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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Galettes Bretonnes

Sometimes, when I feel like pottering away in the kitchen but making a whole cake sounds like a gargantuan challenge (not to mention most of the times there is already one staring back at me on the window sill), I prefer to make something quick, easy and intriguing. Biscuits or brownies are my choice of preference and these make no exception. In French, ‘galette’ has a plethora of meanings. To quote Monique from Miel & Ricotta,

‘Galette’ is the fourth most popular word in French. Liberté, egalité, fraternité and galette. In France, round things are referred to as ‘galette’. The famous cpes are called ‘galettes’, as are frangipane tortes, waffles, a piece of bread and these biscuits. Then you move away from food and you discover that some cushions are called ‘galettes’, a vinyl is a ‘galette’ and the word also indicates the weigh of a dose of crack (now that you know this, you can be confident next time you order some). The spare wheel on cars is a ‘galette’, money is referred to as ‘galette’ and if you fall down while skying, then you also made a ‘galette.’

I love these biscuits as they could be considered a salty version of standard shortbread, and yet they are much more than that. First of all, the dough is quite sticky and needs swift hands to work it due to the higher ratio of egg and butter to flour. Then, the addition of both sugar and salt really lifts the flavour as the saltiness tingles your tongue and makes more akin to a sweet cracker. Lastly, the shiny coating on top provides an extra layer of texture when you bite into them. In a word, moreish.

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Ingredients

  • 60g caster sugar (golden or plain)
  • 100g softened salted butter (preferably Guérande) OR unsalted butter + 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk + 1 tsb double cream (for the coating)

Method

  1. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract and flour, and mix until combined.
  2. Turn out onto a work surface and briefly knead to incorporate all of the ingredients. Be quick as the dough will be sticky. When done, shape into a ball, flatten it to a disc and warp in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment to approximately 4mm thick, then remove the top one and use a 6-7cm fluted cookie cutter to stamp out as many shapes as you can, without removing the biscuits. Cover the stamped dough with the other baking parchment sheet and return to the fridge for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure the dough firms up, so it will be easier to remove the cookies before baking.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, then remove the cookies from the stamped dough and arrange on top. Considering you will need to re-roll the dough and chill it in between stamping and moving the biscuits to the lined baking tray, you might want to either wait to bake them all together or use smaller trays and alternate baking with chilling.
  5. Once you are set to bake, pre-heat the oven to 210C.
  6. In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolk and the double cream. Use a knife to create a criss-cross pattern on the cold cookies, then use a brush to cover them in the yolk mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Enjoy!

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Watermelon Cookies

Can you feel it? I definitely can. Summer is coming. Well, it’s definitely taking its time, especially here in the UK, but believe me when I say that at some point it shall be warm. Days are already getting longer and, most surprisingly, we have even had some sunny spells over the last few days. Also, on a more personal (and professional) note, I have recently started working as an interpreting tutor/professor at the same MA I completed 3 years ago at the University of Leeds. I now teach interpreting from and into Italian once a week and I will also be taking part in exams and marking the students’ performances. I have to say, it is a tiring job, but I’m really loving every minute of it! I also made it a personal resolution to bake something for the students each week and not, as you might think, because I want to buy their appreciation but, rather, because you should nourish your body AND your mind. Also, seeing as we only practice for 4 hours on one afternoon, sweet treats provide the necessary sugar boost and distraction to carry on without falling asleep.

Therefore, what better way to celebrate both these wonderful news than with a batch of watermelon cookies? Before you ask, no, they do not taste of watermelon. These are pretty standard vanilla shortbread cookies which are shaped to look like cute watermelon slices. The idea and the recipe come from this video on YouTube, which also details the steps to take in a more visual and interactive way. You will also see my cookies are not as beautifully shaped as the ones in the video even though I followed the recipe word by word. Not sure why that happened, I think maybe brushing the different layers of dough with egg whites before gluing them together would ensure they don’t peel off during baking. Alternatively, make sure your layers adhere well one to the other before you chill them. If you don’t feel comfortable working with food colouring, you can always replace it with natural dyes (beetroot for red and mint for green).

