Cherry Chocolate Brownie Chunk Cookies

This is the story of a batch of cookies that almost didn’t happen. I’ve had them in the back of my mind for the better part of a week, now – a rehash of these brownie chunk cookies I’ve been playing with for a few years – and Sunday morning, as N. headed off to run a 10k in Santa Monica, I was ready to bake.

Until.

The previous night, I’d decided to make some little pesto swirled buns to use up a bit of fed sourdough starter, and plopped the kneaded dough right back into the bowl of my stand mixer to rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight. So of course when I got ready to make the cookies Sunday morning, I walked straight over to the mixer and only remembered after a few seconds of confused staring why the bowl wasn’t there: it was full of raw dough.

No matter. I’d just use my old handheld electric mixer ad my biggest glass mixing bowl… which, it transpired, was full of potato salad. A big old metal bowl it would be, then. Not as photogenic, but that’s a bit of a tiniest violin complaint.

So I creamed up the butter, added the sugar, lifted the electric mixer to clear out some of the collected mixture from inside the beaters, and the whisk part of one of the beaters – just the little bulb bit at the end that does all the work – fell off its metal post right into the butter.

I just stood there for a few seconds, considering the wisdom of options that included washing my stand mixer bowl and just throwing the butter and sugar blend I’d started right into the garbage, and decided on perhaps the laziest, least responsible option, which was to jam the beater back onto its post and mix the rest of the batch with that side smashed up against the bowl so it wouldn’t come off.

So I did. And everything was great. Until I went to add the flour, and realized I didn’t have any. Well, that’s not quite true. I had bread flour, and I had whole wheat flour. But who wants that in a cookie? (Actually, there is a bit of bread flour in these, but using such a high protein flour for the whole allotment was untested and might be less than pleasant.)

It turns out the Ralph’s down the street from my house is pretty uncrowded just before nine in the morning on a Sunday, which meant I got back from my unexpected errand quickly enough that I couldn’t be too annoyed, but still. How many setbacks is one batch of cookies worth?

The answer is at least this many. Many even one more. These cookies are triumphant. There are toasted walnuts. There are shards of bittersweet chocolate. There are hunks of brownie that somehow don’t get dried out and overbaked. And there are cherries.

I’ve never been a big fan of chocolate and cherries. Chocolate and strawberries are, of course, a worthy classic, and though I would go for one or two Mayfairs, those See’s candy creations with chopped cherry and walnuts inside, other incarnations didn’t thrill me, I think because most of the chocolate and cherry combinations I was tasting involved maraschino or other sweet cherries. These cookies, though, rely on the opposite: you need tart or sour dried cherries for this one. I used Montmorencies, which are still sweet but carry the same slight pucker as a dried cranberry – enough to make your mouth water just a little – and this hit of contrast is perfect in these chocolate-drenched cookies.

These are a project. Before actually baking the cookies, each tray of which require almost twenty minutes in the oven, you have to make the brownies and toast the walnuts, and the whole mission sets you back a full pound of butter. But when you are faced with trays of perfectly golden, chocolate studded cookies that are just crisp at the edges and softly chewy in the center, and when you crunch into the first flake of sea salt scattered decadently across the top, all of that extra preparation, even an emergency grocery store quest, feels justified.

Cherry Chocolate Brownie Chunk Cookies
adapted from the Sweet Pea Bakery and Catering, via Bon Appetit magazine
Old Fashioned Brownies
Makes a ½ inch slab of about about 10×15 inches
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (unless you’re lazy like me)
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cubed (see parentheses above)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, or parchment paper leaving at least an inch overhang on all sides to lift with.
  • Create a double boiler by filling a medium pot about half full of water and setting a glass or metal bowl over the pot, being sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t touch the water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl, and bring the water in the pot to a bare simmer over medium heat. Stir frequently until chocolate and butter are smooth, glossy, and completely melted. Set aside to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  • When chocolate is barely warm to the touch, whisk in the sugar and vanilla. The mixture will become clumpy. Add the eggs and salt; whisk firmly until fully combined. Switch to a spatula and stir in the flour until no white streaks remain.
  • Dump and spread the batter over the prepared pan to create a thin, even layer. You may have to manipulate it quite a bit to get it to spread that far.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs; about 20 minutes. Cool in pan, then cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  • To remove from the pan, lift using the foil overhang and reserve about ½ of the slab (or maybe a bit more) for the cookies. Use the remainder for your own devious purposes.

