One of the tensions I’ve always struggled with in regards to cooking Mexican food is that of cooking “authentic” Mexican food with the ingredients available to me in Boston. I promise this is not another one of those posts where I complain about how much Mexican produce sucks around here. Although I’m often disappointed by…
I stumbled upon this cookie late on a weeknight last year. Although I love cookies and I’d been searching for a crisp and flat cookie that emulated the deliciousness of my favorite local bakery’s chocolate chip cookies, on this particular night I was simply hoping for a generic chocolate chip cookie.
I’d tried this foodnetwork recipe for thin and crispy cookies before, but the cookies hadn’t turned out that much flatter than your typical cookie. Since I was hosting a review session for my history students the next day, I wanted to provide snacks to encourage *cough* bribe *cough* students to attend.
As I set out my ingredients, I encountered a big problem: I only had one cup of brown sugar, while the recipe called for almost twice that amount. It was getting late, so I quickly decided to sub the brown sugar for white sugar and left the rest of the recipe intact. Eight minutes later, the flattest cookies I’d ever seen emerged from the oven. I was initially distraught. The cookies looked weird! They were flat, oblong, almost translucent and coated with a fine mist of butter when I picked one up from the tray.
However, once I bit into a cookie, I was immediately overjoyed. I had found the perfect cookie for me! If you’ve been around me for any amount of time, you’ll know that I LOVE crispy things but I especially love crispy cookies. These treats were my idea of the perfect cookie- subtly chewy on the inside with a crispy edge. I excitedly shared one with my husband who initially scoffed at their appearance but then remarked, “These are the best cookies I’ve ever had!” This was high praise from the man who begins dinner by giving me a critique on the the taste of our food every night. (“I like the cumin in here but you could definitely have used more salt.”)
Although I thought they were perfection in cookie form, I knew that my students would comment on the odd appearance of the cookies. I hoped that the taste would compensate for their looks, so I packed them up and went to sleep.
The next day, when I put the cookies out during our study session, my students remarked, “Ms.Cho! What’s wrong with these cookies?! Did you forget to add baking powder?” (10th grade baking logic). However, as soon as they tried them, they all remarked on how delicious the cookies were. One student even asked me if I could bake some for her birthday party!
My students still talk about the cookies at least once a week: “Ms.Cho, are you bringing cookies to the MLK potluck?” And I am in fact bringing some to our last review session of the year this week. Apart from being wildly popular with tenth graders, relatives and church friends have also received them with the same warm remarks and have asked for the recipe. After experimenting with the recipe probably a dozen times trying to recreate that randomly perfect first batch of cookies, I finally feel like the recipe is ready to share. Please look at the notes below since there are a few important steps to yielding the perfect cookie! Let me know how they turn out in the comments!
Although I’ve been advertising these cookies as crispy, they were described by a non-crispy- loving friend as “a good kind of crispy.” Meaning that there’s plenty of chewiness in the center of the cookie. If crispy is not your thing, feel free to keep the baking time closer to 7 minutes to keep the cookie chewier. I strongly recommend that you use a cookie scoop for these cookies since they can turn out oddly shaped otherwise. If possible, use chocolate wafers(flat chocolate chips) like these CHOCODROPS instead of normal chocolate chips since the regular chocolate chips tend to stay in the center while the rest of the cookie batter spreads out, and they stick up above the otherwise flat cookie- kind of weird. Also, you want to get chocolate chips that aren’t overly sweet, these cookies are pretty sweet so semi-sweet to bitter-sweet chips work well. Chilling the dough is essential. I used to skip this step when recipes called for it, but with these cookies in particular–due to the high butter content–it is very important to chill after making the dough and to keep it cool in between batches (I stick my dough in the freezer while the other cookies are baking to keep the dough nice and cool). Finally, knowing when the cookies are done can be a little tricky, so I’ve included some pictures below to show you when I pull mine out of the oven.
The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yields: ~2 dozen cookies using small cookie scoop
Total Time: 1 hour and 12 minutes
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 7-9 minutes
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ⅓ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 cup chocolate chips (semi sweet to dark chocolate work well)
- Parchment paper (trust me)
- Wet ingredients: Cream butter and sugars for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg, water, and vanilla. Mix until combined.
- Dry ingredients: Add flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix until fully incorporated. Then stir in chocolate chips.
- Chill: Cool dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour.
- Pre-heat: Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees once the dough has been chilled for an hour.
- Scoop: Using a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop dough onto cookie sheet covered with parchment paper leaving plenty of room for cookies to spread. You should scoop no more than six cookies per sheet (Refer to images above).
- Chill: Keep remaining dough refrigerated in between batches in order to avoid overspreading.
