I left my home state of New Jersey for good 20 years ago. But watching the cheesy reality show Jersey Shore on MTV, it seems the fashion, at least, hasn't changed. The hair is gelled stiff, the tans are faked, the belts (and jewelry) are gold and the jeans are tight.
Since big hair is my Jersey birthright, it didn't take too much AquaNet to get back in shape for Sunday's edition of SF Food Wars: The Chocolate Cookie Situation. (The name, in case you're wondering, comes from one of the members of the show, who has dubbed his abs—and by extension, himself—"The Situation." And here you thought you'd never see synecdoche in action, much less on reality TV!)
But first, I had to bake cookies. A lot of cookies. Some 200+ cookies, in fact, because a lot of people wanted to be in on the cookie action. Tickets to this, the fifth edition of the increasingly popular cook-nosh-and-vote competition, sold out in less than 5 minutes, even with the extra elbow room provided by new venue Mighty, a nightclub in Potrero.
The set-up followed the formula of the four previous Food Wars: at home, 20 two-person teams baked and baked and baked. Then they came to Mighty, set up their decorations over a couple of feet of table space and laid out their cookies. Three judges grabbed samples of each item, then retired to munch and compare. At 2pm, the doors opened, the milk started pouring, and the general public, all clutching their $14 advance tickets, rushed in to pile their plates high with cookies and cast their votes for the two People's Choice awards. Prizes were donated by a host of local businesses, and the proceeds went to support the San Francisco Food Bank.
Food Wars founder Jeannie Choe, with the slightly manic-yet-dazed look of every event planner just before kickoff, was impressed (and amused) by the thematic efforts of the contestants this time around. Previous topics (bread, holiday side dishes, mac n' cheese) hadn't inspired much decor beyond pretty platters and nicely lettered signs.
Photos by Wendy Goodfriend
This time, though, Bumpits were outnumbering baking pans. Glitter, mirrors, shiny beads and mini disco balls sparkled from every display. Puns and silly names, like Snookie's Cookie Whoopsies (red-velvet rounds which came with the anti-violence message "Fists are for pumpin', not punchin' ") and Stumbling Stoners ("sumpthin' sweet and salty", topped with crushed Ruffles potato chips) abounded, as did labor-intensive preparations, like J-Woww's Juice Heads, tiny chocolate-dipped, orange-marshmallow cookie balls, and Guidoreos, chocolate rounds filled with organic vanilla creme and painstakingly dusted in edible silver glitter. Few contestants (or attendees) seemed to ever have even visited New Jersey ("I got lost there once, taking the wrong turn off a bridge in Philadelphia," admitted Melissa Volokitin, before handing me one of her trail-mix inspired cookies), but that didn't stop them from gleefully embracing the show's boobs-and-eyeliner style.
I'd planned to reproduce the Girl-Scout-inspired Slim Mints that had garnered such raves from Chow staffers, until I got to the part about tempering the two pounds of chocolate needed to coat each batch. Warm the chocolate! Cool the chocolate! Wait, it's too hot, forget it, it's ruined! Go out, buy more, start over!
Alas, fantastic as these were purported to be, no way could I fuss around like that for 200 total strangers, even with prizes (and Twitter bragging rights) at stake. So I ended up in a mash-up of Mollie Katzen's Double Chocolate Mint Cookies (hands down, the most-used recipe in my well-worn copy of Still Life with Menu) with the "minty-breathed" chocolate cookies in Nigella Express. Over the top went my own made-up Jackson Pollack drizzle of white chocolate and cream, doused with more mint and yes, green food coloring, in honor of my state's lavish chemical-additives industry. These were my Mint Mojos: the kind of not-so-thin mints a grown-up Girl Scout might make after one too many mojitos.
They were deeply chocolately and deeply minty, and no, they didn't win, but they were darn good anyway.
And for all the goofy names and kooky ingredients on display, the judges' awards ended up going to the bakers who hadn't bothered with outfits or TV tie-ins. Instead, they had three straightforward and delicious recipes: classic Chocolate Crackles, fudgy and rich, made by self-taught pros Kate Kuckro and Mindi Canner of Sweet Constructions; Melissa's crunchy Hot Summer Asphalt oatmeal-and-chocolate cookie, spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and Trader Joe's spiced pecans; and Tara Deguzman's "Famous" toffee, chocolate chip and nut cookies, a homemade spin on those bite-sized Famous Amos cookies-in-a-bag.
The People's Choice picks? Again, those chocolate crackles, proving my theory that the best chocolate cookie is the one closest to a brownie, since really, wouldn't all chocolate cookies be brownies if they could? Take it from a Jersey girl: we know from chawklit.
The white chocolate drizzle is optional, but it does add another layer of minty goodness. Dyeing it green with food coloring is entirely optional, but fun.
1/2 cup butter (4 oz/1 stick) butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp peppermint extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk or white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
2 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp peppermint extract, or to taste
1/2 cup powdered sugar
few drops of green food coloring (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or foil.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in egg and extract.
3. Sift cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir into butter mixture. Stir in chips.
4. Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until just set and no longer shiny. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool on a rack.
5. Meanwhile, melt white chocolate in double boiler. Remove from double boiler when melted, and let cool. Beat in cream, powdered sugar, and mint. Using a spoon, drizzle over cooled cookies.
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