 

Cherry Chocolate Brownie Chunk Cookies
Makes 2½ – 3 dozen
1½ cups room temperature butter (3 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups brown sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups bread flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, + more for sprinkling
1 cup walnuts, toasted, then chopped (I like to pop them in while I’m preheating the oven – by the time it reaches 325F, the walnuts are usually ready)
1 cup dried tart or sour cherries, such as Montmorency
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped in chunks
½ – ⅔ old-fashioned brownie slab, cut into ½-inch chunks

 

  • Preheat oven to 325F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (toasting the walnuts while it’s preheating is a good way to multitask)
  • Cream the butter in a large bowl until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and the brown sugar and cream again until well integrated – be sure there are no errant chunks of butter.
  • Add the vanilla and eggs to the creamed butter and sugar and mix well to combine, scraping down the sides to create a homogeneous mixture.
  • Stir in the flours, baking soda, and salt to form a soft dough. Add the walnuts cherries, and chopped chocolate, stirring well to combine. Finally, gently fold in the brownie chunks – we don’t want to break them up too much.
  • Spray a ⅓ – ½ cup ice cream scoop or measuring cup with non-stick spray and use it to scoop the batter into rounds on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart (this allowed me to fit six balls of dough on each sheet). Once spaced, press down with two fingers to flatten each ball slightly.
  • Sprinkle the top of each cookie sparingly with coarse or flaky sea salt and bake in the preheated 325F oven for 18-20 minutes, until edges of cookies are starting to turn golden and the middle is set but still very soft.
  • Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Baking Bootcamp: Cherry and Cardamom Swirl Bread (#TwelveLoaves)

Food blog June 2014-4049Today’s post serves double duty. Last month, Joy the Baker issued a baking challenge. Pairing with King Arthur Flour, she invited readers to join her in baking four different items, each featuring a different flour from the King Arthur line-up.

Food blog June 2014-4023For the first – All-Purpose Flour – she made a beautiful wreath of sweet bread, braided and swirled with cinnamon sugar and a trio of summer berries. I determined that I would, indeed, bake this bread. I had yet to try a wreath or crown shape, and was curious about how it would come out.
Food blog June 2014-4018Of course, I have trouble leaving well enough alone. By the time I was done looking at Joy’s photos of her magnificent loaf, I was already scheming about what tweaks I would apply to my variation. The answer, of course, came from the June Twelve Loaves assignment: cherries.
Food blog June 2014-4032Here, I’ve replaced Joy’s berries with blood-red bing cherry halves, gushing with juice, their tartness mellowed by baking. Since I’m not crazy about cinnamon with cherries, I have substituted in cardamom, which has an intriguing deep, citrusy scent but offers a spiciness reminiscent of the zingiest flavor in your favorite chai tea blend. To bring together the flavors, I also splashed in a little vanilla.
Food blog June 2014-4024The trickiest thing about this bread is shaping the crown. This requires flattening, spreading, stuffing, rolling, and then slicing open that roll to reveal the rebellious little rubies inside, which then all immediately threaten to spill out all over your board. You have to “braid” the bread by lifting one strand over the other down its length, all the while trying to keep the fruity guts inside from escaping. Then, once you’ve tamed it into a beautiful interlaced wreath, you somehow have to pick the whole thing up and nestle it into your baking vessel. I know. Mine collapsed a little bit, but honestly, after it rose during its baking time, it was hard to notice. And once we dug in, crunching through the lightly sugared, spicy-tart sweet layers, we didn’t care. The tartness of the cherries is pleasantly rounded by the oven’s heat, but the real star, to me, was the cardamom. Its flavor is so delightful here – brighter than cinnamon but no less flavorful – that I now want it in everything. I suppose they wouldn’t really be “cinnamon rolls” without the cinnamon, but false advertising (or blasphemy) or not, those may be my next cardamom target.
Food blog June 2014-4029I didn’t take very many photos of the twisting and shaping process, mostly because I got so involved in the process I just forgot. It happens. But do take a look at Joy’s photo-by-photo instructions if you need help – they are really clear and easy to follow.
Food blog June 2014-4031Two tips for success when it comes to this bread, then, before we get all this out of the way and charge into the recipe.
Food blog June 2014-40341.) Distribute the fruit evenly. I mean it. Don’t just dump the cherries in the middle and decide that’s good enough. Spread them out across your dough rectangle before rolling it up. Though it’s important to leave a slight border, if you have a lot more cherries in the middle of the dough log, it will be much more difficult to keep them contained while you braid it, and you will end up with a really uneven wreath – one section will be much fatter than the rest and therefore bake unevenly. Take the extra few seconds to spread them out well.
2.) While you are manipulating it, be assertive with this dough. Joy, delightfully, notes that the dough can sense fear. I suspect she’s right. If you hesitate as you braid or lift, the dough sags disastrously. Just move smoothly and confidently and with a clear plan. And remember that a trip through the oven and a dusting of powdered sugar repairs many mistakes.

