Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

2013-02-12 18.43.30Before Betty Crocker became synonymous with Devil’s Food Cake mix and General Mills, its cookbook, first published in 1950, was one of my mother’s and grandmother’s default cookery reference guides. At the time, my mother’s dog-eared edition, pages loose and some undoubtedly lost forever, held for me the mysteries of cooking in its bounty of recipes, but today I mostly remember it as a baking bible. I managed to track down a updated edition about 6 years ago and was thrilled to find the old favourites were there, plus many more which I will never begin to crack the surface of. Naturally, as it is an American cookbook, all the recipes are in frustrating imperial measurements, but it has been redesigned as a binder which makes it easy to remove pages, convert the measurements yourself and continue on your merry way.

The book had a seemingly fool-proof recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies (that has since been usurped by David Liebovitz), as well as other American classics like Buttermilk Biscuits, where the dough makes an effervescent whisper of protest as a dough cutter weighs down upon it, Lemon Bars that remind me of my grandmother and Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting, which seems to hold a certain cakey romance in my mind, although I am sure I could count on one hand how many times we made it. But Peanut Butter Cookies still, after all this time, stand out to me as supremely easy and entirely memorable even with such minor effort.

Marvellous thing, this book was and still is.

In honour of the Brixton Blog’s first birthday party, I was asked to prepare some little treats and figured it was as good a time as ever to give the delightful Peanut Butter Cookies another crack. Not only are they are slightly crumbly, there is a nice little give in the dough so they stay nice and chewy. And with only about 225g (1 cup) of sugar, the sweetness is nicely tempered by the salty peanut butter, making them rather addictive and not at all sickly. A recipe as straightforward as this can be built on quite easily and I have often toyed with the idea of adding orange zest or some spice. But this time, I went for plain chocolate chips as really, chocolate and peanut butter are one of the most glorious couplings of all time.

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One trick the original recipe doesn’t allow for is chilling time in fridge. I have made these before and often when it comes to pressing them into their little flat crisscrossed shapes, the dough sticks to the fork and ends up making them a bit mushed and sticky. After preparing the dough, it is advisable to give the fats and flours a chance to get to know each other and have a rest before moulding them into shape. I chilled the dough for about 3 hours, but that was purely due to circumstance. I imagine half an hour to an hour would do the trick nicely.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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  • 115g or 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 115g or 1/2 cup brown sugar – if using cups be sure the sugar is packed
  • 115g or 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 55g or 1/4 cup suet (shortening)
  • 55g or 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 140g plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 100g or 1/3 cup of plain (semi-sweet) chocolate chips

In a glass bowl, beat both sugars, peanut butter, suet or shortening, butter and egg together with an electric mixer. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Once all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, add the chocolate chips and mix well with a wooden spoon. The dough may seem a little stiff and the chips tricky to amalgamate, but stick at it, they’ll get there eventually. Your goal is to have them evenly dispersed throughout the dough.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 1/2hr. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F and line baking tray with baking paper.

2013-02-06 17.37.06Shape dough into approx 3cm (1 1/4in) balls. Using a fork, flatten the dough, leaving crisscross marks along the top.

Once baked, these marks will add to the nice crumbly character of the cookie.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, depending on the speed and intensity of your oven, until light brown.

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Remove cookies from baking sheet and transfer to a cooling rack. Let them chill out there for a few minutes. You can see in the photo on the left that I left one batch in for a little longer than 10 minutes so they were a little more toasted. Don’t worry if that happens; they won’t dry out and they still taste delightful.

Makes about 24. Perfect with a cup of tea or a glass of cold milk.

Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, Bonus Edition, pg 180.

Adventures in Baking: Pasteis de nata

tumblr_m5x65kjr8l1qjcl1qA colleague of mine who is aware of my pastry inclinations has asked several times for me to make these little delightful Portuguese tarts, and I have always fobbed him off a bit, saying that I do pastry, but I don’t do Portuguese pastry – I am a Francophile, with British and American tendencies. But I got to thinking that it could be a good opportunity to put into practice the puff pastry I learned how to make quite recently in a fantastic class at the Cookery School on Little Portland Street, and well, the filling is just, y’know, custard, so I wasn’t really going to be breaking my neck, was I?

It seems so. At least with the puff pastry. Bloody hell. It seemed so straightforward when I was under Ghalid’s tutelage but in my own dinky kitchen, not so much. My first attempt had the wrong proportions of flour and butter. Retrospectively, that was a glaring school-girl error on my part. I should have backed off on the amount of butter I used (250g). I had remembered using a whole block when I was in class, so did so again. But with the flour, I had to do some quick calculations of pounds to grams as the Cookery School’s recipe is irritatingly in imperial measurements (I appreciate the irony of an American saying this), and I got the proportions wrong. It absolutely has to be equal butter and equal flour and I had only 225g of flour. Duh. Anyway, this disproportioned attempt resulted in the butter taking over the pastry and becoming a great mess; the butter sneaking out of folds in the pastry, desperate to escape this shameful bastardization of patisserie. Into the bin it went.

Of course, I didn’t have any relief butter to try my hand again, so I made my second shop run of the day, and being the pragmatist I am, along with the butter for round two, I grabbed up some pre-made puff, grudgingly. When I buy this kind of pastry I feel like I’m kind of buying into the premise behind Delia’s Cheats, which goes against the fibre of my being. Really, I feel I’m cheating by cheating.

As it turned out, I was glad to have the ready-made puff, because the second attempt was equally a bit rubbish. I leveled up the flour to equal butter. All good there. I started to roll and foolishly began to think ‘ha, got it’… until the butter beat me (again). It kept escaping the folds of the pastry (again) and I only made it to three turns before rolling it up and putting it in the fridge. I may try to make some sort of savory cheesy pastry thing with it later once I’ve recovered from this failed second attempt. Normally, I would have bagged the whole thing (I don’t like losing), but I really wanted to finish the Pasteis, so I took out the pre-made and made a mental note to speak to my therapist about it later.

