Category Archives: Cookies and Biscuits

Pfefferkuchen

I think I have finally found my cookie.

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I’m spending the day in the kitchen (apart from a small trip out to pick up bread from Small Food Bakery and the last of the groceries for tonight and tomorrow). We are having a small Christmas this year, feasting tonight with friends and planning a relaxed day tomorrow. I am cooking as everyone else is still working (the joy of working in the hospitality industry), but we are gathering this evening to eat and drink which is my family’s tradition and a Spanish one – a happy coincidence.

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I had some of these cookies for breakfast, slightly warm, the icing not quite set yet. I love a spice cookie at this time of year. This is a soft cookie that is slightly crispy at the edges and smells of winter and warmth and spices. It is milder than regular gingerbread cookies and sweetened with honey rather than sugar which adds to its fragrance.

Hope you all have a happy festive time over the next few days with much celebrating, feasting and love.

Pfefferkuchen

(Adapted from a recipe torn from a magazine, sadly I’m not sure which one).

Makes about 24

Cookies:

200g runny honey

100g unsalted butter

grated zest of one lemon

300g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

100g ground almonds

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

pinch of salt

generous grind of black pepper (approximately 1 tsp)

Glaze:

1 egg white

100g icing sugar

Heat the honey, butter and lemon zest in a saucepan until the butter is melted.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir the honey/butter mixture to emulsify and then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate until cold and stiff.

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a baking tray with parchment or a silpat mat.

Using a teaspoon to break up the dough, roll the dough into small balls (about the size of a walnut). Press these onto the baking tray, flattening the balls so that the edges crack a little.

Bake for 12 minutes. Check the cookies. If they have puffed up, flatten them down again and bake for a further 2 minutes, turning the tray around to get an even bake.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack completely before icing.

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To make the glaze, whisk the egg white and icing sugar together until smooth. Paint this onto the cookie tops using a pastry brush. Leave the icing to set. Store in an airtight container. They will keep for 5 days, although I doubt they’ll last that long.

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Chocolate Peanut Cookies (and a reading list)

In recent weeks, what with the fall in outside temperatures and the grey skies, I have been incredibly homely and ever so slightly anti-social. In this, what I like to call the adjusting to winter phase, I tend to hole up at home, mostly in comfy sweaters, reading (or binge watching Homeland on Netflix), listening to things on audio (books and podcasts) and baking. A lot of baking. I find it incredibly satisfying to be able to both bake and read simultaneously – something made possible by my conversion to audio books.

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This Sunday, for example, I not only made the peanut cookies that are the actual focus of this post but also some banana bread with cacao nibs (for midweek 4pm snacks), and a peanut and pretzel brittle that, OMG, I should really learn to un-make because it is amazing, all whilst listening to The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. (I basically got to that point where I-had-to-know-what-happened and therefore could not stop listening). I took the brittle to netball, as a post-game treat, and it went down a storm. Andrés berated me on Monday for leaving him at home alone (he was on a day off) with the brittle, which was significantly reduced by the time I got home. More on the brittle soon. Here is a teaser in the meantime.

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But peanut cookies. There are loads, mountains really, of recipes related to all things peanut butter and I certainly forget that the humble peanut comes in other forms (roasted and salted is my preference, or covered in caramel or even better, chocolate). Sometimes I want a cookie that tastes more like peanut and less like peanut butter. It’s not often, but it does happen. And so these cookies. They’re inspired by a recipe in Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III. I aspire to write like Nigel does – simply and yet convincingly.

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Just the other day, after a walk up the hill to buy bread (from Small Food Bakery), passing trees of red, gold, burnt orange, the last occasional shades of green, the cloud came back in, low and dense in the sky, and I found myself in my bright kitchen, making lazy roast vegetable soup (as a vehicle for bread) and thinking I should write it all down – not only the cooking but the feeling bit, the descriptions of ordinary days that are fascinating to read, reflections on the weather, the state of a garden, a meal eaten out. And then I got distracted and I haven’t done so. But I think it might turn into something soon.

