Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The cookies that snuck up on me

I just can't help it, I seem to be attracting recipes for all sorts of baked goodies. Take today as an example. I had no plans to bake at all, after all it's Monday, and it's yet again another week when I should avoid any and all goodies. I was heading for an appointment with my physio (the neck is still being a bit of a pain in the... well neck). Being a bit early, as I usually am, I decided to pop into a lovely cafe called Bill's which is conveniently located on the way. I was craving some sort of hot beverage as the weather was once again very UK-ish and miserable. So I got in, ordered a hot chocolate with my barely there voice (I always lose my voice when I'm coming down with the flu) and sat down in one of those deep leather chairs you sink into and never want to get out of. There was a huge bookshelf covering the whole wall, and I was almost getting out of my seat to find a book to browse while I was enjoying my hot chocolate when I discovered there was actually a book on the table in front of me. It had a white and red checkered pattern on the cover that immediately made me think of a cookbook, so I excitedly reached for it. Not only was it indeed a cookbook, it was a cookie cook book called Milk and Cookies by Tina Casaceli. You can have a look at the first few recipes of the book on Amazon if you follow my link. Anyways, my point was, I seem to be attracting cookbooks and recipes even when I'm trying to be good and stay away. And of course this had to be a sign from above, so I had to try one of the recipes in the book. I love my iPhone, it's so handy to always have a camera with you, so I snapped a photo of the recipe for the oatmeal cookie dough. Weirdly enough I got a craving for raisin and oatmeal cookies, not chocolate ones. I'm afraid that lack of chocolate craving might be proof that I'm sick with something really dangerous and incurable.

I'd like to call these self deception cookies, as you could almost imagine that they are a bit healty as there is no chocolate in them. And raisins are basically dried fruit, and fruit is good for you. And oats are practically health food. So I justified to myself that it's perfectly all right to bake these although in theory I'm on a strict diet. Well, let's just say I have once again stretched the limits of diet all the way to the extreme. Almost stretched them as far as I have to stretch the waistband of my trousers to be able to wear them. Next I'm switching to dresses, as there is more room for my wobbly tummy. Denial? Me? Never!

Oatmeal cookies from Milk and Cookies (I halved the original recipe in parenthesis to minimise the damage should I end up eating the whole batch of cookies in one go):
170 (85) g all purpose flour
1 (1/2) tbsp ground cinnamon (I actually replaced this with 1 tsp ground cardamom as I'm not a huge fan om cinnamon)
1 (1/2) tsp baking soda
1/2 (1/4) tsp salt
340 (170) g butter
200 (100) g light brown sugar
100 (50) g caster sugar
2 (1) large eggs
1 (1/2) tbsp pure vanilla extract
260 (130) g rolled oats
80 g (1/2 cup) raisins
45 g (1/4 cup) mixed dried peel

The howto:
Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Combine flour, cinnamon (or cardamom), baking soda and salt in a bowl. Beat the butter, and slowly add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy (original recipe says about 4 minutes). Add the eggs and beat to incorporate. Beat in the vanilla, and then slowly the mixture or dry ingredients and the oats. Before the dough is completely mixed, pour the dough out on a floured surface, flour your hands and do the final light kneading of the dough by hand as an overmixed dough will produce dry and hard cookies. You only want to have all the ingredients mixed, but don't overwork the dough. Ok, at this point I have a confession to make. I did use the electric whisk to mix the whole dough together. But I only gave it a really quick swirl. In theory I totally appreciate the danger of overworking your dough, but I feel like doing it by hand would risk overworking me as I would have to clean up the tabletop and my gooey dough-y hands. Anyways, you should probably do as the lady says in the book, she has made a business out of selling cookies to people so she should know her stuff. I'm just a lazy amateur baker.

