More Than a Spoonful of Sugar Caramel Meltaways

I’d like to dedicate the following recipe to my friend Jen, who I’ve known about 8 million playground minutes (roughly translated, to those who speak grown-up, into 17 years). Why Jen? Because she’s my hero, plain and simple (PS, this post is going to get real wordy real quickly. There’s a picture of cookies at the bottom to reward the intrepid readers amongst you):

Two nights ago (for those of you on East Coast time…otherwise, it’s still two hours until yesterday…um, right. Moving on:), Jen proved (as she has, time and time again over the last several years), that it is fully possible to live your dream. Hokey? Absolutely. Doesn’t make it any less true.

Jen is the girl sitting right in the center & I'm on her right. Things haven't changed all that much since 1997!

I met Jen in a drama camp at the local JCC, where we became “orphan sisters” in the summer production of Annie. I was eight at the time, and she was nine–and already Jen was the ring leader of what would become an incredibly strong group of friends, (the inexplicably named) Tuna Fish Club.

Members of the Tuna Fish Club...I honestly don't know how that name happened.

Even at the ripe old age of nine, Jen loved theatre. And as the years passed, Jen made it pretty clear that it was her mission in life to work on Broadway, and to be the person whose words would transcend history with the story of drama in our time.

That’s a pretty heavy mission to carry around on nine year old shoulders, but Jen carried it–all the way to New York City, where she studied theatre and later fell in with a crowd of up-and-coming theatre hopefuls. With them, she made it to Broadway…and that was only the start.

Remember that time we "went to the Tony Awards" by standing awkwardly outside of Radio City for an hour?

About a year and a half ago (give or take), Jen and one of her friends started a small cabaret style theatre show called If It Only Even Runs A Minute, which revived forgotten musicals, and put them, and their stories back on stage. It was part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and it apparently turned a couple of heads. I say that, because two nights ago, Jen brought If It Only Even Runs A Minute 8 to Joe’s Pub–and for those of you in the know, that’s a really, freaking huge deal.

Why tell this story? And what does it have to do with cookies? Well, in my life, I’ve realized that there are three kinds of people: The people who have dreams that fall into their laps by way of luck, money, or magic; the people who sit around hoping their dreams will come true; and the people who actually just go out and make things happen.

Jen has always, always been one of the latter kinds of people. She’s been fearless in her pursuit of her goals, and now I’m firmly convinced that Jen is poised to become a theatre historian for our time, one of the definitive voices of our generation. I am so incredibly proud of her–and at the same time, I’m in awe of her courage. She is and always has been one of my heroes…and I’ve finally come to the point in my own career that I am ready to stop being a hoper and become a do-er like her.

I’ve realized that I cannot live fearlessly–but I can live courageously. I can do things, like pack up my life and move across the country. Or lease a car in my own name and start a new job. Or hop into a car I’ve never driven onto a highway that’s completely foreign and get to my destination without getting lost. Or walk into the Office of the Clerk-Reporter and fill out the form to declare my business official in Santa Clara Valley.

So, as of two days ago, KP’s Cookies is a real thing. I may not have any money, but I have a plan. And I’m looking forward to making my dreams come true–and I know they’ll run more than a minute.

I said all of that to set you up for the cookie to follow. I’ve called them “More Than a Spoonful of Sugar”* Caramel Meltaways. Jen, these are for you!

Love & Cookies,

KP

*This title only makes sense if you know musicals.** Or Julie Andrews. Or if you can’t stand musicals or Julie Andrews (which is none of you, because that’s obviously blasphemy) but just want to get literal (since there’s sugar in and around the cookie), then that works too…

**And, yes, I realize that Mary Poppins was a movie first. It still counts. Mainly because I thought about making a She Loves Me Vanilla Ice Cream Cookie, and the logistics of making a vegan, potentially shippable cookie made my head spin.

EDIT: If you would like to help me get KP’s Cookies off of the ground, please visit my GOFUNDME Page!

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The Great Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment of 2011!

