Chocolate Currant (Faux) Sourdough, Made with Poolish

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I’ve been obsessed with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “How to Make Bread” ever since I first browsed it while I was dining solo at Michelin-starred Aniar in Galway, Ireland. I’ve made a few recipes from it now, and I will say that as an experienced cook/baker, breadmaking is a very humbling experience.

In general, the fewer the ingredients, the less forgiving a recipe is – and how much more spartan could a recipe get when you’re making a sourdough bread composed entirely of yeast harvested from the air and milled flour? Not that this chocolate currant bread is nearly anywhere as minimal as a medieval loaf might be, but I still find the idea of a sourdough bread, steeped in history and reminiscent of a simpler time past, incredibly romantic.

But also incredibly frustrating to make. I’ve spared you the dense, gummy, overly-sour failures of sourdough breads I’ve made, and this chocolate currant bread is actually a slight adaptation of the sourdough recipe that Emmanuel has in his book. At the moment, I’ve given up on harvesting and maintaining my own sourdough culture, and have been using poolish in place of a sourdough starter.

What is a poolish, you might ask? A poolish is a pre-ferment made ahead of time before you bake your loaf. Some amount of yeast, (usually) equal amounts of flour and water are mixed to form a doughy paste that’s left to rest for anywhere between 8 and 16 hours in advance of your loaf. This poolish imparts a complexity in flavor absent in bread made from “straight dough” (which is made by mixing everything up in a single episode) by allowing the yeast more time to create delicious byproducts of fermentation like organic acids and esters.

For this chocolate currant sourdough bread, I simply replaced the recommended sourdough starter (at 100% hydration, which means equal parts flour and water) with a poolish following this formula to determine the amount of yeast needed relative to the flour in the poolish (source: Weekend Bakery):

Poolish up to 8 hours in advance – 0.23% – 0.33%
Poolish up to 12 hours in advance – 0.1% – 0.2%
Poolish up to 16 hours in advance – 0.03% – 0.08%

Use the lower percentage for a warmer kitchen, and the higher percentage for a cooler kitchen (e.g. if you were baking in the winter).

Example: if you wanted to make a poolish up to 8 hours in advance in the winter, this is what you should do to substitute for a 170g of sourdough starter at 100% hydration: Mix 85g of water, 85g of flour, and 0.2805g of yeast (0.33% x 85g) in a bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap, and let it rest for 8 hours.

You might ask – how am I going to measure 0.2805g of yeast? Well, you can invest in a precision scale that goes up to 0.001g, which I have the good fortune of owning – or you can just grab a pinch of yeast and monitor how it goes. I highly recommend reading the Weekend Bakery’s post for more information on how a poolish should look like.

Anyway, enough of my geeking out (even though there’s way more where that came from!). This is my second attempt at making this chocolate currant sourdough recipe with a poolish preferment, and even though I can see the myriad of ways my technique could be improved, the flavors remain unparalleled. The loaf has an abundance of Zante currants that turn juicy when warm, and you are surprised by the gooey milk chocolate chip that punctuates the loaf every now and then, but not so often you feel like you’re having cake or dessert. The bread is definitely good enough to eat on its own, but who would decline a smear of Nutella?

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Chocolate Currant Sourdough (made with poolish)
Adapted from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread
Makes one large loaf (approx 950g)

For the poolish
85g bread flour
85g water
Yeast, per percentages outlined above

For the bread
200g/1 1/2 cups Zante currants
80g/2/3 cup milk/semi-sweet chocolate chips (I chopped a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate Pound Plus bar)
330g/ 2 2/3 bread flour
8g/1 1/2 tsp salt
20g/2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
250g/250ml/1 cup lukewarm water

Equipment needed
long proofing basket (if not, a colander with a linen towel could substitute)
baking sheet lined with parchment paper

