The McDonaldland cookie search continues

The other night I found some new information in my search to copycat the old McDonaldland cookies, and updated my original post accordingly. I also decided to post on the /r/Baking subreddit to see if some helpful users there could chime in and point me to a recipe with a similar ingredient list, as a starting point.

Apparently though, that sub is crap. If you don’t post food porn, nobody cares.

How am I supposed to track down a cookie recipe by ingredients alone? There are millions of cookie recipes, and unless you know the name of the type of cookie, you can’t even narrow it down.

My next thought is maybe hitting up the bargain books section at Barnes & Noble to find a cookie book in the rather large selection of cookbooks, and if I can’t find one there maybe I can find some in with the regular cookbooks. Maybe one of them will have so much variety in cookie recipes that one of them will be similar to what I’m looking for.

The only thing I know to call these cookies is “high-flour”. Based on the stuff I’ve been seeing online, I have a very, very rough guess that the flour-shortening-sugar ratio is 3:1:1, but no idea how much corn syrup should factor in. Other stuff like salt and “natural flavors” I can just guess, and I can take a stab at the baking powder quantity based on other recipes in general. Soy lecithin is also something I’ll have to guess at, but first I’ll have to order some.

But before all that, I really, really want a starting point. Without a stand mixer, baking is a bigger production for me than it might be for other people who play with recipes.

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What January wants

We’ve come to that weird time of year when my body is in hibernation mode and, despite having some sweets left from Christmas (but not as many as in previous years, thank goodness), I find myself craving other sweets. Specifically, I’m seeking something a bit cakey or cookie-like.

One thing I greatly miss is the classic Keebler fudge sandwich cookie. They stopped making them in the ’90s, then briefly reintroduced them in a more expensive/upscale format (think of the Milano bag) but lacking in the flavor and character of the original. The original cookies had a very nice crumbly texture with a slight salty note that contrasted perfectly with the sweetness of the fudge layer, but the newer version had almost an over-roasted bitterness. Needless to say, when I become a supervillain I will both hold the people responsible for this atrocity to account, and instruct my Ministry of Resurrected Products to get to work bringing back the cookie of old.

In the meantime the main two things I want right now are regular cheapo lemon sandwich cookies, and white cake with white buttercream frosting. I actually requested the latter for my birthday, but ended up with a storebought yellow cake with a raspberry filling—which was still tasty, but did not satisfy my desire for a good white cake, and the icing on storebought cakes is nowhere near as good as homemade.

The main thing holding me back from making such a cake myself is that I’d be the only person in my house eating it. Cake is supposed to freeze beautifully, but for that I’d have to make room in my freezer.

Also you may be wondering: why white cake with white frosting? Isn’t that a little plain? When I was a kid, there was basically no such thing as a buttercream-frosted cake in our house that didn’t involve chocolate: chocolate cake with regular icing, yellow cake with chocolate, or chocolate with chocolate. I love me some chocolate, but one day in college I hit up a bake sale and discovered the absolute magical combination of white cake with white frosting, in a cupcake.

But in the meantime, I’ll settle for lemon sandwich cookies.

This same craving for a cakey texture, not just for the flavors, led me to make pancakes the other night. Ain’t nothin’ quite as wonderful as leftover pancakes; I eat them cold. But also I’ve been drawn to other comfort foods. Such is winter, when our bodies try to convince us to pack on the pounds. And this is another reason I’ve held off on just buying a cake mix, confectioner’s sugar, and the a little bit of shortening I’d need; much as I’d enjoy a good cake, I also want to wait until the little voice crying out for it is much louder. So many times I’ve passed up on junk food or sweets because I knew the little voice wasn’t loud enough, and I think that tiny bit of self-control does wonders.

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WTF if?

For some reason YouTube put “Guitar — Topic” as a section in my recommendations. I watch all kinds of stuff on there and sometimes they get recommendations right—but I can’t control them because I refuse to browse YouTube logged in. But one of the videos in that section was titled thusly:

What if Lizzo’s Truth Hurts was by Mumford & Sons?

