Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Messing with Perfection

Two of the most basic and satisfying baked goods, in my opinion, are homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies. I think the former is my all-time favorite dessert, as long as they are warm from the oven and contain a lot of chocolate chips.

I've been making chocolate chips cookies from memory for years, and the recipe that I use is very similar to the Nestle Tollhouse formula. I use salted butter for everything, so I omit the salt. I also cut out two tablespoons of butter and add another half cup or so of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Last week I was browsing the photos on and noticed an entry about reducing the amount of butter in Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. The blogger had conducted a comparative experiment with the original recipe (two sticks of butter), the traditional ingredients with half the butter, and a third variation with a substitute for butter and whole wheat flour. Her favorites were the cookies made with one stick of butter, and after reading that, I had to try it for myself.

When I made them on the first day, without chilling the dough, the cookies turned slightly browner than normal and were a little dry. They were still quite edible, and that night I decided that I could handle them if I ever found myself craving warm chocolate chip cookies and only had a stick of butter.

The cookies were much better the second night, after the dough had been refrigerated overnight. One of the only differences I noticed between the original recipe and the half-butter version was that my hands were less greasy after eating them. They looked the same and I didn't even alter the baking temperature or time. I tried another batch with one and a half sticks of butter (pictures below), and noticed no difference to my normal cookies. As adverse to change as I am, I may choose to go with less butter from now on, because it's both healthier and more economical.

Now that I'm writing this, I realize that I've been baking a lot lately, because I've also been tweaking a new brownie recipe that is quickly becoming a favorite. It's for peanut butter-Nutella brownies (adapted from Culinary in the Country), which one of my coworkers discovered on another blog.

They're very moist and cakey, and the recipe makes a 9x13 pan full of rich brownies. The original calls for a half cup of peanut butter and the same amount of Nutella. I put mini chocolate chips and peanut butter chips on top the first time I made them, which gave an extra layer of flavor and texture, but the peanut butter in the brownies and on top overpowered the Nutella.

Another coworker, who's also been working with the recipe, tried adjusting the ratio of peanut butter and Nutella to 1/3 cup peanut butter and 2/3 cup Nutella. Neither of us could detect any hazelnut, so we both made a pan of brownies with 1/4 cup peanut butter and 3/4 cup Nutella. While the brownies were very moist and had a deep chocolate taste, the Nutella still wasn't coming through, and we could barely taste the peanut butter.

I haven't ruled out trying another ratio, but I really liked the last version of the brownies because the small amount of peanut butter complemented the sweetness and depth of the chocolate ingredients. I may also have liked the last trial because I put chocolate chips in the brownies, and mini chocolate chips on top of the brownies. You can never have too many chocolate chips....

Peanut Butter-Nutella Brownies
Adapted from Culinary in the Country

1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
4.5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa (sifted)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup peanut butter

In a medium bowl combine all-purpose flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Over low heat, melt butter and stir in sugar and vanilla extract until well combined.

To the butter-sugar mixture add eggs, one at a time. With a wooden spoon vigorously mix in each egg until well-combined.

To the butter-egg mixture whisk in the cocoa mixture until fully combined.

In a microwave safe bowl add Nutella and peanut butter. Heat in the microwave in 20 second intervals until it reaches a runny consistency. Stir this mixture into the batter.

Pour the batter into a greased glass 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Let brownies cool completely before cutting.


Doug Boyle said...


Try it; make sure you put in a little extra salt. You may never go back...

Madelaine said...

Mmm...thanks for the tip! I'll have to try that