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Chris Hennes

Gift baking ingredient philosophy

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I'm making cookies tonight: these are intended as gifts for various family members, so I'm trying to make cookies I think they will each like. I'm keeping it simple. No aging, no moscavado sugar, etc.

 

But I realized that I might be carrying it too far (or at least I think there is room for discussion). Take, for example, the cookie recipe on the back of the Reese's chip bag:

image.jpeg

 

The recipe calls for Hershey's cocoa, of course. Now, I have a bag of Valrhona in the cabinet. But I figured that the person receiving them would be totally happy with Hershey's, so that's what I used.

 

When you bake gifts do you pull out all the stops, or do you reserve the "good stuff" for other occasions?

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Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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A loaded question! Depends how much I like someone I guess. If it's obligatory baking for someone to whom I have no real emotional attachment and I don't feel I have to impress or I know has not got a discriminating palate - I'll use up the crap. 

 

For the people I care about - the good stuff!

 

When I'm making chocolate for sale I use the best in the price range I'm prepared to pay - don't make a lot with Valrhona for example - but I never use the cheap stuff for bonbons or moulded Santas. Cheap chocolate seems to work ok in cookies - I often use up samples I have around for that. 

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Chris - you probably made the right decision. Wouldn't the cookies turn out differently using dutched vs natural cocoa?

 

I haven't consciously swapped "lesser" ingredients for pricier ones but I do swap scratch made for box mix from time to time depending on the intended recipients if that counts. As in I personally like the Barefoot Contessa Outrageous Brownie recipe but for some occasions Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix fills the bill just fine. 


"The main thing to remember about Italian food is that when you put your groceries in the car, the quality of your dinner has already been decided." – Mario Batali

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Ok - now you've got me thinking about where I get cheap and where I don't. Butter is one of those things - if have some 'good' butter around that I've paid a lot more for, better quality, less water in it, stays firmer at room temperature - and some cheap butter - tend to use the cheap butter for the baking and the 'good' butter for putting on bread and such. But bonbons get the good butter no matter who's getting them. I have a reputation after all!

 

You've opened a whole can of worms Chris - I find I'm a contradiction in where I get thrifty and where I spend way too much! Get's me thinking about how I'm my mother's daughter.

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Good ingredients if it will make a difference in the final quality/flavour. Your reputation is your reputation for whoever receives the gift.

 

If I didn't care enough to use good ingredients, I probably wouldn't be making them gifts.

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I don't think it's so much about pulling out the stops only for special occasions, as the right ones.

 

I factor in two points: whether the special qualities of an ingredient are going to even make it through the cooking and baking process, and the palate of the person I'm cooking for, because high/extended heat tend to alter flavours, and that's not even considering all the other ingredients, which will also have an impact on how a given ingredient tastes. Then, some people either do not have particularly perceptive palates, or straight up don't care for the 'better' ingredient. In this cookie recipe, the Hershey's just feels more appropriate to the whole context, you made the right call.

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Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Biggest for me is not using no-name boubon for my Pecan-Bourbon Balls. Mind you, nothing over the moon, but typically I use Maker's Mark. This year I will use Jim Beam Devil's Cut.

 

Chocolate chips et al: no house brand. I found a good price on Guitard semi-sweet chips so they went into my basic chocolate chip cookies. We don't normally use shortening for much of anything so each year it's a fresh can of Crisco - NEVER house brand. Butter is Costco house brand. I may break down and buy Kerrygold for the shortbread.

 

Our audience is friends and family plus for my DW co-workers. No pastry chefs or chocolatiers in the group. We must be doing something right because our cookie tins (with about 16 varieties) are always anticipated.


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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19 minutes ago, Porthos said:

Our audience is friends and family plus for my DW co-workers...

I think this is key..."Know your audience". Also, for good measure remember the Biblical quote  "Do not cast your pearls before swine".

That being said, my cooking/baking output is usually pretty good. Or else why would I even attempt it in the first place? When I know the intended audience and I want to make what's good even better, I gild the lily, so to speak, using premium ingredients in instances when I know it will make a difference in the final output and that the recipient will likely appreciate it, as well.

