Reverse Engineered Cookies

So, 2020?  What’s new?  Not much, other than the world coming to a stop over a pandemic and a whole lot of turmoil, right?  <sigh>

Yes, 2020 has been a crazy, scary, insane year for so many folks.  During all of the madness, I squeezed in a day off from work to catch my breath.  What did I end up doing?  Going for a hike?  Nope.  Bingewatching something?  Nope.  Sleeping in?  Nope (thanks to our dog).  I leaned into my baking nerd-dom and retreated to our kitchen, inspired by an info graphic in the Penn State alumni magazine that had just arrived.  Say what?  Naturally, there’s a story behind it all…

Infographic that Started it All

Mindlessly leafing through the alumni magazine over my morning coffee, a full-page infographic on what it goes into the daily batch of West Halls chocolate chip cookies caught my eye.  Considering these cookies feed all of main campus and get sent of to some branch campuses, the volumes of the ingredients was pretty eye-popping.

I didn’t think much of it at the time other than it was interesting.  Then, the wannabe baker in my brain sprang to life a few hours later.  What if I could reverse engineer a recipe from that infographic?  All it would take would be a whole lot of math and applying some basic cookie-making knowledge.  With all of the stress around us with the pandemic and life in general, making a batch of chocolate chip cookies sounded like just the thing my soul needed.  If it exercised some brainpower along the way, so be it.

Off to the kitchen I went to scale down this massive recipe to something a little more appropriately sized for a family.  Like any good baking recipe, the ingredients in the info graphic were listed by weight – a very good place to start.  But what about the odd things like 84 pounds of eggs?  How many eggs is that?  How do I scale that down?

That’s when the science nerd in me kicked in.  We happened to have an untouched dozen of eggs in the fridge, so I weighed each egg in the dozen to come up with an average egg’s weight, applied the math to scale it down, and boom – there’s my starting point!  I figured out approximately how many eggs were in 84 pounds, then built my recipe around using 2 eggs.  (For those of you wondering, 84 lbs. of eggs is about 648 large eggs!)  My recipe would represent roughly 1/325th of what the infographic would make!

As much as I love baking using weight measures instead of volume measures, I still had to convert some items from weight to volume.  Six pounds of vanilla is way more than I use in several years, so how much should I use for a recipe 1/325th Show Your Workof the original size?  I got scientific again, weighing out a teaspoon’s measure of vanilla, noting its weight, and took an average.  Rinse and repeat for several other ingredients.  Tedious work, but it’s all about accuracy!

Lastly, I had to figure out what some of the ingredients were in the first place.  Inverted sugar?  Never heard of it.  (It acts like corn syrup to stabilize food.)  What makes pastry flour special?  (It’s a higher protein content in the flour.)  What’s a good substitute that I might have in the house already (since I can’t go to the store due to the pandemic)?  Interwebs to the rescue!

With all of the math and ingredient research done, the pantry raided for some simple substitutes, next up was to figure out the mixing method.  Naturally, that wasn’t part of the info graphic.  No worries though as we’re fans of Alton Brown & Good Eats, so I had a treasure trove of knowledge on a bookshelf to consult.  I decided to apply “The Chewy” method from the Good Eats episode about – what else? – chocolate chip cookies.

For my first attempt at making this reverse-engineered recipe – which was currently scrawled all over random notepaper – I made half a batch.  Eighteen cookies would be more than plenty for us.  If they turned out well, great!  If not, fine by us too because we’d still eat a gooey mess of sugar and chocolate.  (We’re not picky.)

I baked one tray of cookies at a time, carefully trying (and noting!) different cooking times, tray positions, and so on.  Lo and behold, the maiden voyage of this new recipe turned out really well!

PSU Cookies - First BatchI was feeling proud of my accomplishment that day, so I tweeted out a pic of my nerdy baking feat.  That caught the eye of the alumni magazine staff & they asked to use my picture in the next issue!  Pretty cool!

As the weeks went by, I kept thinking about where I could improve the recipe more to my liking.  I was intrigued by changing the fat.  Everything tastes better with butter, right?  What if I swap the shortening for butter?  Time for another test batch and – let me tell you – that butter swap made for some really thin, puddly cookies.  They tasted fine, but were a little on the ugly side.

I made a few more test batches, finally settling on a half-and-half mixture of butter and shortening to split the difference to achieve the flavor I wanted with fewer puddles when the cookies baked.   I also used dark chocolate chips to cut back on the sweetness a little and ditched the little bit of corn syrup since there was no need to stabilize the dough for mass distribution purposes like PSU does.

