Can anything say “I love you,” “Thank you,” “Welcome to the neighborhood” or “Get well soon,” better than a homemade cookie? Well, I guess that’s a matter of opinion, but in my experience the unexpected gift of a tin full of cookies when someone is feeling puny, has been a true friend, or is just a super person always brings a smile. Recently, I had a big thank you to bestow, and, with a little help from my one of my favorite Chefs, Patti Jinich, I found just the right way to express my gratitude: The MEGA Cookie.
For quite a while now, I have had my eye on one of Chef Jinich’s cookie recipes. I was intrigued by the use of sweetened condensed milk instead of regular cane sugar (a common ingredient in Mexican cooking, I’m learning) and the amount of butter—three and a half sticks!! I knew I was going to make these little bites of sin sooner or later, and then a wonderful opportunity presented itself—I got an award.
Little old me went to my monthly Metro-East Green Alliance (MEGA) meeting expecting to talk about an upcoming Lobby Day, go over updates on the progress of the Clean Energy Jobs Act and brainstorm some actions for the end of the legislative session. And we did all of that, and then….a senior member of the Sierra Club, who for some reason came to the meeting, began talking about The Spirit of Sierra annual award, explaining what it meant and naming some of the fine people who have received the award in the past. I was thinking, “Oh this is so nice. I’m so glad I brought some treats to celebrate this person.” And then my friend Elizabeth leaned over and whispered in my ear: “It’s you, Toni.”
Surprise! Truly I did not see this coming; in fact, I had no clue the award even existed. And I sit here, telling you about it now, still in awe and wonder that such amazing people who have supported me and taught me and encouraged me saw fit to bestow this honor on me. I still have a hard time believing it is well deserved because I have learned so much from my fellow MEGA members and the brilliant people from the Sierra Club’s Piasa Pallisades Chapter, with whom we often partner, that my contributions seem meager.
On top of the award, now hanging in my bedroom, they gave me a really beautiful cutting board, saying they thought that made more sense than a plaque. Speechless. I know…you don’t believe that, but truly I could think of nothing to say except thank you, again and again. But over time, other ideas have come to mind…
I decided the best way to show my gratitude was to do what I am pretty good at—cook. So, inspired by Patti’s Mexican Table, the MEGA cookie was born. I bet you can find a great reason to bake some up, too. So let’s preheat those ovens!
- Two and three-quarters cups all-purpose flour
- One teaspoon baking powder
- One teaspoon baking soda
- One-half teaspoon coarse sea salt
- Three and one-half sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into pieces
- One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (Trader Joe's has an organic version that is very good and so does Wild Harvest.)
- One cup dark chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Mega Chunks for this—of course, couldn’t resist the name here, either!)
- One-half cup dried berries (Try Terra Farms Very Berry Mix.)
- One cup salted cashew pieces, rough chopped (It is important that they are salted for flavor balance.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until it is very creamy and light—about two minutes.
- Add the sweetened condensed milk and beat until everything is combined and quite fluffy—at least another two minutes.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture one-half cup at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, if you need. Continue mixing on low until the dough is smooth, but just to that point and no farther so that the result is not tough--about one minute.
- Fold in the chocolate chunks, dried berries and chopped cashew pieces with a rubber spatula.
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Form one-inch balls of dough and space at least one inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until the bottoms are lightly browned. Bake one sheet at a time for even browning and rotate half way through.
- Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes; then, transfer to baking racks to cool completely.
The 45-minute bake time represents the entire baking time for all the cookies.
In fairness, I can take little credit for this lovely confection. My only contribution of creativity is in the selection of interchangeable goodies that fold in at the end. The cashews and dried fruit replace peanut butter chips and salted, crushed pretzels in Chef Jinich’s version. But that’s about it. This is a great cookie for the holidays, too: easy to whip up, makes a ton and seems to please everyone. So give it a try and let us know how it turned out.
And, of course, that is the beautiful cutting board in the photos! You’ll be seeing a lot of it.