Tuesday, May 12, 2009

praline leftovers

Praline crumbs are not chocolate chips. They don’t look like chocolate chips, taste like chocolate chips, and most certainly don’t behave like chocolate chips when mixed into cookie dough and baked.

Praline crumbs melt and ooze and become a sticky, burnt, delicious mess.

When I made pralines for my orals board, I didn’t buy enough pecans, so I ended up with a large vat of nut-free praline candy. Not one to waste, I spread it out on a baking dish, let it cool, and then broke it into bite-sized chunks. Trying it later that day, I realized why pralines contain pecans. So sweet! Catherine said that she had to spit it out. But, after all the effort of making the candy, I couldn’t throw it away, so packed it up in a cookie tin. I’d would find a use for it at some point.

On Saturday, when I was brainstorming ideas for a treat to take to an end-of-the-year Dance Troupe party, it hit me – whole wheat oatmeal cookies. Not too sweet in themselves, they seemed the perfect vehicle for my sugar chunks. I’d just break up the pieces, stir them in, and bake as normal. Right.

The dough seemed promising: the pralines folded right in without breaking up too much, and if I ignored the taste of the raw dry oats, the sweetness seemed to be perfectly balanced. I thought I was being clever when I generously spaced out my first batch on my cookie sheet. I figured they would expand a little more than usual. Right.

I checked on the cookies after about 10 minutes and burst out laughing. Instead of being small, round, sugary poofs, the cookies had basically become childhood models of the planet Saturn – a misshapen glob of oatmeal mush surrounded by a huge disk of burnt sugar, oozing and bubbling all over the place. I quickly grabbed a spatula and scraped the melted sugar on top of the oatmeal globs as best as possible and let them set for a couple minutes before moving onto a cooling rack. Guys, these cookies were ugly. Not rustic, cute ugly. Ugly-ugly. Definitely not party-worthy.

Still not thinking clearly, I dumped some of the dough into four small ceramic dishes and put these in the oven. The dishes kept the sugar from oozing (I love this word ooze. It’s just so … appropriate), but there was just too much dough in there, and they collapsed in on themselves, in a kind of miserably-failed-soufflé kind of way. And, after they had cooled, they were stuck to the edges and crumbling, so by the time I got the “cookies” out of the dishes, they looked less like cookies and more like large, glorified crumbs.

But I had enough dough left for one more batch. I actually stopped to think about what I was doing. I spread the rest of the dough into a large-ish aluminum bread pan, so that it was about ½-inch thick. I put it in the oven and crossed my fingers.

Success! The pan was large enough and the cookies were thin enough that they didn’t collapse in the middle. And, since they weren’t as thick, I could move them out of the pan soon enough so that they wouldn’t stick (could’ve lined the pan with parchment, too, but that would have required a little more forethought). I cut them into small bars and put them proudly on a plate. Not only good looking, they were tasty as well. The pralines had disappeared into the oatmeal, leaving behind crevices of sugar-lined goodness, adding just enough sweetness to enrich the whole wheat nuttiness of the base.

They were all but gone in about 15 minutes at the party. Katie said that she ate 5 herself. I left the mistakes (still delicious, if hideous) at home, and they were gone by the next morning.

Oatmeal Praline Cookies
(loosely adapted from Mark Bittman)

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar, loosely packed
scant ½ cup white sugar
2 eggs (I substituted an oil, baking powder, and water mixture, but only because I was out of eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups rolled (not instant) oats
About a cup chopped up pralines (I used Martha again, but you could use left-overs from any simple cream and sugar based mixture)
Sea salt to taste (I used pink Himalayan, but you could use anything you think tastes good)

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a baking dish (brownie pan, sheet pan, bread pan, or the like) with parchment.

Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon with a strong arm, cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl until it is well mixed, fluffy, and begins to lighten in color. This will take a couple of minutes. Be patient. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate. Mix in the vanilla.

Sift together the dry ingredients in another bowl. Gradually add to the butter mixture on low speed, just until incorporated. Fold in the chopped pralines.

Spread the dough into the baking dish to about ½-inch thick. Make multiple batches if you have more dough than will fit, but make sure that you use enough so that the dough reaches all of the edges of the pan (otherwise you’ll end up with a sugar mess!). Sprinkle sea salt over the top, as much as you like. I like a lot. Sea salt is delicious, especially on baked goods.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookie is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out semi-clean (no one likes overcooked cookies; aim for them to be a little mushy). Let the cookie cool in the pan until set, and then move carefully to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, slice into bars and take to a party with lots of hungry dancers.

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