Hello, cookie lovers! I hope you haven’t forgotten about me…I apologize for the lack of baked goods recently, but I’ve been dealing with a rather (emotionally AND physically) time-consuming leg injury…

But never fear, for I return. And, boy, do I return with a doozy:

Let me start by stating that I have nothing against non-vegan cookies. In fact, some of my best recipes are non-vegan cookies. But when I came up with a crazy ridiculously out-there idea for a new recipe*, I decided that it needed to be vegan. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I like a challenge. Maybe because it means I can bake it for my sister when she comes home for winter break. Maybe because I want to be able to sample (read: eat all of) the dough while I bake.

Whatever.

Either way, I knew that this impending cookie insanity needed to have a  chocolate chip cookie base. (Oh, and I should interject here to explain that, for the large majority of my cookie recipes, I have two bases: chocolate chip and sugar. The chocolate chip base is made with melted butter, and is dark, rich, and chewy; the sugar base is made with a mixture of creamed butter and vegetable shortening, and is lighter, puffier, and more cake-like. This doesn’t include any of my shortbread cookies, or any of the crazy ones I’ve tried, like meringues, fortune cookies, banana/pumpkin base, etc.)

Why does this cookie need a chocolate chip base? Because it needs a dark, rich, chewy cookie that can stand up to some seriously intense flavor demands. My only problem is that, while I have and amazing Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which is tried and true and exactly what I would need, I don’t have a vegan Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookie.

And so began the Great Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment of 2011:

Because I’d never made vegan chocolate chip cookies, I decided to start with a tried and true recipe. I looked to Isa Chandra Moskowitz of The Post Punk Kitchen, because she is the definition of vegan baker, at least if the food-blogosphere has anything to say about it. Her chocolate chip cookie recipe is made without fake butter or eggs. In fact, the recipe is as far away from my Better Thank Chocolate Chip Cookies (henceforth BTCCCs for reasons of brevity and convenience) as it can get. Her cookies involve vegetable oil, tapioca starch and almond milk.

Post Punk Kitchen Chocolate Chip Cookie batter

The resulting batter was light & yellow, and it tasted very…bright. It was also very oily (which stands to reason, since it was made with oil)…Not exactly conducive to eating raw, which takes all of the fun out of making cookie dough. I put it in the fridge while I made another batter. (Since chilling cookies supposedly helps keep them from spreading as they bake.)

Better Than (vegan) Chocolate Chip Cookie batter

The second batter I made was based on my BTCCCs. In fact, I made the recipe exactly as written, but substituted Earth Balance for the butter and one tbsp of flax for the egg. This batter was dark and rich and spicy, almost exactly like my regular non-vegan BTCCCs. I placed that in the  fridge, as well.

See how different the batters look?

I baked my BT(v)CCCs first, because they bake at a lower temperature. The result? Ridiculous, amazing taste, but they spread like crazy and stuck to the baking sheet.

I turned the oven up to 350 and put in the Post-Punk Kitchen cookies. Shaping the cookies was difficult, because the chocolate chip cookies kept falling out. They tasted pretty good though–much brighter and more vanilla-y than the others…but these, too, fell flat and stuck to the baking sheet.

Glistening in their oily goodness?

Flat PPK Cookies

I was stunned. How could both recipes, one oil-based and the other butter/margarine based, spread like that?

I had some ideas (especially about the PPK cookies). And so I forged on.

Maybe, I reasoned, the BT(v)CCCs fell flat because I melted the Earth Balance. Maybe they needed more fat, because margarines have a higher water content than butter. Maybe they would be better served by adding two tbsp more Earth Balance and creaming the EB instead of melting it.

How could these possibly fall flat?

They fell flat.

And since Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome, I decided to be sane and change the recipe completely.

I found a good basic oil cookie recipe–no non-dairy milks or starches added. And then I added more oil. Better oil. Canola oil and a little hazelnut oil for good measure. I tripled the vanilla. I added some spices.

And, holy hell, thus was born the most divine vegan chocolate chip cookies ever. In fact, that’s what I think I’ll call them.

