On Tuesday, I will be at Citizens Bank Park for what has become a family tradition: our yearly Phillies game. When my dad bought the tickets several months ago, I told him what I look forward to every time I go to a game: seeing Chase Utley play. I don’t care how far from the field I am, I just love watching him play the game. I am an unabashed Chase Utley fangirl. Yes, I enjoy Jayson Werth, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Brad Lidge, and Ross Gload the Silver Fox, but for me, Chase Utley is The Man.
Chase is currently sidelined with a thumb injury, which will leave him out of the lineup for another 5 weeks or so. Until then, Wilson Valdez seems to be the Phillies primary choice to replace Chase at second base. But replace isn’t the right word. You can’t “replace” Chase Utley. It doesn’t work like that. Chase is a five-tool player. Wilson Valdez has trouble bunting. This is like replacing your iPhone with a Nokia from 2002.
Despite their four game sweep of the Reds prior to the All-Star break, the Phillies have struggled mightily without Chase. While Jimmy Rollins was on the disabled list, many argued that he was the spark of their lineup – that his presence offered more than just tangible benefits. Jimmy brings with him intangibles that help the team and balance the chemistry of the Phillies starting lineup. Without Chase, the chemistry is off again, and it’s clear that he brings more to the team than just his mad baseballing skills. If Jimmy is the spark of the Phillies lineup, then Chase is the focus and drive.
Since his unfortunate injury, the highlight of watching the games on TV has been, for me, the obligatory shot of Chase’s grim visage in the dugout. Chase is not a happy camper. He does not like being in the dugout. He does not like watching baseball. He likes playing baseball. Almost every shot of Chase has been the same: leaning forward on the dugout railing, chin on his hands, his expression stoic and impassable. I can imagine the thoughts in his head:
“HEAL, YOU STUPID THUMB! HEAL! GODDAMMIT, WHY HAVE YOU BETRAYED ME!?! ALL I WANT TO DO IS PLAY BASEBALL! FUCKING HEAL YOU USELESS DIGIT! WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS!?! HEAL! HEAL! HEEEEEEAAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!”
Or, you know, something like that.
So to pay tribute to my favorite player while he’s out of commission, I bring you my Get Well Soon Chase Utley Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, my tribute to Chase is to bake something that I don’t think he’d ever, ever eat, but is undoubtedly the most amazing marriage of meat and baked goods ever put upon this earth.
(Baker’s Note: I’m using one of Alton Brown’s fantastic chocolate chip cookie recipes as the basis for this concoction. I’ve used it for years, and it is far and away the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve found. You can find Alton Brown’s recipe in its entirety here.)
1 pound bacon
Brown sugar (between 1-2 cups)
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 ¼ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ cups brown sugar (in addition to the brown sugar listed above, which is for the bacon)
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (or one bag) semisweet chocolate chips
1. It is easiest to make the candied bacon about a day ahead of time to give it a chance to cool completely and harden, so please keep that in mind when attempting this recipe. Set the oven to 375 degrees, and unwrap the bacon. Bacon comes in long, unwieldy strips, so it’s much easier to cut them in half. That way, they’re much easier to handle. Cooking bacon in the oven allows for a more even distribution of heat, and it lets some of the grease drain away – depending on how you set up your baking pan. I take a wire cooling rack and set it on top of a cookie sheet or baking pan with tall sides. You want the bacon grease to be trapped, you don’t want it to drip onto the bottom of your oven, causing smoke and possibly a fire. Not that I’d know that firsthand, or anything.
2. Lay out the bacon on the wire rack. You can space them closely, but they should not be overlapping. Start sprinkling brown sugar on top of each bacon piece, and then lightly pat it down. How much to put on each one is a personal choice. You don’t want so much that it forms a hard sugar crust, so I use a less is more strategy. You can always add, but it’s much harder to subtract.
3. With the wire rack on top of the baking sheet, put the whole apparatus in the oven. I set it for 5-7 minute increments, checking at each interval to see how done the bacon is. You do not want it to be completely done at this stage. Ideally, you want the bacon to be in the early stages of cooking: the bacon should have started to shrink and pucker, but you don’t want there to be much, if any, browning. Though there will be that sizzling sound, of course. When the bacon reaches this stage, take it out, flip the pieces over, and apply more brown sugar. Put the bacon back in the oven for 5-7 minute increments, checking at each interval.
4. Candied bacon is no good if it’s chewy, so the bacon needs to be very dark so it will cool into crispy goodness. Dark doesn’t necessarily mean burned, as sugar gets darker in color as it gets hotter. Once the bacon gets to this stage, remove the pan from the oven and let the strips cool for about two minutes before moving the strips to a plate to finish cooling. You do not want to let the bacon cool too long on the rack, as the sugar will crystallize and the strips will get stuck. You also want to let the bacon cool completely on a plate, and not in a zip top bag. If the bacon is warm when you put it in the bag, the sugar will get gooey and your bacon will be ruined. Once cool, the bacon needs to be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
5. Now, for the actual cookies. Heat the oven to 375 degrees, and melt the unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low heat. While the butter is melting, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. I use a regular wire strainer for this, and believe me, sifting does help.
6. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and brown sugar. When the butter is melted, pour it over the sugar mixture and mix (or cream, if you happen to be fancy and are using a stand mixer) until the butter and sugar and completely combined.
7. Add the egg, the egg yolk, vanilla extract, and milk until well combined. Add the flour mixture bit by bit, making sure you’ve completely incorporated each addition of the dry ingredients before adding more to the batter. Cookie batter is not like pancake batter. With pancake batter, you want there to be lumps. With cookie batter, all the ingredients need to be thoroughly incorporated.
8. This stage is when you add the chocolate chips and the bacon. But before you add the bacon, you need to roughly chop it. You don’t want it to be bacon powder, but you also don’t want people biting into huge chunks of bacon, so use your best judgment. Chop enough bacon for 1 cup. There should not be the same amount of bacon as chocolate chips, as that would be overpowering. However, if you use less than one cup, the bacon will go pretty much unnoticed. Once the bacon is chopped, add it and the chocolate chips to the batter and stir.
9. Before baking, chill the dough. Just cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge for an hour. Once the dough is chilled, I bake them six at a time on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Baking time will depend on your oven, and how crispy you like your cookies. I like my cookies pretty chewy, so I put them in the oven for about 8 minutes (they will look slightly pale and underdone at this stage), and then I remove them from the oven and let the carryover temperature continue to bake them for another 3 minutes. By then, they’ve browned up and the bottoms are crispy. Remove them from the cookie sheet and let them cool completely on a wire rack before storing them in an airtight container.
I’ll be bringing these cookies to the game on Sunday (thanks, Meech!), where I’ll be tailgating with the fantastic @Wing2j and @maggiesox. She and I are both celebrating our birthday on Sunday, so come on by to say hello. Next up on Eat the Phillies, I may have to quickly find something for Jayson Werth before he’s no longer a Phillie. If a deal does go down (and at this point, the Psychic Friends Network probably has a better fucking idea than anyone else), I’ll be paying tribute to him using ingredients found at the local Wawa and cooked up in the kitchen of a Homewood Suites hotel room.