Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring in the air & Martha in the oven

I'm not going to argue with a forecast of  '60 Degrees and Sunny' in early March. It can even make the most miserable of moods feel pretty bearable.  I know this because it's been working for me ... as all the travel and meetings and obligations and lack of sleep from last week came crashing into me on Monday morning, I was still able to rise and shine and tackle the week, from early workouts to evenings out that didn't seem much of a chore when you realize winter coats were no longer required.

I'm thinking with all these hints of spring in the air, maybe I should have baked something more 'spring like' this week.  Of course after saying that, I have no idea what would qualify as a 'spring cookie' short of a cutout decorated like a spring blossom.  But after frosting and decorating all the cutouts for the Cure Me I'm Irish fundraiser this past weekend, I just didn't have another round of that in me so soon. In honor of the nice weather I thought about opting for something resembling a dirty melted snowbank, but didn't think that would go over so well, but if anyone has any better ideas for 'spring cookies' toss 'em my way, will ya?

Instead I went for something simpler and that would provide a nice contrast in flavor and texture from the crisp, spicy ginger snaps of last week.  I'm guessing the 'audience' for all these cookies covers a pretty broad range of palates, so if something isn't appealing to someone one week, maybe a totally different cookie will hit the mark the next week. Plus, uh, I was kind of going for 'easy' again and wanted to avoid all the rolling and cutting and frosting if I could (refer to comments above about expected degree of miserableness this week).

I had bookmarked a Martha recipe - assuming I no longer have to specify Martha 'Who,'  since there is only one after all, isn't there?  Certainly she ranks among the likes of Oprah, Prince, Cher, Sting, Madonna or, uh, dare I suggest, Tiger? in that you know exactly to whom I refer, even despite her rather common name - anyway, yes I had a recipe of 'hers' in mind.  A drop cookie, but something a little different, 'Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies.'  Touted by her faithful followers to be better than any Banana Bread they've ever tasted (assuming of course they've never tasted Martha's Banana Bread, however, since that would create quite a contradiction!).
Here's the ingredient list (you can see the full recipe here):
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces), toasted
Nice in that it used some whole wheat flour and oats, the walnuts are okay since at least they're providing some healthy fat and it is a cookie after all so you can't really complain about the chocolate. But, as I may have mentioned in earlier posts, I've kind of adopted an unwritten rule that unless I was making some crazy delicious concoction, I wanted to stay with recipes that had a ratio of 1 stick, or 1/2 cup, of butter to about 1 cup of sugar per batch (about 30-40  2-3"cookies).  The light cookies I've made usually beat this ratio, no problem, most regular cookies do have this ratio and I don't think it's necessary that a simple treat needs to be bad for you by packing it full of fat & sugar.  Most of these medium sized cookies (bigger than store packaged cookies, smaller than the giant bakery cookies) will have between 70-150 calories and only a few grams of fat (see my comparison to similarly sized Otis Spunkmeyer cookie here).

So the solution?  Simple, reduce the fat by replacing it with something else - I've had a lot of success using fruits and applesauce in particular, so I did that here.  I reduced the fat by 1/3 (1/4 cup) and replaced it with 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce and added a few extra tablespoons of flour to account for the extra liquid.  If I had additional ripe bananas I would've used those instead to increase the banana flavor, and judging from the results, I think you could easily replace 1/2 to 2/3 of the butter with a comparable amount of fruit or applesauce.  The texture and flavor of the cookies were great right out of the oven, due to the added fruit they'll take on a moister texture when they're stored, but just keep them separated by wax paper and it's all good.... and I'm talking 'Martha Good!'

(cookies ready to bake, but I'm really just showing off my very 'Martha Worthy' Pot Filler Faucet)

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