These cookies are thick; they’re chewy; and they have a a molten Nutella centre with oozy chocolate and crunchy toasted hazelnuts. I’m not even going to feign modesty: these cookies are the apotheoses of cookies. Make sure you have at least two reserved per person because eating one is never going to be enough – be warned.
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In my dictionary definition of cookie, I’m going to be demanding. It needs to be thic(ccc)k so that each mouthful contains some of the promised flavours, be they chocolate, nut, or candy. I want it crisp on the outside so that when broken, it gives way to a chewy cookie-dough goo. If there’s chocolate or caramel, they need to be molten. They also need to have enough salt to balance the sweetness and add depth of flavour.
And, after years of trials, the quest to create the perfect cookie becoming increasingly Sisyphean, I’ve done it. And you need to make them ASAP.
Maybe they think that all the gluttony and swollen stomachs affect our ability to digest information, that all the turkey/mince/fruit/chocolate/stuffing becomes blinding and we are no longer able to read paragraphs of text. Instead, we have to have things numbered so as to reassure us that whatever we are reading won’t detract too long from the Christmas stasis.
Every newspaper or magazine clearly has some greedy journalist on its team who takes it upon him or herself to rate every mince pie out there to save us all the hard work. Then the subjective lists are compiled and played back to us year after year, despite the foods remaining the same, in the identical, consumable, numbered format.
In response to this, and inspired by an affront to my eyes when opening the newspaper magazine this weekend, I thought I would do a light review of the food adverts themselves:
Apparently, it’s for fruit lovers: congealed, glistening and with blood/jam trickling through its rivulets. But what is it? Depends how you like your desserts, but I’ll pass.
I know Christmas is supposedly about family and coming together, but the picture of “grandma” with a prawn coming out of her head doesn’t conjure up any feelings of warmth for me
I’ve caught members of my family spooning Boursin directly into their mouths. I was cynical at first about their Christmas rebrand with the addition of the “merry” epithet. But somehow, heady with garlicky creaminess, it has caught on in my household – we are now asking each other whether we’d like some “Merry Boursin” on our toast.
Lidl has gone down the particularly salivating route in showing us the turkeys pre-slaughter. They are relaxing free range by a bale of hay with the sun shining to stained glass effect through the translucent wattles. Delicious.
Anyway, with all this Christmas “magic” abounding (and as a remedy for all this gaudiness), we might as well move on to an actual “magic” cake. Making a cake is magical enough, but there is a childlike joy when you put a homogeneous mix into the oven and it emerges, burnished, in perfectly ordered layers. This particular magic cake is like a perfectly formed French entremet, but without the effort. All it requires is eggs to be separated and whisked and somehow it all falls into place. When making the speculoos topping, I would advise making a bit extra to allow some innocent “sampling” during the process (it’s ambrosial).
300g Speculoos cookies + 100g for decoration
220ml unsweetened condensed milk
¼ tsp salt
3 eggs, separated
75g caster sugar
90g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
4 small pears, peeled, cored and diced into 1cm cubes
21cm square cake tin (or round tin with similar area) fully lined with baking parchment. It doesn’t matter if the tin is marginally larger or smaller
1) Preheat the oven to 150°C
2) Put all the ingredients for the speculoos layer into a blender and blitz until smooth, and set aside.
3) Melt the butter and set aside to cool. In a bowl (if doing by hand) or electric mixer beat the sugar with the egg yolks until thick and pale. Pour in the butter and 150g of the Speculoos layer and gently combine. Then sieve in the flour and salt and fold to combine. Pour in the milk and combine.
4) In the bone-dry bowl of an electric mixer or by hand, whisk the egg whites vigorously until they thicken and hold their shape in stiff peaks. Very gently fold them into the batter, taking care to preserve the aeration.
5) Scatter the diced pear evenly on the bottom of the cake tin, then gently pour the batter on top. Smooth the surface with a knife and place in the oven to cake for 35 minutes. The cake will still be soft when you remove it from the oven but this is how it is meant to be. Put it onto a rack to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for an hour to set.