  1. Mix all poolish ingredients into a large bowl 8-16 hours ahead of time, before you will make your loaf. This bowl should be large enough to include all the bread ingredients. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let rest at room temperature.
  2. When ready to make the bread, mix currants and chocolate and set aside.
  3. In a (smaller) mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt and cocoa powder together – this is the dry mixture.
  4. Add the water to your poolish, and mix until combined. This is the wet mixture.
  5. Add the dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix until it comes together.
  6. Cover the dough with the bowl that had the dry mixture in it and let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Knead the dough by pulling a portion of the dough from the side and pressing it into the center. Repeat this motion all around the perimeter of the dough 8 times and the dough should start to resist.
  8. Let rest for another ten minutes.
  9. Repeat step 7 and 8 twice, then step 7 again. (i.e. Mix, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead.) Cover the dough with the bowl again and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  10. Punch down dough with your first to release the air.
  11. Transfer ball of dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into two equal portions, rolling each into a ball.
  12. Dust the proofing basket with flour, and lay the two balls side by side so they are touching snugly.
  13. Let the dough rise until about double the size (for me it takes about 8 hours, but may be as few as 3 depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen).
  14. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475F/240C. Place a roasting pan at the bottom of the pan to preheat. Set aside a cup of water.
  15. When the dough is doubled, flip it out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle flour on it and slash crosses on each ball.
  16. Place the bread into the oven, and pour the reserved cup of water into the roasting pan. Close the oven door, and lower the oven temperature to 425F/220C.
  17. Bake for 30 minutes or until brown. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when it is ready.
  18. Let cool on a wire rack.

 

Raspberry Bakewell Cake

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The thing that can make foreign foods inaccessible is when it has names that give no indication as to what is inside of it. What is a Cornish pasty? What is a Gur cake? What is a Bakewell tart?

My first taste of a Bakewell tart, a traditionally English confection, was actually in Ireland. My Connemara day tour took a pitstop at Kylemore Abbey where I had a light bite at the attached cafe. I was intrigued by all the mouthwatering treats on display, but wanted to try something outside of the scone box. My eye was drawn to the Bakewell traybake, primarily because it had a sticker next to its label indicating that it was the winner of a local baking competition. They were squares with a dense, powdery-looking yellow filling on a crust, topped with caramelized sliced almonds. I took a gamble, and gave that a try, even though I’ve found that my mileage tends to vary with non-chocolatey, fruit/nut-based desserts.

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Bakewell tart from Kylemore Abbey

Upon tasting it, it felt like a blast from the past. It tasted so familiar, yet I’ve never had a Bakewell tart before. I eventually realized that I was thinking of raspberry thumbprint cookies, which have the exact same almond-raspberry flavor profile but just in a different format. The frangipane filling (equal parts butter, sugar, and almond flour) was crumbly and almost shortbread-like, which was such a fascinating texture for me.

Ergo, I had to replicate this at home. I did some research, and I decided that before venturing into a full-on tart with a pastry crust, I would make a cake version of it. The cake version doesn’t have as much of a shortbready texture that I enjoyed so much, but as you can see, it still is a little more crumbly than it is cakey.

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I did make some tweaks to the BBC recipe I referenced: I used raspberry jam since I wanted a truer Bakewell flavor and texture, and was worried about a soggy cake. I also added lemon zest since I saw that in a few other recipes, and I felt that the recipe with the jam substitution was a little too sweet and could be cut with some citrus.

Several reviewers replaced the vanilla essence with almond extract, and I think that was a smart choice. Another swap I made was to use half cake flour and half all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder and a 1/2 tsp salt in place of the recommended self-raising flour. I learned that flour in the UK tends to be a little softer (i.e. less protein content) than flour in the US, so I wanted to make sure the cake retained a tender crumb. However, if all you have is all-purpose, I don’t think the cake will suffer very much at all.