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Ingredients

  • 170g unsalted butter, softened
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • red and green gel food colouring
  • 50g mini chocolate chips

Method

  1. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the extract and thoroughly combine them.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients, then slowly add them to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Remove 1 cup of the dough (I used an actual US cup measuring spoon), then set that aside.
  3. Use the red food colouring (sparingly, I shall add) to tinge the remaining dough, then shape it into a 15cm log. Wrap it in clingfilm, then put it in the fridge to firm up for a good hour.
  4. Now take the reserved dough and divide that in half. Wrap one half in clingfilm and put that in the fridge too. Use the green food colouring to dye the rest of the dough, then warp it and chill it.
  5. When it’s time to assemble the cookie log, take all of the coloured doughs out of the fridge. Roll the white and green ones to 15x16cm rectangles, then wrap them around the red log, starting with the white dough. Make sure to pinch and smooth the seals, then wrap it in clingfilm once more and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line two baking trays with parchment.
  7. Remove the log from the fridge, then use a very sharp and clean knife to cut it into 1cm slices. Cut each slice into halves and there you have your watermelon slices! Press the chocolate chips pointy end downwards into the cookies, then bake each batch for 10 minutes. They will start to puff up towards the end of the baking time. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

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S-Rust-a-fusi

This biscuit recipe is inspired from the ‘scroccafusi’ one, a particular confectionery they make in the Marche region over the Carnival period. Traditionally, these biscuits should be boiled first and only then baked, although there seems to exist different schools of thought on the matter. Also, the name itself, meaning ‘spaccadenti’ (tooth-breakers) is only used in a specific part of the Marche region and, faithful to a wide regional variety, these biscuits have different name within the same area. According to the lore, if a foreigner or a future relative were to enter the kitchen while these biscuits were being made, the lady of the house needed to spit on the floor three times and trace a good luck symbol with her foot to banish the evil spirits.

Needless to say, this is a very personal interpretation of the recipe (and with no saliva spillage involved). Their weird name explains itself by how similar these biscuits are to baby rusts, small dry cakes used in the United Kingdom during the teething period to comfort toddlers. They are dense and yet rewarding, with a subtle almond and caramel taste. Traditionally, these biscuits should have been made with a dash of liquor, possibly Mistrà, a wine and anise liquor typical of the Marche region. The addition of Marsala, a fortified wine, works just as good. Also, quite remarkably, these biscuits do not need any fat or butter at all, which definitely explains their weird texture. They are also very easy to make, so you definitely have no excuses whatsoever.

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Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 230g golden caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp Marsala
  • 5 tbsp ground almonds

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, put the whole eggs and the sugar, then use the paddle attachment to beat them until foamy and increased in volume by at least 1/3.
  2. Slowly add the flour (in two batches), the Marsala and the ground almonds, until your mixture is still liquid, but very dense and thick.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line two (or three) baking trays with parchment.
  4. Fill a bowl with some water and keep it next to you, then regularly wet your hands, let the excess water fall back in the bowl and take nugget-sized chunks of the mixture from the bowl, turning them round in your hands and then putting them on the baking tray. Repeat with the whole mixture. (The water here prevents the mixture from sticking to your hands). Leave some space between the blobs of mixture as the biscuits will expand in the oven.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Please allow me to share with you my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe. It is Nigella’s and not mine, in sheer contrast with all other similar recipes you find around, which chefs inherited from their relatives. The truth is I have always loved chocolate chip cookies but, coming from a non-anglicised background, these biscuits are not part of my culinary heritage. However, I did some research on the topic. The main ingredients which constitute a good chocolate chip cookie are: a good balance between caster and soft brown sugar (for inner chewiness), vanilla extract or seeds, plenty of butter for a nice crisp finish and a good chocolate to make the chips/chunks. Also, a good chocolate chip cookie will traditionally be crisp on the outside and still irresistibly chewy in the middle, a result which is usually achieved by means of a careful bake.