Both artists hold an easy 10 on the Nicki Minaj rage scale. So long story short, I may have just had a stroke.

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Sous vide burgers: a delicious post-mortem

Over the Christmas break I did indeed make my signature cube steak sandwich as a burger instead. I looked over multiple methods that I thought might suit, since directly pan-frying a burger patty soaked in teriyaki sauce long enough to cook it through wasn’t likely to be a good idea. Broiling was one option, but I felt that was iffy as well. Ultimately I decided to try preparing a burger sous vide.

I got a package of 80-20 ground beef—because if you make burgers much more than 80% lean, you need an intervention—weighing roughly 15 oz., and split it up into two halves, forming each one as best I could by hand into a burger patty without compressing them too much. One of these I froze for later, which meant for tonight, and the other I started right away. So each  burger was about half a pound.

The burger patty went into a quart-size freezer bag along with a generous amount of teriyaki sauce (Kikkoman being my favorite) and then I got out as much air as possible. After immersing the bag in water I unsealed it slightly to get more air out, as much as I could. Finally I turned on my immersion circulator for 130° (Fahrenheit, naturally). Per the instructions I found on how to cook burgers sous vide, at that temperature I was going to need at least 40 minutes to pasteurize the meat, so I let it go about 45 minutes. After that I removed it from the bag, poured off any liquids, patted it somewhat dry, and let it rest on a folded paper towel for about 10 minutes. Resting the meat is apparently very important even for a burger.

Following this, I first tried to use the broiler to give it a good sear, but I found that my oven’s broiler took too long so I switched to using a pan. I didn’t let it sear for very long: maybe like a minute to a minute and a half per side. I used my trusty 10″ Orgreenic pan, but didn’t put in any fat, so the pan got some black gunk on it in short order. The gunk cleaned up pretty easily, all things considered. The accumulation of gunk, and the smell of the smoke in the house, was why I only seared for a short time.

This first burger was extremely tender and tasty, and was definitely worth doing this way. The whole sandwich was very enjoyable with one small caveat: Because I cooked the meat to 130°, the recommended temperature for a medium burger, it actually ended up with more of a medium-rare texture. The meat had almost a raw texture to it, even though it was fully cooked, and honestly that wasn’t what I wanted at all.

Tonight I went for round 2 with the frozen burger, since I still had a little bacon and the rest of my mushrooms in the fridge, plus of course more cheese. I thawed one of the Kaiser rolls from the freezer, and had the burger itself thawing in the freezer bag along with some teriyaki sauce for about 5 hours. That wasn’t enough time to fully thaw it, so I resolved to give the process more time; you can generally cook most meats from frozen in a sous vide bath, I’ve read, if you give them an extra half hour.

This time I upped the temperature to 135°. I also ended up giving the burger a total of 90 minutes in the bath, which was overkill even accounting for the extra time to finish thawing, but that was mostly because I had something else to do at the time. The beauty of sous vide cooking is you can just let it go in the background. Again I rested it, and then I pan-seared it but this time with a small dollop (less than a tablespoon, I would say) of bacon grease. Less black gunk this time, though still plenty of smoke; I think it seared much better.

135° cooking along with the searing as I described it turned out to produce the perfect medium burger, and this time the texture was just right.

A sous vide burger is so much better than a regular burger off the grill. Although it lacks that firm crust all around, it’s juicy and tender and a delight to bite into. Part of that is because you don’t have to overcook the meat to kill off rogue bacteria; you’ve basically sterilized it by holding it at temperature for the right length of time.

I’m starting to realize, though, that the next thing I need to tackle in perfecting this sandwich is my mushrooms. Oh, they’re quite wonderful, but even though they’ve been removed from the butter they were sauteed in, they’re still very greasy. There’s already a bit of grease from the meat and the cheese, but there was a significant amount of butter that dripped out onto my plate. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like it a bit greasy, but it’s a bigger mess than I think it needs to be. Somehow I have to up my mushroom game with much less fat.