Food blog June 2014-4047

Cherry and Cardamom Swirl Bread
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 10-inch wreath
For the dough:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cups whole milk, at or just above room temperature
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour (you could use bread flour too, but this is the AP flour challenge, so I complied)
½ teaspoon salt
Olive oil or vegetable oil to grease the bowl
For the filling:
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 cups halved, pitted cherries
To finish:
1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash
1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting
  • In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, mix the yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar, then add the milk. Whisk with a fork to combine. Add the egg yolk, the melted butter, and the vanilla, and whisk with a fork again. Set aside to work for 5 minutes. The mixture will become foamy and smell (I think) a bit like fresh donuts.
  • While the yeast does its work, whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl (I used the bowl of my stand mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the milk mixture and combine into a rough, shaggy dough. If you are using a stand mixer, at this point you should switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes. If you are working by hand, scoop the dough onto a floured board and knead by gathering the dough together into a ball, then pushing it away from you with the palm of your hand. Gather it back again and repeat. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes. For both methods, the dough should feel moist and elastic, but not terribly sticky. It will be a bit like a stiff play-dough in texture.
  • Spray a bowl lightly with olive or vegetable oil (you can use a clean bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer – just lift up the ball of dough for a minute) and roll the dough around a bit until it is lightly coated with the oil. Cover the bowl with a tight layer of plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  • While the dough is rising, prep the filling. Combine the butter, sugar, and cardamom in a small bowl, mixing well. I used my fingers, but you could use an electric mixer or a fork if you prefer. Just be sure the sugar and cardamom are well integrated. We don’t want chunks of unflavored butter. Halve and pit the cherries as well, and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 375F and butter a 10-inch springform pan or 10-inch cast iron skillet. If you are using a springform, I recommend wrapping the bottom with aluminum foil, in case of seeping cherry juice or melted butter.
  • Now, attend to the dough again. Relocate it to a lightly floured surface and knead twice by hand, just to release some of the gathered air. Roll it out to as close to a 12×18 inch rectangle as you can manage, with the long edge facing you.
  • Spread the butter mixture onto the dough rectangle, leaving a ½ inch margin on all edges. Then, scatter the cherries atop the butter mixture, again respecting this margin, and being sure to create an even fruit layer. Uneven distribution makes shaping the loaf more challenging.
  • Begin rolling the dough rectangle into a log, starting with the middle of the long edge and working your way out to the sides to create an even, tight roll. You can mush down the lumps a little, but don’t be too aggressive about it because you don’t want to tear the dough. When you get to the end, pinch the edge firmly into the existing log to seal it.
  • This is where things get interesting. Slice through the log to expose the center, creating two long halves, but leave an inch or two attached at the top to hold the thing together (see sliced log photo above). Adjust halves to face upward, exposing the veins of cherry and buttery filling.
  • Now we twist. Take hold of the left strand and carefully (and assertively!) lift it over the right strand. Adjust to bring the braid back to the center of the board. Now lift the new left strand (previously the right strand) over the new right strand, and repeat this process until you get to the end of the two strands. It should look like an old-fashioned twist donut, but with cherries threatening to spill out of it.
  • When you have completed your twist, pinch the two strands together, and create a wreath shape by pulling the two ends of the twist to meet each other. Pinch these together as well.
  • Deep breath, now. Carefully but quickly, lift up the whole wreath of dough and settle it into your prepared pan, trying to keep the shape as round and as many cherries contained as possible. This is where you have to be confident and assertive. The longer the lift-and-nestle takes, the more the dough will droop, and the more chance you have of tearing or spilling.
  • Brush the exposed top of the wreath with the beaten egg, then bake for 25-35 minutes, until the top is golden and the interior is cooked through but still moist.
  • Let cool at least 30 minutes in the pan, then dust with powdered sugar (through some sort of sifter, please), slice, and serve.