As soon as the assignment, experimenting with cookies, was described, I immediately started thinking about what kind of cookies I wanted to make. Jumping from one cookie type to the other (healthy, sweet, appetizer), thinking what novel ingredients I could use, I soon realized decisions had to be made. I decided that for the cookie experimentation I was going to choose a focal ingredient and use the flavor bouncing method with an incremental approach. However, because I didn't want to constrain my list of ingredients too much (and lack of cooking experience to know what actually goes together), I didn't demand that every added ingredient could go with ALL the previous ones listed.
I wanted the focal ingredient to go well with many others, and chose cheese. Because the concept "cheese cookies" is not novel by itself I did a Google search for "cheese cookies" to explore what kind of cheese cookies were already out there. As expected there were many hits, but after many pages of different recipes I felt confident that there was much room for incremental experimentation to be done. Based on my own experience I initiated the flavor bouncing, seen in the picture below.
Next stop was Whole Foods and Target to buy the ingredients. My feeling was that choosing the right cheese for the cookies would be important, so I picked out five different types; Blue cheese, Fontina, Gouda, Brie and Prairie Breeze Cheddar (from left to right). Other ingredients were pistachios, tart cherries, apricots, pear, pomegranate, salami, chili, red wine, red currant jam and mango chutney. Cayenne pepper was also used in the experiments. This list has some classic cookie ingredients such as jam, but most of them are uncommonly used in cookie recipes (mango chutney, salami, red wine) and I was excited to try them out. The pear was a bit of a wild card as I've never tried cheese with pear.
The baseline cookie dough used was based on the 1-2-3 recipe from Ratio Expert on Cookie Dough by Michael Ruhlman. I felt that with the cheese, sugar would not be needed, so I used 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour as a guideline. Judging how tasty the cookies were was done by myself and my girlfriend. A full list of variations tried is as follows:
Brie + red wine
Gouda + apricot + chili
Cheddar + mango chutney on top + cayenne pepper
Fontina + pear + red currant jam
Blue cheese + salami + chili
Brie + pomegranate + pistachios
Brie + salami + mango chutney + cayenne pepper
Gouda + salami + mango chutney + cayenne pepper
Gouda + red wine + salami + mango chutney + cayenne pepper
Choosing the right cheese
Because I wanted to find the best cheese, I made cookies with cheese and nothing else for each type of cheese. Surprisingly we found out that the cookies were not very sensitive to the type of cheese used though you could taste subtle difference, except for the blue cheese, which gave a distinct flavor. Though the blue cheese cookies were not bad at all, both of us preferred the other cheese types (perhaps because I often prefer blue cheese in its uncooked state). Because the difference between the other types of cheese was subtle, the obvious choice of cheese was the Gouda, being the cheapest cheese by far.
For rapid feedback, I put 4 cookie types in at a time. In the first round I found out that I had put too little Brie because the cookie tasted like butter. Red wine definitely had potential as an ingredient and the apricot and chili combination was decent, though more apricots wouldn't have hurt.
From the second round, the mango chutney topped cookie with cayenne pepper was definitely the most tasty cookie yet, while the pear cookie filled with red currant jam was a failure and didn't taste good at all. At this point I tasted the tart cherries (I have never had them before, they just looked interesting at the store) and felt that they would serve a similar purpose as jam in terms of flavor, in which case I would rather choose the smooth texture of jam, so I scrapped the idea of using tart cherries for my cheese cookies.
For the third round I wanted to give the Brie another chance because I put too little of it in the first round. The pomegranate + pistachio cookie was not a hit. The pomegranate was dominated by the cheese flavor, and the pistachios proved to be a bad addition to the mix. The two salami cookies were both very tasty and interesting. The blue cheese + salami + chili cookie was good, but there was too stuffed. The brie + salami + mango chutney + cayenne pepper cookie had the mango chutney mixed in the cookie dough this time scored highest of all the cookies. These results directed the path for the final round and was moving towards a kind of an appetizer cookie.
For the final round of testing I was very curious if adding the red wine would improve the cookie even further. For presentation, I also felt that having the mango chutney on top of the cookie made it more interesting and appealing. If the red wine was to make it to the final recipe, it would have to improve the cookie significantly, because people are generally not going to want to open a bottle of red wine just to be able to make the cookies. The result was the cookie without the red wine was actually better. Through my tasting experience I felt that there was a bit too much butter in the cookies so I decided to reduce it a bit, especially since the cheese and salami are rich in fat. This lead to the final recipe:
Cheese cookies with mango chutney & salami
1 cup Flour
3/4 cup Butter
1 cup shredded Gouda cheese
2.5oz Salami (roughly)
3oz Mango chutney (roughly)
Pinch of Cayenne pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Add the flour and butter together and mix to create base dough.
3. Add shredded cheese and mix.
4. For the salami you can either shred it or cut it to small pieces, but personally I like the shred method (use the larger shredding option). Add the salami and mix thoroughly.
5. Form the cookies on baking paper.
6. Add mango chutney on top of each cookie.
7. Spread a tiny bit of cayenne pepper on top of each cookie (seriously, don't over do it, cayenne pepper is very spicy). Alternatively it can also be added to the cookie dough and mixed thoroughly before forming the cookies.