When I felt I had the recipe dialed in, I had my husband – who likes to cook and hates to bake – give the it a final test run.  His batch of cookies turned out great, so I knew the recipe was set!Final Test Batch

It was quite a journey from the infographic page to the plate.  If you’ve read this far, you deserve to be rewarded.  While I can’t give you an actual cookie, I can share the final recipe and you can make the cookies yourself!!

Enjoy!

– JC

Penn State Cookie Recipe

Yield:  One batch makes 36 cookies that are 3 ½-4” in diameter.

Wet Ingredients

300g granulated sugar (approximately 1 ½ cups)

300g light brown sugar (approximately 1 1/3 cups, packed)

120g shortening (approximately 2/3 cup)

120g unsalted butter, softened (approximately 1 stick + ½ tablespoon)

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 large eggs

Dry Ingredients

220g all-purpose flour (approximately 1 1/3 cups + 3 tablespoons)

220g cake flour (approximately 1 1/3 cups + 3 tablespoons)

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

240g dark chocolate chips (approximately 1 1/3 cups)

Directions

Beat sugar, light brown sugar, shortening, & butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment at medium speed until well blended and a little fluffy.  Add the vanilla and eggs.  Mix to combine.

Note:  You can mix this recipe by hand with a large fork and enough arm power!

Sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add the sifted ingredients to the sugar/egg mixture in 3 parts, mixing just enough to combine after each addition.

Add chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375° with an oven rack in the middle position.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Scoop the chilled dough in 43g portions (approximately 2 ¼ tablespoon) and form into a loose ball shape.  Place the dough balls on the baking sheet with 2-3” of space between each cookie.  (6 cookies fit nicely on a half sheet pan.)

Bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  The cookies are done when they are slightly golden in color around the edges.

Remove the pan from the oven.  Immediately transfer the cookies on the parchment paper to a rack to cool.

Note:  The center of the cookies will still be soft when they come out of the oven, making them hard to transfer to a cooling rack with a lifter or spatula.  Transferring the cookies on the parchment paper to the cooling rack is quick and easy, while also helping the cookies keep their shape.

Cool for 5-10 minutes.  Remove the cookies from the parchment paper and leave on the rack to cool completely.  Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Note:  When the cookies are completely cooled, the edges will be crispy, while the middle will be a little soft and chewy.

A Love That Runs Deep

My love for Penn State hockey runs deep.  Very deep.  It stems from my 4 years of doing radio play-by-play for the men’s club team during my college days, calling 2 national championships along the way.

When you work with a team, you spend a ton of time with them.  You travel with them, kill a lot of time at a hotel or rink waiting for games to start, and hours upon hours upon hours on buses just getting to the games.  Ultimately you form a little family.  Even supporting staff like myself form a bond with the team – naturally not as deep as if you were a player yourself – but a bond nonetheless.

For years and years, the Penn State hockey family knew we had what it would take to become a scholarship varsity team and the community to support it.  The one thing we didn’t have was enough money. Funding was needed to build a new facility and seed endowments for scholarships and other costs, so we’re not talking chump change.

Then lo and behold… that dream came true in 2010 when the Pegula family made a massive donation to Penn State to make Penn State varsity hockey – for both the men’s and women’s teams – a reality!  That donation provided everything PSU needed to build that new arena and put the supporting pieces in place to get the teams on their way.

The team started varsity play with the 2012-2013 season, so we were able to make the trip to to PSU for a handful of games that first year.  Heading to PSU for a hockey weekend – for either club or varsity play – always provided a nice excuse for us to get away.  The games were always good and slipping away just for a weekend gave us the quick change of scenery that we often needed.

During those weekend trips to see games, we watched the Pegula Ice Arena take shape.  We saw it go from a parking lot, to a hole in the ground, to a steel skeleton, to its shiny glass and brick facade.  We simply couldn’t wait to get inside for a game!  But then we had a little hiccup with those plans – we moved to Colorado…

We left Pennsylvania in July 2013 and the new barn opened in October 2013, almost 3 months to the day after we moved out west permanently.  (Figures!)  Living 1500 miles away from State College instead of just 170 made getting to games a tad more involved, so we hadn’t been back since the move… until this fall!  Even though we had to delay the trip a couple of times, it was so worth it!

As chance would have it, a friend of mine from back in my play-calling days still works with the team (lucky!). Turned out he was going to be at the rink for meetings during the first day of our stay, so he offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour.  He knew I’d be floored by the new facility compared to our old one.  He was so right!