- Bake: Bake the cookies for 4 minutes in the center rack of the oven, rotate the tray, and bake for another 3-4 minutes or until your cookies resemble the cookies in the photos above. Remove tray from oven.
- Cool: Take parchment paper and cookies off the tray and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before eating.
I had always considered one thing and one thing alone a marker of true Mexican womanhood. Every real Mexican woman is able to flip tortillas on a comal with her bare fingers. My mother would do this expertly while using all four burners and running the blender, all at the same time. Years ago, when I would first try my hand at this technique, I would tentatively reach for the comal, only pull back my hand with a squeal. I was not a true Mexican woman yet. Defeated, I would flip the tortilla with a spatula, or to my mother’s chagrin, I would flip it with a metal fork.
I actually don’t even recall when I myself finally became a true Mexican woman. A few months ago, I found myself spacing out as I worked away, flipping tortillas with my fingers. Suddenly, I realized what I was doing! When did this coming-of-age take place? I have no idea. Now, I flip everything with my bare fingers: pancakes, toast, roasted vegetables–you name it. My husband just stands to the side, agape and amused.
Nowadays, my understanding of true womanhood is little more nuanced, though I still value that tortilla flipping panache. A few weeks ago, I took on a new Mexican rite of passage: making tamales from scratch! I love tamales. Because tamales are so labor intensive, we only eat them around the holidays. I associate them with Christmas and New Year’s, with the smell of ponche cooking in the backyard and tías gossiping in the kitchen. Primos and primas run around the house playing tag, sometimes earning passive scoldings or if especially unlucky, a zape. My mom, always a practical cook, never makes them at home. When I told my mom that I decided to make tamales for this blog, she wryly said, “good luck!”
As I’ve said, cooking tamales is not an easy endeavour; it’s usually a collective effort. The process is laborious. Making the tamal fillings is, in and of itself, an art form with limitless varieties by region and preference. The masa too can vary in taste, texture and even color. The wrappings at least are somewhat standard. Tamales are usually cooked in corn husks or banana leaves. Traditionally, one must use a tamalera, a big steamer that holds dozens of tamales at once; they can take one to three hours to cook depending on the number of tamales and the consistency of your masa.
Although my recipe only yields thirty tamales, if I did it again, I would double the recipe to make the investment of time more worthwhile. That being said, if you do decide to double your recipe, check that you will be able to cook all the tamales at once. My small, 6-quart pot only held two dozen tamales so I had to cook them in two batches (not ideal). Although tamales do take a lot of time to prep and cook, the taste of a fresh tamal is well worth it. Moist and tender, the subtle richness of tamal dough envelops a smokey, meat-filled interior for the perfect balance. If you have the time and motivation, give it try!
Tips for making tamales.
Preparing the masa:
- Beat your lard with a mixer until light and fluffy in order to yield light and porous tamales
- Add enough salt to your masa. Cook a bit of masa to see what your tamal will taste like after steaming. Then, adjust seasoning as desired.
- Make your masa a little wetter than you think it needs to be in order to prevent it from drying out while making tamales.
- Coat your husks with masa all at once and then place the filling on top. You don’t want to be coating and filling them individually, since this will take much longer. Think assembly line.
- If using a spoon to spread the masa, hold the husk in your hand to help move the masa onto the husk with your hand
- If you do not have a tamalera like me, elevate your steamer using ramekins in order to hold more water and spend less time refilling your pot.
- Have a kettle with boiling water on standby in order to avoid adding cold water to the pot and consequently lengthening the cooking time.
- Measure how many cups it takes to fill your pot to right below the steamer, and then time the first refill carefully so that you know how often you will need to replenish the water. For example, for me it was 6 cups of water, and I needed to refill every 45 minutes at medium heat.
- The traditional timing method: put a coin at the bottom of your pot. The roiling water in the pot will cause the coin to make noise. When the coin stops making noise, it’s time to fill up the pot again!
Beef and Chicken Tamales
Yields ~30 tamales
Prep time: 45 minutes (excluding prep time for filling)
Cooking Time: 1-3 hours
- 3 cups prepared masa*
- ¾ cup lard
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1.5 cups beef/chicken stock
- ~50 corn husks soaked in hot water for 3 hours
1. Masa for tamales: Beat lard, salt, and baking powder with mixer until light and fully (3-5 minutes). Add 3 cups masa and 1 cup stock to the lard, and continue beating with mixer to remove any lumps in dough. Dough is ready when it is easy to spread with a spoon.
2. Assembly: Pat corn husks dry. Line husks up and spread about 1-2 tablespoons masa per corn husk on the top part of the husk. Then place 1-2 tablespoons filling in center of each husk. Fold sides of husks over.