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Reading The Kitchen Diaries reminded me that there is nothing more pleasurable than a simple meal – steak cooked just-so with salad, soup with bread (slathered in butter), roast chicken with root vegetables, potatoes cooked in various ways, a pork chop and a side of coleslaw. In my autumn cleaning of unread magazines and newspapers, I came across an article by Christopher Hirst in an old Independent on Sunday. The article detailed how recipes with fewer ingredients, seasonal highlights and simpler techniques had increasingly become Hirst’s recipes of choice. As much as I love a 22-ingredient, multi-step, equipment-heavy recipe (Hirst uses the example of Heston’s black forest gateaux), of late I have been far more inclined towards simple dishes and even simple desserts – four ingredient chocolate mousse, salted caramel, simple cookies. Nigel has a way of capturing that simplicity of eating in a few lines that make even the simplest of meals seem elegant.

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My late grandmother, Alaire, bought me the first of Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries when I finished cookery school and it seemed like a happy coincidence that this third iteration was the book I chose (without conscious thought) as a post-viva reward gift to self. The Kitchen Diaries was the first cookbook I ever read like a novel – I am usually more of a dipper than a full-blown immersion reader of cookbooks but The Kitchen Diaries broke that rule and I have been reading III in much the same way: slowly, from cover to cover. I think the message in The Kitchen Diaries is similar to that found in the writing of Alice Waters: good food, simply cooked is a gift. One to be shared and to take time over, even on a messy, stressed-out weekday evening in midwinter. Oh to cook like that – with a sense of purpose – more often!

These cookies (which I have made twice in as many weeks) are simple cookies. Very little fanfare or excess. And yes, I have tarted them up slightly (with the addition of chocolate chips) to resemble a more glamorous counterpart but mostly they’re just goooood. I suspect they would be fantastic dipped in caramel. I had plans to half coat them in dark chocolate but they were gone before I could even begin to contemplate that. Just saying.

Peanut Cookies

Inspired by the hazelnut cookies in The Kitchen Diaries III

120g roasted peanuts

100g smooth peanut butter

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

50g light brown sugar

50g maple syrup

250g plain flour

100g dark or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Blitz the peanuts to a course meal in a blender/grinder. You want something not particularly fine but with no visibly large peanuts left. Set this aside.

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Cream the butter, peanut butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and fluffy.

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Weigh the flour into a separate bowl. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and chocolate chips followed by the peanuts. Bring the mixture together with your hands into a not quite entirely crumbly mess. Turn this out onto a clean surface and knead lightly into a dough.

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Form/roll into a log shape. Spread clingfilm across a flat, clean surface and transfer the log onto the clingfilm. Roll up the dough in the clingfilm and twist the ends. Refrigerate for an hour.

Slice the dough into rounds and bake on your baking sheet for approximately 12 minutes. The cookies should move if you push them with your thumb – that is how to test they are done. They will also be nicely golden. If they don’t move or are quite resistant to your thumb, let them cook for a few more minutes. Leave to cool on a tray before eating.

Reading List

As I said above, I listed to The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith over the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed this article that outlines Nigella’s life through the meals she has eaten. I like to think that this blog will become a record of the various meals of my life.

I started to reread Wuthering Heights over the weekend. Nothing like a cold fog to transport you to the moors and some dark gothic novels.

One of my favourite bloggers – Rachel Roddy – now has a weekly column in The Guardian Cook. I am unreasonably excited about this and want to try this broccoli ripassati soon.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may be aware of my slight obsession with tiny dogs. Not actually teeny tiny dogs but terrier-sized ones. I have been known to embarrass my companions by trying to befriend them in the street or pointing them out and squeaking in a high-pitched voice. (I am aware that it is awkward. I simply cannot help myself.) At some point in the near future, I will actually get my own dog (the Pixilene having firmly shifted her allegiance to my mother) and then I will probably be less embarrassing in public. In the meantime, I love the sound of books like this one – a tribute and compendium of dogs known over the years.

