Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

Happy 2016, people! I really hope this turns out to be a very good one. Judging from the first few weeks, you wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to think so, but here’s hoping! A lot has happened over the last few weeks, most notably I went back home to Italy for the Christmas/New Year holidays. It was great to be back and to pretty much devote my entire time to stuffing my face with great food and doing very little else. I also took advantage of my traveller’s nature to visit a few new places (Turin, just to name one) and to try the local cuisine in Venice.

Next week I will be in London for work. Needless to say, I will take advantage of my convenient location to try out a few places, namely Honey & Co. and Jose Pizarro‘s tapas restaurant. I cannot emphasise enough how obsessed I am at the moment with Middle Eastern cuisine. After having tried a few recipes off Persiana, Sabrina Ghayour’s latest book, I finally landed on Honey & Co.’s baking book, a true revelation. Below you will find my twist on their recipe for gooey and soft chocolate and pistachio cookies, although I strongly suggest you give their other creations I go!

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Ingredients

  • 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g light brown soft sugar
  • 65g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • about 150g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water. Make sure the water in the pan is gently simmering or the chocolate may seize and become grainy. Once melted, remove from the double boiler and allow to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, whisk the eggs and the light brown soft sugar together in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. You want the mixture to double in volume and to fall back on itself like a ribbon when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula.
  3. In a bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients, then gently fold in the mixture and combine until there are no flour streaks visible. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until you can easily handle the mixture. You could also refrigerate it, but you may need to bring it back to to room temperature if you cool it too much.
  4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Pour the roughly chopped pistachios in a shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  5. Divide the cookie dough into 12 and, using your hands, roll the pieces into balls, then drop them into the chopped pistachios and gently roll them around until they are completely covered. Arrange them on the prepared baking trays, allowing plenty of space in between for the cookies to expand while baking. Repeat until you have used all of the mixture.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes in the centre of the oven (you may need to do one tray at a time), so that they firm up on the edges but stay nice and chewy in the middle. Remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before attempting to lift the cookies. Enjoy!

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Lebkuchen – German Gingerbread Cookies

Sometimes I like to leaf through old magazines to find recipes I deemed too complicated or not suitable at the time. Also, up until a couple of years ago, I used to subscribe/buy quite a lot of cooking and baking magazines, which means now my shelves are literally stocked up with reading material. I found the recipe for these biscuits in the December 2012 issue of delicious. and I have made them twice already – although not as successfully the first time. For those of you who do not have much experience with German Christmas baking, the term Lebkuchen (of uncertain etymology) refers to a variety of soft or wafer-like biscuits containing nuts, honey and spices, and they are loosely related to gingerbread.

Most recently, Lebkuchen are made in heart shapes and heavily decorated with royal icing – these are the ones traditionally sold in Christmas markets/fairs all over Europe. When I was a kid, my dad used to buy a commercial version from Lidl (sold with a chocolate/white icing coating) and take it home for Christmas. As a kid with a very sweet tooth, you can imagine how happy I was to finish them all as soon as possible. This recipe might not be 100% authentic, but it makes really good and soft Lebkuchen. I made them for a German friend for Christmas and he definitely enjoyed them, so that’s good enough for me.

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Ingredients (for the cookies)

  • 90g skinned, roasted and ground hazelnuts
  • 65g blanched almonds
  • 300g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g dark soft brown sugar
  • 175ml clear honey (mine had subtle orange notes)
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • 2 large eggs

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 350g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp white rum
  • 1 tsp lukewarm water