Divine Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Rich.

Chewy.

Bliss.

Enjoy.

Love & Cookies,

KP

*And this might just be my craziest recipe yet…so check back, because it’s next to go into my oven!

Courage in the kitchen

There’s an old saying that “cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” And if I had to choose, I’d say that I am more artist than scientist. Which is why it is utterly baffling that I am a baker.

The saying comes from the idea that, when cooking a dish, a pinch of this here and a dash of that there is really all about creating a tapestry of flavors that suit your tastebuds as you cook; when baking a dish, if you add a pinch of baking soda but were supposed to add a pinch of baking powder, you’re looking at a potential disaster.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that once you understand the fundamental mathematical & scientific process that govern the successful creation of a baked good, then you can start to look at the dish from an artist’ s perspective.

Which is how my Vegan Cranberry Walnut Banana Bread Cookies went from “really good” to “freaking amazing.” All it took was a little bit of experimentation and scientific guidance from a guy named Mattie. Mattie doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall, but I discovered his website, veganbaking.net, the other day, and it’s changed my life. He has an incredibly scientific approach to the conversion of conventional baked goods (the butter-and-eggs kind I’m used to baking) into vegan ones. It was on that site that I discovered his recipe for vegan banana butter–which sounded like it might be the perfect ingredient to kick my cookies into the “freaking amazing” category.

Vegan Banana Butter!

I’m really proud of these cookies–and I’m starting to feel more confident in experimenting with flavors and even fundamental ingredient combinations, which can only make my cookies better. And I’m grateful for people like Mattie–as well as Alton Brown (but who isn’t grateful for Alton Brown), and Jeff Potter (who wrote Cooking for Geeks)–because they do the dirty work of figuring out the exact ratios of xanthan-gum-to-lecithin to create perfect vegan butter, or explain the hows and whys behind mixing one ingredient before another to create the perfect cookie consistency.

The yummy result

And now that I’m gaining that confidence, my cookies are only going to get better. I’m hoping that with every batch, I am one bite closer to becoming a professional baker, and not just an amateur with a little luck.

And thank you all for reading as I start to grow into myself and into my kitchen. Your support is what keeps me baking.

I love you all & have a happy Thanksgiving!

Love & Cookies,

KP

PS I’ve made a commitment to myself today that in one year–on my 26th birthday–I will have a fully functional, successful cookie business. And by making this public declaration, well, I have no choice but to live up to my words and make it a reality. Get ready, world. KP’s cookies are on their way.

Cookies in the bread box?

Friends, followers, fellow cookie-lovers, lend me your ears…or, um, your eyes. Or even, you know, potentially your tastebuds:

I had overripe bananas.

I over-ripened them on purpose.

My purpose could be considered nefarious, if by nefarious you mean THE BEST IDEA EVER.

It wasn’t even my idea. You can blame my friend Sidney.*

As of today, there exists in the world Cranberry Walnut Banana Bread Cookies.

You heard right: Banana Bread Cookies.

You might ask, how can they be cookies and bread? And I appreciate that question. They’re not banana bread. But they taste like banana bread, and that’s the important part. I substituted stone ground whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour, and added in oats for texture, so these cookies took on a hearty taste. The addition of the banana kept them moist and soft, and the addition of cranberry and walnut? Well, see the reference to “nefarious” above.

Of course, I couldn’t just leave well enough alone. I made two batches of the cookies, one regular (your plain ol’ butter-‘n-eggs scenario) and one vegan.

Here are the substitutions I made:

Starting with the butter, I used equal amounts of regular unsalted sweet cream butter and vegan Earth Balance. For some reason, even though the Earth Balance is not actually butter, the vegan cookies tasted much more buttery than the butter-based cookies. I suspect this has something to do with the salt content of the Earth Balance, but methinks I need to do a little more research.

