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May 30, 2014

Chocolate Chip Champion: Domino

THE STORY:

Mei, my fellow gymnastics-mom and good friend and I like to champion here in Paris (and abroad) that ugliest but perhaps most delicious of desserts: the American cookie.



The first year of gymnastics regionals, Gigi's team got 13th out of 13. The second year, when she came home with a 9th place, Anthony congratulated her enthusiastically...until she told him there had only been 9 teams. Well, much like this, I fancy myself quite a delicious cookie maker, but then I only have a couple really good non-French friends here, and the only other American's cookies I've tried are Mei's. And, objectively speaking, hers are better than mine. So there may only be two contestants, but I'm the Silver Medal Champion Cookie Maker of My Paris!

And my cookies do whoop the pants off any chocolate chip cookies I've tried that were made by any French person. I have to admit the cookies I make here also whoop the pants off the cookies I make in San Francisco, and I've figured out the secret: I use all American ingredients except the butter. French butter contains less water and is generally richer and more unctuous, and the cookies benefit.

If you're wondering why there are so many cookies on my counters, and why some of them are upside down, there's a logical explanation for both. Gigi likes me to make her cookies for her class for her birthday. She's in a class of 29 kids, plus a teacher, and I feel like everybody should have at least a couple cookies. So you do the math: that makes a whole lot of cookies, which I must mix by hand -- no KitchenAid stand mixer. It's better than a gym workout for the upper arms, except that I eat more calories worth of raw dough than I burn.


And why upside down? Along with no stand mixer, I also don't have a cooling rack, and I've discovered that putting them bumpy side down allows them to cool without getting soggy, as the steam can find nooks and crannies through which to escape.

Sure, I could buy chocolate chip cookies. There is a cute little shop on our island called "Anne's" which sells single, regular-sized (say, 3" diameter) cookies for 2.7€ -- or about $3.50 -- each. Meanwhile, I can go to Thanksgiving (the store in the nearby Marais neighborhood, not the holiday) and find critically important ingredients for not too much money, including real light brown sugar for under 4€ and baking soda for just a couple more. Still infinitely cheaper than buying at Anne's, where we would need to take out a second mortgage in order to buy a couple dozen cookies.

 

The expensive ingredients are the real liquid vanilla and the chocolate chips, and I have cabinets full of both, thanks to a steady stream of visitors. French stores only sell sweetened chocolate, so I recently head to the Thanksgiving store for baker's chocolate with which to make American brownies for Gigi's birthday party only to discover that the imported bar of baker's chocolate is 8.5€ and the imported brownie mix is 7.5€. Easier and cheaper and headed for a crowd of ravenous children? Mix it is. I guess that's a flavor I haven't had much recently, because I don't remember mix brownies being that good, but we all certainly love them now.

However, I refuse to make chocolate chip cookies for any of my visitors from the States. I only make them for other ex-pats who need a taste of home and for French-people who, I must tell you, are completely won over by this ugly-but-delicious American dessert.

P.S. Speaking of won over: in this year's regionals, Gigi's team comes home with 3rd place out of 15 teams, which was a huge surprise and means they are qualified for nationals. So maybe there's hope for me still, and someday my cookies will test better than Mei's.

THE CHEESE: Domino


In a region where the cow is queen, in the valley of Ecaillon in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, right on the Belgian border, farmers and cheesemakers Jean-Philippe Bourgois et France Bourgois decided to open a goat farm in 2008. There, their herd of 150 female goats and 5 bucks are spoiled with herbs, grasses, and five feedings per day of straw and alfalfa. Starting just in 2012, the farm started producing Ecaillon cheese and just one month later for it, won a gold medal at a contest. They've since branched out to other cheeses, including this two-toned domino, which is half-ashed, and half not.

Domino is a thick, solid, sliceable, yet still creamy raw goat's milk cheese. It's eye-catching, with its half-black, half-white look that resembles a domino tile, hence the name. It's also taste-bud-catching, with a mellow but not boring flavor. It's the kind of cheese that really lends itself to a little fruit gel or honey on top, and the entire family loves it.

THE CONNECTION:

Domino brand brown sugar, of course. It is the secret to American-tasting chocolate cookies (and to really delicious morning oatmeal) and is something that, in my mind, simply can't be replaced by French brown-ish sugars. By the way, if I had to make my choice for dessert between a great chocolate chip cookie (ideally warm, served with a cold glass of milk) or Domino cheese (ideally on great bread, with a dollop of honey), I genuinely don't know what would win. They're both just unbeatably delicious.

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