6) To serve, lift the cake out of the tin on the serving plate using the baking parchment and remove baking parchment. I choose to slice off the cake edges in order to better expose the layers. Spread the remaining speculoos layer on top and over it crumble the decorative speculoos cookies.
Recipe adapted from "Magic Cakes" by Christelle Huet-Gomez
ANTI-VALENTINES ANCIENT ROMAN-STYLE
Candlelit dinner in a restaurant suddenly eye-wateringly expensive, a single rose rattling in its cellophane wrapper, chocolates filled with chemical cherry liqueur, and greetings cards covered with hearts and teddy bears and hearts and pictures of champagne and hearts: these are contemporary references to St Valentine’s Day.
How much more seductive would it be to celebrate Lupercalia as the Ancients did?
On the 15th February, naked youths of noble birth, anointed with the blood of sacrificed goats, and carrying strips of the animals’ hide, would run through Rome in a spirit of hilarity and lash waiting females in order to promote fertility and assist with pregnancy.
If this sounds too overtly carnal, how about taking the advice of Ovid in his Ars Amatoria on how to secure a woman or man, how to seduce him or her, and how to keep him or her from being stolen by another? His tips include knowing where to look to find the beloved as he or she will not just fall from heaven.
According to Ovid, the theatre is a particularly good place to meet beautiful women. He warns men to wear well cut and spotless togas, and to avoid having dirty, long fingernails and visible nasal hairs.
Beware, too, the persuasive effects of low lighting and alcohol which can mask a woman’s true looks, he says.
Women, however, he advises, should use to their advantage all the tricks that cosmetics can offer, while not letting any man observe their application: hide the work in progress, he suggests. Wear simple, unostentatious clothes, revealing a slightly exposed shoulder or upper arm. Sing, play an instrument and learn to play board games, he tells women, and beware of fops.
But if all this sounds too much like hard work, I heartily recommend that you make these cookies. Simple to make, they are rich and decadent and infinitely seductive.
Ingredients (Makes 24)
300g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
45g unsalted butter
225g plain flour
35g unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
300g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 2 medium-sized oranges
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
80g icing sugar
2 baking sheets, lined with non-stick baking parchment
- Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (without the water touching the bottom of the bowl). Into the bowl break the chocolate into pieces and add in Nutella and butter. Allow to melt slowly, stirring occasionally until it turns glossy, molten and smooth. Remove the bowl from heat and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, sieve together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
- In an electric mixer fitter with the paddle, or in a large bowl by hand, beat together eggs and sugar for 2-3 minutes until creamy, thick and pale. Pour in orange zest and juice and beat again to combine.
- Pour the molten chocolate mix into the egg mixture and very gently fold together so as not to lose the aeration. Pour in the sieved dry ingredients and, again, fold gently until just combined.
- Cover bowl and let the mixture cool in the fridge for half an hour.
- Preheat oven to 170°C. Sieve icing sugar into a bowl. Remove the cookie dough from the fridge and roll the dough into spheres of about 40g each. Roll each one in the icing sugar to coat thoroughly, then place on the tray, leaving about 5cm space between each.
- Place in oven to cook for 8-12 minutes, (checking after 8). They should be soft to the touch and feel slightly undercooked. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. They will continue to cook as they cool. If you can manage to resist them, store in a an airtight container for a week (they get fudgier over time), or freeze in an airtight container for 2 months.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Every year the bile-inducing pink and fluffy over-commercialised day of dictated love comes about. And unsurprisingly, due to their arguable aphrodisiac qualities, sales of oysters peak. Well as you or your date slurp these down on your Valentine’s date, think of this: oysters are related to slugs. Why not grab a few from your garden, douse them with some Tabasco with buttered bread on the side and gulp these instead – cheaper and more plentiful (this is not actually a recipe).
Something a little more acceptable as an anti-Valentine’s day recipe might be this: soft & chewy hot spiced double ginger nut cookies. They’re not red, not cloying-sweet and they’re not heart shaped. They even have a little rebellious kick to them if you choose to add the cayenne pepper, which as a spice addict, I love. But if you prefer something a little milder, leave it out. If you want to shake off a stalker add more (roughly 5x stated quantity) and deliver gift wrapped.
