“Can I trouble you for a cup of sugar?” Neighbor A asks politely, knowing full well that Neighbor B will oblige with a smile on his or her face and a sweetness rivaled only by the sugar itself.
“Of course! Here, take two.”
I call it “the sugar knock.” The simple act of crossing property lines and asking one’s neighbors for something, be it sugar or not, is an iconic display of neighborly kindness that I’d like to believe is still very much alive and well. The term is just a catch-all, though, as it can really be applied to any neighborly request: a loaf of bread, a flashlight, a hedge trimmer. I’ve done it plenty of times myself, and have even borrowed things I didn’t really need just as an excuse to meet my neighbors without seeming strange. When I moved into my grad school apartment in New York City, I knocked on my neighbor’s door asking to borrow something in the hopes that maybe I could make the big ole city start to seem a little smaller, as silly as that may sound. I don’t even remember what I asked her for, the lady in Apartment 301 C, because that really wasn’t the point.
I’ve never had anyone knock on my door with the hopes that I might be troubled for a cup of sugar. I did, however, have a neighbor recently stop by to see if we might be troubled to help him kill a large snake that had slithered a little too close for comfort. His “sugar knock” was actually to see if he could borrow a shovel, and while that might not have carried with it the charm of the classic “cup of sugar” request, it gets major points in the excitement and danger categories.
I actually can admit to having done some sugar knocking myself, recently. It was just yesterday, actually. The kids had drifted off to sleep for the night and the craving for chocolate chip cookies rolled in like an impending summer storm; can’t do anything to stop it or ward it off. Best to just accept that it’s coming and make the most of it. And by make the most of it, I mean make the cookies.
So, I began tossing ingredients together in a blind frenzy, never actually stopping to properly take stock of my supply before beginning. This mistake, this rookie move of mine, came to my attention when I reached for my brown sugar and realized that I was out. I’d placed an empty box on my cupboard shelf and was now left staring at a pool of melting butter in a pot on the stove and a giant bowl of perfectly whisked flour and baking soda. I glanced at the clock on my stove: 8:45. Curses! This cookie craving of mine had struck at a time of night when I don’t feel it’s polite to go sugar knocking on people’s doors – even when it is for actual sugar.
I’m not one to back down from a slight hurdle though, and I refused to give up on my cookie quest. I’d already come this far, I thought, so let’s just see how resourceful I can be. This resourcefulness, I’m proud to report, manifested in the form of homemade brown sugar. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I’d purchased a bottle of molasses at one point and today it was going to prove its worth. I stirred some of that smoky, sticky liquid into a bowl of white sugar, et voila: fresh brown sugar. Pleased with myself for such clever cookery, I forged on in my baking. Go team! (Commence celebratory dance).
But alas, it wasn’t two minutes before I hit yet another roadblock.
It was the eggs this time. My recipe calls for one egg and two yolks and I only had one egg in my fridge; one lonely, sad looking egg. Dagummit. This was getting embarrassing. Ridiculous, actually. I was almost ready to throw in the (kitchen) towel at this point. Note to self: do not begin celebratory dance until all baking has ceased – not until the final act is done.
Wait a minute, I thought to myself. There I stood in my kitchen, surrounded by the potential of cookie greatness, when the solution came to me. I’ve got a card yet to play, I thought. My hail Mary, if you will. For you see, dear reader, there is a small house next-door to mine that is home to several lovely ladies, all of whom are experts when it comes to eggs (eggs-perts?). Yes, there is a hen house that sits a few feet out our back door and it houses some of the friendliest chickens you could hope to meet, not to mention some of the best eggs you could hope to eat. Elle actually swears to me that they can talk, and she’s even given them names of her own: Girdy, Snowflake, Pretty Bird, etc. So I donned my shoes and grabbed a flashlight, hoping to score a couple of eggs so I could get the remaining yolks into my dough. Yes, I headed out into the night to do by first official chicken coop sugar knock. Oh, the things we do for love.
I swatted away the mosquitoes with my flashlight as I made my way to the charming coop out back and stepped through its screen door. It came as no surprise that the chickens had come in to roost for the night, seeing as that’s what they do every day. I knew this. I’d seen it before, but it still somehow startled me.
