Sunday, January 11, 2009

The perfection of a chocolate chip cookie.

Remember the breakdown of ingredients in a glass of lemonade? Yes. We're back to that. I made chocolate chip cookies Friday night, and I took a bite and though "Best international fusion cooking, ever."

Wheat, as we likely all know, was domesticated in the Middle East. But modern milling methods were perfected in Europe. Romans used water power first, then the French in the 1100s CE used wind power. Sifting was perfected in Minnesota (northern US) in 1865.

The ancient Egyptians (yes really) used natron, which is mostly sodium carbonate, for most of the same uses we have today for baking soda. (Incidentally, natron was also used to desiccate mummies. Isn't history fun?) The modern baking soda, sodium BIcarbonate, was invented in France in 1891. The modern manufacturing methods? New York, 1846. Currently it is used in the manufacture of crack. I wonder if the government will start demanding ID when we buy it, like they do with Sudafed? (Assholes.)

Well. There have been books written about salt. (Seriously. Try this one. It's good.) Chemically is is a molecule; the two atoms that make it up, sodium and chlorine, are, respectively, explosive and a toxic corrosive gas. Various methods have been used through history to get salt. Usually it's one of two methods: mining deposits, or evaporating salty water from a variety of sources (ocean water and brine springs). Modern, industrially produced salt is nearly pure, with some additives put in on purpose for nutrition and anti-clumping. 'Artesianal salts' or ancient salts had additives and contaminants out the wazoo, and could significantly alter the taste. Ancient cook books go into vast detail on what types of salt should be used with what foods. Generally I use kosher salt to cook with; the iodine and anti-clumping agents in table salt make it taste funky. I've also got some Hawaiian salt here that's orange from iron oxide. Mostly I use it for meat rubs.

Butter of course had to wait until the neolithic to get invented, when we had some milk to fool around with. It's made by sloshing cream around until the fat molecules clump up. Obviously, it's pretty much pure milk fat. That's why we like it. It was probably invented in Mesopotamia at the very dawn of dairy farming; any attempt to store cream in a skin container would be likely to slosh around, and viola, butter. Everyone made it because it was the best way to store the fat from the milk, and at the dawn of farming, everyone was on a super-low-fat diet. Clarifying butter - melting it and keeping the clear liquid - makes it much easier to store. It's the milk solids that sour quickly. Regular butter as we Europeans know it was most popular in northern Europe because, duh, they had the cooler climate that made it possible to store it longer. This became a bone of contention in the later days of the Catholic Church, because the Church ruled butter was an animal product and not to be eaten on Friday or fast days, while in the south, everyone could scarf up all the olive oil they wanted because it was a plant product. Not the ENTIRE reason the Protestant Reformation started in the north, but it had an impact.

The recipe uses both white and brown sugar. We've already discussed sugar around here, so I'll keep it short. Sugar's a refined form of sap from a grass native to SE Asia. The refinement process is grody and nasty and polluting. Brown sugar contains more of the sap and other pre-refinement components - and therefore has WAY more nutrients in it, most notably B complex and minerals. It's pure white sugar that's the historic newcomer, and nutritionally pretty useless.

Oh, this is a goodie. Vanilla beans are native to Central America, but are now grown around the world in tropical areas. All the plants, with the possible exception of the vines still growing in the C Mexico valley, are hand-pollinated. That's right. People get out there with little paint brushes and blop pollen around on each and every damn flower to produce these seed pods (technically not beans) because there's only one bug on earth that pollinates them, and it's got a very small range. After harvest, vanilla beans are heated or chilled to 'kill' the bean (stop the growth process), sweated in high humidity, dried in the sun, and then allowed to age for a month or two. Vanilla is the only commercially viable crop produced by the entire family of Orchidae, with so many species they are found on every continent except Antarctica.

