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Pantry cleaning yields yummy cookies
On baking
By Annie Overboe | Columnist
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Published: 4/28/2010 12:00 AM

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This time each year I rustle through my baking pantry wondering what to do with all the leftovers; those open bags of nuts and chips and flours still lingering on the shelves after a winter of baking. Sigh. The holidays seem so long ago.

Two items recently caught my attention: an almost-full bag of dark chocolate chips and some whole wheat flour. Michael's been asking for cookies but didn't request a specific type so I hit upon the idea to combine these leftovers into a new cookie.

The challenge was on. Before starting I set one rule for myself: use only what's on hand in the pantry. No quick trips to the store for a special ingredient or borrowing from neighbors; I'd have to rely on these shelves of holiday leftovers and the butter and eggs in my fridge to round out the recipe.

The wheat flour came to mind because unlike all-purpose varieties, whole wheat flour contains the entire kernel and germ and therefore has higher oil content than refined varieties. This means it has a shorter shelf life than other flours. Kept tightly covered and stashed in the freezer will buy a baker up to one year.

Tearing through the pantry created quite the mountain of ingredient possibilities. A surplus of brown sugars sparked the idea to let white sugar sit this one out. The molasses blast from all brown sugar in the recipe could enhance the whole wheat flour flavor.

Though using only brown sugar limited the style possibilities. Rolled cookies were out and really didn't fit my leftover vision anyway. No, an easy, breezy drop cookie fit the criteria.

After a few trials brown sugar became the least of my issues. Substituting generous amounts of whole wheat flour for all-purpose created an overly crunchy texture and bland taste that left my husband less than thrilled. But I wasn't ready to give up on whole wheat flour just yet.

Fighting to control texture didn't work so I chose to embrace the concept of a wildly diverse cookie. I needed to distract the taste buds from the whole wheat flour and boost the chewy factor; and I had a pantry full of distractions from which to choose.

To counter the bold sweetness of the brown sugar I tossed in a combination of toasted and salted chopped nuts. Any combination works, but savory walnuts offer depth of flavor and texture. My secret ingredient: roasted almonds with a few cocoa dusted nuts tossed in for good measure.

My pantry cooking was coming along but enhancing the chewy factor still demanded drastic measures. White sugar brings pure sweetness to recipes, building chewy texture without compromising other flavors. I needed to find an ingredient that would be chewy and mimic white sugar's sweetness.

On a whim I tossed shredded coconut along with the dark chocolate chips into the dough. Wow! The baked cookie yielded a nuanced sweetness bursting with visual interest and chewy texture. This chaotic approach to recipe building fell so far off the usually strict path of baking science that it actually worked!

What surprised me the most? The cookies looked planned and polished on the serving platter. Who says economy baking can't look and taste exquisitely expensive?

• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.