The Only Cookie Recipe You Need to Feed a Crowd

This is the easiest cookie recipe, hands down. It’s also the fastest cookie recipe, and my favorite to make. You read that right: oat and date cookies are my favorite cookies to make. It’s the most no-stress cookie recipe you can get without getting into the “3-ingredient recipe realm”. That said, it seems like you can count the number of ingredients on one hand. I love making these for friends, because they never fail to impress, and they take 10 minutes to put together.

On top of all that, it’s Ramadan, so of course I have an abundance of dates in the kitchen. This is really the only time I have dates around at all.

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Speaking of Ramadan, I wrote an article at work about what to eat to stay healthy during Ramadan. Check it out here!
I love these cookies so much that this is the second time I’ve written about them in a year, but I’m sure your friends will rejoice when you show up to the party with these in tow. Enjoy!

Oat and Date Cookies
Makes about 25 small cookies
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups  flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mejdool dates

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs, and when it sticks together when molded into hands. Add the egg, beating until just blended. Mix in the sugar, oats, and dates. Drop tablespoons of the dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. This dough should be very firm.
Bake until lightly browned, 12-15 minutes, at 350 degrees. Cool on the sheets until the cookies firm slightly. Enjoy warm or at room temperature!
Ramadan Mubarak! Do you have any date recipes you’re cooking this month? Leave them in the comments!

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And if you have a Bloglovin’ account, add me here! Next week will be the last installation of Portland, Oregon, and after that will be an intro to Portland, Maine that I’m visiting for the long weekend! Check Instagram for live updates of the New England adventures, and come back soon!

The 3 Why’s of Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are a lot of decisions that go into making the best chocolate chip cookies. Do you ever stand at your kitchen counter, looking at a recipe thinking “what’s the big deal about leaving my butter at room temperature? Can’t I just melt it?” Or a slew of other concerns? I’ve broken down three of the basic cookie enigmas to get to the reasons behind the recipe.

1.  Why do I cream my butter and sugar?

When you start baking your cookies with soft butter, it allows for pockets of air to be created when combined at a rapid pace with the sugar. They say that this gives your cookies a better texture, that they come out  with more body. But why? When the cookies are in the oven, the air from the creaming evaporates, and steam allows the dough to rise taller in the oven and become less dense. That’s why the cookies have a lighter texture when you cream the butter instead of melt it. For those who love cookies that crumble instead of sink into your teeth like paste, this is logical solution for you.

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2. Why do I chill my dough?

What a bummer it is to reach the part of your chocolate chip cookie recipe where it says to chill your dough, either for a couple hours, or overnight. Don’t they know you’re craving these cookies right now, and have no time for dough firming? Kenji Lopez-Alt swears by leaving your dough to rest in the fridge overnight – and I got to hear it from the food scientist himself. He told me that’s the easiest way to enhance the flavor of your cookies. All the flour and starch proteins in the cookie have more time to break down when the dough is resting, creating a more intense butterscotchy cookie flavor. When the cookie bakes in the oven, these same proteins are breaking down anyway, but they get to go even further if you just give them more time to pre-game. This leaves you with maximum depth in your cookies.

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3. Why heat the oven to 375°?

There are a lot of super cool chemical reactions that happen in the oven when your cookies are baking, that this TED Ed video illustrates very well. One of these reactions is caramelization, but this only happens at 356° F. At this temperature, the sugar molecules in the dough break down and create the nutty quality that caramel has. If your recipe calls for an oven set to 350°, this reaction won’t occur and your cookies will come out differently. The change in flavor is better or not, depending on personal preference, but it would be a good experiment to try out and see which you enjoy more.

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There is an abundance of factors to consider when baking something as simple as chocolate chip cookies. These are the all-stars of basic cookie improvement that will help guide you in your next journey to the best chocolate chip cookies. Have a favorite recipe? Leave it below!

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Skillet S’mores

I’ve seen this idea floating around the internet, probably on Tasty or Buzzfeed, and I had the perfect size (read: smallest) cast iron skillet to try it in, so here’s a great way to prepare for the summer in the safety and warmth of your kitchen while waiting for the March Nor’easter to pass.

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This is a good and fast thing to whip up if you have people over and are trying to keep them happy – but for that, you’ll probably want a bigger skillet…

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Just load up the components of a s’more, minus the graham cracker, into a cast iron skillet. So, that’s really just the chocolate and marshmallows. Use milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or both, hi), depending on your taste. Add the marshmallows on top until you can’t fit any more. Pro-tip, which I did not do: cut the marshmallows in half so it’s easier to get to the chocolate once everything is melted. It will also allow the marshmallows to melt more, before the chocolate seizes.

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Needs more padding
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Perfect

 

Throw it in the top half of the oven and broil for a few minutes – go nowhere! Keep a close eye on the marshmallows and take out the skillet once the marshmallows have browned to your liking.