Also, this blog. I intend to search for her book in a bookshop in London tomorrow – I am down on a research day but have hours to kill (and a sister to see hopefully) before my train.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ah. The chocolate chip cookie. Has anyone else been on a quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie? I have, and I began to wonder what that means about me, as a subject and citizen in a world where thinness is the highest form of being. I thought, for fun, (and to stretch my brain a little), I could try and understand this quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie using Foucault.

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Foucault was concerned with subject formation – how we become self-disciplining citizens – and so, to a certain extent, the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie is a form of resistance to current debates within food and nutrition discourses that are focussed on eating for health purposes. Subjects are constructed through the relations of knowledge and power. Knowledge of food and nutrition currently suggests that we eat for health purposes, so as to avoid getting fat. Such knowledge promotes the consumption of fruit and vegetables, whole-grains and lean proteins. If we eat such foods, we will remain healthy, and ultimately, not become a burden on our societies or government funds. Populations are taught what to eat through public awareness campaigns, schooling and labelling. Therefore, what we chose to eat is, to a certain extent, constructed by society.

There is a long history in Western societies of food and pleasure and the need to quell any pleasurable associations of food and eating. By disassociating food and pleasure and linking food to health, we, as subjects, are required to construct ourselves with concern for the ‘proper’ way of eating – that is, to limit consumption of certain foods, maintain a ‘healthy’ weight, and ultimately, to not become a burden on society. This can be seen through popular TV shows that shame fat people and encourage them to be thinner, campaigns in schools that measure BMIs, and growing concern that we are not eating enough ‘fresh’ foods, made from scratch, around the table.

Those of us who promote the consumption of butter and sugar are engaging with a discourse of pleasure – that food and eating should be pleasurable, it should give you joy. Such an idea is a form of resistance to the healthy foods, health weight ideas described above – to such discourses, food is not about pleasure, it is about health. Through the production and consumption of the chocolate chip cookie we are engaging in a form of resistance to the formation of ourselves as healthy subjects. We are (possibly) also introducing the idea that food need not be about health, that it can be about pleasure, enjoyment, memory, conviviality and taste too. The quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie is therefore also a quest to stretch the boundaries of acceptable food behaviours…

The chocolate chip cookie is said to have been invented by Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House restaurant in Massachusetts, in the 1930s. In 1939, Nestle purchased the rights to the cookie from Ruth as well as the Toll House name and so, the Toll House chocolate chip cookie was born. You could say the world has never been the same since…

In an article in The New York Times, David Leite ponders the debates that surround the perfect cookie. The first is at what temperature the cookie should be served. This may seem slightly bizarre – surely the cookie is served when it has cooled? But actually, the best cookies are served still slightly warm from the oven. Pastry shops and bakeries have various techniques to achieve this warmth. It is also hugely important, in chocolate chip cookie discourse, to have a soft centre but a crispy edge. This is achieved through scrupulous baking times – both in the oven and cooling on the trays. The third important step in achieving the perfect cookie is to chill the dough. This is particularly important with these cookies, as you will brown all the butter and so to even roll the dough into portions, chilling time is necessary. Finally, you want the cookies perfectly golden brown, almost perfectly rounded and the chocolate needs to be slightly melted when you eat it. Achieving all of this in a single cookie is a big ask. But the pleasure that is gained is pure happiness so it’s worth the effort.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Little Loaf Blog
190g unsalted butter
120g golden caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
80g dark brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk
225g rice flour or buckwheat flour or a combination of both
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
100g each of dark, milk and white chocolate chips

First of all brown the butter. All of it, in a saucepan on the stove. This takes up to twenty minutes and basically entails melting the butter over a medium heat and then cooking it (it will bubble and splutter quite violently at various points) until it turns brown and begins to smell nutty. Watch it carefully here – you want it a dark-ish golden brown but not black (which will mean it is burnt and you have to start over.)

Set the butter aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the three sugars, breaking up any lumps. Pour the slightly cooled butter onto the sugar and mix until smooth.