The below recipe works wonders for me. It is easy enough to make and I am still to find someone who does not like it. If you don’t have an ice-cream scoop, you can also use a quarter cup measure or, should you lack that as well, use a standard spoon. I usually manage to get 14 cookies out of this dough.

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Ingredients

  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, fridge-cold
  • 1 egg yolk, fridge-cold
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/s tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 330g dark chocolate chips

Method

  1. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment and pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Put the brown and caster sugar in a bowl together with the butter, then cream the mixture either with a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment or with a wooden spoon. 
  3. Beat in the vanilla, the cold egg and the egg yolk and keep on beating until the mixture is light and creamy.
  4. Slowly mix in the flour and bicarbonate of soda just until blended. The mixture will be stiff enough, so do not be alarmed.
  5. Mix in the chocolate chips by hand.
  6. Scoop the cookie dough using an ice-cream scoop and even it out using a palette knife. Drop the dough dollops onto the prepared baking sheet. Leave some space between the cookies as they will expand.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes in the pre-heated oven or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks.

Tips

  • Much in the same way as most cookie recipes, this one can be slightly tweaked and personalised. I successfully baked a batch of double chocolate chip cookies by substituting 40g of the flour with cocoa powder (so that makes it 40g cocoa powder + 260g plain flour) and by adding 1 tsp milk at the end to loosen the mixture slightly. 
  • The same applies to the chocolate chips: if you prefer, you can use white chocolate or even milk chocolate ones, although I do believe dark chocolate works particularly well in this case.

 

 

Baci di Dama

Here’s a recipe for all those who love cookies but are looking for a new twist on the subject. These are traditional Italian cookies (literally, “Lady’s Kisses”) which are made from hazelnuts (or almonds, according to your taste) and then sandwiched together with some dark chocolate, so that the two halves are “kissing”. Very moreish, we have an Italian expression which goes “uno tira l’altro” (one follows the other one) and which perfectly describes these cookies. When you make them, please make sure you allow plenty of cooling time in the fridge. The first try I gave these turned out to be a complete disaster as the biscuits literally melted in the oven. Erm. The recipe below if from here and it was a roaring success with the people I tested it on.

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Ingredients

  • 140g hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
  • 140g plain flour
  • 100g unsalted butter, cold and diced
  • 100g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped

Method

  1. Toast the hazelnuts in a 160ºC oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they’re a deep golden brown color and the skins are peeling away. Remove from the oven and as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, rub the hazelnuts in a tea towel (or if they’re not too hot, with your hands), until as much of the loose skins come off as possible. Let them cool completely before grinding them up.
  2. Put the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until very fine; they should be the consistency of coarse polenta.
  3. Transfer the ground nuts to a bowl and add the flour. Add the butter, sugar, and salt to the dry ingredients. Use your hands to rub all the ingredients together until the butter is dispersed and completely incorporated. The dough should be very smooth and hold together. If not, knead it until it does.
  4. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece until it’s 2cm round. Try to get them as smooth as possible, with no cracks. If the dough is too long to work with as you roll them out, you can cut the dough at the midway point and work with it in batches.
  5. Chill the dough logs until firm on a small baking sheet or dinner plate lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper. “-3 hours is the recommended time.
  6. Preheat oven to 160ºC and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Working with one length of dough at a time, keeping the others in the refrigerator or freezer, cut off equal-sized pieces using a knife or pastry cutter. The ideal is 5 grams each, if working with a scale. The fastest way to do it is to cut one to the right weight, then hold that one alongside the logs and use it as a template to cut the others. Once you’ve cut a length of dough, roll the pieces into nice little balls and place them on the baking sheet, slightly spaced apart.
  8. Continue cutting the dough and rolling it into little balls. Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during cooking, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Let the cookies cool completely.
  9.  In a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate until smooth. Put a chocolate chip-sized dollop of chocolate on the bottom of one cookie and take another cookie, and sandwich the two halves together.