When you're cooking, it's all about a dash of this and a splash of that. But baking is another matter, an exact science. In this series, we're going behind the bakery case and into the kitchens of some of Phoenix's finest purveyors of sweets (and some savories). Fresh out of culinary school, Chow Bella contributor Mabel Suen will work with local chefs to learn their tricks for making perfect pastries, baked goods and desserts. Stay tuned for findings once the flour settles.
The Baked Good: The Chocolate Chip Cookie The Chef: Brady Breese The Place: Urban Cookies
It's been a year since Urban Cookies co-owner and baker Brady Breese and head baker Salvador Garcia competed in and won Cupcake Wars -- and sales have quadrupled. By 10 on the morning we visited, Urban's bakers had already made several hundred cupcakes and a couple hundred cookies.
The formerly small business has come a long way since its inception in 2005, but its roots as a family-owned and operated gourmet baking company still stands strong. And it all began with a cookie.
As we step into the small storefront to meet with Breese on a weekday morning, doors aren't set to open for another hour. From the looks of it, we would've never guessed.
Wide glass jars stand tall with perfectly uniform disc-shaped cookies stacked inside in them, the bakery case is filled to the brim with a multitude of cupcakes, and speed racks in the back packed with product show that there's plenty more where that came from.
Meanwhile, co-owner Shaun Breese accepts a special order over the phone (it sounds like a big one), a team of bakers wearing aprons and head scarves busily whip away on mixers, and cheerful front-of-the-house staff ready the helm for its daily sales.
To Breese, the perfect chocolate chip cookie has chocolate in every bite and a depth of flavor and coarse crumb from rich, organic ingredients. It is darker in color due to the presence of dark brown sugar and whole wheat flour, which provides a hint of nuttiness. The interior is chewy with a bit of crispiness around the edges.
Breese isn't giving up the recipe for the dark chocolate walnut cookie that started it all nor the shop's signature milk chocolate chip cookie, but he was kind enough to supply us with a variation on his own recipes to try out. Read on for the breakdown that includes his tricks of the trade. The Tools: A hand or stand mixer (Breese prefers a KitchenAid countertop mixer, citing that using a handheld beater often results in overmixing and is also a bit messier), proper measuring tools like cups and spoons, and an ice cream scoop to portion uniformly sized cookies.
Terminology: Creaming, or the process of blending fat and other ingredients into a smooth paste, is essential for incorporating air into doughs. If butter is not fully incorporated and lumps remain, they can seep out during the baking process, causing cookies to spread. Use pure vanilla extract, not imitation. Use a quality chocolate. A good dark chocolate contains 65% or more cacao.
Technique/s: Don't just eye your ingredients - measure them precisely. A little more flour can make a huge difference. Scoop into your measuring cups instead of digging into bins or bags, which would result in an excess. Breese demonstrates how to properly measure dry ingredients that are scaled by volume:
To get those chewy centers and crisp edges, scoop your dough and let it rest in the freezer overnight. Then, put the frozen dough directly into a hot, preheated oven. This helps the cookies hold their shape. Because the butter is cold, the edges will cook first, leaving the center gooey and chewy. Remove cookies from the oven when the edges are brown and the center looks slightly underdone. Carryover cooking from residual heat will take care of the rest.
Tips & Tricks: Keep all your ingredients at room temperature before combining; otherwise, butter will seize up and the mixture will not be smooth. Crack your eggs into a separate container before adding them to your mixture. This makes it easier to check for and remove any stray egg shell pieces. Be creative - try throwing in extras like nuts, oats, dried fruit, flax seed, coconut or different extracts.
Troubleshooting: Don't overmix the batter unless you like tough cookies! If your cookies are spreading too much, it's likely from the presence of too much baking soda or liquid. Try taking out some sugar and butter instead of adding more flour. Also, try European-style butter, which contains less water. For chewy, thinner cookies, use baking soda. For cake-like, puffy cookies, try baking powder. Salt brings out the flavor - don't leave it out.
Try this at home:
Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted by Urban Cookies Makes 24 2-oz cookies
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2 sticks butter (room temperature) 1 cup brown sugar 2/3 cup granulated sugar 3/4 tsp salt 1 tsp vanilla 2 eggs 1½ cups all purpose flour 1 cup wheat flour ¾ tsp baking powder ¾ tsp baking soda 6 oz milk chocolate chips or chunks 6 oz dark chocolate chips or chunks
1. In a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and vanilla on medium speed until everything is well incorporated and fluffy (3 minutes). Scrape bowl and beat another minute. 2. Add eggs to bowl. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Mix for 15 more seconds on medium speed. 3. Add flours, baking powder and baking soda to the bowl and mix on low speed until incorporated. 4. Add the milk and dark chocolate and mix on low speed until incorporated. 5. Scoop dough out with a 2-oz scoop or spoon and place in the freezer overnight. 6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake the frozen dough balls for 12-15 minutes.
See what else The Baker's Lab has examined: Anatomy of a Polvorón with Minerva Orduño Rincón of Muñeca Mexicana Anatomy of a Vegan Cupcake with the Sizemore Sisters of Treehouse Bakery Anatomy of a Brownie with Eileen Spitalny of Fairytale Brownies Anatomy of a Scone with Candy Lesher of Baci d'Amore Truffles and Scones