Mary’s Award Winning Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last winter, I was on a mission to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe to love. Don’t get me wrong, I love the queen of all chocolate chip cookie recipes, the one I have known by heart since I was ten, the venerable Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. But I was looking for something thicker and a little less crunchy.

It turns out, I was looking for Mary’s chocolate chip cookies, all along. But that’s jumping the gun.

Did you know that back in the 1930s when Toll House Inn owner, Ruth Wakefield, first published her famous cookie recipe, she called it Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie? Ruth meant for her cookies to be crunchy.

I tested many recipes during my search for a chewier cookie.

In the end, I couldn’t find a favorite and instead wrote a post about cookie scoops, Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure.  Who knew the tiny numbers on cookie scoops described the number of scoops of dough in a one-quart container?

During my research, I learned a nifty way to scoop and freeze cookie dough before storing it.

My kids went home with bags full of frozen cookie dough every time they stopped by to visit; tasty rejects from the recipes I tested.

Ultimately, I realized my favorite cookie was the one my dear and funny, food-styling, recipe-developing friend, Mary Carter, sold back in the summer of 2011 at Nashville’s 12South Farmers Market. By the way, Mary is an artist, as well.

Her best selling cookie at the market was Pecan and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt. She submitted the recipe to Southern Living Showhouse’s  “Ultimate Southern Cookie” contest and took home first place.

What is not to love here?

Many years ago, I tried making her recipe, but my cookies didn’t come out as well as hers. Last week, she came over to my house so we could bake them together to see what went wrong. I learned I was cooking them too long, mixing them too long, and not using the right amount of flour. To come up with a reliable amount of flour to use, I weighed each cup as she added it. The cookies came out perfectly under her tutelage.

A few words on measuring flour:

When I write recipes, I envision my boys making them and add the specific chopping or measuring instructions I think they might need. IF they were to measure flour, they would stick a measuring cup into the flour bag, use their finger to level it off, and dump it into the batter.

So, that’s what I did. I measured 4 cups of what is ultimately packed flour, poured it into a glass bowl, and measured the weight of the flour (having first zeroed out the weight of the bowl). The flour weighed 21 ounces.

Compare that to the way I learned to measure flour (in Junior High Home Ec) where you lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and use the backside of a knife to level it off. Measured that way, 4 cups of flour weighs only 17 ounces! Scooping flour directly into a measuring cup can result in using more flour than the recipe writer may have intended. This discrepancy in amounts has become more common and is the reason many recipes now include a weight measurement in parentheses. Here’s  a video from King Arthur Flour that shows how to properly measure flour.

Pro Tips

Before we get started on the recipe, here is a list of baking tips I learned from Mary our afternoon together.

  • Do not overbeat the fat, sugar, and eggs. A soupy batter leads to pancake-like cookies. When Mary makes these cookies at home, she dumps all the ingredients at once into her favorite mixing bowl and mixes them by hand. I always use my beloved Kitchen Aid.
  • Mary uses self-rising flour when developing recipes. Cup for cup it has the correct proportion of flour to baking powder and salt, making it easy to increase or decrease flour as she makes up new recipes.
  • One level cup of self-rising flour weighs 4.25 ounces and is comprised of:
    1 cup of all-purpose flour
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    ½ teaspoon salt
  • Bake cookie less than seems right. She bakes them until they just start to tan on the edges and are still quite pale in the center. She leaves them on the pan to cool completely.
  • Placing pecans on top of the cookie allows them to toast while cooking. This makes them so much more flavorful.
  • Place 3 chocolate chips on top of each cookie before baking; that’s a food-styling tip.
  • For whatever reason, this cookie dough doesn’t taste as good raw as Toll House cookie dough. We decided that was a good thing:-)
  • As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, Mary uses the tip of a spatula to smush the edges that have spread out too far, back inward. It makes the cookie rounder and taller. Here is a video of her demonstrating.

 

Mary’s Southern Pecan and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

Yield: 24  3-inch cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large (4 ounces) eggs
3¾ cups (16 ounces) self-rising flour (I use unbleached King Arthur’s)
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I love Trader Joe’s chips)
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

Topping Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes or fine sea salt
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate  chips
1 cup pecans

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º.

Add butter, shortening, sugars, salt, vanilla, and eggs into a mixing bowl.

Blend together for one minute on medium-low speed. Halfway through mixing, turn mixer off and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Don’t let batter get soupy.

Add flour and mix on slow speed until flour is just incorporated into batter, about 45 seconds. Fold in chocolate.

Using a #30 (2-ounce) cookie scoop, place dough on a parchment-lined or ungreased, insulated cookie sheet.

Gently flatten the top of each cookie with the palm of your hand.

Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sea salt flakes or fine salt, three pecans, and a few extra chocolate chips.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, or until cookie edges start to tan and center of cookie is still fairly pale. In Mary’s oven, that’s 14 minutes, in mine, it’s 17 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately use a spatula to adjust the outer edges as described in video. I’ve noticed the cookies appear a little darker a few minutes after they get out of the oven.