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Then add in the egg and yolk, followed by the flour, baking soda and pinch of salt.

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Roughly chop the three different chocolates. Use any combination up to 300g-worth. Add this into the batter/dough.

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Mix everything until the chocolate is well-combined into the dough.

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Now you have to exercise some self-control and chill the dough for 24 hours at least – I usually just clingfilm the bowl and store it on a shelf in my fridge. This resting time allows the butter and egg to be absorbed into the flour and ultimately will give you a better cookie.

Once the 24 hours are up, roll the dough into balls – I use a teaspoon to extract the dough. I normally roll all the dough (it makes approximately 30-40 balls, depending on size) and then freeze the ones that I don’t want to bake immediately. This way you always have emergency cookie dough. Because who doesn’t need emergency cookie dough right?!

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Place the ones you want to bake on a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 170C. Once the oven is hot enough, bake them for 10 minutes. Turn the tray around and bake for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the tray for 2 minutes. Then slide them off the baking sheet and allow them to cool slightly before devouring en masse.

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Enjoy with the knowledge that eating the chocolate chip cookie is a form of resistance…

Shortbread Christmas Trees

The mothership arrived in London today. She is here to spend Christmas with me and the Princess. I am, naturally, baking things in preparation for a week of festivities next week. There are also meetings and various people I’d like to give something too, if only an edible token of appreciation, and so I have spent most of this morning in the kitchen, and not at my desk where the essay writing is piling up fast. No matter, I will deal with that this evening, when it is too dark to take good photographs. I am feeling surprisingly festive this year. It’s my first in Nottingham since moving here three years ago (!!!) and my first in a space I can realistically have guests and people to stay. So I am embracing all the lights and trees and baking. (I also finished up my wreath this morning, drying some orange slices in the oven. It’s a lavender, rosemary and bay leaf wreath – all the materials came from the community garden! And it is now hanging on my front door, looking pretty.)

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So these shortbreads. I first learnt to make them when I worked at Gleneagles. They are the pastry chef, Neil Mugg’s, recipe and he got it from his grandmother. So this is something like a 100 year old Scottish shortbread recipe. I love it. Since working with Neil I have never used another recipe and it is adaptable if you’d like to make it gluten-free*. Today I made just plain vanilla trees, but you can add in ingredients like pistachios, lavender or chocolate chips if you like. I’m a fan of the simplicity of the vanilla version, but feel free to adapt it. The quantities are scalable up or down – we used to make it in the hotel using between one and five kilograms of flour at a time, today I used the quantities below, just 250 grams of flour. This amount made 22 Christmas trees and 19 stars (of various sizes). I also changed up the method for this recipe. We used to blitz everything together all at once but I prefer to cream the butter and sugar together first.

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Things to note: this is shortbread which means that the dough is ‘short’. It can be difficult to work with and so refrigerating it is fairly necessary. If you’d prefer not to roll the dough out and cut out shapes, you can press it into a square or round baking tin and bake it like that. You need to then cut slices when it is still warm from the oven. I often just pat the dough down to the required thickness, and then roll it smooth with a rolling pin. Try not to overwork the dough!

Shortbread
From Neil Mugg’s recipe
250g butter, softened
125g icing sugar
125g cornflour
250g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla
caster sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 160C and line two trays with baking paper. (This makes a fair amount of cookies and so you’ll probably need to bake in rotation. I used four trays altogether.)

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In a bowl, sift the icing sugar onto the softened butter. Beat this, using a handheld beater (or in your standing mixer, if you have such a luxury), until bright white and fluffy.

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Add in the vanilla, beating to combine and then add in the cornflour and plain flour. Use the beater to beat until the dough starts to come together.

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Turn this out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough lightly. Roll into a ball, flatten and clingfilm. Refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2 to 3/4cm thick. Cut shapes and place these on the lined baking trays.

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Bake for approximately 20 minutes. I think traditionally, shortbreads were cooked so that they had no colour but I like mine ever so slightly golden. The shortbreads are done if you can move them along the baking sheet with your thumb. Remove them from the oven and sprinkle with caster sugar whilst they are still warm. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Enjoy with friends. And tea.

