Monday, March 15, 2010

Momofuku v. Neiman Marcus

 Cult cookies go head to head!

Which recipe will take the cake?  The trendy newcomer or the urban myth?  First let's get the lowdown on the new darling of baking pop-culture.  All across the food-blogosphere, bakers are abuzz about Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City, where pastry chef and owner Christina Tosi crafts zany treats from odd-ball ingredients such as milk crumbs, marshmallows, cereal, pretzels, and potato chips.  Offerings include Crack Pie (future post with food obsessed friend!), Cereal Milk Soft Serve, and our contender, the Compost Cookie.  Blogs are ablaze with raves about the innovative Compost Cookie, so named for its hodge-podge of junk-food mix-ins.  Thanks to Regis and Kelly, we have the (supposedly) tried-and-true original recipe, which has proliferated across baking blogs since its debut.


On the other side of the oven we have the infamous Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Legend has it that a customer enamored of NM's delectable chocolate chipper asked for the recipe, and was told by her chipper waitress that it would cost her "two-fifty."  The cookie aficionado readily handed over her credit card (after all, the cookie she had just consumed probably cost more than $2.50), only to discover with horror that the stuffy department store had charged her two hundred and fifty dollars for the recipe.  Her complaints fell on deaf ears, and she vowed revenge by dissemination.  Whether or not the urban legend holds water, a Google search for "Neiman Marcus Cookie" returns 134,000 hits!  To debunk the myth, NM posted the recipe for their "signature" chocolate chip cookie online, but this recipe differs notably from the one that spread like wildfire in chain emails across America.  Did Neiman Marcus, otherwise known as "Needless Markup," post a decoy recipe to dispel its corporate bad-guy rep, and distract home bakers from the real deal?  Probably not.  Wikipedia claims that NM didn't even serve a chocolate chip cookie at their cafe pre-legend.  We have decided to take NM at their word, and allow their posted recipe to compete against Momofuku's Compost Cookie.

So which cookie prevailed?  Drum-roll please.....

The majority of judges have found that the Compost Cookie is......!


NM's recipe might not be worth $250, but I wouldn't pay ten cents to eat another greasy, overly salty Compost Cookie.  I can only hope that the real thing outshines the recipe floating around on the web, because 9 out of 10 tasters were ambivalent at best about this cookie.  One person described it as, "pretty good until you hit a greasy potato-chip pocket."  Another astutely questioned Momofuku's wisdom in naming their cookie after trash.  I mean, "Momofuku" already sounds kind of like... well, Motherf*er.  Why make it any worse?  More than one person poked fun at the cookie's odd name (which, by the way, Momofuku has trademarked) by gleefully stating, "I'm gonna go get me some Motherf*ing trash cookies!"

Just so I don't sound like an unsophisticated hick, I'm going to point out that "Momofuku" means "lucky peach," (I looked it up on their website) which seems quite adorable and appropriate for delicious treats.  But in combination with the "Compost" moniker, Momofuku begged belittlement! 

I do think the Compost Cookie cookie has potential, and I'm sure the actual cookie isn't even in the same league as my amateur creation.  I think the problem stems from the recipe's vague ingredient list, which provides little direction about the types and quantities of "snack foods" and "baking ingredients" required for success.  I went with potato chips (also included in Tosi's version), Chex-mix, chocolate chips, and Symphony bars, which resulted in a greasy, liquefied mess.  I think replacing the chips with oats and the Chex with pretzels might yield a more palatable, cookie-shaped cookie.  Overall, I say leave this one to the pros (although I have to admit it was fun chop up a bunch of junk food, and the endless possibilities may tempt me again....)

Garbage disposal?

Moving on to Neiman's signature chipper - a solid recipe.  The addition of instant coffee gives the cookie an interesting depth.  It holds its shape in the oven (without an hour's worth of chilling, which did absolutely nothing for the Compost Cookie anyways), and the cooled cookie has a slightly crispy exterior that yields to a soft, chewy center.  It could use a little more buttery goodness, but overall its worth rotating into the repertoire.

And the winner is..... Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies!  Sorry for that moment of confusion.  It's just that this old standby beats both contenders.  If its not broken, don't fix it. 

Momofuku Compost Cookies

1 c. softened butter (2 sticks)
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1T. corn syrup
1t. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2tsp. baking powder
1tsp. baking soda
2tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups "baking ingredients" (e.g., chocolate chips, chopped Symphony bar, Rollos, Cocoa Krispies, whatever your heart desires)
1 1/2 cups "snack foods" (e.g., crushed potato chips, pretzels, Chex-mix, goldfish, fritos, oats, etc. - air on the side of less greasy/salty)

Cream butter, sugar, and corn syrup until pale and fluffy, 2-3 min.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then mix in the eggs and vanilla on low speed.  Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat for ten minutes.  The sugar crystals will dissolve completely, and the mixture will gradually lighten and balloon in size.

At the ten minute mark, return the speed to low and mix in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until just incorporated.  Add the baking ingredients and mix until incorporated.   Add the snack foods and mix until incorporated.

Use a 6oz ice-cream scoop to parcel out the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment (or the next best thing in your cabinet - in my case a brownie pan, and thank goodness because my cookies would have ended up on the bottom of the oven after oozing everywhere!).  Refrigerate the cookies for at least an hour, and up to one week.  If you do not do this, you most certainly end up with cookie soup (and you might anyways).

When you are about ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure the cookies are spaced 4'' apart to avoid a cookie plateau, and bake 9-11 minutes or until golden at the edges and center.  Find an adventurous eater and enjoy your creation!

Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 c. (1 stick) softened butter
1 c. packed brown sugar
3 T. white sugar
1 large egg
2t. vanilla
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2t. baking powder
1/2t. baking soda
1/2t. salt
1 1/2 t. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 300.  Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix for another 30 seconds.  Sift the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, and then add to the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips and coffee.

Dollop the dough in two-tablespoon increments onto a cookie sheet, spacing the dough blobs about 3'' apart.  Bake 20 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown.  You can bake them longer for extra crispiness, but everyone knows that soft-chocolate chippers are better.