Stress Baking on Book Launch Day

Today my new novel Simply Connected launched on Amazon. I’m very happy with it and eager for it to be read and successful — as is any author. But of course, that happens (if at all) in it’s own time, not as instantly as I would prefer. So today is really about managing anxiety, and keeping myself from checking the sales rank on Amazon every five minutes (FYI they don’t update that fast.)

I planned to go for a run this morning — I deliberately delayed my usual Sunday long run to today so I could use that as a distraction. When I woke up this morning, though, it was very cold and the sidewalks were slushy. Not ideal running weather. I decided to delay my run until the afternoon and went for a walk with the neighbor’s dog instead. (Franklin, a German shepherd, a great walking companion who doesn’t even mind if I dictate sometimes while we walk.) When I got back home I decided to turn to what is currently my second favorite way of handling anxiety — baking.

I’ve been wanting to try a variation on one of my favorite recipes, the “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. You can find it online, or in their wonderful cookie book.

Just like with writing, I tend to value process over product in baking. The pleasure for me comes in the doing — and in other people enjoying. (Not that I don’t eat my fair share — why do you think I go running?). For that reason, this post is not a complete recipe, it’s just a walk-through of my experiment.

What makes this recipe so awesome is that it improves on the standard Toll House cookie formula in a number of ways. The most important, I think, is that it uses brown butter. Instead of just softening the butter, or even melting it, as most recipes call for, you go a little bit further and brown the butter. Continuing over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, swirling and stirring as necessary, the butter takes on a golden brown color and has a beautiful nutty smell. You have to watch it closely at this point because the line between browned and burnt is very thin and once you cross it, there’s nothing you can do but dump it out and start again.

Another refinement of the traditional recipe is using more brown sugar than granulate sugar, and dissolving the sugar directly in the browned butter. Stir it in and let it sit for a few minutes, then repeat, several times. This allows the butter to totally dissolve and bind with the butter.

Up until this point, it was totally the ATC recipe — they know a lot more about baking than I do. But I wanted to do something a little different today. Their recipe calls for about a cup to a cup-and-a-quarter of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I augmented that with chunks of dark chocolate and a large helping of espresso chips.

Not satisfied, I also added two teaspoons of Hershey’s Dark Cocoa powder and a quarter cup of espresso powder. This darkened the dough a lot, giving it a cool marbled look.

The recipe calls for three-tablespoon balls of dough. Mine were slightly larger than that. I ended up with thirteen cookies instead of sixteen, but they were all the same size, which is what matters. (My dough was a little thicker than it would have been, because of all the “extras” I added.)

Then I made a mistake.

The recipe in the book has instructions for baking the cookies as is, and also for baking them from frozen. (You can freeze the dough balls and take them out to cook them as desired.) The standard instructions call for 10-14 minutes at 375 degrees. The FROZEN instructions call for 30 to 35 minutes at 300 degrees. I accidentally chose the latter, turning them at about 14 minutes and taking them out (because they were obviously done) at about 26 minutes. By that time I had realized my mistake and so I corrected for the second batch, cooking them at the higher temperature for the correct time.

The difference was interesting. The first batch spread out more, and are maybe a little crispier at the edges than I would’ve liked, but they’re still very good. Intensely (almost overwhelmingly) chocolate.

The second batch, which I baked the correct time, are thicker, not as spread out, a little cakier. The taste is very similar, and the difference is subtle. If I put them all together in the cookie tin — which I plan on doing — most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference. But (as with weaknesses in writing that no one else seems to see) I know it’s there.

I always like to finish baking by asking myself what I could do better. Obviously in this case, get the cooking time right, although I think the overall effect on the cookies was small. Also, I think, I would leave out the cocoa powder and accentuate the espresso. And I wouldn’t use such a strong dark chocolate — even though there are few chunks of it, the 100% cocoa is too much, something not quite so strong would work better. But again, these are things I notice. Probably others won’t.

I hope this was interesting. Please check out the ATC recipe if you love chocolate chip cookies. It is quite definitely the best.

As I mentioned at the beginning, my new book is out today. It’s a sweet contemporary lesbian/nonbinary romance (with a smattering of baked goods in it). You can find it on Kindle for .99 cents (until Valentine’s Day). It’s also free on Kindle Unlimited.

If you want to stay up to date on what I’m doing, upcoming projects and releases, you can join my newsletter/mailing list HERE.