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Now! Grab your graham crackers and dig in. But really, you’ll need some wrist pivoting and finagling to get up under the marshmallows for the chocolate. Not that it’s difficult, this is just fair warning for you and your friends. Actually, speculoos biscuits may be the true pro-route here.

Disclosure: Graham crackers are prone to snapping under pressure.

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Enjoy your premature summer treat with the crew while we wait for the 60° weather to return in New York.

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Leave any more pro tips you come across in the comments!

Chocolate Comfort Cookies

I’ve written about this recipe before, but it merits some revamping, AKA more-than-subpar-photographing. Surprisingly, it’s still the best cookie I’ve made – especially for the simplicity. Say you have a chocolate chip cookie recipe. All you do is add half a cup of peanut butter, half a cup of cocoa powder, and bam: delicious treats that will blow the minds of all your omnivorous friends. Make sure there are no allergies in the crowd you’re feeding.

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I think the key here is the ratio of two eggs to one stick of butter. These are big-bodied cookies, with some heft and height, but they stay soft and chewy and somehow manage to melt in your mouth 24 hours later.

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Chocolate Comfort Cookies
based on the recipe from Bakerella

Yields around 30-40 cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips (I use a combo of milk and semi-sweet)

Beat the butter, peanut butter, and sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Combine with the butter mixture gradually. Add the chocolate chips and chill for a couple of hours. Roll the dough into balls of your desired size, and bake in the oven at 350° for around 10 minutes, or until the surface of the cookies are no longer shiny. Devour immediately.

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Seriously folks, these are unfathomably delightful. I fed them to some of the guys that work at the rock climbing gym I go to (baking = friends), and they were elated, many nights made. If you love these as much as I do, or wanna chat climbing beta, leave some words!

Baking With Vanilla

When you’re searching for the best chocolate chip recipe out there, you have to try different forms and variations of ingredients: creamed butter vs. brown butter, chocolate chips vs. chocolate chunks, vanilla extract vs. vanilla beans. There was a co-op in Connecticut where I lived that had two vanilla beans in little baggies for $3.89! I don’t know what magic allowed that to go down, but I wasn’t asking questions. It was time that I tested out the real deal.

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Vanilla beans are super cool because the flavor lies in these tiny seeds that are inside the bean. To get to them, I made a slit with a small knife, trying not to cut all the way through to the other side. Then I could open it up and scrape out the seeds with the blunt side of the knife.

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Inside, the seeds are pasty and oily, and have a strong vanilla aroma. Depending on the size of the vanilla bean, you could use half of the seeds for one batch of cookies and save the rest. If you find yourself with a dried out vanilla bean, just wrap it in a damp paper towel and put it in the microwave for 20 seconds!

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When I tried the chocolate chip cookies with this vanilla bean, I could definitely tell a difference between them and cookies I’d made with vanilla extract. These cookies were almost floral from the vanilla bean, with a sharper vanilla flavor that’s only hinted at in vanilla extract. Surprisingly, it turns out I don’t prefer to use vanilla beans to vanilla extract. For me, the flavor was a little too intense, and did not provide the nostalgic, homey chocolate chip cookie taste that I was looking for. If you’re looking for a more complex, interesting flavor, however, vanilla beans are a great choice. Plus, they make everything look speckled, and therefore much cooler.

Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?

Once upon a time, I had a week off from work, so I went adventuring in Brooklyn. The destination of one particular afternoon was the Mast Brothers factory of chocolate in Williamsburg. Maybe you’ve seen their chocolate bars around? Or maybe you’ve heard accusations and admittance of chocolate fraud. No matter their previous or current strategies, the Mast Brothers have crazy, inventive chocolate flavors like goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, olive oil, and vanilla & smoke. And their packaging could easily be turned into wall decoration. But I was not in town for this chocolate, no. I was in town for their chocolate chip cookies (go figure). In my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, substantial research of existing artworks is imperative. I walked into the storefront, took a brief gander around the bags of cocoa beans and podiums of chocolate bars.

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After taking a peek through the window showing the factory, convincing you to pay for the $10 tour, I circled back to the front and asked for one of the chocolate chip cookies sitting on the counter. I decided to pay for this over the tour, this time, because guess how much it was….a round $4. It was worth it though, this cookie was about the size of my face, or three normal cookies.

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There were no seats or tables inside, so I had to leave the premises and find a bench on the side of the street instead. To my surprise, this took about 90 seconds. The chocolate pros figured out that crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-chewy-on-the-inside refinement, and the sea salt flakes on the top served as both decoration and general flavor enhancement. The top was the perfectly beautiful cracked texture that you see in the cookbooks. It was so delicious, and I managed to save some for later. I decided that I needed to track down the recipe for these cookies to see if any processes, techniques, or secret ingredients were applicable to my own recipe.

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Turns out, the Mast Brothers chocolate chip cookie recipe was no great shakes. There were no alternative mixing approaches or corn starch additions. In fact, their recipe didn’t even call for vanilla.

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Even so, I was confident that my cookies would turn out great, and excited to compare previous recipes. What resulted was a batch of perfectly smooth, large cookies that were less exciting than my current chocolate chip recipe.

