One of my clearest memories as a child is making chocolate chip cookies with my mom. Just as many mothers and daughters have done since Ruth Wakefield (who, ironically, was a dietitian) teemed up with Nestle; we used that famous Toll House recipe.
In our household, for reasons that I’m not quite sure of – maybe the perceived health benefits of it at the time, or it might have been cheaper than butter, or maybe just because that’s what my grandmother used – margarine was always the starting point. “Oleo” as my mother referred to it, was the base for the dough which then also included imitation vanilla extract and all-purpose bleached white flour.
For better or worse, the memory of these cookies is indelibly linked to warm and fuzzy emotions for me; and I have shared them with others in the same spirit. Over the years my friends have come to expect them for occasions such as birthdays, holidays, and any celebratory gathering.
As I have learned more about food and how it can affect people, I have tweaked the recipe to suit my changing tastes. I now prefer bourbon vanilla extract rather than imitation; unbleached flour from a particular company known for its quality; and fantastically fresh eggs from local farmers which have vibrant, almost orange yolks.
But I haven’t yet had the heart to change the core of the recipe, which some would argue is the most glaringly unhealthful part of these dessert treats. The margarine is what keeps the cookies from spreading, helps preserve tenderness with the slightest bit of edgy crunch, and which I have been trained to use since I was old enough to hold a spatula. I will have to live with this guilt, which is only bearable because my friends enjoy them despite this verboten base.
For Christmas this year, I received a cookbook that I am thrilled to explore. Focused on whole grain baking, it has inspiring chapters on different flours and forms of grains. Whole wheat is framed as the gateway grain for current households, thus it is the focus of the first chapter; whence the journey continues to other more exotic and harder to source grains with intricate recipes in which to use them. Presumably the gateway recipe is chocolate chip cookies, as it is the first in the whole wheat chapter.
Rather than make a – gasp – new recipe of chocolate chip cookies (since I’m not sure I’d be invited to anymore birthday celebrations), the idea was planted to update my current recipe by upping the healthful factor by adding a bit of whole wheat flour. After all, it wouldn’t be the first tweak of the original.
They turned out great, with a bit of extra chew and depth that’s hard to put a finger on. Satisfying, homey, and still able to evoke warm-fuzzy-happy-satiety. So chalk another one up for health! Winter’s farmers markets are firing up again around these parts though so a local focus is (over)due to return…