Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Toasted Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

 As a 'creative type,' I've always shied away from taking instruction. This led to stunningly good grades in history and English, at least when I could finally break away from learning grammatical structures and do independent research. It also lead to stunningly bad grades in math and science which involved listening to what the teacher said and actually paying attention in class. 

I don't have the stereotypical personality of a baker, with a love of order and a house with everything straightened to right angles.  But I've changed quite a bit in the past few years, and I have come to realize how often when we are trying to be the most creative, we often fall into cliches and bad habits. By using a structure--whether it is iambic pentameter when writing a poem or the correct alignment in some physical activity, or a recipe, only then can real innovation take place.  Preexisting structure forces us out of our comfort zones.

And if Henry Ford tried to re-invent the wheel, we'd all be dragging ourselves around on top of square-wheeled cars...and using horses as a more efficient means of regular transportation.  Although, that might be a good thing.

I remember when taking some poetry classes, quite often lazy students would scrawl out on a piece of loose-leaf paper something like this:

Can't think of a poem.  
Can't think of a poem.
Oh man.
Can't think!

And then they'd complain when they got a C+.  "It's free verse!  You're stifling my creativity."

Compare that with the very technical execution of a villanelle, like "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night."  Or this poem "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster. 

Similarly, people who claim to be 'daring' and never follow recipes often find themselves making the same dish over and over again. Without the enforced structure of recipes, they never nudged to rewrite, to think of a new ingredient or word when confronted with the unknown technique or lose bad habits...

Form can actually inspire creativity, which is the essence of good baking...of course, just like Bishop 'plays' with the rhyme at the end of the poem, you can also play and jazz up a recipe, so long as you keep to the basic meter.  

Not unlike your creative potential when making this awesome recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Now, I prefer walnuts and dark chocolate chips, but you can also play around with toasted pecans and toffee chips, or toasted peanuts and peanut butter chips.  Go crazy with nuts and chips, just make sure the cookie is pure chocolatey goodness.


--yields 48 bite-sized cookies--

1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts or other nuts of your preference
1 teaspoon of oil
1 teaspoon of sea salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
2 cups of semi-sweet or bittersweet chips
2/3 cups white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 beaten eggs
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup semi-sweet chips or 'chips of your choice'


1. Toast the nuts: preheat the oven to 425F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment and toss the chopped nuts with oil and sea salt.  Roast until crispy, approximately 3-7 minutes.

2. Melt the butter and chips in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Remove from stove.

3. Combine the sugar, vanilla, eggs, salt, and flour.  Add to the chocolate mixture.

4. Incorporate the toasted (now cooled) nuts.

5.  Chill for 4 hours.  After 1/2 hour, when mixture is thoroughly cool, add the chips.  Don't wait until the mixture is fully chilled, because the dough will be too stiff and hard to stir.

6. Preheat oven to 350F. Roll dough into tablespoon-size balls.  Line 2 cookie sheets. Cook in two batches of 24 for approximately 8-11 minutes per batch. Yields 48 small cookies.


  1. Thank you so much, @Aimee--your opinion as a baker means a lot!

  2. As a species we often find ourselves paralyzed by choices. Give a person 100 directions to choose from and they will choose none. Give them 4 and they will choose 1 (my intent wasn't to rhyme but kinda glad it did :)). As much as we pine for freedom we still need a destination, goal, or structures to push us forward. I was one of those lucky students that did very well in English and Math, which is why I think baking suits me so well, it activates the precise and methodical (read: obsessive) part of my brain with the creativity of playing around with ingredients and ingredient amounts. My blog is an extension of that (as I'm sure yours is too).
    Once again great post. And this cookie looks like it's going to explode with goodness :).

  3. @Adam--I do think that baking is a very 'balanced' activity in many ways. On one hand, there is a certain amount of rigor involved, but if a baker doesn't 'switch things up' a little bit, and is totally spontaneous, the final product can actually suffer--if for no reason other than ingredients may differ slightly in different regions, type of oven you use, and so forth. It is like playing Shakespeare--you have to honor what's been done before but also take things to a new level. Thank you so much for the compliment--these were great cookies, and I loved the salty bite of the toasted walnuts!