Leave on baking sheet until cookie is completely cooled. Enjoy!

Some readers might remember a story I wrote about Mary and a food-styling job she brought me on, Food Styling with Mary Carter.

Thanksgiving is coming up. Take a look at THIS page for a list of tried and true recipes, especially Foolproof Make-Ahead Gravy, my Mom’s Pumpkin Pie, and my Grandmother’s (killer) Cranberry Chutney.

Related Posts
Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure
Stocking Stuffers: Tools for the Cooking Life
Home Ec: How to Measure Ingredients Properly
Pecan Picking in Mississippi (and recipes to go with them)

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

The first time I had warm pumpkin bread pudding was at The Nashville Food Project. The bread pudding had just come out of the oven, and one of the staff members had spooned some of it into a bowl for us volunteers to taste. We all stood around the stainless steel countertop sinking our spoons into the warm bowl of dessert and gushed about how delicious it was. I mean it was warm, and the vanilla glaze was dripping down the sides. You can find TNFP’s recipe for bread pudding along with many other crowd-pleasing recipes in the Cook for a Crowd section of their website.

The title of the recipe on the website is Banana Bread Pudding, but you can substitute almost any fruit for the bananas. In addition to making it with pumpkin purée, I’ve made it with fresh-cut peaches, with chopped apples, and with mixed berries. They all work. I’ve made it to serve 12 people for a dinner party, 25 people for a summer cookout and 50 students for a school gathering. I’ve served bread pudding with a simple vanilla glaze drizzled over the top of cut squares, and I’ve served it all dolled up with caramel sauce and whipped cream for a special family dinner. You can’t go wrong with this dessert once you get comfortable making it.

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A note on bread choices. Some people like to use sweet bread like stale croissants or challah, but I prefer a more chewy texture, so I use a crusty white bread. I would stay away from soft “Italian” loaves like this one from a local grocery store:

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It looked to be a crusty Italian loaf, but it was very soft,and light and the bread pudding I made with it looked soupy before I cooked it. Once baked, it was flat and rubbery. I fed it to the chickens.

At the end of this recipe, I have provided recipes for three different toppings for your bread pudding: Vanilla Glaze, Caramel Sauce, and Homemade Whipped Cream

Yield: Serves 12-15

Ingredients:

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Mise en Place:

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8-9 cups crusty, stale bread, roughly chopped or cubed into 1-inch squares
3 large eggs
2½ cups whole milk, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¾ cups pumpkin purée (one 15 oz can or purée from a small pie pumpkin)
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350º.

Butter a 9 x 12-inch baking pan or a similarly sized ceramic casserole dish.

Prepare bread crumbs and arrange in baking pan.

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Add raisins and chopped nuts to and mix well.

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Add eggs to mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until blended.DSC_0055

Add milk, sugars, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and pumpkin purée. Mix well for about 30 seconds.

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Pour pudding on top of bread and let liquid seep into the breadcrumb mixture. Lightly press down, so all the bread is submerged in the custard. Let set for about 20 minutes. Use a fork to check that all the breadcrumbs are moist.

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The overall consistency should be like that of thick oatmeal. If it appears to be soupy, add more diced bread.

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Bake for about 50-60 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven. It’s ready when the crust just starts to turn color to a light brown.

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To Serve:

How to Make Vanilla Glaze:

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1 cup powdered confectioner’s sugar (aka 10x sugar), sifted
1 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Be sure to sift the sugar, so it isn’t lumpy. Mix ingredients together. Usually, when using this glaze, I pour it over the whole dessert and then cut squares and place them on plates to serve.

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I had some bread pudding leftovers in the refrigerator and decided to play around with it. After cutting out the leaf shape with a cookie cutter, I warmed it in the microwave and then drizzled the Vanilla Glaze over it. It was good.

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How to Make Caramel Sauce:

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1¼ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup whipping cream or heavy cream
Add brown sugar and butter into a small heavy skillet and cook over medium-high heat.
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Whisk until butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.DSC_0107  DSC_0109

Add cream and whisk until well blended. Set your timer for three minutes and continue to cook and whisk until sugar dissolves. The caramel will come to a nice rolling boil and darken in color.
Note: the handle of the first wire whisk got very hot while I was stirring, so I switched to one with a tubular handle and it stayed cool. Something to think about when buying whisks.
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For this version of the dessert, I used a large round biscuit cutter to cut circular portions of bread pudding.
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To plate the dessert: I poured a small amount of warm caramel sauce on a  dessert plate. Next, I placed the round disc of warm bread pudding onto the caramel sauce and then lightly pressed it into the sauce and topped it whipped cream.
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How to Make Whipped Cream:
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 1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
Add cream, vanilla, and sugar to the chilled bowl of the mixer. Beat cream for one minute on medium high and then increase speed to high once the cream starts to thicken, otherwise, the cream will spray all over the kitchen. It took four minutes for the cream to whip.
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I had to channel my inner Mary Carter, my food stylist friend who I featured in the post, Playing with your Food to bump this dessert up a notch.
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My friend, Corabel Shofner, made this dessert for our Thanksgiving Dinner and told everyone she felt like a “real chef” making something so tasty and beautiful. That’s the fun part of tackling a new recipe and watching people delight in what you have prepared.
 Add some bling for the next big holiday!
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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Playing with your Food: Food Styling with Mary Carter

