Adventures in UK baking

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Well, I officially live in Scotland.  That’s not something I ever thought I would say.  Every day it feels a little less like we are on vacation and a little more like we actually live here.  Although our house is still pretty empty.  We have one chair and an odd collection of mostly borrowed kitchen items.  Our stuff landed in the UK this past Friday though!  Now it just has to go through customs and make the relatively short drive up here.  Hopefully it will be less than two weeks now.

I’m getting used to my new kitchen and have been doing a lot of good cooking with my hodgepodge collection of kitchen things.  Things are smaller though.  The oven is more narrow that ones back in the states, and we only have space for an under the counter fridge.  These things I am getting used to.  I think we can make a smaller fridge work, and probably the oven too.  But my oven isn’t marked with the temperatures, not even in Celsius (not that I have any idea yet how those numbers relate to a temperature)!  Instead, it is marked 1-9.  1-9?!  What does this mean?  I mean, I’ve figured it out well enough to roast some vegetables.  But you can kinda estimate on that.  Do I want hot hot, medium hot, or a cooler oven for a longer roast.  Baking though, this is another issue.

After 2 weeks of good cooking I felt confident enough to try baking.  I thought I would stay with chocolate chip cookies, a recipe that I have had memorized since I was about 10.  Except they don’t sell chocolate chips in 12 oz bags.  No, they sell them in tiny 100 gram bags.  That equals about half a cup.  And the butter is not sold by the pound, but in 250 gram blocks.  So out came the kitchen scale (one of my first purchases) and I pulled up a conversion chart on google.  I thought I had it figured out.  I measured and I mixed and I got my cookies all spooned out (albeit on my smaller than usual baking sheet, holding a maximum of 12 small cookies).  Then came the guess about the number to set my oven at.  I had glanced at a site that said gas mark 4 was 350 degrees, so I nudged it just above 4 and hoped that would equal 375.  I checked out the cookies roughly 9 minutes later (they are supposed to cook for 12) and realized something was wrong, despite my efforts.  What I had made, rather than chocolate chip cookies, were chocolate chip crisps.  Thin, brown, and very crisp.  Now, don’t get me wrong, they are delicious.  Much more caramely than my usual cookies.  I think they would be divine for filled cookies, or ice cream sandwiches.  They are also good with tea or coffee.  They just aren’t my tried and true chocolate chip cookies.  So I will have to keep trying with this Scottish baking.

Does this sound like something that you need to eat?  Below is what I made.  Perhaps you’ve got some vanilla ice cream sitting in your glorious full sized freezer that needs to be used up.  I think this (accidentally) Scottish take on the chocolate chip cookie is just the thing you need.  ***Disclaimer – I’m not really sure why my cookies were so flat.  I’m guessing it’s either because the sugar is a bit coarser over here, or the butter has a higher fat content.  To attempt the same result, you might try either sugar in the raw or demera sugar, use a higher grade/higher fat butter, or just add a little more butter***

Chocolate Chip Cookie Crisps

4 oz butter, softened
75 g white sugar
165 g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
145 g flour
2 g (1/2 tsp) baking soda
3 g (1/2 tsp) salt (Only if you used unsalted butter.  Omit salt if using salted butter)
200 g dark chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt if using.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and combine well.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Scoop 1tsp balls (sounds small, but believe me) on to a baking sheet.  Cook in a 350 degree/gas mark 4 oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookies

I find myself baking cookies more often than anything else now because they are so quick.  They are also much easier to give away, which is good because we don’t really need to eat an entire recipe of cookies between two people!  These are some of my favorite cookies.  They come together quickly, don’t require any baking, and can really feed a crowd.  I made a double batch (60+ cookies) and took some to work, sent some to the philosophers, and still had a nice pile at home to eat.

Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookies
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup peanut butter

Combine the sugar, butter, cocoa, and milk in a large pan over medium heat.  Stir until everything is combined and melted.  Bring to a boil for one minute.  Remove from the heat and add the oats, peanut butter, and vanilla. Mix until everything is well combined.

After you mix everything together, you might need to let the mixture sit for a minute or so.  You want it to still be very pliable, but not so much that your cookies are going to run.  While the cookies sit, lay out a long sheet of wax paper on a flat surface.  Using a tablespoon, scoop mounds of the cookie mixture onto the wax paper.  The cookies should set up pretty quickly, but if it’s particularly hot or humid they might need to be helped along a bit by the fridge.

World Peace Cookies

I decided that I should try a new cookie recipe last weekend. Not that cookies ever need a reason, but I wanted to be able to take some baked goods to work on Monday and my philosopher loves cookies of all sorts. Sometimes I forget how lovely cookies are. Not only in terms of deliciousness, but in terms of baking loveliness. They’re so quick, and nicely proportioned, and easy to share. Not to mention they allow me to use my beautiful red kitchen aid mixer, which always adds joy to my life. It’s the little things, you know?

This recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan, by way of Smitten Kitchen. I’m not really familiar with Dorie Greenspan, but I hear her name mentioned a lot by other foodies that I admire, so maybe I will have to invest in one of her cookbooks soon. The story behind the name of these cookies is that Dorie Greenspan decided if everyone could have one of these cookies every day, they would not feel compelled to fight with each other, and thus world peace would ensue. If that story isn’t enough to convince someone to make these cookies, I don’t know what is.

World Peace Cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into bits, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Combine the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together and set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy.  Add both sugars, vanilla, and salt, and mix on medium speed for two minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour mixture, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to keep the flour from flying everywhere, and pulse the mixer at low speed a couple of times, a second or two each time. If the flour is mostly incorporated at this point, remove the towel.  If there is a good bit of flour still left, pulse it a few more times. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added. My dough was very crumbly.

Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. This can be a bit tricky because the dough is crumbly, but just bring it together as much as you can.  Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking, just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.

Slice the chilled logs into 1/2 inch rounds.  The cookies will probably crumble a little as you slice them, but just squish them back together.  Place the cookies about one inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 for 12 minutes.  The cookies will look not quite done, but they will firm up as the sit, so don’t be deceived.

Homemade oreos and an employment update

Well there’s been a lull in my posting here lately, and that is because I got a job!  Woohoo, hiphiphorray, yippee.  It’s definitely nice to have gainful employment again, but between a full-time job and a 1-2 hour commute each way, my cooking time has been severely limited these past few weeks.  I’m not sure what will happen with this blog; I enjoy having it and would like to keep it up, but I can’t promise that will happen.

But for right now, I can tell you that this weekend we hosted a holiday cookie swap party for the philosophers, and it was a huge success.  We now have far too many cookies in our house, but if I take some to work, and Justin takes some to the philosophers I think we can whittle down the numbers pretty quickly.  I made a few kinds of cookies, but the ones I will share with you tonight are homemade oreos from the ever inspiring Smitten Kitchen!  They were so yummy, and a very exciting thing to make from scratch.

Oreos (originally from Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate Wafers
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cups sugar
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

Preheat the over to 375.  Spray two cookie sheets with cooking oil or cover with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Combine first five ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and turn on low.  Mix until well combined.  Slowly add the butter with the mixer on low.  Add the egg last, and mix until well combined.

Scoop out rounded teaspoons of the dough and roll in to balls.  Smoosh each ball with slightly wet fingers in to flat disks.  Cook for 9 minutes, turning the cookie sheet once for even cooking.

Allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two and then remove them to a cooling rack.

Cream Filling
1/2 stick room temperature butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl on an electric mixer, on low, beat together the butter and shortening until combined.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, letting it get totally incorporated each time.  Add the vanilla and beat to combine.  Turn the mixer on high and beat 2-3 minutes until very fluffy.

Load cream filling into a piping bag.  Pipe about 1 teaspoon’s worth of filling on one wafer.  Gently smoosh another wafer on top, squeezing the filling out towards the edges.


Cookies are coming…

to a few lucky ladies in the mail!

I was lucky enough to have a mom who cooked when I was growing up, and who introduced me to cooking and taught me a whole lot.  One of my earliest memories cooking with her was making chocolate chip cookies.  Sometimes she would accidentally ‘spill’ the brown sugar as she measured it, and then I would happily lick my little fingers, dab it up, and eat it.  This may or may not be the reason that I almost always end up with a little bit of a belly ache when I bake today from too much tasting, but that’s another story.

I’ve had this recipe memorized since I was about 12, when  I officially became the chocolate chip cookie maker of the family.  And I still believe that chocolate chip cookies are a little bit magical – they can brighten a day, say thank you, or I love you.  So this week I whipped up a double batch, and turned half in to white chocolate and cranberry cookies, and mailed them to a couple of special ladies.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 sticks butter softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 bag chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar.  Add vanilla and mix well. I usually stop here for a taste or 4.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Set the wet ingredients aside.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until the flour is completely incorporated.  Mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Place mounds of dough on a cookie sheet (roughly 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie), and bake in a 375 degree oven for 12 minutes, until golden on top.

White Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Cookies
Follow the recipe above, except use 1 bag of white chocolate chips instead of the traditional semi-sweet chocolate.  Swap out the 1 cup of walnuts for 1 cup of dried cranberries, coarsely chopped.

I made I sheet of each kind of cookie (with 16 cookies per sheet) and then froze the rest of the dough for later.  I love having cookie dough in the freezer, because you just let it thaw for about 20 minutes and then bake.  It’s great for last minute company, or when you get hit with a sweet tooth.  I wrap it in plastic wrap and then tin foil, and then label the tin foil with a sharpie.

Coconut Macaroons

Here’s another cookie recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  This one is super easy, only requires 4 ingredients, and is fat free.  Pretty hard to beat!

2 egg whites
1]2 t vanilla
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup coconut

Preheat oven to 325 and lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Beat egg whites and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar as you continue to beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Fold in the coconut.

Drop rounded teaspoons (or pipe) on to the cookie sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Cranberry Filled Oatmeal Bars

I may have mentioned that I recently acquired several bags of dried cranberries.  I also may have mentioned that I am currently unemployed and looking for things to occupy my time.  This is an adaption of the first recipe in the cookie section of my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  I’m playing around with the idea of baking my way through the whole section, but we will see.

At first bite I thought they were only ok cookies, but let me tell you, the entire pan was gone in 24 hours!  They were chewy, buttery, caramely, and not too sweet.  The kind of cookie where you figure you better have just a little slice every time you walk by.  And they are healthy (or so I tell myself after my 5th trip)!

Cranberry Orange Filling
3/4 cup water
2 T sugar
2 t cornstarch
1 1/4 cup dried cranberries
Zest and juice from one orange

Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium low heat and simmer until the cranberries are soft and the mixture has thickened.  Allow to cool slightly.

Oatmeal Bars
1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 t baking soda
1 stick butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening*

*Vegetable shortening and butter have about the same amount of fat, but shortening has far less saturated fat and lots of healthy fats.  By using half butter and half shortening you get all the delicious flavor of butter with less saturated fat.  I, of course, used this as an excuse to eat more cookies.

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, and baking soda. Cut in butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture.

Press the rest of the mixture in to the bottom of a baking pan (9 x 9 or 11 x 7). Spread the cranberry filling over top.  Sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup of crumb mixture over the filling

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden on top.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Cut in to bars to serve.