25 November 2009

The CCC and Oven Debacle

Who does not love chocolate chip cookies? I know a handful of people who don't like chocolate (can you even imagine?) but all of them still eat chocolate chip cookies.

My mother allowed my sisters and I to putter about in the kitchen from a very early age. We made dinner, we baked, we helped her with canning. I don't know when the first time I made cookies all by my lonesome self would have been - 8? 12? somewhere in between? - but by the time I was a teenager, I was an old hand at baking. Chocolate chips were always a favorite.

For a long time, I used the recipe on the back of the bag of Nestle Toll House cc's. I wasn't always satisfied with the results, but they were OK. Sometimes they were too flat, sometimes they were too hard; but back then, things like exact measurements and careful processes....well, they weren't high on my priority list, y'know? I made CCCs in Sweden for my host family. I took a Pyrex glass measuring cup and Nestle's with me on the plane, smuggled in my luggage. I'm sure that container of chips looked odd on the X-rays, but no one tried to stop me! The results of the CCCs in Sweden were a crapshoot. Sometimes they were better than others. Using a liquid measuring cup for a solid, like flour....eh. Not the wisest. And once I ran out of cc's, I used big bars of chocolate from the grocery store, chopping them into big chunks. Usually milk chocolate, which I really don't like much. My host family enjoyed them, and once I learned how to read Swedish, I could distinguish milk from dark chocolate.

After I came back to the States, I continued to use the Nestle recipe.

Food Network made its appearance on our local cable system somewhere in the late 90s. And then I discovered Alton Brown. Oh, AB! My geek heart goes pitter-patter when you explain how and why things work. Complete with diagrams. AB's recipes for CCC's show you how to make puffy CCCs. How to make chewy CCCs. How to make thin CCCs. My favorite of the three is the chewy variety, the recipe can be found here. I've happily used that recipe for many years now.


Earlier this year, my oven broke. One of the electric coils gave up the ghost, and we were forced to admit that purchasing a replacement coil would be foolish when the entire unit - oven and stovetop - were vintage 1978, plus I've never liked the stove, and hey, we found a brand new one for $100.

I haven't used the new one much. But I got the urge for some CCCs, and baked a batch of AB's best. Except: they were flat. Flatter than a pancake flat. Still chewy, but flat flat flat. Well! I couldn't have that, now, could I? No. So I began doing a little research and I decided (in my infinite wisdom) that using my stand mixer and allowing it to run for a little longer than normal had incorporated too much air into the batter. I can make CCCs without a stand mixer, so I did. Super-carefully measuring, and I got a new box of baking soda, thinking (incorrectly) that maybe my baking soda was old and not giving its appropriate ooomph to the cookies. I also bought a new thermometer for the oven, from a restaurant supply place, to make sure the oven was at the right temperature. (It cost all of $2.52.) I have a nifty new scale (which was NOT $2.52!), and I measured AND weighed everything with the scale, noting down the metric equivalents so that I can make CCCs the next time I'm in Sweden. But. The second batch? Was as flat as the first. Still tasty, but UGLY. Well, that meant war, now, didn't it?

In all the time I've made AB's cookies, I've never altered the recipe a whit. Followed it to the letter, with the exception of adding more chips than it calls for - I always do that when making chocolate chippers - or using chunks instead of chips. Sometimes pecans or macadamia nuts, too. I decided the time had come for me to step back from the master, and wing it.

So the next batch was again made without the mixer, and careful measuring. But I added a half cup more of flour. The secret to the chewy cookies is using bread flour rather than AP flour. Something about gluten and chemical reactions and AB does a much better job of explaining it than I do; hop over to foodtv.com to watch him do so. But why I needed to suddenly use 2-3/4 cups of flour rather than the recipe indicated 2-1/4....I have no idea. None. Nothing except my oven changed. Remember, please, that I have a brand new thermometer in there to make sure the oven is at the right temp. Is it the size? The new oven is bigger. Is it the single rack instead of the 2 I'm used to? I just don't know.

Batch # whatever was finally the result I was looking for. I was back to "my" chocolate chip cookies. Just in time, too, as the holiday baking season is about to begin. I couldn't give flat CCCs in the tins of cookies that I give to so many people as gifts!