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*For the gluten-free version, substitute the flour with 125g rice flour and 125g ground almonds. The texture is slightly different due to the almonds.

Gingerbread Reindeer and Stained Glass Stars

I am combatting the current freeze by keeping busy in the kitchen with warming spices and the oven almost permanently on. I said in the last post that I was embracing Christmas in a big way this year and so, in-between various writing assignments I have been making gingerbread reindeer and some stained glass stars that can be hung on the tree (if you remember to poke holes in them when they come out of the oven – I forgot for one tray, so they’re just pretty star cookies, rather than decorations.)

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These cookies are surprisingly addictive. I had several with tea this afternoon. They also make great gifts, if you know people who appreciate a good cookie. And they make your kitchen smell heavenly.

It’s a fairly simple melt-and-mix method that I adapted from The Primrose Bakery Book. You can ice the stars and reindeer if you like. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to yet. I quite like the plain biscuits but I suppose that iced ones will add to the festive cheer. And you can obviously make any shape that takes your fancy. I’m rather enamoured with the reindeer cutter as I bought it in Finland two Christmases ago and haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet. (I’ve started to buy obscure cookie cutters from places I visit. I have a Moomin one from the same trip too. I need someone to have a Moomin themed birthday so I can use it. And a friend bought me one of a church in Austria that I also haven’t had cause to use yet. So many shaped biscuit options!)

I like this recipe because it is reminiscent of actual gingerbread and not simply some ground ginger and cinnamon added in to a basic cookie mixture. There are cloves, nutmeg and orange zest too. And it uses both golden syrup and black treacle. For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I get a small thrill every time I open these tins to bake something. I suspect it has to do with my cousin Tim always referring to golden syrup simply as “the tin with the lion on it” and I get a whiff of nostalgia for our summer Christmases on the farm whenever I think of it.

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Gingerbread Reindeer (and Stars)

Adapted from The Primrose Bakery Book

75g soft light brown sugar

50g golden syrup

2 tbsp black treacle

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground gloves

1/4 tsp nutmeg

zest of 1/2 a small orange

100g unsalted butter

225g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

(If you’re making stained glass stars, you’ll need approximately 5-8 hard boiled sweets, smashed to smithereens.)

Place the sugar, golden syrup, black treacle, spices, zest and butter into a saucepan.

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Heat over a medium heat until the butter and sugar have melted and emulsified.

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Off the heat, add in the flour and bicarb.

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Stir until the flour is incorporated into the butter mixture.

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Turn the dough out and wrap in clingfilm. It’ll be incredibly soft and slightly warm, so work carefully. I like to make it fairly flat, so that it’s less work to roll out later.

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Refrigerate for an hour. Preheat the oven to 180C. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/2cm thick. Using cookie cutters, cut shapes of your choosing.

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For stained glass stars, use the largest star cutter to cut the main star, then use the smallest star cutter (of the same set) to get a star inside the first one.

Gently place your cookies onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. If you’re making stained glass stars, fill the middle of each star with the bashed up boiled sweets.

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Leave a few centimetres of space around each cookie. Bake for 5 – 10 minutes, depending on the cookie size. When the cookies are slightly browned, try and move them along the tray with your thumb. If the cookies move, they are done and can be removed from the oven. Let them cool for 2 minutes on the trays before sliding them off, still on the baking paper, to cool completely on your counter-top. If you’ve made stars, use the top of a small piping nozzle or a knife to cut holes in the top of each star whilst they are still warm and slightly soft. Once they’re completely cool, thread through some festive ribbon and attach to your tree.

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Chocolate Fudge Biscuits

The last of my grandmothers passed away this last weekend. She had been unwell and very frail for a while, but there is somehow still a void now that she is actually gone. I haven’t lived in the same city as her for some years now, and have visited only intermittently. We communicated via postcards I sent and phone calls she made. We grew apart as I grew up – she belonging to an old world of rules that I could never quite understand, a prim-and-properness that I fought against. The year I spent at chef school is probably the most I saw her in my adult life. We talked a lot about food that year – a common ground we both understood and liked.

