A memorable Easter experiment

I remember the very first batch of cookies I ever baked. Classic chocolate chip, all flat as a pancake, ultra crispy and so oily they were practically swimming in butter. I was in high school at that time and have tried several different recipes since, some with acceptable results and others not so much. None have been overly memorable – none that is, until now.

A four-day weekend with no plans to get out of town and dodgy autumnal weather is, for me, the perfect opportunity for cooking experiments. I wanted to make something specifically Easter and what is more evocative of Easter, in terms of food, than chocolate. Well, actually, there are hot cross buns but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Almost every Easter for as long as I can remember, my parents have bought me some form of Easter-themed chocolate, ranging from marshmallow eggs to big chocolate rabbits. My personal favourites are the marshmallow eggs and that’s why I thought it would be quintessentially Easter to bake some chocolate cookies filled with gooey marshmallow.

Sounds sinfully delicious, doesn’t it? I used a basic chocolate cookie recipe and sandwiched some mini marshmallows between two rolled out cookies to make one big cookie. I also chopped up some dark chocolate to use as chocolate chunks, which I folded into the dough. I ended up with about 7 cookies that were soft, chocolately, marshmallowy and very sweet.

Chocolate cookies with gooey marshmallow centres. Photo: Tao Lin

Chocolate cookies with gooey marshmallow centres. Photo: Tao Lin

So yes, very decadent but not the cookie for me. I found them just a bit too sweet, with too much chocolate and too sticky in the mouth.

Before the weekend I was all set on making this my big Easter baking success but on Thursday, I remembered there’s something else just as quintessentially Easter as chocolate. People go nuts for hot cross buns and I figured I could get more experimental if I turned those delicious little spiced pillows of bread into a cookie.

I tried out a recipe for brown butter salted caramel cookies the other week and really liked the dough so decided to use that as my foundation and build from there. I got the spices in there by infusing them into the browned butter and I added white chocolate bits, just ‘cos. Thankfully, they ended up going really well with this recipe.

These cookies are perfect as they are but to go with the Easter theme, I added white chocolate crosses on top once the cookies had cooled. I didn’t have a piping bag handy – makeshift or not – so I just used a spoon to haphazardly drip melted white chocolate into very rough cross-like shapes 🙂

As far as cookie experiments go, this is my favourite so far because I got to be a bit creative with them and they taste pretty good too.

Here’s the recipe –

You need:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar – I used 1/4 cup brown sugar with 1/4 cup caster sugar but all of either works just fine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • Dried cloves – I used around 10 but this might be a bit strong for some so adjust accordingly
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds (or 2 cardamom pods)
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • White chocolate – I used 100g of Cadbury Dream with each square chopped into quarters
  • Raisins – I used about 3/4 cup

How to:

1. Soak raisins: Place raisins in a small bowl together with boiling water. Cover with a plate for 10 minutes, or for however long you have. If you want to add a “special” touch, add a bit of rum as well.
2. Prepare dry ingredients: Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and cinnamon into a bowl. Put aside.
3. Brown butter: Place butter, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and ginger into a saucepan. Gently melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when brown specks start forming on the bottom of the pan. Let cool to room temperature.
4. Cream butter and sugar: Strain cooled butter into a bowl with the sugar. Use electric beaters to combine butter and sugar until smooth. You won’t get it completely combined because of the consistency of the butter but give it a good whisk for a couple of minutes.
5. Add other ingredients: Beat in egg and then the yolk. Add vanilla extract and yoghurt and fold in mixture until combined.
6. Add dry ingredients: Mix in flour a bit at a time until all combined. Fold in raisins and white chocolate.
7. Chill: Form mixture into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours (or until the mixture is hard if you’re feeling impatient ;))
8. Bake: Heat oven to 176°C (350°F) and prepare baking trays with baking or parchment paper. Roll about 2 tbsp of dough into a ball, flatten with palm and place on tray. Repeat until trays are filled, leaving about 5cm (2 inches) between each cookie. Bake in oven for around 10 minutes, or until the edges start to brown lightly. Take out of the oven and leave on trays for a couple of minutes to allow cookies to set before transferring to a cooling rack.

Hot cross bun cookies. Photo: Tao Lin

Hot cross bun cookies. Photo: Tao Lin

Hope everybody had a safe and happy Easter!

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A light and airy version of a classic

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It was 2009 and I was sitting in the lobby of my London hotel with a friend.

We were waiting for something – I no longer remember what – but while we waited, an array of premium Ben & Jerry’s ice creams stared at us, beckoning us from within phosphorescent glass.

Bored and tempted, we walked towards the humming vending machine. All the flavours were a blur to me – all except one: milk and cookies.

In went the coins and out shot a pot of one of the greatest, most classic flavour combinations around. I didn’t want that tub to end.

