My friend M recently posted on Instagram about some chocolate chip cookies she made. M is a regular baker with high standards so when she raved about them I decided that I better try them myself to check if they lived up to the hype. They did. I did the 24 hour “prove” of the cookies as suggested and I think it made a difference to the outcome. So if you need these cookies for a specific day make sure to start them off at least the day before.Read more…
Being back at work means a willing audience to try out my baking on. I didn’t do much baking on maternity leave because it’s quite challenging with a little person constantly needing your attention but also because Mr O is not particularly interested in sweet things and with nowhere to take what I have created, I end up eating far too much of it myself… or ending up chucking bits away once they’ve passed their prime. As Easter is around the corner I decided to to some themed baking for my colleagues.
In a few weeks the team of developers I have been working with for the past six months will move onto a new project and a new Product Owner, which means they will no longer be my crew. I am really sad about this since I have had so much fun working with them. I think they’re quite sad too… mostly because the endless supply of my baking experiments is coming to an end. With this in mind I wasn’t surprised that the last time I asked them to add something to a piece of work they asked me what I was going to make them. These were my latest piece of bribery.
Is there anything more tantalising than the smell of Xmas cookies baking in the kitchen? Probably not, which is why I decided to whip up a few batches to give to friends and family as gifts this festive season.
They make a delicious, personal and fun gift especially if you decide to decorate them. I have provided the ingredients for a basic glacé icing but you can use store bought icing, royal icing, chocolate or any combination of the above. Just make sure you start about 2 days before you want to package them because they take at least 24 hours to dry.
Spiced holiday cookies
Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
For the cookies
200g butter at room temperature
280g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g flour plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
A pinch of cloves
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the icing
2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons water or milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food colouring (optional)
To make the cookies preheat your oven to 170 degrees and line 2 – 3 cookie sheets with greaseproof paper.
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape down any unmixed ingredients. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined but do not overmix. The electric mixer probably won’t bring your dough together into a ball so don’t be afraid to get your hands involved.
Now dust a clean flat work surface with flour and place the dough on it (if you are working in a little apartment kitchen like me expect to do this in several batches). Roll The dough to about 3mm thick using a rolling pin. It can tend to stick so make sure you dust the dough, surface and rolling pin with flour regularly. Cut out shapes using festive cookie cutters. I did Santas, reindeer and snowflakes. Evenly space out the cookies on the prepared trays and bake on the middle shelf of the oven. The baking time will depend on your cookie size but you’re probably looking at 5 – 10 minutes. I would suggest checking regularly. You want them to be just golden on the edges and pale in the centre. Allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Keep rerolling and cutting your dough until it is finished.
To make the icing sift the icing sugar and then add the water or milk, vanilla and food colouring if using. Beat together with a fork until smooth.
When the cookies are completely cool decorate using a piping bag or even just spread on with a knife or teaspoon.
Leave the cookies to dry for at least 24 hours before packaging.
Makes 30 -50 depending on the size of your cutters
These melt in the mouth biscuits were a staple in my house growing up because they’re eggless and my brother was allergic to eggs as a child. They have a really smooth texture and a subtle vanilla flavour. Although they are lovely plain you can also sandwich them together with chocolate or bake them with a little dot of jam in the middle.
South African custard biscuits
220g butter, cut into small cubes
110g custard powder
110g icing sugar
A pinch of salt
Any flavour of smooth jam – I like apricot or strawberry (Optional)
Preheat your oven to 180 C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Sift together the flour, custard power, icing sugar and salt, Add the butter and then rub in with your fingertips until there are no large lumps of butter. Bring the dough together using your hands and knead a little until smooth. Break off walnut sized pieces of dough and roll into balls. If you are making plain biscuits place them on the tray (12 at a time) and press down with a fork. If you are making jam biscuits press them down lightly with your hands and then use the end of the handle of a wooden spoon to make a hollow in each biscuit. Drop a little jam into each hollow. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
It’s no secret that I love peanut butter… so much so that I will happily eat it out of the jar (something I definitely did not do while making this recipe). I am also a big fan of chocolate. So this peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie recipe is definitely a combo I can get on board with.
Extra crunchy peanut butter cookies
Adapted from Kitchen Joy.
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
110g butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 180 C (170 C for a fan oven) and prepare a baking sheet with covering with a layer of parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, mix well and set aside.
