Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The C^6 or: ConstantCommentChocolateChocolateChipCookies

A coworker recently suggested that we have a holiday cookie exchange at work this week. Always game for some baking I said I'd participate, but what to bring? I flipped through some recipes I had saved on my computer, but nothings sounded that amazing. I mean they're all good picks, but I'd made them all before and I try my best to not repeat a performance in the kitchen, regardless of the projects success of failure. There are just to damn many recipes in the world to shackle myself to one or two for all of eternity. So I was thinking about flavors and Googling random combinations of words when it hit me.

I suddenly recalled a few weeks prior when I'd been snacking on some chocolates and a cup of Earl Grey tea. While certainly no stranger to the delightful combination of citrus and chocolate I was struck by how exceptionally delicious this particular mixture was. For the rest of the day and maybe the day after I pondered further applications of these flavors. Earl Grey Hot Coco? Earl Grey Chocolate Cake? But was ultimately stymied in pursuing these ventures by my lack of Bergamont oil, the cornerstone of Earl Grey subtle yet sumptuous flavor. Not yet foiled I began to consider other similar combinations. Didn't Constant Comment also feature a bold citrus note? Did it not also feature a melange of spices that sang alto and tenor to the orange-y high soprano? And wouldn't a rich, booming, chocolaty bass note round out this gastronomic barbershop quartet?

With the idea in place I began to piece together the puzzle of this recipe. It would be a chocolate chocolate-chip cookie for sure, light on the chips, with the spicy, orange zing of Constant Comment hidden within. The cookie part was easy, a simple variation on basic cookie recipes, but unlocking the secrets to the spices would prove to be harder.

Consulting the side of the box and the Bigelow website was about as helpful as asking the Colonel for help in decoding the secret to chicken seasoning, or Mr. A-Cola for the secret to his coke recipe. "Black tea, orange, spices" were all the help they were going to give. I started to scour the Internet for hints or ideas as to what spices should be employed and more importantly in what proportions.

Any drinker of Constant Comment will note that the spices, while bold and assertive, never dominate the flavor of orange and tea, it's a very delicate balance that has been struck but the Bigelows are traipsing that tight rope with ease. My concern was both over and under spicing the cookies. Too much and the cookies would be ruined. Too little and, well, what was the point of digging through the spice cabinet?

Eventually I'd found a few recipes in which people had attempted to channel the flavor of Constant Comment into assorted pastries, primarily cakes. While the amounts and formulations for a cake batter and cookie dough would surely be different, the consensus amongst internet bakers and tea aficionados was that cinnamon and clove where the important flavors in CC, but how much was an entirely different story. Checking the recipes for a number of spice cookie recipes I soon noticed a trend in spice ratios. Specifically checking the cinnamon-to-clove rates it seemed that for every teaspoon of cinnamon being used there was usually about a quarter teaspoon of clove for a comparably sized recipe--that is to say 3 cups flour, 2 sticks butter, and sugars in a pair, tree. The only other component to quantify was the orange. What was the best way to get orange flavor into a cookie? My first thought was liquid orange extract with a boost from real orange zest. My shopping excursion failed to yield any such elixir, but from various web recipes I was able to determine that truly orange-y cookies required an orange's worth of zest or so. But the big, bad bass in these cookies was going to be brash and robust so timid little orange was going to need help making its voice heard along with all the other voices. I invited a friend along for the ride.

With all the players in place I set out to create my cookies, but would they turn out? Were this going to sing with the angels on high or would the be, "kinda pitchy, dawg"? I would soon see.

When I finally hit the kitchen, iPod ready to rock, this is the recipe I was packing:

• 2¼ cup flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon cloves
• 2 sticks butter, softened
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• Zest of 2 medium/large oranges
• ½ bag dark chocolate chips

• Preheat oven to 375
• Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and spices
• In the work bowl of a blender cream together granulated sugar and butter until light an fluffy
• Add brown sugar and continue to cream
• Once butter and sugars are well combined add the eggs one at a time followed by the vanilla
• Add orange zest and mix
• Gradually mix the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mix
• Once all ingredients are thoroughly combined stir in chocolate chips
• Drop by the tablespoonful onto parchment lined sheets
• Bake on center rack of oven for 10-12 minutes or until edges are slightly darkened and just set
• Allow to rest on pan for a minute before transferring to wire cooling racks

If the smell of the dough and the baking cookies were reasonable indicators, as so often they are, then I felt for sure I was on to something. And when the first sheet emerged from the oven and had cooled enough for consumption I was more than pleased with what I had wrought. One of the most interesting things that occurred during the prep, cooking, and eating of these beauties, though, was the dominance of the spices in the dough and the emergence of the orange in the finished product. Smelling and sampling some uncooked dough I was pleased by the spiciness. Cinnamon's tenor and clove's alto were harmonizing beautifully while chocolate did it's best Barry White, but sweet little orange, while on stage and belting its lungs out, seemed to have a bum mic. However, following an intermission in the oven and a second act on the cooling rack orange found its voice, dueling with chocolate for vocal supremacy while relegating the spice twins to the status of the Pips, Vandellas, or Miracles. No less important, just less recognizable

In closing I offer these variations for future applications of this recipe. Enjoy!

• Try using orange extract in lieu of vanilla for a stronger orange flavor
• Try using 1½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of clove for a more intense spiciness
• Try cocoa nibs instead of dark chocolate chips for a more bitter/sweet taste, 4-6oz should do


RevDave said...

I'm not even a tea drinker, except when I'm feeling sick but Constant Comment is the SHIT.

Jon said...


Bigelow Tea said...

This is a great post! You really went to great lengths to get that Constant Comment-like spicy taste into those cookies. We hope it was fun to make (and eat!) them. Thanks for sharing this recipe and for raving about our teas!
-Deb for Bigelow Tea

Eva said...

Maybe an orange-flavored frosting? Rather than making the orange compete inside the cookie for flavor? I use a very simple stick or so of butter, powdered sugar, a teaspoon of milk/orange juice or enough to get it the consistency you want, and your orange zest.

Or just add a bag or two of Constant Comment to your cookie dough (if you have a mortar/pestle, maybe grind it up a little more)... I made a chai-flavored cookie this year and it's delicious.

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