To say I was amazed is a massive understatement!  Walking through the doors of the building for the first time was one thing.  Going out into the seats to see the rink for the first time was a little overwhelming.  So many feelings stirred seeing that this pipe dream is now an everyday reality for PSU. It’s hard to find words to describe all of the emotions that hit me.

My First Look at Pegula

I kept myself together through all of those emotions (yes!) and the tour was awesome!!  The facilities available to the athletes are stunning.  The technology improvements alone in terms of tracking your training and the different tools available blew me away.

Our seats for the weekend series of games were rinkside along the boards, so my friend took us up to the last row of the student section – now called “The Roar Zone” – to check out the view.  (In my day, the student section was simply called “Section E”, named after the seating section where the students sat.)  The Roar Zone was designed so it has the steepest incline allowable by building codes, making it very imposing to the visiting goaltender that guards that net in the 1st & 3rd periods of each game.  It also means the acoustics help the student chants and taunts rain down even harder on the guest netminder.  (Well done!)

The steepness is no joke, but once we got up there, the view was just something I wanted to soak in.  Since it was a non-gameday afternoon, the rink was empty.  It gave me a chance to get a little beauty shot of an empty arena (though I wasn’t able to get the shot with a freshly-zamboni’d surface to make it look shiny and new).  Can’t complain though!

Imposing Student Section

There’s a bunch of great displays around the concourse of the arena featuring all kinds of PSU hockey history.  There’s a display showing every guy and gal who wore every number for the PSU teams during both the club and varsity eras.  There’s a bunch of interactive displays were folks can dive into the team histories in more detail.  And of course there’s other memorabilia exhibits along the way featuring sticks, skates, sweaters, moments in program history, and so on.

My favorite display might be the one I have a teensy personal connection to – the rink board that a bunch of the hockey family signed to commemorate the elevation to varsity and the dawn of the new era for Penn State hockey.  I was lucky enough to sign that board years ago, so there’s a little piece of me in the new building even when I can’t be there in person.

Signed It

The last stop of the tour involved seeing some hardware… the B1G Conference Championship trophy we won in 2017.  Our first!  (That conference championship was a bit of a surprise/upset win t’boot.)  I never thought I’d live to see our hockey teams be elevated to varsity status, so seeing the trophy was another one of those little surreal moments for me.

Hardware

I wanted to get more pictures of the trophy, but that photo session was interrupted because the men’s head coach happened to come down the hall and my friend introduced us to him.  It was very cool to finally meet the coach after all of these years.  For having just met someone with a connection to PSU hockey’s history (little though it may have been), he was great with us.  In those few minutes we chatted with him, I could easily see how the guys on the team would skate through a wall for him and why he’s been able to make the men’s program such a success so quickly.

Getting that tour was more than we ever could have asked for on this trip!  (Thanks again to my friend – you know who you are!)  It was an absolutely fabulous way to start our hockey weekend, and the games were yet to come!

The weekend slate of games were set for Friday and Saturday night.  I didn’t take too many pictures during the games since I was too busy cheering and going wild.  And naturally, our seats were “terrible”.  (Sarcasm fully intended.)  It’s been a long time since I got to get that excited in-person at a PSU hockey game, and I enjoyed the hell out of every second of it!

Terrible Seats for the Game

Penn State won one game and lost the other one in overtime, so a good result in spite of us being in the building.  (Whenever we attend games of teams that we love, we’re usually a huge jinx and they lose when we’re in the building.)  We even saw one of the most amazing goals I’ve ever seen in person at a game – so good it made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays that night and was ultimately their #2 play for all of November!!

I’d say our hockey-centric Penn State trip was a roaring success!!  (Pun intended?  Yeah, at least this time anyway.)

We Are!!

– JC

 

Fall… It’s Been Too Long

The one time each year we miss living in Pennsylvania is during the fall.  Autumn in Colorado is beautiful – don’t get me wrong – but it’s very one-toned.  And that tone is yellow.  So many of the trees native to the area – especially the aspens up high in the mountains – turn yellow.  While it’s pretty, it gets a little boring compared to the vibrant mix of hues in the northeast that we grew up enjoying.

With the passing of our dog earlier in 2018 (sob, sniff), we had an opportunity to take a long-delayed trip back to Pennsylvania to catch some autumn colors and see some Penn State hockey.  We hadn’t been back to central Pennsylvania since we left 5 years ago and we were incredibly anxious to get back.