The new oven is kind of obnoxiously annoying. It came with one oven rack. One!! My old oven had 3. I removed one of the racks from the old oven, finding 3 too many most of the time. I kept it next to the refrigerator, handy but not exposed. When we got rid of the old oven, the rack was forgotten, so it wasn't hauled away with the rest of the scrap that the old oven had become. Of course, that leftover rack does not fit into the new oven. In fact, NO oven rack on the planet seems to fit that new oven. As noted above, we got the new oven for a steal. $100. From a "closeout" type store, so of course it was either discontinued by the manufacturer, or it had some minor cosmetic damage. At the time, I thought nothing of it. My mistake. Because while the brand name on the new range/oven is one recognized easily all over the US, it apparently is a one-of-a-kind. It is a Sunbeam. I know, right? You recognize this name, yeah? You probably have a small appliance (mixer, food processor, toaster, toaster oven) that has their name on it. Sunbeam divested themselves of their major appliance division in early 2009, which is how my $100 oven ended up in a closeout store sometime in March. Their website has an ever-so-NOT-helpful memo suggesting that you contact a company called AP Wagner for replacement parts.

There is a local appliance parts shop that has been around since probably the 20s, and so I took the oven rack out of the oven, wrenched my back (seriously, still hurting from that) when I pulled the oven out from the wall for the model number on the rear of the oven. The model number is an odd one, not following the pattern of other Sunbeam model numbers. Hm. When I walked in to the appliance repair place, I had both rack and model number in hand and I had every confidence in the world that they'd have what I needed. That store is a blast from the past type of place. No shiny showroom, no uniformed/name-tagged employees, stacked to the rafters with all sorts of junk, refurbished appliances of every stripe all over the place. There's a front counter, and you tell the person behind the counter what you want. They wander away into a maze of shelving units, disappear for a while, and return carrying your item. Invoices are written by hand. An adding machine calculates the sales tax on your item, and and old-fashioned cash register that makes a loud audible ringing noise when the till is opened is where your money goes.

The person behind the counter did a double-take when I carried my rack in. "What is THAT?" he asked me. Bad sign, if the appliance repair man / parts person does not recognize it right off. I told him it was an oven rack, and he punched the model number in to the computer - for inventory only, and the sole concession to the modern age in that place - and you know what he got back? Bupkis. He told me my model number wasn't a Sunbeam model number, and that the rack in my hand was the largest he had ever seen for a home oven. He didn't think he could even find something that was close, when I told him I didn't care who made the bloody thing, I just wanted it to fit the oven. {GROAN}. Strike out!

I called the 800 number for AP Wagner, and went through the same rigmarole. The model number printed on the sticker on the back of the oven isn't a Sunbeam model number, they say. Oh, FFS. The person on the other end of the phone tried inputting partial numbers, did her best, but you know what she got back from her computer, don't you? Bupkis. She did suggest to me that I call back when I was standing in front of the oven, and that possibly there's a serial number or some other thing that she would be able to track down. Have I done that yet? No, I keep forgetting, thinking about it only when I'm at work or it is 3:30 AM. Not. Helpful.

I called Sunbeam directly, and they were even less of a help, in fact they were curt, trying to blow me off by pawning me off on AP Wagner within 15 seconds of me telling them the problem. I explained that I'd already spent a half hour on the phone with AP Wagner, and then they suggested my local appliance parts place, after asking for my zip code. Been there, I said. They couldn't identify the model number either. Then they gave me a phone number for an appliance parts store in the state capitol. Not. Helpful. The state capitol is a 3-4 hour drive from home, not exactly around the way. I got snippy in return, and then they were apologetic, but firm. They couldn't help me.

Help me, interweb!! How, oh how in the world, am I going to bake 20 dozen cookies with ONE measly oven rack??? On my way home from work each day, I drive past a decorative ironworks business, and I'm frustrated enough, and desperate enough, to stop there and ask if they could make me one. The thought of the price tag for that being triple what I paid for the oven is the only thing that is stopping me from doing just that.

1 comment:

Lora said...

how about if you buy one of those cooling racks that sit high up and place it on top of your existing rack so the "bars" run opposite of each other.

I used to have the same problem you are having now in college, and I picked up one of those elevated cooling racks for a couple dollars at Kmart or somewhere.

Also, my mom has these roasting racks that hang in a roasting pan that could double as the same thing. Does this make sense?

thanks for stopping by my blog, and for your kind words.

I'm still here on yours too, stalking you and loving every post.

there aren't too many smart girl bloggers out there, and you are certainly one of them!