Anyway, I declare this year’s sandwich experiment a success, and now I don’t have to worry about figuring out how to tenderize cube steak because I’ve done an end run around it.

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When a cube steak is not a cube steak

I was getting out of bed yesterday morning, pondering what I might try this year to tenderize the cube steak in my after-Christmas cube steak sandwich. As I’ve mentioned before, I got into this because cube steaks were kind of a special thing my dad made now and then: just fry them up and put them on a roll with cheese. He’d add other stuff too, but for me it was just the meat and cheese. And nowadays, during the Christmas break, my sandwich is teriyaki cube steak on a Kaiser roll, with Muenster and mozzarella, bacon, and freshly sauteed mushrooms. And even the bacon is a fairly recent addition.

Anyway last year because of my tooth being all messed up—I have an implant now so it’s all good—I was looking for ways to tenderize the cube steak more because honestly it’s always had a little problem with some connective tissue sticking around after cooking, and in a sandwich that’s not the greatest thing. So yesterday my brain and I had a little conversation.

Me: Is it worth trying the milk soak again this year? It seemed to work the first time but the second one, not so much.

Brain: Well that is what they do in diners, right? Where a cube steak is used for chicken-fried steak? They use milk or buttermilk. Of course they’re also eating it with a knife and fork.

Me: Right, so the issue with trying to cut the meat with your teeth so you don’t pull it all out of the roll is off the table there. But what about for me?

Brain: Hmm… Diners. Steak. Texture. I wonder…

Me: What are you thinking?

Brain: Consider this: What do you want out of this tenderizing process, really?

Me: I want a nice soft cube steak that has a meaty mouth feel but won’t have bits of connective tissue I need to bite through.

Brain: Right. You want your beef easier to chew. Also you want the marinade to penetrate better.

Me: Oh right. I forgot I wanted that too. So what’s the plan?

Brain: Think about what else a good diner is known for. Besides breakfast.

Me: With cube steaks? I have no idea.

Brain: You want your beef to have a nice texture. You don’t want to worry about connective tissue. You want it to be easy to marinate. So…

Me: We’ve been over that. But cube steaks in a diner are cut with a knife, not your teeth. They’re more tender than a regular steak, but they still need a knife.

Brain: More tender why?

Me: Because they’ve been through a machine that cuts a lot of the connective tissue. Also it increases the surface area of the meat a little bit.

Brain: Getting warmer…

Me: It’s about as much mechanical alteration as you can make to a steak without going for a full grind. But if you ground the meat, then you’d have… Wait a second. Are you talking about a hamburger?

Brain: Ding ding ding ding ding!

Me: But that’s not a cube steak at all! And I can’t grill in the winter anyway.

Brain: It’s not about the cube steak, stupid. It’s about the meat. You’ve tried sous vide, you’ve tried soaking in milk, you’ve tried a million things. Ultimately none of them have performed any better than marinating the steak overnight in teriyaki sauce, patting it dry, and throwing it on the broiler pan.

Me: That pan is a pain to clean.

Brain: Stick with me. All you really care about is the flavor and texture, right? A hamburger won’t cook any differently than a cube steak would, and at most you only want a quarter to a third of a pound. So why not make a hamburger with ground beef yourself, mix teriyaki sauce right in when you do it, and then cook the thing like you would a cube steak?

Me: Because it’s not a cube steak!

Brain: You don’t care about that and you know it. Basically the only difference between your sandwich and an awesome bacon mushroom cheeseburger is it’s not a burger. So just make it a burger already. The fat ratio in the meat will be better, you won’t have to worry about the meat trying to stay in one piece, and it’ll take the marinade beautifully. Plus you don’t have to worry about the cube steak being oblong and not fitting well on the roll because it’ll be round.

Now the only problem with my brain’s plan is that ground beef is typically sold by the pound, and being honest I really only plan to make two sandwiches at a quarter pound each. Still, my brain has a point.