 

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“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Wonderful topic.  Smiled broadly as soon as I read your post.  And yes, I do this terrible thing.  If folks don't know the difference between good dark chocolate and Merkens compound...yes, I do have some friends who think that World's Best Chocolate...milk chocolate only...is the best, then I am not going to use the best chocolate in their goodies.  I suppose I am shameful, well, so be it.  I am.  :$

 

I've never had complaints yet.:P

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Darienne

learn, learn, learn...

Cheers & Chocolates

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For food gifts going to people I know and care about, I use what they like. If I like 70% in a cookie and the recipient likes milk chocolate, there will be milk chocolate in the cookie. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with gifting people with things made the way you like them. But if gifting a person with something you're gearing specifically towards that person, why would personal preference rank above their preference?

I don't see anything wrong with the recipe in your example, Chris. That's your basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with some cocoa replacing some flour and peanut butter chips replacing chocolate chips. Nothing "carrying it too far" about that. If the recipient(s) enjoy it, that means more to me than using cocoa harvested from a rare plant that only grows in elephant footprints that are watered by rain water dripping off of vanilla vines. Sometimes we get too caught up in that sort of thing.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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22 hours ago, Kerry Beal said:

Depends how much I like someone I guess.

I like to think that's not my decision-making process! I like the people I'm sending these to, I just don't think they would really care one way or the other which chocolate I used. If I were sending them to you, @Kerry Beal, I would no doubt has used the Valrhona (and homemade peanut butter chips, and butter with a zillion percent butterfat, etc. etc.), because you would know and care about the difference. But my brother in law? It seems doubtful :) 

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Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Now you've gone and done it, Tri2Cook.  We all want to know where to get cocoa harvested from a rare plant that only grows in elephant footprints that are watered by rain water dripping off of vanilla vines.

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Darienne

learn, learn, learn...

Cheers & Chocolates

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I'll have to agree with Kerry Beal on this one- depends almost completely on the recepient. If it's for someone I'm attached to and like to see impressed, I can quickly get unnecessarily spendy(cocoa harvested from a rare plant that only grows in elephant footprints that are watered by rain water dripping off of vanilla vines level) in both ingredients and level of effort; but if it's a formal, obligated gift to a non-foodie person I'm not that close with(the first part is the priority there, though- reputation!!), then meh. I still do use decent level stuff in things like chocolates where the quality of the ingredient does make a difference even to the less picky- at least the best I can comfortably afford.

Another criteria here is the expected audience- if it's for young kids under 10-ish or people with little knowledge and/or interest in said cuisine(which is surprisingly common at least here, especially when your main field is baking and confections), I would prefer to not go further than a nice simple crowd-pleaser and preserve my good stuff for those who can actually savor the food & give me feedback. There are many easy ways to satisfy those who care less about food than I do, and as Chris Hennes said 'better' ingredients are not it. There are people who really are unable to detect that sort of difference, no matter how obvious it seems to us and how hard the cook tries.

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I tend to use better than average ingredients when I cook or bake, whether for myself or others.  

 

That said, the recipes I choose to make for others may very well depend on:

  • the price of the needed ingredients,
  • the gourmandiseness (I made up that word) of  the recipient,
  • and my checking account balance.  

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On 16 December, 2015 at 8:32 PM, Darienne said:

Now you've gone and done it, Tri2Cook.  We all want to know where to get cocoa harvested from a rare plant that only grows in elephant footprints that are watered by rain water dripping off of vanilla vines.

 

He's deliberately misleading you, Darienne.  They're tapir footprints, and the cocoa in question is gran cru fino de aroma criollo from Sto. Domingo, Ecuador. :P

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Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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I think it depends also upon what you're making.  The cookie you're making is a pretty simple, straight-up cookie, and it would somewhat seem wrong to me to "fancify" it by using cocoa that is a class above the recipe.  I see nothing wrong at all with using common ingredients in a common recipe.  In fact, if any of your recipients had been known to bake these cookies themselves, they might taste a little "wrong" to them due to the different cocoa.

 

If it's a recipe where the ingredient is the star, though, I will definitely use the good stuff.  In general, if I'm going to spend my time making something nice, I'm not going to drag down the quality by not using the good stuff.

 

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Kerrygold butter definitely made a richer-tasting shortbread cookies.

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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