Our trip was planned for early November based on the hockey schedule (more on that coming in a separate post), so we knew we might miss the fall foliage.  Luckily for us, the unusually cold and wet fall weather delayed the leaves changing color!  Score for us!!  The drive out to Penn State was gorgeous, bursting with reds and oranges and browns (and yes, even some yellows).  Although the sun was setting by the time we landed and got on the road, it was still sublime to see after being away for so long.

Though the main purpose of our trip revolved around the hockey games, we had tons of time to walk around Penn State and State College.  The fall scenery in town and around campus was wonderful to see again.  (Things on campus and in town changed A LOT since we were last there.) . We had hoped to go do some hiking in the hills, but the murky weather forecast foiled our hiking plans before we even got on the plane.  Bummer.

To keep my packing light, I only had my phone with me to take pictures.  That wasn’t hard to deal with.  The biggest challenge for me was dealing with iffy weather and lighting the entire time we were outside.  With that, I still bagged a few shots that reminded me of how much we love fall up there.

I snagged an updated shot of the campus bench I randomly captured back in fall of 2009.  I think it may have even been the same bench on campus!  (Why I remember these details, I have no idea.)

When we spent the night in State College during our drive out to Colorado for the move, the Nittany Lion Shrine was under construction.  The platform under the statue and the surrounding area were being spruced up and we couldn’t access the area.  Naturally, I had to get an updated shot during this trip now that the work is long since done.  Things got a little tricky because, just as we walked up, a class of students arrived and were all around.  I couldn’t really get into grabbing the interesting shots I normally try to get for variety in my collection, but no big.  We were just happy to be there!

The Lion Looms

One day we had some time to hit the campus arboretum.  The arboretum is new in the eons since we graduated, and it’s expanded quite a bit since our last visit.

With the crappy weather and lighting, a lot of my shots didn’t come out as I had hoped, but I did come home with one favorite.  I think the cairns were my favorite shot because we see so many useful cairns while hiking in Colorado – along with not-so-useful/random cairns people stack to be cute along a trail.  At least here there’s no risk of being misdirected into the wilderness by someone playing with stacks of rock!

Arboretum Cairns

We didn’t see a lot of sun during our trip (very typical of PSU weather), but it did finally make a brief appearance one morning after breakfast.  The sun was in and out and fleeting at best.  I lucked out that we happened to be walking by Old Main when the sun did appear and I got a couple of shots of the compass statue I’ve always liked.

It was so nice getting back to see fall scenery the way we so fondly remember it.  Hopefully it won’t be 5+ years between trips next time!

– JC

Saturday Afternoon Two-fer

(Originally posted January 26, 2013)

It’s been a milestone week for us at AlphaPup.  After steadily chipping away at the inventory backlog to get our site up and running, I’m thrilled to say that the backlog is gone and we can start working on some new fun and interesting projects!

This afternoon, I came across an old photography book of mine that has a lot of fun ideas in it.  An A-to-Z of projects and techniques, if you will.  I thought it would make as fertile fodder for some blog entries over the coming weeks (and maybe months – there’s a lot of potential projects in that book!).  The fun for me will come in both updating the techniques to today’s modern-day tools and flexing some funky creative muscle along the way with some of our images.  Yay to variety!  Hopefully you’ll enjoy the journey too…

The first project in the book was a fairly simple and straightforward one:  Adding Text.  That was something simple enough that I’ve done before, but that was the first project, so it was time to dig for ideas.  Given that I just processed my center ice panorama shot that I took at the big Penn State – Vermont ice hockey game in Philly last weekend, I thought it would be perfect for this project because I’ve purchased quite a few stadium panoramic prints for myself over the years.  So, why not try my hand at making my own!?!  Here’s the result:

Opening Draw - Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff - Penn State vs. Vermont

Considering that we go to some unconventional sporting events, I think I’ll be making more of these types of prints as time goes on.  What better than to have some stadium shots of your own to commemorate big milestone events for your favorite teams?  We’re certainly not the only fans of these teams, so why not share the bounty!?

So that was today’s Saturday two-fer project.  I got to process a few images that were awaiting my attention and embark on some new creative ventures for our site and the blog.  Stay tuned to see what’s to come in future projects because – just from looking at the book – there’s bound to be some cool things coming down the line!!

 

-JC

Sadness & Prayers

(Originally posted December 16, 2012)

Candles for Sandy Hook
Candles for Sandy Hook

We were on our way to Penn State for a weekend of ice hockey when we learned of the horrific news in Newtown, CT on December 14th.  A single candle started this small memorial on the steps of Old Main on Penn State’s University Park campus on Friday night with a note remembering the victims and asking passersby to relight the flame if it went out.