The custard was next. I trolled through many recipes and was pleased to see it seemed quite straight forward. A quick Google search gave Jamie Oliver and Bill Granger’s versions the top hits, but it didn’t seem authentic enough for me (A Brit and an Aussie? Really?). I wanted to find a real recipe from the home of these little delights, Santa Maria de Belém, a small borough of Lisbon, but something authentic turned out to be quite elusive and my Portuguese is unsurprisingly rubbish. So in the end, I opted for Bill Granger’s as the foundation recipe, and tweaked it slightly by adding to the egg/cream/sugar mixture some lemon rind and a couple cinnamon sticks.

tumblr_m5x93hBZNE1qjcl1qThe custard was made and cooled, and into the oven the Pasteis went. 25 minutes later, they came out looking wonderful and tasting incredible, if I do say so myself: light, sweet, with a wee hint of cinnamon and citrus. The only disappointing thing to me was the pastry. Ready-made puff is not nearly as light as the homemade stuff and I think it tastes a bit heavy for the custard in this instance. Perhaps filo would be a good substitute and one to bear in mind in future.

I think I’ll leave my foray into Portuguese pastry here for now. I’m more interested in the elusive puff pastry anyway and my competitive nature means I am now desperate to master it. I’ve looked at recipes for rough puff pastry, which seem a half-way house between Jus-Rol and the real deal, but being the perfectionist I am, I doubt that’ll be enough. I may give Ms Mathiot’s version a go, followed by Julia’s. One would think, by round ten, I should get the hang of it, but just in case, keep the filo on standby.

Adventures in Baking: Pâte Brisée

Adventures in Baking: Pâte BriséeIts been a little over a week since my last proper post, so apologies. Its been a bit crazy for me lately (mostly in my own head), so I’m trying to get myself back into a state of normality and sensibility and what other way to do that than the therapeutic act of putting your thoughts out into the world… ahem.

If you’ve been following the photos I posted over the last few weeks, you will see that I’m spending a fair amount of my time these days baking. In fact, what I am trying to do is teach myself pâtisserie. Those that know me personally know I have a slightly unhealthy interest in France and the French, which borders on obsession. This is especially weird for an American. The average Yank has kind of a sniffy attitude towards the French in the same way geeky school girls roll their eyes at the popular girls. We kind of hate them, but we secretly wish to be a bit like them too.

However, I unabashedly love France. I love its joie de vivre, its art, its towns and villages, its language and its people (yes, even in Paris). But what I love more than anything is its food. My god. The food. It has always bothered me, with this mass influx of low-fat/low-calorie/gluten-free eating that has infiltrated our culture, that people seem to forget that the French live on butter, cream, wine, red meat, white sugar and bread and they are healthy. It is because they treat eating with respect and moderation. It is because to them, food is about more than filling a hole; it is about lifestyle, it compliments friendships and to those with an innate sense of taste, gives true pleasure. And really, is there anything better than sitting in a café on a nice day (they do exist!), with a cherished friend or partner, eating some wonderful concoction made of butter, eggs, sugar and flour, complete with a cup of coffee, and just being together and enjoying it and each other. Lovely.

But this isn’t wholly a romantic obsession, you see. The cook in me is fascinated with the technicality of pâtisserie, which is why I have started down this self-educating path. I am following the advice of Ginette Mathiot via her book The Art of French Baking and I’m not going to lie: it’s tricky. Well, it’s tricky for me, because I am a kinaesthetic learner; I learn by doing. Just reading about something doesn’t work for me; I have to do it with my hands to really get it.

So lesson one is a rhubarb tart. Those lovely stalks are now in season, and thus begins the attempt at Mathiot’s recipe for pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry). Oh how I have fussed in the past about making pastry. Will it be flaky enough? Does it have the right mouth feel? Please god, don’t let it go soggy! Everyone says the trick is to keep the butter and your hands cold, and that is true, but the usual advice of rubbing the butter and flour together until they look like porridge oats is unnecessary. Leave a few larger pieces of butter in there; it won’t matter because as it turns out, the more butter there is, the finer the pastry. Her recipe also adds a tablespoon of sunflower oil to the cold butter, flour and salt. This was something I’d not done before. Wasn’t pastry just supposed to be flour, butter, a bit of salt and some water? I felt a bit naughty deviating from this holy grouping. But in the quest to learn, I followed the master’s instructions.

Another widely accepted piece advice is to not over work the ingredients, so may I advise you to use your hands when bringing your ingredients together. I gave up using a food processor to make dough a few years ago because I liked having the power in my hands to really feel it; to know via touch when it had got to just the right point. The food processor moves too quickly and you greatly risk pushing the butter/flour mixture further than it should be before adding the water.

Once everything is mixed together, let the dough chill for as long as possible. Mathiot recommends over night, but as us busy London folk have little time, I only let it rest an hour in the fridge before rolling it out and filling it with fat chunks of rhubarb and a crème fraîche-based custard. Turns out, the master is called thus for a reason. The results were stunning. The pastry was pliable when rolling it out; light and flaky after it was baked. A perfect support for the tangy and marginally sweet filling.

With this technique now burned on my brain, I must fight the urge to make everything with shortcrust. In true French style, moderation is key, and it does me no good to stick with the one thing out of this book I can now make with ease and confidence, which leads me on my next adventure in my tiny kitchen: choux… but more on that at another time.

Enjoy the weekend. Happy pastry making everyone.