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Raspberry Bakewell Cake
Adapted from BBC
Makes an 8 inch round cake

140g ground almond
140g unsalted butter, softened
140g granulated sugar
140g self-raising flour (or 70g all-purpose flour + 70g cake flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
2 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
Zest from 1 lemon (optional – if using, reduce salt in flour to 1/4 tsp)
3 tbsp or 65g raspberry jam (I just used as much as needed to spread a thin layer)
2 tbsp or 16g sliced almonds

1. Heat oven to 180C/355F and grease an 8 inch cake pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer, then mix in almond, flour, eggs, lemon zest (if using) and almond extract until well combined.
3. Spread half the mix over the cake pan and smooth over the top. Spread the raspberry jam onto the cake mixture, then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread – you might find this easier to do with your fingers.
4. Scatter with flaked almonds and bake for 50 mins until golden. Cool and remove from the tin.

Chocolate Barmbrack Bread from The Great British Bakeoff’s Andrew Smyth

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When I had made this bread, I was a week away from my first visit to Ireland. I was so pumped to go that I wanted to make something Irish at home so I could compare it to what the “real thing” would taste like. I picked this chocolate barmbrack bread that Andrew Smyth made in season 7 of the Great British Bakeoff.

It tastes just like fall. I ordinarily do not like dried fruit at all, but the sweet chewiness of the jumbo raisins and candied orange peel pairs very well with the warming pumpkin pie spice flavors. It’s an excellent loaf of bread, but a traditional barmbrack it is not. What I had made here is a yeasted bread with chocolate. A traditional barmbrack is typically a quick bread, does NOT have chocolate in it, and is studded with a lot more tea-soaked dried fruit than what I made here.

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The one thing that I didn’t do that I should have done is use bread flour. I just used all-purpose flour because that’s all I had, but as a result I had a flatter loaf. I also didn’t hand-knead this wet and sticky loaf at all, leaving it all up to my Kitchenaid dough hook, and just guesstimated when I thought it might be done.

This loaf required a couple of special ingredients that are not commonly found in American pantries. Mixed spice and candied peel, specifically. Mixed spice is used in British baking, and its American doppelganger is pumpkin pie spice. Both include cinnamon and nutmeg, sometimes cloves, ginger, and allspice. While I found candied ginger readily, I did not find candied lemon or orange peel.

So I made my own.

candiedpeel

I used Alton Brown’s recipe, and it’s a very thoroughly-written one. It’s pretty straightforward to make, and turns what would ordinarily be tossed into the garbage into a sweet and sour crystalline treat. I made two oranges worth of candied peel and I still have a bunch leftover.

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The one thing I did omit from the original recipe was the chocolate glaze; I didn’t want this bread to be *too* dessert-y. I also converted some of the ingredients/measurements into American for all ya Yanks.

Chocolate Barmbrack Bread
Adapted from BBC Food/Andrew Smyth from GBBO
300g/10½oz bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2½ tbsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ tsp salt
8g instant yeast, or active dry yeast if you need it (modifications below)
33g/1¼oz unsalted butter, softened
66g/2½oz granulated sugar
200ml/7fl oz semi-skimmed milk
1 large egg
100g/3½oz mixed dried fruit
30g/1oz mixed candied peel
100g/3½oz Belgian milk chocolate chips
1 tbsp sunflower oil or cooking spray, for greasing

Method
1. For the bread, line a baking tray with parchment paper and dust generously with flour.
2.Sift the flour, spice and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast on the opposite side to the salt. Add the butter and sugar. Mix using your hand in a claw position until well combined.
3. Gently warm the milk until it is warm to touch, then whisk in the egg.
Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour the milk mixture into it. Dust your hands with flour and mix using your hand as before, until the dough comes together. It will form a very wet dough. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes in the bowl (use a dough scraper if you have one), or until the dough starts to tighten (though it will still be sticky). Regularly scrape off any dough stuck to your hands.
4. Flour the work surface and your hands. Spread the dough out in a rough rectangle and add the dried fruit, candied peel and chocolate into the middle of the dough. Knead for a further 2 minutes to incorporate.
5. Place the dough on the prepared tray and shape into an oval. Lightly dust with flour and cover with oiled cling film. Leave in a warm place to prove for an hour or until doubled in size.
6. Preheat the oven to 380F.
7. Once the dough is proved, remove the cling film and slash once lengthways across the top with a sharp knife. Bake for 40 minutes on the bottom shelf of the oven, rotating the tray midway through cooking to ensure you get an even crust (the loaf should be a dark-brown colour). If the bottom edges brown too early, wrap a strip of aluminium foil around the loaf.

