Episode 5, 10/13/19 – This week on The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, it’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Week!
I have a secret chocolate chip cookie recipe that I developed in homage to the Ghostbusters, but I was playing this secret weapon close to my vest. No one knew my cookies were themed at all, to say nothing of being dedicated to everyone’s favorite paranormal investigators and eliminators. So you can imagine my surprise when I pulled into Dan and Mandy’s drive way and was greeted by fluttering No Ghost flags, not just on their house, but their neighbors’ house as well! I was hoping this was a sign.
After dinner, we warmed our cookies in the ovens and Mandy supplied each of us with a glass of milk. We were all eager to have our cookies put to the test. Our confidences were high. We all thought we had brought our very best bakes to the table, but in the end, there could be only one Star Baker!
Mark and I have been eating Nan Mizer’s chocolate chip cookies since high school, and it was really wonderful to find that Dan had brought some of his mother’s cookie tradition to the competition. Like Nan’s cookies, Dan’s were pillowy and cakelike, and immediately brought me back to extremely late nights filled with Rifts, Uno, poker, laughter, and an amount of Nan’s chocolate chip cookies and Mountain Dew that only teenagers could consume without the threat of immediate hospitalization. Unlike Nan’s cookies, however, Dan had produced a gorgeous crackled top which looked both pale and well baked. I was convinced this came from using melted butter, but after keeping us guessing for a while, Dan revealed his secret ingredient: yogurt. Dan had substituted half the butter the recipe called for with plain yogurt. The result was a delightful cookie that looked crisp and solid, but was airy, tender and delicious.
Next up are my Gozer The Gozerian Fourfold Choc-Rip Cookies, a crispy, toasty bake designed to deliver a caffeinated phenylethylamine surge of incredible, even dangerous, proportions! In tribute to Mr. Stay Puft, I started by freezing a bag of mini marshmallows. Freezing makes them easier to dice, but you don’t have long before they soften, so work quickly and in small batches. To prevent them from clumping, drop the cut marshmallows into your dry ingredients and toss to coat the sticky parts. Because the Ghostbusters basically lived on caffeine and junk food, I add 25% more chocolate chips and chunks than normal cookies call for, I use salted butter in the mix, and I fortified the dough with a healthy dose of instant coffee powder. But to really show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown, you need firepower. I started with a quarter teaspoon of ground cayenne, but, as always, I ended up sprinkling in more. As you may know, both coffee and cayenne boost the flavor of chocolate, and the pepper provides a warmth which goes nicely with the caramelized snap of the toasted marshmallows. What I love most about these cookies is how the diverse ingredients work so well together, yet each one makes it’s own flavorful appearance as you eat them. It is a very adult flavor that I’ve never tested on kids, but has been well received in the past. Unfortunately my fellow competitors weren’t feeling so kind, and my Gozer The Gozerian Fourfold Choc-Rip Cookies failed to get even a single vote! This was a major disgrace. Forget MIT or Stanford now. They wouldn’t touch me with a ten meter cattle prod.
Mark didn’t name his cookies, so I’ve taken it upon myself to name them in his honor. Since I’m almost certain that Mark used Italian chocolate in his cookies, I give you Mark’s Biscotti Puttana Ingannevole! When Dan and I described the ingredients and methods we used to make our cookies, Mark rolled his eyes and said, in his most put upon, world-weary tone, “I guess I’m the only one that bothered to make a traditional chocolate chip cookie.” If you would care to guess at the percentage of truthfulness in Eeyore’s statement, I would suggest you start at 30% then subtract as new evidence presents itself. Before we even tasted them, the first glance told a different story. The chocolate chips were larger in these cookies, and, although I don’t know this for sure, I’d say they were just about the size of Ghirardelli’s 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips. They were decidedly more bitter than traditional semi-sweet chocolate chips, in approximately the same proportion that Mark is more bitter than traditional al-Qa’ida jihadists. Bitter enough to cause concern. The cookies had a very good texture with a slightly nutty flavor that came from Mark’s next not-at-all traditional ingredient, oat flour. I’ve always wanted to try cooking with oat flour, as it is an exceptionally healthy alternative to regular four and I love the flavor of oat cookies. Besides the oat flour, which absolutely works in these cookies, I think there were more differences. Maybe Mark used coconut oil in the cookies. Maybe he used a little milk in the batter. Hell, he might have cooked these things in a tandoor, for all I know. It’s difficult to tell with Mark. He sits upon a throne of lies.
Last, but far from least, we have Mandy’s chocolate chip cookies. Before I tell you more about these cookies, I need to make it understood that, as a general rule, I do not like crisp cookies. If a cookie has a snap and I don’t have a liquid for dunking, nine times out of ten I will pass. Mandy’s chocolate chip cookies not only had a snap, they had an outright crunch. It took actual effort to break this cookie in half, and when I bit into it, it wasn’t just crisp, it was hard. But, like the very best biscotti, these cookies were hard without being tough. The cookie didn’t break when I bit it, but instead provided a continual crunch for as long as it took to bite through. Faced with this polar opposite of what I normally like in a cookie, you can imagine my surprise when I found that I absolutely loved everything about it. By all previous personal metrics, I should have hated these. But they were MARVELOUS. They were buttery without being oily, perfectly crunchy without being dry, and nutty without being in the least bit over baked. And it is a testament to how thoroughly wonderful these cookies were that I can’t tell you a single thing about how Mandy made them. With Mark and Dan’s cookies, I felt I needed to know more in order to provide a fair judgment. But as soon as I tasted Mandy’s, I knew everything I needed. I never even asked her any questions. It was clear to me where I’d be placing my vote.
Very early in this competition, Mandy wisely established that we would not be permitted to vote for our own bakes. We also operate with complete transparency, each of us openly discussing who we’re voting for, and why. In this particular case, Dan, Mark, and Mandy all chose to make versions of traditional American chocolate chip cookies. I was the only one to radically depart from the norm, and I knew that with loading my cookies with unexpected flavors came the risk of losing votes. That risk is part of the game, and I’m cool with it. After tasting Dan and Mark’s cookies, I thought mine were the best of the three. Dan’s cookies were too light and fluffy, almost muffin-like, and Mark’s choice of bittersweet chocolate made his too bitter. This is not to say their cookies were bad, because they absolutely were not. They just weren’t my cup of tea. The reason I’m relating this is to establish that, after eating Mandy’s cookies, I had real trouble deciding whose were best. I knew I would be voting for Mandy because voting for myself was never an option, but in that moment, even if I could have voted for myself, I’m not sure I would have.
Given the choice between something traditional or a big, bold punch of flavors, I’ll take the punch every time. That’s why I love my Gozer cookies so much. But even with the cayenne and the coffee and the marshmallows toasted and caramelized by the oven, I had to admit to myself that I think Mandy bested me. I was, and still remain, astounded by the depth and perfection of flavor Mandy got from a traditional cookie recipe. I mean, she made me like a crunchy cookie. ME. How the hell did she do that?! I wish I had asked her more about them, because they were so deeply, deeply GOOD. And I wasn’t alone in my thinking, because Mandy, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, was our pick for this week’s Star Baker! Congratulations, Mandy, it was very well deserved!
Until next time, bon appétit!