Method

  1. Put the nuts into a food processor with half the flour, then pulse to a fine powder. Add the remaining flour, cocoa powder, spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, then process briefly to mix.
  2. Put the sugar, honey, butter and orange zest into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the spatula attachment, then cream together until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gradually add the nut and flour mixture in two additions, then mix on a low speed until just combined. The mixture will be wet but will hold its shape. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and transfer to the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line at least two baking trays with parchment and set aside.
  4. Take the biscuit dough out of the fridge. To shape the cookies, scoop out portions of the dough either using a measuring spoon (you are aiming for 1 1/2 tbsp) or judge them by eye and roll them between slightly wet hands. Shape each patty into a ball and place on the baking tray, but ensure they are 4-5cm apart because the biscuits will spread.
  5. Bake each batch on its own in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the biscuits comes out clean. Don’t overbake them or they will be tough and not pleasant to eat. While you are baking a batch, keep the other(s) in the fridge to rest. This will also ensure the biscuits don’t spread as much and that they keep a dome shape during baking. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. To make the icing, combine the ingredients in a large bowl and mix to obtain a smooth but not too liquid icing. You can test the consistency by dipping a biscuit in it and letting the extra icing drop off it. If the biscuit keeps a nice white glaze on top, then it’s ready. If the mixture is too loose, it will slide off the biscuit. In that case, add a little bit more icing sugar. If the mixture is too solid, add more water 1 tsp at a time. If you don’t want to use rum, substitute for water instead.
  7. Ice all of the biscuits by dipping them into the icing dome surface first, then allowing the extra icing to drip off the cookie. Turn onto their bases and allow the icing to solidify. Enjoy!

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Sachertorte Cookies

If you were wondering what had happened to me, I do apologise. Last week was the real week from hell, where I had to juggle so many things I have no idea how I managed to make it until Sunday. And yes, for once Sunday was an actual day of rest, much to my partner’s surprise. Usually you would find me buzzing around the kitchen or the flat, or maybe pushing my partner out of bed to go somewhere. This time, I just wanted to chill out. This week looks like it might be slightly quieter, which is good as I can resume my gym duties. Last week was also the last time this year (I think) I was summoned at the University to mark some of the interpreting exams. A pleasure and an extremely interesting experience, as usual, it proved to be the perfect even to bring some of these wonderful cookies.

In case you’re not a big fan of cakes or you don’t feel confident enough to bake one, this recipe is perfect for you. You can get (more or less) the same flavour of a big Sachertorte in a tiny mouthful. This cookie has crunch, provided by the biscuit base, topped by a soft and gooey heart (the apricot jam), encased by a crisp and melt-in-the-mouth chocolate layer. One bite and you will be converted. The recipe comes from one of my many Italian baking books, called The Tastiest Biscuits in the World – a promise just from the name. You don’t have to go all bakery like me and try and make these of the same size or use a piping bag to distribute the jam. I believe homemade if the way to go, I just can’t help to use some of the tools I have in the kitchen!

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Ingredients

  • 300g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 160g apricot jam
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened (for the glaze)

Method

  1. Line two to three baking trays with parchment, then set aside.
  2. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, then beat with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the egg, then beat briefly until incorporated.
  3. Pour in the dry ingredients (flour, salt and cocoa powder), then mix briefly until the mixture comes together. It shouldn’t be either too sticky or too hard.
  4. Transfer the bowl onto your working surface, then use your hands to take walnut-sized amounts of the dough. Roll them between your hands to make them into a ball, then place them slightly apart onto the baking sheet and press your finger into the middle to make an indentation. If you suffer from a (completely made up and very) mild form of OCD like I do, you can use a measuring spoon to make the balls all equal. I used a 1/2 tablespoon measuring spoon.
  5. Put the trays in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  6. Bake each batch for 15 minutes or until slightly hard to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  7. Transfer the apricot jam to a piping bag, then snip off the end. You can do this with a couple of teaspoons, but I would make a mess. Fill the indentation in each cookie with the jam, then set aside. You should have enough to fill them all.
  8. In the meantime, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then set aside to cool slightly. The chocolate shouldn’t be too fluid or it will run away when drizzled. Once ready, use a tablespoon to drizzle some of the chocolate on the cookies. Make a criss-cross pattern if you want, but any way is fine. The aim is to encase the apricot jam in a layer of chocolate, so try and not to overdo it! Leave to cool and harden, then enjoy!

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