. I buy things like almond milk and chia seeds and five-gallon tubs of spinach, and what's more, I genuinely enjoy them. So admitting that a supermarket baked good has made me its bitch on more than one occasion brings me considerable shame and bewilderment.

Why does it happen? What are they laced with?

I blame their cupcake-esque construction. If, like me, you view cupcakes as merely a vehicle for frosting, you'll immediately recognize that the cake-to-frosting ratio is vastly improved when said cake is restructured in cookie form. Pair that with a cheerful spatter of rainbow sprinkles and I'm a goner. Jamie Oliver himself couldn't kiss me out of my sugar coma.

Fortunately, it's possible to achieve the same state of nirvana without the high-fructose corn syrup.

Cleaned-Up Crack Cookies

Same sugar rush and strangely addictive properties as the original, without the chemical additives and chalky mouthfeel. Though these are by no stretch of the imagination healthy, they at least contain real, recognizable ingredients like eggs, butter and vanilla. There's something reassuring about knowing your baked goods will spoil in days, not months. Adapted from Eat, Live, Run.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup buttermilk (if you're a broke college student or, you know, a normal person who doesn't have an endless supply of buttermilk at the ready, just add a teaspoon of lemon juice to 1/3 cup regular milk and let it sit out for a half hour or so.
Voila! Instant buttermilk. I did this and it worked perfectly)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and mix until just combined. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Add the vanilla and beat until the batter is smooth (smooth batter, chunky thighs. It's like the cardinal rule of baking). It will look more like cake batter than cookie dough. Do not be alarmed by this.
3. Pipe or spoon the batter onto a prepared baking sheet, leaving about two inches of space between each cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edges are ever-so-slightly golden. Makes 8 large cookies.

Vanilla is the star flavoring agent in this recipe, so use a quality one if you can afford it. I seized the opportunity to bust out my fancy Nielsen-Massey Madagascar bourbon vanilla (a Christmas gift) with truly spectacular results. I love busting. I then slathered these puppies in a sunny-hued batch of cookie dough frosting from How Sweet It Is.

I also love slathering.

I don't think it tastes like cookie dough, per se, but it does taste like delicious. And I have a half-used can of sweetened condensed milk in my fridge that I am doing my best to slowly deplete into nonexistence (mostly by taking a cue from the Thai and adding a generous spoonful to my morning coffee). You can substitute your favorite buttercream recipe if you don't have any on hand.

1/2 cup butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
Food coloring (optional)

1. Mix butter and powdered sugar on low, adding sugar gradually.
2. Add vanilla. Mix until just combined.
3. Add milk. Mix until just combined.
4. Continue adding milk and/or sugar and/or food coloring until desired consistency and/or color is reached.

If you look at the original recipe, you'll see that I've halved the butter and sugar, but not the milk and vanilla. I ended up with the perfect amount to generously frost eight cookies (and excellent flavor and consistency to boot). I piped mine on with a pastry bag to ensure neat edges and even distribution, then spread the top smooth with le butter knife and hit them hard with les rainbow sprinkles. We are very sophisticated and French over here, you see.

And there you have it! Crack cookies fit for a grown-up gathering. Or for curling up and watching the snow fall with a hot cup of herbal and the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars. It'll be our little secret.

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