For years, my family kept cookies & cream ice cream in the freezer and it was always devoured quicker than any of the other flavours. We don’t buy ice cream much nowadays and I don’t often eat a lot of cookies & cream flavoured things now either – it just sort of disappeared after a while.

It may be this marked absence that explains why this particular flavour combination came to me so strongly when I decided to try out my very first mousse.

I couldn’t find a recipe that gave me what I wanted so I decided to marry two recipes together to create a silky, airy vanilla mousse speckled with chocolate cookies.

Use your favourite chocolate cookie recipe, or here’s how I made mine:

  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt

*Sourced from foodnetwork.com. I halved the original recipe and this was enough to make about 12 small to medium sized cookies.

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy. Beat in egg and incorporate fully, then mix in vanilla extract. *If you’re increasing this recipe to make more cookies, beat in each egg individually.
  3. Sift in the flour, cocoa and salt and mix until just incorporated.
  4. You can refrigerate the dough for about an hour or you can do what I did and just bake it straight away – separate the dough into small balls and squish them gently onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Take out of oven and let cool on a rack.

For the mousse, I found a wonderful recipe for vanilla bean mousse on sugarlaws.com and made my own additions and modifications:

I used:

  • The equivalent of 1 vanilla bean from my vanilla bean grinder
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 120g creme fraiche

How to:

  1. In a mixing bowl, beat together the creme, vanilla bean and 1/4 cup sugar with electric beaters until the creme forms soft peaks.
    *If this makes any sense, I usually whip cream until the ripples created from the beaters stay in place and look nice and thick, kind of like cake batter.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon, while continuing to beat the eggs until thick and glossy.
  3. Crumble 2 or 3 cookies into the cream mixture and fold in. Then fold the egg whites into the cream until everything is just incorporated.
  4. Pour or spoon into serving dishes (I used drinking glasses) and top mousse with crumbled cookies. I used about 2 cookies for each mousse but this will depend on how big you make your cookies and how much you want on top 🙂
  5. Place in fridge for about 6 hours, or overnight.

This makes 3-4 servings. It’s quite a sweet dessert for my taste but it just melts in your mouth and the cookies I made had a bitterness to them, which cut through the sweetness of the mousse really nicely.

The real positive aspect of making this was how much easier it was than I thought it would be. I’ve always hated beating egg whites and my attempts at making things with egg whites – meringue, souffle – haven’t really turned out that amazingly. In comparison, this was pleasantly successful without being stressful, complicated or time-consuming.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Time for an update, I think…

It has been an unacceptably long time since I’ve posted here but I’ve been trying to resurface after the start of an already very busy uni semester. Every waking moment seems to be consumed with thinking about – and finding – potential news stories. Not that I’m complaining, I’m finding it incredibly fun and I can’t describe the excitement I feel when I sniff out a good story idea.

Anyway, I’ve just put some chicken legs in the oven. They’ve been marinated overnight with dark soy sauce and some salt and I added thyme and pepper just before popping them into the oven. It’s incredibly simple and of course you can make it a bit more exciting with honey, ginger, garlic and some chilli sauce. It probably doesn’t make much sense (or does it??) to put thyme on chicken that’s clearly been marinated Asian-style but my poor wee thyme plant was in need of a trim and some of it has already begun to wilt…

In other news, I had a deflating experience with flour less, butterless cookies last week:

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See the recipe here: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Deep-Dark-Chocolate-Cookies-242468.

I only used 1 cup of sugar and no cocoa powder. I melted about half a cup of milk chocolate to fold into the cookie “dough” and used dark chocolate as the chips. I did slightly burn the second batch I made but apart from that, I’m not sure I did everything right because they flattened right out like pancakes. They also weren’t chewy or even crispy – they were just soft. I’m positive that if so many others got great results then I must have done something wrong.

Andrew and I went to a Korean restaurant last night called Faro and, well, let the picture speak for itself:

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Needless to say, we left exceptionally full. It was quite pricey, though…

If all goes well, I’ll have some time tomorrow to bake some more cookies. Why all the cookie-baking lately? Well, apart from still trying to achieve a nice chewy cookie, I tend to take my baking with me to uni to nibble on. Yum 🙂

Chewy Cookie Quest

On Thursday I caught up with my friend in town and we went to Moustache, a milk and cookie bar that’s been, rightly, all the rage lately. I decided to try the Oreo and marshmallow cookie – chocolate cookie imbedded with bits of crunchy Oreo biscuit and gooey marshmallow pieces (I know, I’m drooling a little just thinking about it). Like many others, I love my cookies to be chewy on the inside and crispy on the edges like the ones you get from the bakery, rather than rock-hard like the ones you get from the supermarket; that cookie was chewy, gooey, crispy and oh so delicious. And so sparked my cravings for more irregularly-shaped perfections of sugar, flour and butter and the beginnings of my endeavour to try and discover the right recipe.

