A Good Use for Cheap Butter

mapled choc chip cookies 2

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with an empty refrigerator. Coming home from ten days in New England, I was baffled by how much we didn’t have. There were all of the things that were actually necessary to feed a child—milk, and a few slices of bread, cheese and tortillas, and a few oranges. But after going out to breakfast the first day we were home, it occurred to me that at some point, we’d have to feed ourselves, too.

Over the holidays, I also tested recipes for the Pike Place Market cookbook. Every day, I had specific goals—pulled pork sandwiches with coffee-tinged barbecue sauce one day, smoked salmon rillettes and stout-braised bratwurst the next. (It was a delicious week.) Here, filling a refrigerator with everyday food, with no actual recipe plans, seemed incredibly novel—and somehow daunting. Handicapped by jetlag and a holiday hangover, I couldn’t get it together to plan out food for the week, so I did what anyone with an empty refrigerator might do. I bought butter.

Normally, I buy two butters—Trader Joe’s unsalted store brand, and Golden Glen Creamery’s fancy butter. The former is cheap and works fine for baking; we use the latter (which is not cheap) for toast and in foods where you can really taste it. But on our vacation, I ran into a recipe that specifically called for ShurFine butter—the cheapest stuff you can get in New England.

Snowy chicken coop

We’d planned to spend one night with friends in Norwich, Vermont, in a little modern homestead perched over the White River, between a country road and a pig farm. It was all about as cute as we could handle, with chickens clucking around in the front yard, just past the frozen pond, and a team’s worth of hockey sticks lined up next to the front door. The neighbors’ bushes all had little A-frame houses built over them to protect them from snow. When we drove up, our hostess bounced down the driveway to meet us, the way one almost never does in a city, because the driveways just aren’t long enough. We squealed and hugged and walked inside, where the warm scents of chocolate chip cookies and wood smoke mingled with a pervasive sense of calm.

Our first course of cookies came before we took our coats off. Nicknamed “Wezie Burgers,” for our hostess’ mother, they stray a bit from the traditional back-of-the-bag recipe, with different amounts of sugar and egg and maple syrup in place of the vanilla (and then some), and with ShurFine, and only ShurFine, butter. The first time, they were still warm and chewy, but by the time we’d finished our venison chili—made with a deer shot on the property, naturally—they’d crisped up a bit, so they had the consistency of store-bought cookies, but with way more personality. (Thank you, maple syrup.) The third course came the next morning, when we dipped them in coffee as the tots ran around screaming and the adults tried to estimate just how much snow had collected on the roof of the chicken coop.

mapled choc chip cookies 1

Because there’s nothing quite as welcoming as a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, I returned the favor when we were in Maine, with other friends visiting. Again, the cookies were big, with big cracks in the top emanating from where the oversized chocolate chips I’d used poked through the dough. I, for one, thought they were very similar to the first batch – impressive, I thought, given that the maple syrup measurement was never all that clear. But Wezie uses half whole wheat flour, and I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel like I could call them Wezie Burgers without following her recipe to the T.

mapled choc chip cookies 3

So at home, I whipped up another batch—this time with chunks and shards of chocolate, which I prefer to chips, and Trader Joe’s butter. I was almost satisfied, until my husband asked what it was that made the originals so different—he said they were stiffer, that the dough itself was somehow chunkier, and that the chocolate chunks just weren’t quite right in this cookie. I hate it when he’s right.

For batch three, I bought the cheapest salted butter I could find. I switched to mixing by hand, because it occurred to me that I didn’t see a mixer at my friend’s house, and switched back to whole chips. Perfect. If you can tell me why good butter ruins these cookies, I’m all ears.

I know cookies aren’t exactly what most people need right now. Show me anything with a sprinkle or a twinkle, and might throw it back in your face. But once they’ve cooled, these cookies get a little saggy and deflated, which is exactly how I feel right now—not at all bad in a sick way, just tired.

I’m convinced someone was in charge of structuring the calendar so people would be buoyed by the prospect of new, exciting things immediately after an exhausting vacation, but I clearly haven’t figured out why now is the “right” time to diet.

IMG_4544

Mapled Chocolate Chip Cookies (PDF)

Called “Wezie Burgers” by the family who created the recipe I’ve based mine on, this version of chocolate chip cookies is a Vermont-inspired variation on the back-of-the-bag standard. They’re best mixed a little less than normal, so I add all the dry ingredients—including the chocolate chips—at once.

Day-old cookies can be warmed in the microwave for about 20 seconds for a just-baked effect.

Active Time: 15 minutes
Makes: About 2 dozen

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) cheap salted butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

Whisk the flours and baking soda together in a small bowl, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 1 minute, until well blended. Add the egg and maple syrup, and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients and the chocolate chips, and stir with on-off pulses just until the mixture comes together.

Arrange 1 1/2” balls of dough at even intervals on the baking sheets (you may need to make more than one batch) and bake for about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are light golden brown. Let cool on sheets for about 15 minutes, then serve warm.

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11 Comments

Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe

11 responses to “A Good Use for Cheap Butter

  1. seriously, give me chocolate chip cookies instead of birthday cake ANYDAY! those look really good, and i love me some maple!

  2. Constance

    These look delicious. One reason the salted butter might work better is that the water content is a bit higher than in premium butters, and that little bit of extra water might work to hydrate the WW flour which can absorb more moisture than white.

  3. Kristin

    OMG Jess, these sound amazing and I’m going to have to try them! I agree with Constance that it is probably a water content issue. I’m curious and will check Shirley Courier’s Bakewise when I get home from work. (Yes, I’m reading a blog about cookies at work. I’m terrible.) I’m thinking you could use good butter and just alter the amount of liquid added. But why use more expensive butter if the cheapo stuff works so well!

    On another note, my husband got me “Best Food Writing of 2010″ for Christmas and I was delighted to see your name among the authors – Congratulations! Can’t wait to read the book. I did NOT bring the book to work. Though now I’m thinking of ways to rationalize it. (I first learned of your blog from an MIT/WHOI friend who was reading the BFW of 2008.)

  4. Sometimes, just sometimes – when I have a ton of baking to do – I buy butter at Costco. I feel guilty doing so, like someone is going to catch me and call me a faker. But it sounds like that crappy butter might be put to actual good use. Sounds like you had a good trip – congrats for surviving it with a toddler!

  5. I’ve never seen a cookie recipe that calls for salted butter, but with all the gourmet chocolate chip cookies having salt on top, I can see how this might work. And then with the maple syrup and half whole wheat flour — even better! You’ve sold me.

    Any reason why they’re called “burgers”??

    Cheers and happy New Year,

    *Heather*

    • I think they’re called burgers because they’re about the size and shape of a homemade burger patty if you make them a little big… the person who first coined the term is a vegetarian, so perhaps this was Wezie’s version of hamburgers for her?

  6. ShurFine: love it!

    Seems our fridge only has two states: jam-packed or empty.

    Cheers!

  7. hmmm salted butter in cookies? Have to try this coz they look yummy!

  8. I use salted butter in all may baking because a) it’s cheaper and b) often you need to add salt anyway. So just don’t and use salted butter.

    The cookies look scrumptious and I’ll definitely give them a try at some point.

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