By the time we reached the memorial Saturday evening, it had grown a little bigger (image above).  As I write this entry, there is a large candlelight vigil going on at this very spot, with at least a 400 people in attendance.  It is a quiet and hauntingly beautiful scene – one of so much sadness as we remember those lost, and the hope that as a communities near and far we can come together and support each other when unspeakable tragedies strike.

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Newtown as they try to find comfort during these times as they say farewell to 26 of their own – so many taken far, far too soon – and in the days ahead as they grapple with one simple question:  “why?”.

 

-JC

Youthful Daisies

(Originally posted October 5, 2012)

Purple & White Daisies
Purple & White Daisies

I always think of daisies in general as cheery or happy flowers.  This picture reminds me of some flattery too…

A few years ago, my husband was thinking of pursuing a PhD in his field and Penn State has the top-ranked Geography department in the country.  What better excuse than that to take a long weekend in State College, PA during the fall!?

My husband had a bunch of meetings with the Geography folks during the day, so that set me free to spend an entire day taking pictures to my heart’s content downtown and on campus.

I snagged this shot of the late-blooming daisies on the west side of campus near Rec Hall and the Nittany Lion Shrine.  Knowing I’d be trekking all over the place, I was dressed comfortably and my short hair was in pigtails to keep it out of the camera’s way.  (Hats + camera usually don’t work well for me.)

While taking this shot of the daisies and other things in that part of campus, an older gentleman stopped and asked if I was working on a class project.  If only!  I explained that it was just a hobby (as it was at the time) and I was getting a break from my usual daily grind.  That’s when the said that he thought I was a student, thus his inquiry.  Considering I was on the other side of 30 at the time, he made my day!  I probably didn’t thank him nearly enough for mistaking me for a student!!

So, this little photo session was fantastic on two levels – I got a lot of great shots that day and someone thought I looked young enough to still be a PSU student.  Outstanding!!  Now the trick will be to keep that youthful mojo going for the long haul.  I think my photography will go a long way towards keeping me young.

 

-JC

One Month to Go

(Originally posted September 12, 2012)

Penn State Hockey Family Rink Board
Penn State Hockey Family Rink Board
Last Club Game - Opening Face-off - PSU vs. Kent State - February 24, 2012
Last Club Game – Opening Face-off – PSU vs. Kent State – February 24, 2012

Today marks another milestone that we here at AlphaPup Photo have been anxiously awaiting – not for us, but for our good friends at Penn State Hockey!!  You see, both PSU’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams start NCAA Division I varsity play in October and we couldn’t be more excited!!  (The women’s team kicks things off on 06-Oct-2012, while the men’s season starts on 12-Oct-2012.)

Surely you’re wondering why we love Penn State Hockey and why in the world is it being talked about on the AlphaPup photography blog?!  Sure, my husband and I are massive ice hockey fans and we watch all levels of play.  However, PSU’s hockey programs are more than just those of our beloved alma mater… Back in my college heyday, I spent 4 years doing play-by-play for the men’s hockey games on radio!  If spending that much time around a team doesn’t create a special bond with the school and the sport, I don’t know what does!

Even though it’s been – sadly – a long time since my radio days ended, my husband and I still follow the team and attend as many games as we can each season (which means, of course, I’m taking pictures at the games whenever possible).  We couldn’t be happier for everyone involved with the program – both past and present – that PSU is finally moving up to varsity competition.  And I can’t write an ounce more without offering our own personal thanks to Terry & Kim Pegula for their donation that made this dream come true for so many people!

We were fortunate enough to attend the last Nittany Lion Icers club-level game back in February 2012.  Camera in tow, I made sure to capture some key moments of that chapter of PSU hockey history as it closed (bottom picture) as they faced off against Kent State.  We will definitely be there on October 12th to capture the excitement as the men’s team takes to the ice for the first varsity ice hockey game played at Penn State since 1947!  I simply can’t wait to capture so many moments during this inaugural season and of the many seasons to come!!

Check back with us at AlphaPup Photography for new PSU hockey images as the fall and winter seasons move on because our PSU Athletics collection will definitely grow!

And be sure to follow PSU Hockey – both the men’s and women’s teams! – on Twitter & Facebook for the latest happenings.

Men’s Ice Hockey Women’s Ice Hockey
Penn State Nittany Lions on Facebook Penn State Lady Lions on Facebook
Penn State Nittany Lions on Twitter Penn State Lady Lions on Twitter
Penn State Athletics

 

-JC