*If you end up using active dry yeast, mix the yeast and the warm milk and a tablespoon of the allotted sugar and allow to rest for five minutes until you see bubbles on the surface. Proceed with whisking in the egg after, then mix with the rest of the dry ingredients and butter.

NYT’s Favorite Challah

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I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Bake Off, and it’s really inspired me to make more traditional bakes, like this six-braid challah you see here. The NYTimes is one of my most trusted sources for recipes, and I decided that my first ever attempt at challah should be based on this Joan Nathan “My Favorite Challah” recipe.

I think this recipe is very beginner-friendly – it doesn’t need any specialty ingredients, you can use all-purpose flour, and you don’t need a machine at all. However, I think there were some additional pointers I had in my brain that were not in the recipe as written that would be helpful for someone entirely new to breadmaking. The recipe also makes two loaves, and I don’t have a family to feed, so I halved the recipe. All my notes and pointers are in the recipe below, so keep scrolling to learn more!

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I was worried that the braiding would have got my knickers in a knot (hey-yo!) but it was quite straightforward. I had to redo the braid because I realized I wasn’t braiding it tightly enough, but I was quite pleased with the finished product. As the bread baked, it filled my apartment with a wonderful smell and I couldn’t wait for it to be done.

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Isn’t the loaf a beauty? The defined braids, the mahogany hue from the double egg wash… It almost looks like a carved wooden pillar. It also was quite large, and the finished product weighed 835 g (or 24 oz). It looked delectable on the outside, but would it taste as good as it looked? I waited for another 3-4 hours so it would cool entirely, and the inside did not let me down.

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The bread was soft and fluffy and moist, but not quite as moist as a brioche or Chinese tangzhong bread might be. It pulls apart easily – nowhere near the tugging a sourdough bread would entail – but still with a bit of cragginess and texture. It was quite a delight to eat on its own.

NYTimes Favorite Challah
Adapted from NYTimes
Makes 1 loaf

3/4 tbsps (or 2 1/4 tsps) of active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
14 tbsps (or 3/4 cup + 2 tbsps) lukewarm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing bowl
2 large eggs plus 1/2 of a large egg
1/2 tablespoon salt
4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in 14 tbsps lukewarm water.
  2. Once the yeast mixture looks slightly foamy (about 5 minutes), whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading.)
  3.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, for about 5 minutes or so. Be sparing with the amount of flour you use to flour the surface. If the dough starts to become tacky again, you’ve gone too far, so stop kneading.
  4. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
  5. Use a cooking spray or a thin spread of oil to grease the surface you’re working on so the dough does not stick. Adding flour to the countertop at this point will add unnecessary flour to your dough and make the finished product stodgy and dense.
  6. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.
  7. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with what is now the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Place braided loaf on a greased cookie sheet or lined with parchment paper.
  8. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze the bread or let rise another hour in refrigerator if preferred.
  9. To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. (If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.) Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds.
  10. Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack for 2-3 hours or until completely cool to the touch.
  11. Store bread in a ziplock bag, or freeze to preserve freshness.

Coconut Cherry Pecan Granola

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I chanced upon this granola recipe from the New York Times; it is originally an Eleven Madison Park recipe. Apparently, after the end of a meal, all diners are gifted a jar of this signature granola to take home. The reviews on the NYT were stellar, and I was intrigued.

I will say that I’ve made a few granola recipes in my lifetime, and this one is the best of them all. It has the perfect balance of sweet and salty with the coarse salt and maple syrup. Coarse salt is so important here, because you get little bursts of savoriness between bites and it’s just delightful.

The bake is on point – no soggy clumps, just crisp toasted oats accompanied by buttery shreds of toasted coconut and nutty pecan pieces. I’ve since made two batches of this recipe, and had it on a near daily basis with Greek yogurt for a healthy snack. I did make some substitutions from the original NYT recipe to make it a little more healthful and more to my tastes, which I’ll share in the recipe below.