It would even be sensible to buy pre-made patties, if Wegmans has any in the winter, and just give them more time to marinate. But I do think making my own would result in a superior flavor and texture, so I think that’s what I’ll have to do.

No, it’s not a cube steak. But if the soul of my favorite sandwich is intact, do I care?

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Runny yolk sauce: experiment #1 post-mortem

Boy did that not work.

I attempted to make the fake egg sauce from my last post, according to the recipe. That recipe calls for 1 cup water, 4 tsp. corn starch, 3/4 tsp. black salt (kala namak), 2 tsp. nutritional yeast, 2 tbsp. neutrally-flavored oil, and 1/4 tsp. turmeric. The mixture is heated to reduce it and cause the corn starch to thicken it up.

Overall I made two batches, and made an adjustment to the second batch, for three sub-experiments. None of them were completely successful, but I believe they’re on the right track. The texture was absolutely perfect, but I found flavor to be the sticking point. (Mind you I read a lot of reviews of the original recipe claiming this tasted just like egg yolk, but for me it fell too far short. Apparently going vegan ruins your taste buds.)

Experiment #1a:

For my first attempt, I mixed the ingredients as directed, but I substituted 2 tbsp. duck fat for the oil. In place of turmeric, I added 6 drops of yellow food coloring. Then I did something stupid and added a drop of red, which was way too much. Lesson learned: no more red. The yellow looked good.

The smell of the mixture while reducing was strange, and unfortunately that quality made its way into the final taste. There was an unpleasant “overcooked” flavor to the mix, which came entirely from the nutritional yeast. I tasted some of the yeast plain, and it has a sort of cereal-like flavor; it was good, but not necessarily suited to an egg yolk substitute. Whether that overcooked flavor was always there entirely or whether it was brought out more by heating the mixture, I’m not sure, but it was unsubtle and off-putting. However, underneath it there was a solid savory note that did work.

Worse, though, the sulfur flavor from the black salt was absolutely overpowering. Clearly 3/4 tsp. is way too much.

Experiment #1b:

I started over and dropped the black salt to a mere 1/4 tsp. In addition to the nutritional yeast, I added 1/8 tsp. of MSG, hoping it would round out the flavor and soften the harsh edges of the yeast. This time I also used some light-flavored olive oil, because I wasn’t about to waste more of my good duck fat.

At first I thought this was too little black salt, but the more obvious problem was that although the MSG helped, the yeast’s overcooked flavor came out stronger than before.

Experiment #1c:

At this point I added more water, another 1/4 tsp. of black salt, and another 1/8 tsp. of MSG. This was to simulate using less nutritional yeast while keeping everything else roughly the same as when I started the batch.

This didn’t work at all. If anything the black salt was too strong again, but the yeast flavor was not improved.

Final thoughts

It’s clear to me now that the big problem here is nutritional yeast. It could be the brand I’m using, but honestly I really doubt that. More likely, any brand will have that same background flavor. Using turmeric as directed could not have helped this. Adding an earthy, almost dirt-like flavor would only compound the problem.

Since the point of the nutritional yeast is for the strong umami flavoring, I think this recipe would benefit by replacing it with something else. MSG was part of the solution but I don’t think it can do all the heavy lifting on its own. My thinking is, either a mushroom powder or actual Parmesan cheese would fix this: perhaps a blend of both.

Black salt is incredibly strong stuff, too. The smell of it hung in the air long afterward, which I have to say was fairly undesirable. But it could simply be because I used so much of it, and that the bottle was freshly opened.

I’m still impressed with the texture of the recipe. When dripping from a whisk it looked just like the real thing. It did tend to congeal after a few minutes, so it would benefit from an emulsifier.

As it stands I don’t think I’ll revisit this before the new year, and therefore won’t be trying again to get it right for my special after-Christmas sandwich. But I don’t want to simply end the experiments. This recipe showed me considerable promise, so I believe replacing the nutritional yeast outright with some mixture of MSG and other savory powders will get close enough to taste right. For now though, further experiments are on hold.

