I love cookies. They are portion-controlled bits of food hugs. Even the word cookie is derived from the Dutch word kwoekjes, meaning “little cake” (anglicized to “cookie” by the early 1700s). As a side note, the British use the term “biscuit” just to mess up us Americans, who think of biscuits as a flaky Southern bread that’s served with butter or sausage gravy. No, actually “biscuit” is derived from Latin’s “bis coctus” or “twice baked” referring to a hard cake given to Roman armies in their rations. Hardtack, biscotti, mandelbrot, and zwiebacks are all from this lineage, and later small cakes and delicate wafers were added to this family of biscuits. The things you learn writing a blog…
Ahem…back to my point…
Cakes and cupcakes are good, don’t get me wrong, but there is such a variety of flavors and textures, mix-ins and toppings that cookies can have so they don’t get monotonous. And the best thing of all is that making cookies and eating cookies can be a shared experience. Cookies don’t have to be fancy to be wonderful, and home baked cookies, made with wholesome ingredients and baked with a special someone else…those are the best.
Cookies are communal in that you can swap them at parties..my sister has a huge cookie swap party in December where everyone brings a dozen of their favorites to share with the group (that’s a LOT of cookies, as my sister has a LOT of friends!). People look forward to February/March of each year to be able to buy their favorite Girl Scout cookies. There was a time before the cupcake became the “it” fancy product when Mrs. Field’s cookie shops dotted the landscape. Sharing cookies is so easy because they are so simple to divvy up!
You see hundreds of industrially-made cookies that line the grocery aisles, and you see the pre-packed cookies waiting to be grabbed up in the supermarkets’ bakery section. I take a dim view of these cookies…I call those pretty frosted sugar cookies “chemical cookies” because that’s what they taste like to me (my daughters disagree). I look at the ingredients of manufactured cookies, then put back the package and slowly back away. Yes, I’m a cookie snob…what of it? It’s not just the ingredients that put me off (ok, it’s a large part to be sure, but not the only reason).
There is a zen-like quality to the magic that is baking…you mix ingredients, weighing and measuring carefully, you follow the recipe step-by-step, you get in the zone so as not to mess up. Distractions or inattention can be small and inconsequential or they can be disastrous (did I put in the baking powder? Yes? No? I’ll add more just in case…Uh oh…). When I bake by myself, I’m doing it to produce something wonderful from disparate ingredients (that fulfills my creative side) and to give the people I love a food hug (that fulfills my nurturing side). But cooking with other people, especially with one or both of my daughters…now that’s a special time unto itself.
I’ve baked with my girls from the time they were very young. They’d get to stir the batter or help measure out flour, and then get to lick the spoon at the end as a treat (this of course was before the days when raw eggs were demonized). Cookies were especially fun because there were so many recipes from which to choose. The scientist in me loved to teach them about the math of cooking (“Look, four 1/4 cups is the same as one 1 cup. Neat, huh?!”), and the mom in me enjoyed watching them stir, scoop, bake, then share what they made. Yes there were mishaps, and yes I still tried to control the mess as much as I could, but the time we spent together was magic unto itself.
(Is there going to be a recipe here, or are you going to just blather on about zen and the art of baking cookies?)
Our favorite cookie recipe to make together is not the ubiquitous Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookie, although we do like to make those (who doesn’t?). No, it’s from Better Homes and Gardens magazine…Mocha Truffle Cookies. I found this recipe many moons ago as a new mom, and it’s a great recipe to start with if you don’t think you can bake cookies because it’s all manual, i.e., no fancy mixer to cream butter & sugar together is required. You just need a saucepan, a bowl, a spoon, a cookie sheet…well, maybe you do need a few things to make them…
Here’s the recipe taken off the BH&G website:
Mocha Truffle Cookies
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
- 1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals
- 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
- 3/4 cup (180g) packed brown sugar
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups (255g) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (28g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces (I just use the rest of the package)
- In a large saucepan melt butter and the 1/2 cup chocolate pieces over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in coffee crystals; cool 5 minutes. Stir in sugars, eggs, and vanilla.
- In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Stir into coffee mixture. Stir in the 1 cup chocolate pieces. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons** onto lightly greased cookie sheets.
- Bake in a 350ºF oven 10-12 minutes. Let cool 1 minute before removing from sheet.
Makes 30 cookies
* The metric conversions are mine
** I use a 1 Tbsp cookie scoop (in the picture below) and make 60 mounds, but the original recipe said their yield was 30 cookies leading me to believe that they made bigger mounds. I find that the 1 Tbsp size is plenty because these cookies are rich. I’ll leave it to you to decide which way you’ll go, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
What I like to do is the bake some/freeze some method…I’ll bake just enough for immediate consumption (usually 1-2 cookies per person), then freeze the rest of the mounds on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. Once they’re frozen, store them in a ziplock-type bag. When you want wonderful warm chocolate goodness, take out however many you want and bake them at 325ºF for 13-16 minutes (there’s no need to defrost them first). Yum!
Now my girls are grown up…one has her own apartment and the other is a senior in college. I still cook and bake with them every chance I get. My older daughter lives close by, so I’ll bring her frozen cookie dough when I make it for myself, and hear her stories about her cooking and baking adventures. To my younger daughter I send care packages of baked goodies across the continent, and listen as she tells me of all the wonderful things she bakes for her friends. Yes, my daughters are all grown up, but in my heart I see them standing on a stool next to me, stirring a bowl of something as I teach them to hold the bowl with one hand so as not to make a mess. I see them answering my math questions (“If I wanted to only make half this recipe, which measuring cup should I use instead of the 1 cup measure?”). And I see their pride as they share a cookie that they made with me. Food hugs! (Drying eyes now…)
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
p.s. to my almost-graduate…Happy Birthday! Enjoy your tea and scones, and I’ll do the same on the other coast.