As per usual, I found a popular, highly-rated recipe online: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/best-big-fat-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookie/ and I made some minor adjustments. I made 14 cookies out of:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, softened – less than the 170g required but I didn’t have quite enough butter left and couldn’t be bothered going out just to buy butter
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar – reflecting my preference for less sweetness
  • 1/2 grated palm sugar – instead of white sugar. See my shameless endorsement of palm sugar in my carrot cake post
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • A pinch or two of cinnamon
  • 1 cup Whittaker’s 72% cocoa Dark Ghana chocolate slab chopped up into rough 1-3cm bits – replacing semisweet chocolate chips, reduced amount of chocolate as suggested by reviewers

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I more or less went by the method as per the recipe, following these recommendations from reviewers:

  1. Beat in the egg and egg yolk one at a time, making sure the egg was more or less incorporated into the mix before adding in the yolk
  2. Refrigerated the dough for 45-50 mins before baking
  3. Baked exactly for 15 minutes and took each batch out just as the edges were slightly toasted
  4. Left the cookies to cool on the tray before transferring to wire rack
  5. Hand mixed ingredients rather than used an electric beater

The reason I highlight the last point is because, unbeknownst to a complete beginner like me, this would make a huge difference in result between my first and second attempts at this recipe. The first time I tried this I used my electric hand mixer and my cookies turned out very cake-like; they were essentially flat muffins in both look and texture:

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The second time I made these, I mixed everything by hand and this resulted in more cookie-like cookies:

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Taste-wise they were great but after a night stored in an air-tight container, I’m still not 100% satisfied with the result. To reiterate, my goal is to find a recipe for cookies that are chewy on the inside and slightly crunchy on the edges. These cookies were the tiniest bit crunchy on the outside and then soft everywhere else. I’m not sure if it’s the way I’m storing it or something I did during the baking process but they’re still very nice cookies, despite not turning out how I had hoped.

I guess more reading and practice is in order – if anyone has any tips, I would be happy to hear them!

Overrun by Gingerbread People

It was a very humid day and probably not one I would ordinarily choose to spend in a kitchen baking cookies. However, it is Christmas (almost) and I had a lot of German Lebkuchen dough, add to that an invitation from my friend to join her in baking and decorating Christmas cookies and well, that’s essentially how I ended up on a muggy day in a hot kitchen making a couple of dozen little Gingerbread men (plus other shaped cookies).

In terms of taste, I find they’re not bad for my first go at this recipe. I think that not having spent an entire afternoon making the actual dough helps a lot in terms of my desire to eat the end product. I found that yesterday when I baked the other set of cookies I didn’t want to even look at them in the end because I had spent so long creating them.

The recipe is essentially the same one as the Pfeffernüsse recipe that I posted the time before last, minus the pepper but plus slivered almonds. The white cookies in the third picture are sugar cookies and we used royal icing for decorating.

Gingerbread men 1Gingerbread men 2Gingerbread men 3Gingerbread 5

Walnusskipferl

Following on from my previous post, this is another cookie from Germany: Walnusskipferl. I suppose they’re meant to look something like croissants (the kipferl being an ancestor of the croissant and a popular Christmas treat in Austria) but mine definitely looked more like potato wedges than delicious French pastries. In saying that though, I am incredibly pleased with how these turned out; they’re amazingly melt-in-the-mouth and just the right level of sweetness.

Walnusskipferl 1

The recipe I followed made about 30 cookies.

Ingredients

100g crushed walnuts – the recipe I brought back with me used ground walnuts but I have heaps of whole walnuts at home so I put 100g of that in a plastic bag and crushed them with a potato masher and a rolling pin. I’m sure any heavy/solid implement would do.
275g all purpose flour
70g confectioners’ sugar
A pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes – this is best if it’s been left out of the fridge for a bit so it’s nice and soft

Method

  1. Mix together flour, sugar, walnuts, salt, egg and butter into a dough. Note that this dough is quite sticky.
  2. Roll into logs, wrap with cling film and place in fridge for about 2 hours
  3. Preheat oven to 180°C
  4. Cut dough into slices and form into a croissant shape (or if you’re like me, any shape that vaguely resembles a croissant)
  5. Place onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and bake in oven until it turns a light yellow colour. This batch took me about 20 minutes to cook.
  6. Once the cookies are done, brush some melted unsalted butter over the top and sift over icing sugar. This must be done when the cookies are hot. If you can find it, you can also mix together vanilla sugar with the icing sugar.

If you like, the ends of this can also be dipped in melted chocolate and left to cool.

Learning

I feel these cookies turned out really well and the only thing I would change for next time would be the amount of walnut I put in; I don’t really get the walnut taste coming through so I would definitely add more in.