Once you have mixed your dough in one way or another, roll the dough into balls about 4 cm (1.5 inches) in diameter and place on a lined baking sheet. The cookies will flatten out quite a bit during cooking, so don't place them too close together, and a maximum of six per baking sheet. The original recipe should make about two dozen cookies, so the halved one makes about a dozen. Gently flatten each ball with your palm a little. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browed around the edges. The centre of the cookie should be slightly soft to the touch. Cool on a rack. The recipe states that the cookies will keep in room temperature for up to a week. In my kitchen there might be one or two left over for the next day. Maybe. 

Still looking like cookies going into the oven... 
Coming out of the oven not so cookie like anymore...
The verdict:
I'm not a very avid cookie baker. Which most certainly doesn't mean that I'm not a fan of cookies. Quite the opposite, I love a good cookie. People tend to divide into two kinds of cookie people, the hard and crunchy cookie people and the soft and gooey almost cake-y type of cookie people. I'm most certainly one of the latter ones, I want my cookies with a bit of a crunch on the outside, but with a chewy, gooey centre. I also don't like my cookies with chocolate chips. I want them with chocolate chunks. The bigger the better. I might have mentioned Ben's Cookies before, but I have to mention them again. There isn't a more perfect cookie in the world than Ben's cookies. They have huge chocolate chunks in them and they are nice, sweet, buttery and chewy. Best eaten while they are still a bit warm from the oven. My favourites are white chocolate and cranberry and the milk chocolate and orange ones. I'm eternally grateful there are isn't a Ben's around in Cambridge, the closest one is in London. Otherwise I might have already induced death by cookie.

The other day however, I surprised myself with a craving for really hard crunchy cookies. You know the type that you buy from supermarkets, and they have a best before date sometime in the next century. I bought a pack of Marks & Spencers white chocolate all butter cookies and they really hit the spot on that day. That was very weird. And they didn't even have huge chocolate chunks in them, just chocolate chips. And then of course there is the cookie my colleague introduced me to when I first moved to Cambridge: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference White Chocolate and Raspberry cookies. I love love love them. They have the added benefit that if you freeze them, they only need a few minutes to thaw and are perfect to eat almost directly out of the freezer. They used to be my go-to self deception cookies, I bought a whole pack of them, ate one and put the rest in the freezer for "later". Sometimes "later" was later that evening, or maybe the next day. But they were all gone very quickly. So now I just can't buy them at all out of fear of inhaling a whole pack before even realising it. 

So what about these cookies? Well, as you can see from the picture, aesthetically they turned out to be one big disaster. I put all fourteen cookies on one baking sheet and they just all melted into one big cookie-y mess. I went back to my recipe to re-check the amounts of ingredients, but I did get it right. So lesson number one is that you shouldn't even try to get more than six cookies per baking sheet if you want them to stay separate from each other and not form a huge giant cookie-pie. Aesthetics aside, the cookies turned out very good. Extremely crunchy and chewy on the outside, but nice and soft on the inside. And strangely enough, I didn't miss chocolate at all. I love the sweetness of the raisins and orange peel and the oats gave the cookies a great crunch.

One thing I found surprising with the recipe was that the dough was not rested at all. Most cookie recipes require you to rest the dough in the fridge from anything around an hour to several days (see this post on recipegirl.com for an in depth discussion on how resting affects the consistency of the cookies). Obviously, there is no way I would ever have the patience to actually rest my cookie dough for days, so I think I will never be able to test how cookies turn out from different doughs. In theory I do understand the need to let the gluten in the dough relax. Also, in a dough that has such a large amount of butter, resting the dough in the cold probably makes a difference. I will certainly use this recipe again, but maybe add just a tad of flour and maybe take down the butter a tad as well. Just for the consistency. But the taste was pretty terrific. Also, you could substitute raisins and peel with pretty much anything you want. Other options I remember from the book was butterscotch, different nuts, sweet or bitter chocolate chips, almonds and Amaretto or Disaronno, orange peel and Grand Marnier. I also want to try candied ginger, I think that would go great with the oats.  

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