The evolution of a cookie, or Darwin was right

A jillion years ago, when Seinfeld was still on, Us magazine interviewed the caterer that fed the cast and crew onset. She talked about the favorite dishes of Jerry and the other stars. And she mentioned a kind of a chocolate chip cookie that she made that everybody adored. The recipe was printed within the article.
As with almost everything that exists, I have an opinion about chocolate chip cookies. The naked cookie, sans chips, should be chewy and delicious, or don’t bother. Don’t make a miniature piece of chocolate be the sole savior of a cookie. It’s like having a baby to save a faltering marriage. It just ain’t right. And it usually goes wrong.
The nice lady used mocha chips. I’m guessing they’re some kind of chocolate/coffee chip. They sound good, but I have never in all the years between then and now, found them on a store shelf. There are many foods that professional cooks use that home cooks can not get their hands on. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I guess those chips are on that list.
So, I made the cookies with regular Hershey’s milk (don’t like semi-sweet) chocolate chips. They ran all over the cookie sheet in a frenzy. These cookies were more like a tuile, an extremely thin crispy cookie that is often rolled into cigars when warm and stuck into ice cream.
Imagine chocolate chip ice cream cones (you know, that actually sounds interesting).
The cookie had too much fat without enough flour. I tinkered with the flour for a few batches, and finally found the amount that would give structure, without becoming cakey. After I found the right flour ratio, I switched the all-purpose I had been using to cake flour, the measurement of which had to be adjusted, as well. The cake flour lightens the feel of the finished cookie, and made the texture more layered and distinct, while keeping the sticky, chewy mouth feel.
As for the chips, I put in all kinds of things. Chocolate chips, toffee chips. Coconut and dried fruit. In fact, in this incarnation, we called them, “Whatever Kind of Chip Cookies.” This cookie was also the beneficiary of the discovery of cheap abundant vanilla beans at Costco. Instead of two lowly teaspoons of vanilla extract, this recipe had two lowly teaspoons of vanilla extract, and the caviar of an entire vanilla bean.
Then one summer, The Kid went to camp. Like any American mother who’s seen her share of Leave It To Beaver and The Brady Bunch, I sent my child off to camp with a big box of homemade cookies. My Whatever cookies.
I offered to make another batch, and asked what kind of chips were desired. Since the cookie-eaters (The Kid’s entire dorm floor), couldn’t come to a concensus, chipless was requested. The spotless treats were a huge hit. Without the chocolate flavor competing, the cookie became all about the vanilla. The campers loved it, and renamed it, “Vanilla Explosion”.
The Kid and I were planning on making the cookies one day, and were thinking about what would enhance the rich, buttery, caramelized taste. Simultaneously, we had the same thought. Brown butter. We already loved the nutty, complex flavor that browning imparted to regular, old butter. It’s terrific on pasta, but we just adore it on cauliflower. We hadn’t yet tried it in a sweet application.
The butter in the cookie dough is used softened. First I scraped my vanilla bean, and put the caviar aside. The empty bean, I put in a pan with the sticks of butter. I melted, then browned it with the bean floating alongside. I poured the newly brown butter into a bowl. After it has cooled for bit, I stir in the vanilla caviar. While the butter is cooling to solid, I stir it from time to time so it won’t be separated into layers when it hardens again. I do this the day before I intend on making cookies, so the flavors can intensify with a night in the fridge.
When I’m ready to make the cookies, I soften the brown butter, and use it just like normal.
I would never offer someone else’s recipe as my own, but this recipe has been through so many permutations that I don’t think the original caterer would even recognize it. So, here you go, this is what happened when I cut a recipe out of Us magazine.
Thanks for your time.

Vanilla Explosion Cookies

1 Cup brown sugar
1 Cup white sugar
8 ounces butter, browned with vanilla bean, and resoftened
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 4oo degrees (make sure the oven is HOT when the cookies go in). In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar. You can mix this cookie dough by hand, but a stand-up mixer makes it much easier. Add eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Slowly stir together wet and dry ingredients. Make the cookies any size you like, baking all one size together. A large cookie bakes for about 10-12 minutes, a bite-size cookie may only need 7-8. Bake until golden brown, the darker the chewier. Makes about 3 dozen large cookies.

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