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I went to visit her a few weeks ago. She was mostly bed-ridden and moved in and out of consciousness so that conversation was difficult. In that time my aunt realised that my grandmother never wrote down any of her recipes. She was looking for this recipe for chocolate fudge biscuits as she didn’t have it and it is a family staple. My grandmother would remember parts of it but then drift off somewhere else. My aunt eventually got the recipe almost right. In our foraging attempts to find a copy we found a hand-written recipe journal that belonged to my great-grandmother (and namesake) but very little of my grandmother’s actual recipes – things written from Jamie or Nigella which are perfectly accessible anyway.

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I always remember those years, as a child, when we spent Christmas in Cape Town. Her tiny kitchen was always filled to the brim with polystyrene trays filled with pink and white coconut ice, golden crunchies, and these dark chocolate fudge biscuits. She gave them away to people and there was always a large supply for the family. She must’ve been obsessed with coconut because all three recipes are heavy with the stuff. Now, we all know that coconut is one of my least favourite flavours but this week, I found myself craving the taste of one of her chocolate fudge biscuits. And whilst she did not write anything down (she made everything from memory it seems), my mother has the recipe amongst her collection. (Apparently she asked my grandmother for it when we were small children.) For me, these biscuits are a reminder of Christmas in Cape Town. And of a specific (and yet I cannot remember the details) road trip my father and I took one year, where we drove from Cape Town (I assume to Johannesburg) with a white ice-cream tub full of these biscuits that she had made for him.

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Chocolate Fudge Biscuits

For the biscuits:
2 cups plain flour
pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp caster sugar
6 tbsp desiccated coconut
2 tbsp cocoa
250g unsalted butter

For the icing:
1 heaped tbsp cocoa
hot water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp butter
125g icing sugar

Grease and line a 33cm x 25cm x 2cm rectangular tin. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place all the ingredients for the biscuits except the butter in a bowl.

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Melt the butter. Pour the melted butter into the dry ingredients and stir until all combined.

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Press the mixture into the baking tin, making sure it is evenly spread.

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Bake for 20 minutes – the biscuits should be firm but soft.

Whilst the biscuits are baking, make the icing.

Put the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Add in a teaspoon of hot water at a time, until you have a fairly thick paste. Let this cool slightly. Add in the butter and vanilla, followed by the icing sugar. (Sift this in to prevent lumps.) Stir until smooth.

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Once the biscuits are out, allow them to cool for 5 minutes. Then ice whilst they are still warm. Slice them into squares and leave them to cool completely.

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cookNscribble

So, the whole reason that I am in upstate New York with minimal phone signal and hardly any wifi is because I am interning with cookNscribble. cookNscribble is an online food writing community that also runs a food scholars programme in Rensselaerville in the summer, which is where I am currently living. The town looks thus:

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The scholars arrive in August and until then, I am busy helping with prep work to get the kitchen(s) in working order so things are not all chaos and confusion when there are many people to feed. We’ve been working across three different sites, the kitchens of which all have their own quirks. At one site, for example, the ovens heat only from below. At another, there are no working ovens at the moment. At the third, there are hardly any storage shelves so we have to be ridiculously clever with boxes and stacking. And feng shui-ing the fridge. (Oh for a walk-in one!)

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I’ve been baking a lot of cake. And cookies. And pie.

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I’ve made a fair few staff meals.

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And I have made a lot of granola. (More on that experience another time.)

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It’s basically five weeks of anti-thesis work. Almost all practical, with some blog posts thrown in for diversity. Unfortunately I have to leave before the scholars programme ends – that pesky thesis needs rewriting and I have to move house at the end of August – but I will be cooking for them for the first week that they’re here. So far it has been hard work – I’d forgotten how exhausting it is being on your feet, running about a kitchen all day long – but it’s not all work. When things get too much, there is this swimming hole:

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More stories (and recipes) will follow soon!