Ontario-based food blogger Tara O'Brady started her site, Seven Spoons, in 2005. Since, the lushness of her ripe-to-eat photography, mouthwatering recipes and warm narratives have earned her loyalty, respect—and even a gold star from Oprah.
With a decade of food blogging clocked, O'Brady launched her first cookbook last April, and it's a treasure; no hype or hyperbole, just serenely informative writing and beautifully rendered recipes that convey a chilled-out competence. A "default" smoothie suits no-nonsense mornings, "A Pot of Braised Vegetables" calls to be pulled from the oven on a cosy overcast day (perhaps alongside chicken with pearl couscous) and the cover shot of buttered toasts with jammy ripe figs and honey appears as the most perfectly rustic-elegant dessert imaginable. Accessible and inspirational, it's the perfect guide for fuss-free foodies looking for everyday meals with heart. Below, we're sharing O'Brady's recipe for basic, great chocolate chip cookies, as well as our Q&A with the masterful bloggess herself.
Oh, plus, three lucky winners will get a copy of Seven Spoons sent straight to them, just as a treat. Read on, and enter to win, below. —Adrienne Matei
Q&A with Tara O'Brady, author of Seven Spoons
Foundational history: when did you first know the culinary realm was for you?
I don't really remember a time when I wasn't interested in food — I think I was a pretty open eater as a child, and then the curiosity about making food is something that developed out of that. I came from a family of cooks, and a family who put an importance on meals and mealtimes. I read my mother's cookbooks, and spied on my parent's dinner parties. That said, I knew from high school that I didn't have the constitution to be a restaurant chef — those men and women are rockstars. So, food writing suited me.
What are some culinary fads you've loved and left, and what are you getting into now, or feel is on the rise?
I think whenever we are starting out in whatever field, we tend to follow trends more closely; as you're figuring out your personality, it is a way to find out what suits you. But as you get more comfortable with what you're doing, I think fads become a little more peripheral. I feel like there's this great overall interest in traditional techniques and flavours from around the world, and exploring them in a modern way. It is an exciting thing.
Let's talk advice. What distinguishes an indispensable blog from the millions around?
Having a clear voice and perspective. It isn't always about niche, but about having a style that is yours and recognizable, whether that be in the type of food, or writing, or even a photographic style. I also think it is helpful if you have a sense of what need you're hoping to fulfill — if you have a sense of what you're attempting to achieve through your site, it will help shape and inform the content.
You're known for your beautiful food photography; any tips for us?
My personal goal is that the photo makes the viewer not only want to eat the dish, but give a sense that they can already. So I look at it with the idea of what is it that makes this recipe one that makes it exceptional, and I try to highlight that. Think greedily.
Who are some of your favourite sources of online inspiration (food and otherwise) and why?
Herriott Grace, Nikole Herriott's amazing shop and blog. Nikole is a trained pastry chef, and I think it is that background that informs the products she choses. They are not only stunning, but also immensely useful. It is a perfect balance, and her styling is iconic.
Food, and feeding people, is such a powerful way to show you care. Do you have a recipe in your book that yo make to convey love?
It is hard to pick just one, since many of the recipes are family favourites. The Caramel Apple Pie is for my husband, the Basic, Great, Chocolate Chip Cookies for one son, and the Butter Tart Pie for another. When my kids are sick I make them my Grandmother's scrambled eggs, and the Everyday Dal is our standard. Any time you cook someone something to their specific tastes, I think they can't help but feel cared for.
My obsession with baking chocolate chip cookies started in high school. The recipe resulting from those years of study is one that I’ve pared back as best I can—there is no need for a mixer, or to get the eggs and butter out of the fridge in advance. With it,
it is possible to go from start to cookies in 30 minutes, with little by way of cleaning up.
Even if these cookies required a rigmarole, they’d be worth it. They stay in fattish mounds, with their humped backs shot through with crackles, fudgy without being underbaked, and with a sweetness kept in line by salt.
This recipe works best with bar chocolate that has been chopped, pure chocolate buttons, callets, or fèves. Because they lack the stabilizers used in chocolate chips, these forms of chocolate ooze into the batter during baking, slipping into the cracks and leaving both puddles and rivulets throughout the finished cookies. The irregularity is exceptionally pretty and, in a way, gives the impression the chocolate goes further.
If you have the patience, hold the dough in the fridge overnight and for up to a few days before baking, portioned in scoops and covered. Aging the dough allows for the flour to better absorb the liquids. The flavour will become deeply caramelized and nuanced, and the cookies will have more colour, but slightly less spread. I usually bake one tray for immediate gratification, and keep the rest for later demand.
Makes about 28 cookies
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, chopped
3¼ cups (415 g)
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons medium-grain kosher salt
1½ cups (320 g) packed light brown sugar
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces (340 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat an oven to 360°F (180°C). Line 2 heavy baking sheets or sheet pans with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan over the lowest heat possible, melt the butter. There should be no sizzle, crackling, or pops; let the butter ooze into liquid, without boiling, so minimal moisture is lost. Stir regularly, until the butter is almost completely melted. (This is
a good time to chop the chocolate.)
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. Set aside
Pour the melted butter into a large bowl and whisk in the sugars. The mixture may look like it will seize, but it will relax with a few seconds of stirring. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking briskly after each addition, but only to combine. Stir in the vanilla. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to stir in the dry ingredients. Once mostly blended, fold the chocolate into the dough until the remaining flour is incorporated, and the dough no longer looks dusty. Bring any stray ingredients up from the bottom of the bowl. Do not overmix.
If the dough seems warm or looks overly glossy, refrigerate for 5 minutes. Then roll into balls using 3 tablespoons of dough for each. Arrange on the prepared pans, leaving 3 inches (7.5 cm) in between each. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until the tops are cracked and lightly golden, yet the cookies are still soft at the center, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. Leave the cookies on the sheet pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Continue shaping and baking cookies with the remaining dough, making sure to use a cold sheet pan for each batch.
The cookies can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Thin and Crunchy Variation: For a thinner, crunchy-through-and-through cookie, use 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (390 g) flour.
Shiny and Crisp Variation: For a shinier cookie with a crisp surface and edge, decrease the brown sugar to 1¼ cups (265 g) packed light brown sugar and increase the granulated sugar to
¾ cup (150 g).
Whole Wheat Variation: Some or all of the all-purpose flour can be replaced with whole wheat or rye. It will, of course, change the texture and look of the finished cookie, but is worthy of a try.
Nutty Variation: This amount of dough can accommodate ¾ cup
(75 g) chopped walnuts or pecans.