 

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Pro tip from me: add the chocolate chips before all the flour is incorporated

 

 

Perhaps it was the fact that I did not use Mast Brothers chocolate, but probably not. There are always some variables that are unaccounted for, like evenness in your oven’s heat, oven heat in general, type of butter, and mixiness.

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Moral of the story: You should always feel free to tweak the recipe to your own taste. Things won’t necessarily come out how you think they will/like in the restaurant.

 

Mast Brothers Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
⅔ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
15 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
fleur de sel, for topping

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter with both sugars until fluffy. Blend in eggs one at a time. Add flour, baking soda, salt and chocolate and combine.
Spoon out cookie dough on baking sheets using tablespoons. Sprinkle sea salt to your preference. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

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Not fleur de sel. And I learned that adding the salt before baking will help it stick.
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Good with milk, of course.

 Have any perfected chocolate chip cookie techniques? Spill!

Speculoos Rice Crispy Treats

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You know those “baking” recipes that don’t require baking…skillet cookies, bars of various sorts, icebox cake, rice crispy treats. Rice crispy treats are like a blank canvas from which you can create beautiful art. Add peanut butter, use chocolate rice crispies, add unmelted, mini marshmallows, or add cookie crumbs! One of the final nights of senior year, my friend Desirée and I were trolling the internet for some baking ideas and we somehow came up with rice crispy treats, with speculoos biscuit crumbs for an added toffee-like taste. One late-night Wegmans run later, and we were equipped with rice crispies, speculoos biscuits, marshmallows, and butter. We got some speculoos spread for good measure. The best part about any rice crispies is that you can adjust the texture to your personal taste: ooey gooey? More marshmallows. Crispety-crunchety? More rice crispies. While this recipe is quick, the cleanup can be a little tricky. Make sure to soak your pot as soon as it’s empty!

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Melt butter and marshmallows, + salt
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It should look something like this
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Add the cereal quickly
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Flatten into lined pan

Speculoos Rice Crispy Treats
Makes about 12 bars

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8-12 oz marshmallows
7 speculoos biscuits, crushed
4 1/2 cups rice crispies
1 pinch salt

Instructions
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the marshmallows and mix diligently until it’s all melted. Add a pinch of salt. Add the rice crispies and speculoos crumbs, in half increments, until the cereal and cookies are coated evenly. Quickly transfer to a lined pan to cool and eat.

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Top 5 of 2015

As we ring in another new year, I thought to look back on the passing year with a post of my favorite recipes of 2015, that I know I’ll be coming back to.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year! See you all in 2016 😀

 

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Lemon Zucchini Bread – delicious and easy quick bread with lemony zing

 

 

 

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Pop Quiz – all you need to know about popcorn and making it from scratch

 

 

 

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Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies – a hit with your non-dairy, gluten-free, and omnivore friends alike

 

 

 

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White (Chocolate) Drizzled Lavender Shortbread – attractive and attainable party goals

 

 

 

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Dad’s Mango Bread – a new family recipe that’s always a good idea

 

The Levain Bakery Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you A. live in New York City or B. do a lot of cookie research, odds are you’ve heard of or been to Levain bakery in the upper west side of Manhattan. They are most famous for their hugeangous (walnut) chocolate chip cookies. There are countless copycat recipes online, of people trying to recreate the masterful baked good of NYC. Hearty banter about corn starch, refrigeration time, chocolate size, and flour type fill the blogosphere, and I don’t know if anyone has arrived to the real deal, $4 cookie-scone wonder.

It’s a cookie I promise

Luckily for me and some colleagues, one of our editors lives a few blocks from the 21-year old, tiny establishment and planned on making a trip for a friend’s mom in San Francisco who requested some from her east coast contacts. I asked if she would get me one too so I could try these allegedly amazing cookies for myself.

 

Large lady-hand for reference

After waiting in a 30 minute line at the time of opening, she gets into the office and hands me the bag of what looks like scones, and feels like rocks.There’s a solid thud when I put the paper bag by my laptop. I was warned that some are intimidated by the nearly half-pound cookie, but I was ready.

 

The Empire State Building of cookies

When I finally took a bite, the edges of the cookie crunched, but I could tell that a soft gooey chocolatey center was waiting. There are a couple key characteristics to these cookies. First off, the mere dimensions of the thing. Not only is it several inches wide, but it stands very tall, showing off the second important factor: its just-barely-done inside texture. Because of the size of the cookie, there’s a window in the baking where the outside gets golden brown before the inside has solidified completely. And hours later that consistency keeps, melted chocolate and all.

 

Texture game: strongest

Even though I haven’t made it very far in my cookie journey of the city, this chocolate chip cookie will easily rank in my top 5. I wouldn’t exactly aim for a Levain interpretation in my own chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I take due note in their techniques and values, and plan on standing in that 30-minute line myself some time warmer.

Take pride in your approach? Tell me what makes your chocolate chip cookies special below!