I also played around with flax eggs for the very first time. Eggs are the glue that hold the recipe together, and there exist a bunch of different vegan options…I felt bad enough about using fake butter, so I decided to shy away from using something like “Ener-G egg replacer.” (I’m going to make my own vegan butter as soon as I can figure out where I can get my hands on some liquid soy lecithin…). I used a flax seed “egg”, which means I whisked 1 tbsp of golden flax meal in 3 tbsp of water. The consistency was similar to the thick gooey mess you get when you use  regular ol’ egg whites, so I figured that it would be a good sub. Moreover, you can’t go wrong with flax when you’re going for a more hearty healthy taste. (Not that these cookies taste “healthy” per se. Who wants that?)

I conducted a blind taste test with my trusted taste testers, and here is what they had to say:

On the day the cookies were baked, the vegan cookies had a fuller, more buttery flavor, and slightly more depth. Fresh out of the oven, there vegan cookies were the winner by a nose.

On the day after, however, the regular butter cookies set up beautifully. Somehow, the flavor just…blossomed. The vegan cookies, which felt fuller yesterday, tasted lighter & less hearty in comparison.

That said, there’s no clear winner. Neither cookie is exactly what I want it to be. I’m considering these a nice test, but I have some ideas for making an even better cookie. I also want to focus on making the vegan cookie work as well as the other, because I think it’s important to expand my vegan repertoire. Keep an eye on my blog in the upcoming weeks…as soon as I can get my hands on that soy lecithin, and as soon as I can ripen some more bananas, then we’ll see the Cranberry Walnut Banana Bread Cookie 2.0!

Love & Cookies,

KP

*You can blame Sidney for my biscotti, too.

B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Hello there, cookie-loving blogosphere! I’m so sorry to have fallen off the face of the virtual earth, but since coming back from California, my kitchen time has been close to nil. As much as I’d like to spend my life in the kitchen, and while my heart is happiest when my hands are covered in powdered sugar, my wallet is firmly wedded to my full time retail job. And it’s the holidays.

And holidays in retail mean very little energy for anything but the holidays in retail.

Fortunately for me, I do have a few quick-and-easy recipes that I keep with me for such time-crunched, energy-less days, such as my Eggless Banana Cookies! And while the tropical banana may not seem like a fitting basis for a holiday-time cookie, it more than earns its keep in my year-long all-star cookie rotation.

My banana cookies are eggless, and can be made with real butter or with a butter substitute for the vegans among us–which is fabulous, because this means that I can make them for me and my sister when she visits for Thanksgiving in a few weeks! Anyway, I’m off to work,  where the environment itself is bananas…but I hope that while I’m there you can take a few seconds to enjoy the real fruit:

Love & Cookies,

KP

There’s nothing better than chocolate chip cookies…

I never thought I’d be a baker. In high school, I spent my time preparing to become the next Press Secretary to the President of the United States. And an English professor at an Ivy League school. And a Broadway-produced playwright/leading lady.

And then I made Matt a batch of cookies.

You see, back in high school, my best friend & I started going to Whole Foods & buying their amazing blueberry muffins to eat on the beach at sunset. And so I baked Matt a batch of blueberry muffins. And somehow that got us on the subject of chocolate chip cookies. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that he prefers his chocolate chip cookies to be of the harder, browner variety, whereas I prefer the soft or chewy kind. Either way, I decided to bake a batch.

After some trial and error,  I stumbled upon a best-of-both-worlds kind of recipe–chocolate chip cookies that have the deep, full flavor of a harder, more browned cookie, but retain the bite of a chewy, soft cookie. The depth of flavor comes from the spices I add…and the fact that in my first batch I accidentally tripled the vanilla (and then never looked back!).

These cookies really are “Better than Chocolate Chip.” If you don’t believe me, ask my friends who taste-tested the batch I brought with me to work yesterday. Or don’t–because they’ll tell you not to eat them (so they can have them all for themselves!).

Here’s how I make my Better than Chocolate Chip cookies:

Turns out, being a baker is “better than” I could have ever expected in high school.

Love & Cookies,

KP

PS If you want to know more about what Matt’s doing to help New Haven Schools, check out this link! (and also this one!)