Makes about 35 cookies
200g unsalted butter, softened
440g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
3 tbsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
100g stem ginger (;preserved in syrup), finely chopped
2 tbsp ginger syrup (from the preserved ginger)
180g golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 baking tray lined with baking parchment
1.)Preheat oven to 160°C.
2.)Place butter, flour, sugar, ground ginger, bicarbonate of soda, cayenne pepper (if using) and salt in a blender and blitz until thoroughly mixed and is like damp sand.
3.) Warm chopped ginger, ginger syrup, golden syrup, treacle and vanilla extract in a pan over a low heat for a couple of minutes until the mixture becomes less viscose. Pour this into the dry ingredients and pulse until combined into a dough.
4.) Roll the dough into 3cm wide spheres and space them out on the baking trays as they will spread whilst baking.
5.) Place in preheated oven and bake for 7-10 minutes until golden and slightly crisp on outside and very soft on the inside. They should seem slightly under-baked as they will continue to cook as they cool and this will make them deliciously soft and chewy.
I blame salted-caramel for my short-sightedness. At the end of morning assembly, when I was five years’ old, the headmistress would read a prayer. Every one of us would dutifully lower her head and shut her eyes. I pressed mine tightly closed with my hands until, like some computer generated visualiser, semi-hallucinogenic patterns appeared. Well, mainly one pattern: a recurrent drop of molten gold slipping seductively into its glistening pool, creating ripples that seemed to extend to the corners of dark space behind my eyelids. I found the effect narcotic, and would do this without fail every morning.
I now realise that the real-life equivalent to that voluptuous liquefied gold is salted caramel: fudgy, creamy slick, viscous and dangerously addictive, I’m obsessed.
Too often it drenches and drowns all other culinary thoughts and ideas I have, but to resist its ambrosial pull is futile. So, instead, I have decided to partner it with its already well-established acquaintance - chocolate. That’s not to say that these cookies are in any way ordinary.
Most shop bought packets of chocolate cookies are filled with empty promises, often dry, floury, over sodium bicarbonated, and rock solid.
I have a friend who has developed and perfected the “cookie-pinch”. Her forefinger and thumb clamp down on unsuspecting biscuits in their paper wrapping. The motion is swift and discreet, but in that split second the pads of her well-attuned digits estimate the freshness of the cookie to the nearest hour.
These chocolate biscuits, however, are crisp, rich, chewy and soft, and cushioned by their silky smooth salted caramel filling, rendering my friend’s admirable skill totally redundant.
200g dark chocolate, chopped
40g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
35g plain flour, sifted
¼ tsp baking powder, sifted
¼ tsp salt
Salted caramel frosting
165g white caster sugar
125ml single cream
150g unsalted butter, chopped
250g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
2 baking trays, lined with baking parchment
- Preheat oven to 180˚C
- Melt chocolate and butter together in a small pan over a low heat until only just melted and smooth, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
- In an electric mixer, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla for about 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes smooth and slightly thicker.
- Gently fold in the cooled chocolate and butter mixture. Once combined, fold in the sieved flour, baking powder and salt until just combined and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Drop the mixture, 1 tablespoon per biscuit on to the baking trays leaving 5cm between them as the mixture will spread.
- Bake for 8–10 minutes or until shiny and cracked. Allow to cool on trays.
Salted caramel icing
- Stir together sugar and water in a pan over a high heat until sugar has dissolved. Allow to bubble up for about 5-10 minutes until it turns a deep burnished gold. Don’t be afraid to let it turn quite rusty in colour – the deeper in colour you dare to go (without it burning) the more depth of flavour.
- As soon as it gets to the above stage pour in cream and butter and whisk immediately and continuously over the high heat until fully combined. If the sugar crystallises, don’t panic. Keep whisking over a high heat until it melts once more.
- Remove from heat and let it cool. You can place it in fridge, or freezer, or, if you’re greedy and impatient, you can place the pan in an ice water bath and stir until cool. I opt for the latter option.
- Beat together caramel, icing sugar, vanilla and salt until combined.
- Sandwich the cookies together using 2 tbsp of the icing (or more depending on how caramel-crazed you are).
(adapted from Donna Hay)