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Runny yolk sauce part 2: the vegan subversion

Back in the summer, when I was first literally knocked off my feet by debilitating pain, I saw a video about pasteurizing egg yolks and turning them into a runny yolk sauce. I thought: that’s way too much work and it’ll never be a good option for me. It only keeps a couple of weeks and you have to store it in the fridge, and heating it up nicely is likely not to work. So I got the idea at that time of using powdered egg yolk instead, only to realize after more research that it wouldn’t work out at all. Powdered yolks can reproduce the properties of egg yolk for baking but they won’t reproduce the flavor I want.

What I really want is a runny egg yolk sauce that I can store for long periods and easily warm up, or mix up from something like a powder in small batches, so I can enjoy it on an as-desired basis.

This is something I care about accomplishing soon, though, because I think it’d be an amazing thing to add to my favorite after-Christmas cube steak sandwich. A fried egg in its entirety would be a bit too much of a mess, plus the added difficulty of trying to get that ready on top of everything else would be too much.

Recently, however, I got an idea. For a while YouTube has been recommending videos by Sauce Stache, a channel where lately he seems to exclusively be doing vegan recipes, and his main shtick lately is making fake foods out of vegan ingredients. In one of those videos he tried to make his own egg replacer to make an omelet, and that’s where inspiration struck: the vegans might have an answer for this that would be acceptable. The thing is, I don’t really care if the egg yolk sauce is actually made of egg yolks; I only care about the flavor and texture, and of course that it’s nice and warm when I apply it. Perhaps I can exploit the vegans for their food science!

I managed to find one link that led me to a vegan sunny-side-up egg, but their yolk recipe was overly complicated and involved extra ingredients like masked potato flakes (WTF?) and also the addition of some egg replacer, which seemed like overkill. The basic formula will obviously include black salt, which supposedly has a very sulfurous eggy flavor, and nutritional yeast which is kind of cheesy and savory. So I kept looking, and last night I found a different recipe for a vegan toast dipping sauce that simulates egg yolk. Not only is that recipe much simpler, but I never even thought about the idea of a toast dipping sauce and now I can’t think of anything else.

As a result, I’ve gone ahead and ordered black salt and nutritional yeast from Amazon. I checked Wegmans first, since I had an errand there today, but I couldn’t find black salt. I know they carry “nooch” but I figured I’d just buy these two main ingredients from Amazon.

Of course I’m going to alter the recipe, which calls for black salt, nutritional yeast, water, corn starch, light-flavored oil, and turmeric. I might actually still need to get some light-tasting oil if I don’t have any handy, since my go-to kitchen fats are butter, bacon grease, margarine (which I don’t usually use for baking, just grilled cheese and a few other things), and occasionally duck fat. Duck fat might actually work here considering I’m trying to simulate a chicken egg, and might give it the right extra oomph of unctuousness, so I might just try that. And in the future if I find this recipe works, I’ll eventually work out how to sub out the corn starch for xanthan gum in case I ever want it low-carb.

But the biggest change of all is that I’m gonna ditch the turmeric in favor of good old-fashioned artificial food coloring, because ‘MURICA! Actually the real reason is that I find the dirt-like flavor of turmeric overly strong. I tried a small amount of the stuff in a “flu bomb” toddy the last time I got sick, and nothing really covered it up. No way am I gonna tinge my fake egg with that crap, when I can use a few drops of yellow food coloring and maybe a little red. And I know the turmeric is only in that recipe for color. I’ll continue to take my turmeric in capsule form instead.

The ingredients I need should arrive Friday, and after that I should have a chance to do a little experiment Sunday. If successful, I see no reason not to save the finished product and use it later in the month because it ought to keep just fine in the fridge if it’s in a sealed container. At least in theory I would expect it to keep awhile. But if it doesn’t, it seems easy to make again.

The great irony is that if this works, not only am I likely to deveganize the recipe with duck fat, but I’ll be using this sauce on a sandwich whose other components are beef, cheese, bacon, more cheese, and mushrooms that were sauteed in butter.

What a time to be alive.

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