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Coconut Cherry Pecan Granola
Adapted from NYT
Yields 5-6 cups of granola

Note: I generally prefer using weight measurements, which I’ve provided below.

2 ¾ cups (200g) rolled oats
1/2 cup (60g) chopped pecans
1/2 cup (50g) unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (this is very important – it has to be coarse, not fine, or else it’ll be too salty)
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50g) maple syrup
1/4 cup (40g) extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup (120g) dried sour cherries, chopped

Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, and salt.
In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way. Stir in coconut to granola and bake for another 5 minutes. You want to see the granola looking dry and lightly golden.
Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container.

Sweet and Salty White Chocolate Peanut Butter Crackers Fudge

I whipped up a quick no-cook fudge made out of three simple ingredients – vanilla frosting, white chocolate chips, and mini peanut butter crackers.

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The end result is a rich and sweet, mouth melting fudge with a lightly sandy/powdery quality that reminds me of fudge I’ve had in the past. The peanut butter crackers add a salty contrast to the sweet fudge.

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Although I used storebought frosting, I imagine you could amp it up by using homemade frosting. I also think the recipe could be infinitely modified by either swapping out the flavors of the frosting, the chocolate, or the crunchy filling.

Examples

  • Vanilla frosting + white chocolate + couple drops of peppermint oil + Oreos = Grasshopper fudge
  • Cream cheese frosting + milk chocolate + graham crackers = Chocolate cheesecake fudge
  • Vanilla frosting + white chocolate + matcha powder + Oreos = matcha Oreo fudge

Since the ingredients are so few, the quality of each will really impact the outcome of the fudge – so choose your ingredients wisely.

Pro tip: If you have trouble smoothing out the top of your fudge, lay a sheet of cling wrap over it and flatten it with your hands like so. Mess-free and easy-peasy!

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Sweet and Salty White Chocolate Peanut Butter Crackers Fudge
Makes a 9×9 inch pan
From Cookies and Cups

1 can (16 oz) of vanilla frosting
12 oz of white chocolate chips
2 cups (6 oz) of mini peanut butter crackers (e.g. Ritz)

  1. Grease or spray lightly a 9×9 or 8×8 pan, depending on the thickness you desire for your fudge
  2. Melt your chips in a double boiler or the microwave.
  3. As soon as they are melted, stir in your entire can of frosting.
  4. Fold in your crackers.
  5. Spread into prepared pan and chill for 30 minutes.
  6. When firm, cut

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

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You may think a chocolate chip cookie cannot be improved upon, but what if I told you it could just have a little bit of pizzazz by adding tahini paste? Tahini is sesame ground up, until it reaches a creamy consistency. It adds a bit of nuttiness and savoriness to your standard chocolate chip cookie without a distinct sesame taste.

This recipe should be followed as-is with no substitutions and changes – even the size of the cookie and the timing has been perfectly calibrated to give the cookie a soft, chewy interior. Beware if you use silicone baking mats like I do – your cookies won’t get to a golden brown but they will be done after the designated amount of time.

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Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the NYTimes
Makes 12-18 3-inch cookies

4 ounces/113 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup/120 milliliters tahini, well stirred
1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/150 grams all-purpose flour, or matzo cake meal (See tip)
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¾ cups/230 grams chocolate chips or chunks, bittersweet or semisweet
Flaky salt, like fleur de sel or Maldon

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, tahini and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla and continue mixing at medium speed for another 5 minutes.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. Add flour mixture to butter mixture at low speed until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in chocolate chips. Dough will be soft, not stiff. Refrigerate at least 12 hours; this ensures tender cookies.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick baking mat. Use a large ice cream scoop or spoon to form dough into 12 to 18 balls.

Place the cookies on the baking sheet at least 3 inches apart to allow them to spread. Bake 13 to 16 minutes until just golden brown around the edges but still pale in the middle to make thick, soft cookies. As cookies come out of the oven, sprinkle sparsely with salt. Let cool at least 20 minutes on a rack.