Cream together the butter and the sugars using an electric mixter until light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter and mix well. Then add the egg and mix again.
Stir in the dry ingredients until the dough comes together.
Put the peanuts in your blender and process until they resemble breadcrumbs. Stir the peanuts and chocolate chips.
Break the dough into chunks and roll into balls (about 2 tablespoons of dough for each ball), spread out on the baking sheet (you will need to do this in batches) with about 5 cm between each ball. Press down with a fork dipped in water to make a criss cross pattern on the top. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 – 12 minutes. The cookies should be brown at the edges but not look completely cooked through.
Allow to cool on the baking tray for a minute or two before placing on a cooling rack to cool completely.
Makes about 24 cookies
Happy New Year! Over Christmas Paul and I decided to give some of our friends and family cookies as gifts. Since I needed to make quite a lot of cookies in quite a short period of time I decided to use one of my mom’s tricks from when I was a kid and make refrigerator cookies. Here you can make the dough in advance and store it in the fridge or freezer rolled into a log. Then when you’re ready to bake the biscuits you just slice them off and pop them in then oven. Voila, fresh baked biscuits in just a few minutes!
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 .5 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
For the Christmas spice cookies
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
For the strawberry and white chocolate cookies
2 tablespoons freeze dried strawberries (available in the baking section and Sainsburys and Waitrose)
150g white chocolate
Extra freeze dried strawberries for decoration
If you are going to make your cookies immediately preheat your oven to 180 C. Beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg until light and fluffy. Add the flour, bicarb and salt and stir until it comes together into a smooth dough. Separate the dough in half. Stir the spices into one half of the dough. Stir the freeze dried strawberries into the other half. Roll each half of the dough into a log about 5cm in diameter. Cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour… or freeze for up to 1 month.
Once your dough is set, slice it into 5mm slices and bake for about 7 mins on a non-stick cookie sheet, no need to grease. The cookies should be brown at the edges but still a little soft in the middle. Keep an eye on the first batch to gauge the time, every oven is different. These cookies spread quite a lot so make sure you leave them space to spread.
Leave the cookies to cool on a cooling rack. When the strawberries are cold, pop the white chocolate in the microwave to melt. 1 minute on high, stir and then one more minute on high. Drizzle the cookies with the chocolate using a teaspoon and then sprinkle over the remaining freeze dried strawberries. Leave to set.
Makes 24 of each cookie
1.5 cups caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups of flour, plus extra for rolling
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup cocoa
Beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg until light and fluffy. Add the flour and salt and stir together to form a dough. Divide the dough in half and add the cocoa to one half and mix in.
Sprinkle some flour on a flat surface and roll out the vanilla dough into a rectangle about 5mm thick. Then roll out the chocolate dough into a slightly smaller rectangle. Lay the chocolate rectangle on top of the vanilla rectangle then roll up carefully into a log to create a spiral pattern.
Refrigerate for at least an oven to set. Once the dough is set, slice into 5mm slices and and bake at 180 C for about 10 minutes. The cookies should be brown at the edges but still a little soft in the middle. Keep an eye on the first batch to gauge the time, every oven is different. These cookies spread quite a lot so make sure you leave them space to spread.
Makes 36 cookies
Gluten-free recipes can be a bit hit and miss but these cookies do not disappoint. Despite having no oil or butter in them they are rich and chocolatey with a satisfyingly chewy centre. I took them to work and they disappeared within minutes. I will admit that I wasn’t sure they were doing to work while I was making them but stick with it because the pay-off is totally worth it.
Gluten-free gooey dark chocolate cookies
Adapted from divine-baking.com
3 large or 4 medium egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 ½ cups icing sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon rice flour
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups (about 180g) good quality dark chocolate chips (or if you can’t be bothered with chips, just hack up 2 slabs of Green & Blacks. The quality of the chocolate makes all the difference, so don’t skimp.)
Pre-heat your oven to 180 C. Put a pot of boiling water on the stove and rest a glass bowl on top of it. The bowl should not touch the water. Add one cup of the chocolate chips to the bowl and allow to melt, stirring occasionally. You can melt the chocolate in the microwave but if it goes wrong there is nothing you can do to salvage it. I prefer the old school, safe method. When the chocolate is completely melted, set aside to cool a little.
Now beat the egg whites to soft peaks with the cream of tartar using an electric mixer. This can be tricky, so here are my tips for doing it right:
- Always use a glass or metal bowl – never plastic.
