Saturday has become predictable. At 10 AM I meet my friend Chef Vinny for a Pilate's class that used to be on a Pilate's reformer but is now on a gravity machine. Pretty cool and good for developing core strength and lengthening out the muscles. After being appropriately stretched, folded, prodded and bent, Vince and I usually adjourn for coffee and a bagel at Twigg's Coffee House . The coffee isn't that great, but the bagels (and other pastries) are and the ambiance can't be beat. Here, Vince and I have commiserated about the challenges and woes of our respective lives. And though we usually don't come to any earth shattering resolutions, we almost always leave feeling better than when we walked in. Or, we opt for breakfast at any of the great breakfast places that abound in San Diego.
This past Saturday, however, neither one of us felt like coffee and bagels and we most definitely didn't feel like breakfast. Oddly enough, what we felt like doing was baking. Both of us missed our calling to be a pastry chef, though Vince probably had a better opportunity to achieve it being an actual graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. We baked the Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake the weekend before; we felt like doing cookies this weekend. Kind of a warm up for the approaching holiday season. So we turned to a cookbook I already owned and selected a recipe for which I happened to have all the ingredients, or at least almost all the ingredients
We decided to bake the Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies from the All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett. As I said, I had almost all the ingredients and the ones I didn't have weren't critical. I didn't have an orange, but I had limes, so we subbed that in..........
The lime worked just fine, but as they say hindsight is always 20/20, the orange would have probably provided a stronger flavor note than did the lime.
The really good thing about cranberries is that they last a long, long time when frozen. And since we're coming up on prime cranberry season I figured why not get rid of what was in the freezer to make room for this year's crop. So into the work bowl of my trusty Kitchenaid food processor went a bunch of cranberries, 4 oz to be exact
Once they had been coarsely chopped, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar went in
A few more pulses to combine and they came out looking like this. I love the deep ruby color.
As with any baking project it's really key to get all the ingredients together before you start preparations. It's called mise en place in the restaurant business and here's ours.
The recipe called for both butter and shortening. Shortening was another thing I didn't have so we used all butter, 2 sticks, which went into the stand mixer along with 1 1/4 cups of packed brown sugar to be creamed
Something a lot of people forget to do is to scrape down the sides of the bowl during the beating process. It's a simple step that helps to ensure all the ingredients are well incorporated into the mixture. Remember, baking is based on formulas with each individual ingredient providing specific parts of the formula. Scrapping the bowl between each addition will make sure each ingredient gets to do the job for which it was intended.
Next a couple of eggs were added one at a time, beating well after each addition
Then some vanilla, corn syrup and the lime zest were added followed by flour that had been sifted together with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. The allspice was the last of our ingredient substitutions. The original recipe calls for ground coriander which I thought I had but didn't. Since there really is no alternative for that we just used our baking instincts and decided that allspice was probably a better choice than Chinese 5-Spice, though that probably would have worked too. Anyway, here's the almost finished batter
Not to mention my favorite way to clean the beater. It's all about playing with food. I love the tactile nature of raw ingredients and food preparation. Plus, touching and handling the products during preparation trains your hands to feel when a dough or batter is right.
Finally, the last 3 ingredients went it, those cranberries, oatmeal and chopped pecans.
The recipe called for dropping them onto a prepared pan with a coffee measure, which it usually 2 tablespoons. I grabbed the first one I found in the catch-all drawer and started dropping
Turns out this was a 3 tablespoon coffee scoop and these turned out to be ENORMOUS cookies. We'd baked 1 dozen when I found the other coffee scoop that was 2 tablespoons and we finished up the baking using that one.
The final results
We liked the cookies a lot. They had excellent flavor though were softer than we had though they would be. We will make these again using the orange zest and shortening as called for in the recipe plus one additional add-in. These cookies would be real dynamite if they had 3-4 oz of finely chopped dark chocolate. Cranberries, oranges, oatmeal and chocolate. What's not to like!