I’ve often wondered what my friend, Mary Carter, did when she went out on food styling jobs, so I was more than happy when she invited me to be her assistant while she arranged new menu items for a photo shoot at Las Palmas. She was hired by Rose Bruce, a graphic designer and the owner of Rose Bruce Marketing. As the project coordinator, Rose hired Mary to style the food, and Richard Suter Photography to photograph it. It was very important to the client that the photographs on the new menu match exactly what the customer was going to be served by his waiter. It had been their experience that if the entree served didn’t look just like the photo on the menu, there would be complaints by the customers. Mary was charged with adding only the embellishments provided by the chef. By the time we finished with the photo shoot, the staff was affectionately referring to Mary as the “Cilantro Lady.”  By the smiles on the staff’s faces, they liked how appetizing Mary had made their food look and wasn’t that the whole point?

Mary has been a food stylist for thirty years. She says she loves her job because she gets to play with food and get paid for it. She says every job presents new challenges. Mary is also an artist, writer, and recipe tester. Most of her work involves both testing/preparing and stylizing the food that the photographer then shoots.

Mary often makes me laugh until my cheeks hurt. When her children were young, she used to drive by the school’s crossing guard with different Halloween masks on just to make the safety lady laugh. Her sense of humor always keeps the mood around her light. That is one of Mary’s many gifts.

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The tools of Mary’s trade:

Cooking oil and a pastry brush – to make baked and fried foods glisten again as they cool off.

A spray bottle filled with water- to make wilted vegetables perk up

Q-tips – to wipe food off the sides of bowls and plates.

Scissors – to shape and trim food.

A piping bag – to apply toppings in a decorative way

Food coloring – to deepen the colors of some foods.

Toothpicks – to dig out flecks of distracting food.

Next to having the proper tools and an artist’s eye for making every dish look like a masterpiece, the next most important thing is to determine the angle of vision from which the photographer is going to shoot the dish. As Mary finished each entree, she would hand it to me and instruct me, “Tell him to shoot from this side.”

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Richard, the photographer, has a little tool called a Hoodloupe which he uses to view photo images glare-free right after he shoots a picture. Otherwise, you would have to wait until you got back to a bigger screen, on your computer, to check if the photo was perfectly focused. While this may be fine for novices like me, it is not useful for a professional who doesn’t get a second chance after the moment has passed. Here is Richard looking through his Hoodloupe to inspect the image on his camera’s screen.

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These are a few images of Mary working her food magic. She asked the chef to bring her the food items unadorned or deconstructed, so she could arrange them in mouth-watering ways.

Some of Mary’s tips–

For this fried ice cream, she adorned it with a dollop of whip cream and tilted the stem of the fruit to a jaunty angle instead of having the stem point straight up.

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With the fried donuts in the photos below, Mary angled the donut sticks around the ice cream and carefully squiggled the chocolate sauce.

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Mary asked if she could place the cake on a white plate instead of the blue one they usually use because there was no contrast between the chocolate bottom layer of the cake and the dark plate. One of the men said, with a big grin on his face, as he got her a white plate, “They won’t care what color plate it’s on once they taste it!” Notice how the angle of view is so lovely. Can’t wait to see the photographer’s proofs.

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Mary asked the owners if she could cut the rack of ribs into three pieces and stack them instead of keeping the presentation as one long slab, as they had always done. The staff liked it much better the way Mary presented it. “OOH,  it looks like more meat is on the plate,” the manager was quick to point out, with a big smile.

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Mary cut this tamale entree in half and then carefully placed the beans and gravy around the plate. This is another example of keeping your angle of view in mind as you stylize food.

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Here she uses the spray bottle of water to moisten the lettuce that was starting to wilt.

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Mary put the rice in a timbale to add a different shape to the presentation- just for visual interest. This was an easy change, at no cost, and made the food presentation look so much more appealing.

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Mary used a piping bag, filled with sour cream, to decorate the enchiladas.

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She used scissors to trim the bun and shape the lettuce inside the sandwich. She brushed oil on the chicken tenders to make them glisten for the camera.

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Mary used Q-tips to clean the sides of the condiment containers and to wipe away spots on the plate. Much easier than using a bulky paper towel for this task.

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As a food blogger, I found Mary’s tips to be so helpful. The first “tool” I brought into my own kitchen when I got home, was a bag of Q-tips!

What a fun day with my friend, Mary!

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LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.