Eggs come from hens. Hens come from other hens, who originally came from an unknown bird, which was domesticated from birds native to Vietnam (this is a new theory based on DNA analysis; before that, it was thought they were native to China or India).

Chocolate, of course, comes from a tree native to S America. Everyone knows that. But the process for making solid chocolate, like a chocolate bar, was only invented in North Africa, though it was made and sold in Europe in England in 1847. That was dark chocolate. Milk chocolate wasn't developed until 1875 in Switzerland. Good thing I wasn't born before 1875.

The Toll House cookie recipe, THE chocolate chip cookie recipe, was invented in 1930, at the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. The innkeeper's wife, Ruth, did most of the cooking and baking and one day in 1930 she ran out of nuts, and so chopped up a chocolate bar and put the bits into the cookie instead. The inn soon became famous for the cookies, and so did she; eventually Nestle purchased the recipe from her (I hope she lived large on the profits for the rest of her days) and put a couple Pitt-bull lawyers on it as copyright protection, refusing anyone permission to reproduce the recipe. Chocolate chips weren't introduced to the market until 1939, meaning for nine years, people cut up regular chocolate bars to make their cookies with.

Put two sticks of solidified milk fat into your mixer (from a cow domesticated in Europe), along with 3/4 cup syrupy granules from a sweet grass, and 3/4 cup super-purified granules from the same grass (native to SE Asia, domesticated in India). Mix until creamy and add two eggs from a weirdly domesticated bird no one's sure of the origin of (probably SE Asia), and a teaspoon of processed orchid seed pods cut up and soaked in alcohol and water (orchids native to C America). Add in the ground-up and purified seeds of a grass (domesticated in the middle east), one teaspoon sodium bicarbonate, and one teaspoon ground up rocks. Stir in small chips of refined tree seeds (native to S America), refined by methods invented in Europe. Scoop onto cookie sheets and bake at 350 for about 12 minutes.

Mmmmm. International fusion cooking, with exotic ingredients. I can't get enough.


Anonymous said...

Ready-made chocolate chips aren't widely available in Sweden as of early 2009. Most people here still chop up chocolate bars if they want to make chocolate chip cookies. Essentially, we're about a century behind you guys. :P

Alwen said...

I'm thinking I must print out your recipe and put it in my cookbook!

Donna Lee said...

I just made chocolate chip cookies today as a matter of fact. Just the way I like them, crispy/chewy.

Amy Lane said...

Mmmmm... Love those modern dishes! (Do ice cream next!!!)

Malin said...

I love your blog Julie!

Re Sugar: here it is made from sugar beets, a rather big crop here in southern Sweden.

I have never ever seen chocholate chips in a Swedish shop either. Sad. Don't the manufacturers understand the need?!

GrillTech said...

Your food posts make me think I'm watching Alton Brown's "Good Eats". Keep up the educational work.

Barbara said...

Mmm, sounds yummy. Must. Make. Cookies.

Caroline, it's barbaric that you can't buy choc chips in the store. Very uncivilized.

It's DeLurking Day! Leave comments wherever you go!

Alwen said...

Re Malin's comment:

Now that you mention it, sugar beets are a major source of sugar here in Michigan, too. Michigan is #4 in the US in sugar beet production.

One reason the sugar beet finally became a big sugar crop was Britain's blockade of sugar imports into Europe during the Napoleonic wars. Without that blockade, who knows?

FierceFierce said...

Regarding the butter - I don't know much of the Catholic history, but in the Eastern Orthodox tradition olive oil is abstained from on fast days, not just butter. Very early canons, from before the Great Schism, indicate that this was a rule long before the Protestant Reformation. Like I said, though, I don't really keep up with the Catholic end of things, I just thought it was interesting.

The Orthodox still keep the Wednesday and Friday fasts, and most that I know still do not use olive oil on those days. (I use canola, but I've stop keeping particularly strict fasts in the last few years due to some health problems.)

BTW, I've been lurking on your blog awhile and I love it!