<< Knock! Knock! >>
“Oh. Hi guys.” I said. Looking down on me from their lofty perches, the chickens returned my greeting with stares that suggested only a slight interest in my presence there, but mostly boredom. I would not have been at all surprised if one of them had said sarcastically, “Oh hello Lauren, what can we do for you this evening? Wait, wait. Let me guess … eggs again?”
Trying not to let myself be bothered by the chickens’ unrelenting stares, I walked over to their nests where I hoped to find some eggs, and I lucked out. There were a few to choose from this time and I quickly snatched a couple up, placing them in my plastic container for safe keeping. Phew! The cookies got the green light again; the finish line was clearly in sight. I’d been testing recipes for months and this craving-induced trial was to be my final run-through – the last dress rehearsal in my efforts to create a perfect chocolate chip cookie – and thanks to my lovely feathered friends, it was going to happen after all.
“Thank you, ladies. Until next time!” I carefully shut the coop door and turned to make my way back.
“You’re welcome! What an odd bird, that one.” << hysterical laughter >> “Good thing she didn’t ask for a cup of sugar. We’re fresh out!”
“Huh?” You ever get that feeling you’re being mocked behind your back? I turned around, sure that I’d heard voices coming from behind me. Hmmm … must be my ears playing tricks on me.
“You’re one funny chick, Girdy!” << more hysterical laughter >>
I quickened my pace a bit, as I headed back to my kitchen. I think Elle might be on to something …
Harvest & Honey Chocolate Chip Cookie RECIPE
*adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times
I guess I can’t really claim this to be the “best chocolate chip cookie ever” because how would I know that, really? But I can claim it to be MY best, as well as the best I’ve ever had. After testing five different recipes, I came up with my own – a combination that achieves just what I like from a good chocolate chipper. The edges of these cookies remain slightly crispy while the interiors stay soft and gooey, and thanks to the addition of a little extra molasses and vanilla extract, the dough itself is packed with flavor, which I find is often lacking in basic chocolate chip cookies. I brown the butter in my cookies which, like the molasses, helps boost the caramel flavor of the dough. The few extra minutes it takes to brown your butter will pay dividends in the final product. I also let the dough rest for about 30 minutes prior to baking, which I equate to marinating – it gives the flavors a chance to blend and homogenize in the dough before the cookies go into the oven.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon molasses
1 egg yolk
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chunks
Flaked sea salt for finishing (this is key)
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside (the parchment paper really helps the cookies keep a nice golden brown color and it prevents them from getting too dark on the bottoms). Whisk together the flour and the baking soda in a small bowl, whisking for about 1 full minute to ensure they are evenly mixed. Set this aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt 10 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter is completely melted, continue to heat it until you achieve a deep amber color, swirling every 20 seconds or so as you go. It will smell nutty and very fragrant when it is at the right point – takes about 4 – 5 minutes. Pour this browned butter into a large bowl and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to the melted butter. Stir to evenly combine. Add the sugars, vanilla, salt, and molasses to the butter and whisk to combine (mixture will be lumpy at this point). Next, add the egg and the yolk. Whisk to combine everything evenly, stopping when you have a smooth, homogeneous mixture.
Now, switch to a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the flour/baking soda mixture stopping just when you can no longer see dry flour.
Chop the chocolate chunks up a little, to alter the sizes a bit (this is optional; it just makes the finished cookies look cooler). Add the chocolate to the dough; stir to incorporate evenly.
Let this dough rest on your counter (not in the fridge) for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 360 degrees F and adjust the rack to the middle position.
Using a small cookie/ice cream scoop (#24 scoop) or a 3-tablespoon measure, scoop 16 even, round portions of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. The cookie dough portions should all be at least two inches apart from each other, as the dough will spread as it bakes. Press down gently on them with your fingertips. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of flaked sea salt.
Bake the cookies, one tray at a time, for 9 – 11 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 10 – 15 minutes before serving, as they will continue to set up after you remove them from the oven.