3. Steam: Load all tamales open side up in steamer. Cook for 1 to 3 hours. Tamales are ready when the dough comes off the husk.
*Masa: If you are not grinding your own corn, simply use masa harina like this one and follow the directions on the back. You can buy masa harina at most grocers and on Amazon.
A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the farmer’s market in my town center, and while perusing the crates of veggies at the The Neighborhood Farm stand, my eyes landed on one crate labeled “Green Oaxacan Corn.” These emerald ears of corn brought back childhood memories of long summer days in Mexico.
My grandfather always used to have bags of dried corn lying around the house. As a farmer, he kept sacks of corn as seed for the next year’s crop. Some of the corn, unbeknownst to me, was also used to make masa. I loved popping the kernels off the ears of corn with my fingers. Or better yet, I would shoot the small kernels at an unsuspecting dog or chicken. I played with the corn without understanding its purpose. Ubiquitous and unexciting, the corn was merely a part of the background of my grandparents’ house. I never realized that the delicious tortillas or gorditas I ate came from those precious kernels.
In all my child’s play with the corn, I’d never seen ears of corn in such a beautiful shade of green. When I saw them at the farmer’s market, I immediately picked one up and began inspecting it under the dim light. Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind. What if I tried making my own masa… from scratch? I considered the fact that a few weeks prior I’d made sopes from masa harina, something that I had considered “from scratch” until that point. That had felt like a huge accomplishment, but making masa actually from scratch? This would be more difficult.
As I continued inspecting the corn, I began talking to the person at the stand about my plans to make masa with the corn. She excitedly shared that they had grown this variety of corn because one particular customer was really enthusiastic about making tamales from the corn. Convinced, I grabbed the corn, but as I handed my corn over to pay for it, the kind woman working at the stand refused to let me pay and encouraged me to let her know what came to be of the corn. (Thank you Kate from The Neighborhood Farm)!
I left the farmer’s market ecstatic with my new “purchase” and went home to research the process of making masa. I was nervous about whether or not my cheap food processor would be able to grind the corn since I didn’t own a grain mill, but I was reassured that it was indeed possible by this post. The next item that I needed to make tamales was cal mexicana–pickling lime. After calling about a dozen stores and asking for pickling lime to no avail, I decided to go look around myself. Later that day, when I’d almost given up hope of finding cal in Boston, I stopped at a random Mexican restaurant in East Boston to grab dinner. As I waited for my food I asked the owner (a lovely Mexican woman from Jalisco) if she knew of any Mexican grocers that carried cal. She shook her head, and I almost lost all hope, but then she said, “Actually, I have some cal that I brought from Mexico that I could give you.” She made a phone call home and her husband brought over a ziplock bag full of the cal for me. I was overjoyed and so grateful! Cal and burritos in tow, I headed home.
After watching countless YouTube videos and reading many posts on the process of making masa (listed below), I began by creating the cal slurry and adding it to a pot of boiling water along with the corn. I was amazed to see that the corn immediately turned a brighter shade of yellow. I let the corn and cal mixture cook for about an hour and then turned the pot off. The next morning I found the corn much softer; however, though the skin of the kernels did peel off, it was not as easy to peel off as some sources seemed to suggest. After I peeled off as much skin as I could, I transferred the corn to my tiny food processor. Three batches and 25 minutes later, my glorious masa was done!
Masa (from scratch)
Yields 4 cups
Cooking Time: 1 hour
- 2 tablespoons of cal mexicana (calcium hydroxide)
- Enough water to cover the corn
- 3 cups of dried corn
- Prep: Mix the cal with water and stir until the two integrate fully. Heat a pot (stainless, non-oxidizing*) of water until boiling. Add corn and cal and reduce heat to a low simmer. Allow corn to simmer for 1 hour. Turn off heat and let contents rest overnight (between 8-12 hours).
- Next day: Rinse corn in running water and remove as many of the corn skins as possible by rubbing them between your fingers.
- Grinding: Put corn in food processor and grind until it combines into dough. For my cheap food processor that took almost 9 minutes. If your corn meal is not turning into dough, add water in teaspoon increments until the masa is formed.
- Enjoy! Make tamales, sopes, tortillas, etc. with your delicious masa.
*Make sure you use a stainless steel pot. Otherwise, the cal could damage your pot.
Websites and videos used to inform this process:
The wisdom of someone who has done this many times
Awesome step by step pictures (also uses food processor)
Explains the science behind the nixtamalization process (PH levels included!)
Also describes the process of making masa in a super comprehensive way and helped me to troubleshoot some hiccups along the way
¿Como hacer el Nixtamal? It’s by Yuri de Gortari, what’s not to love? (Spanish) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLda6IdPqnE