- It won’t work if there is a drop of fat or yolk in the bowl so separate your eggs carefully and wipe your bowl with a piece of kitchen roll and a drop of vinegar before you start
- The cream of tartar really helps
- You will know you have soft peaks when you can lift the beater out of the egg white and it makes a little peak that flops over at the end. If the peak doesn’t flop over, you’ve gone too far!
Once you’ve got your soft peaks, add one cup of the icing sugar a little at a time, continuing to beat. Once all the sugar is in, keep beating until you get a creamy marshmallow texture. It shouldn’t take more than the few minutes. Don’t panic if you become surrounded by a cloud of white powder. Just make sure you vacuum after.
In a separate bowl, mix together another cup of the icing sugar, the cocoa, flour and salt. Now turn down your mixer to a slow speed and add the dry ingredients a little at a time. Then stir in the melted chocolate and remaining chips.
Put your mixing bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes for the dough to stiffen up.
In the meantime, grease two baking trays with a little oil and put your remaining icing sugar in a bowl.
When your dough is nice and stiff, take a tablespoon of mixture at a time, roll into a ball and then roll in the remaining icing sugar to thickly coat. Place on the baking tray. You should get 9 – 10 per tray. Bake each tray for 10 minutes. Prepare to be amazed!
Makes 18 – 20 cookies
These semi-healthy cookies pack a real flavour punch and will make you very popular if you take them to work.
Oatmeal raisin cookies
270g butter at room temperature
160g soft dark brown sugar
160g caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
380g wholewheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarb
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
110g rolled oats
25g chopped pecans, walnuts or pumpkin seeds (optional)
Heat oven to 170 and grease a non-stick baking sheet.
Beat together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla.
Stir in the flour, salt, cinnamon, oats and bicarb with a wooden spoon until well mixed.
Add raisins and nuts/seeds and stir until evenly dispersed.
Break off bits of the dough and roll into golfball sized balls. Place 8 at a time on the baking sheet with space for spreading. Bake for 15 mins. Allow to cool slightly on the baking tray before transferring to a cooling rack.
Makes about 24.
I have nothing that I have to do today… well until Emily and I go and buy the Christmas food this evening. It feels weird. I’m not sure how to cope with all this freedom. There are probably several adminny type tasks I should tackle. So far, I have decided to stay in bed. I set a good example. It has been a busy weekend so far though.
Friday was the famous Frank Brinkley’s birthday, which meant that the NaNo crew was out in full force at Chandos. I had a bit of a reverse evening and arrived rather drunk after leaving drinks that started with beers in the afternoon, slowly sobering up as the night went on. Fortunately Frank saw the humour in Sarah and my rather unusual birthday gift. We gave him a framed picture of the two of us grinning like this:
Who wouldn’t want such a display of beauty.
The evening ended with us going to see the polar bear statue in Trafalgar Square. It’s really cool. It’s a metal frame of a polar bear skeleton covered in ice and the ice is slowly melting as a symbol of the effect of global warming on the polar ice caps. We were slightly distracted by the rabidly drunk teenage girls who had taken a fancy to Frank and Ian and were now following us around like lost (somewhat frightening) puppies. Fortunately we escaped intact though.
In the morning I eventually dragged myself out of bed and headed to Jenn and Claire’s house near Finsbury Park for Christmas cookie baking and decoration. I was in my elephant since there is little that excites me as much as multicoloured icing. Jenn’s incredible array of baking equipment puts mine to absolute shame. I had the worst possible kitchen envy you can imagine. The highlight of the decorating (you know aside from Sarah’s frighteningly anatomically correct sugar cookie men) was decorating gingerbread houses. Mine ended up looking like the house that Boosh built. Behold:
I had to leave at 5 but for good reasons since it was time for the second annual Secret Vegetarian Festive dinner. Carnage once again ensued. There was wine everywhere, the kitchen looked like a bomb went off it, everyone brought bizarre secret Santa gifts… although mine from Tash was clearly the best… playing cards, chocolate and more. I don’t know how she got it all for a fiver. Lucy once again wowed us with her comic book of us, but I’m not sure what was behind Robert’s unlabelled vitamin pill attempt. At least this year I didn’t end up on the sofa wailing, “my brain is too small” for half an hour. Thank-you to everyone who came and I hope you all made it home on the night bus!