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Sunday 8 February 2015

Delicious Failure: Makin' Cookies...

It has been absolutely ages since I did any significant cooking, but I fancied doing something special to take over to my parents' place for Christmas and, when I posed the question of what they might like, the first suggestion was a simple enough proposition that I didn't immediately regret making the offer: cookies.

A friend of mine has a recipe for something she calls 'cardiac cookies' (so named because they are potential heart attacks on a plate), in which small chunks of Snickers bars are wrapped in cookie dough and then baked. The list of ingredients is broadly similar to an average cookie recipe except for the addition of a half cup of golden syrup. I showed this recipe to my girlfriend and watched as panic, then horror worked their way around her face.

"Isn't there a bit too much sugar?" she enquired, nervously. "But, surely, that's the whole point!" retorted I in a jovial tone. Nevertheless, she remained uneasy...

A quick web search turned up several different options, the most likely of which was Millie's Cookies recipe, courtesy of the BBC Good Food website. It's a very simple recipe and cooks - according to their instructions - in about 10 minutes. That sounded just about perfect, but the recipe was a basic chocolate chip cookie, and I wanted something a bit more Christmassy.

The obvious option was white chocolate and cranberry (because why not shoehorn in "one of your five-a-day" into such a wholesome snack? There was a better than average chance my niece was going to have at least one, and she already has heart troubles), with a little extra something sprinkled on top. This 'something extra' was to be decided upon while browsing the Baking section of the local Morrisons (scene of many of my more whimsical purchases) and ended up being little white chocolate stars.

I also made one tiny addition to the ingredients, in the form of about a half teaspoon of cinnamon for this first batch of cookies, so I'll list all the ingredients just for convenience.

Cookies Attempt 1: The Christmas Sugar Rush

  • 225g Self-Raising Flour
  • 125g Softened Butter (either leave it out of the fridge for a few hours or just microwave it - coincidentally, I did that in a dream recently, and seemed to think it went rather well...)
  • 125g Caster Sugar
  • 100g Dark Brown Soft Sugar (the original recipe actually calls for light brown, but I had some Tate & Lyle Fairtrade stuff in my cupboard)
  • 100g White Chocolate Chips
  • 100g Dried Cranberries
  • 1 Egg
  • 1tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2tsp Salt
  • 1/2tsp Cinnamon (not required, but certainly adds to the flavour!)
  • White Chocolate Stars (sufficient to scatter artistically atop the cooling cookies)
Preparation Time: about 10-30 minutes to mix it all up (depending largely on the state of the butter and the strength of your wrists!), then about 10 minutes to cook, allegedly...

Tools Required:
  • 1 Large Bowl, for mixing everything
  • 1 Small Bowl, for combining the flour, salt and - if you're using it - cinnamon
  • 1 Teacup, in which to beat the egg
  • 1 Sieve
  • 1 Baking Tray or Biscuit Tray
  • Greaseproof Paper (to line the tray)
  • Mixing Implement of Choice
The Process:
As is often the case, it's wise to pre-heat the oven - about 180ºC for a fan assisted oven should be perfect - though you may want to leave it till the dough is ready to be separated into chunks as mixing it can take longer than the average oven these days takes to warm up.

Dump the two lots of sugar and the softened butter into your bowl and mix them up till you have a thick paste. I gather this is called 'creaming'. The first time we made cookies, my girlfriend did the lion's share as my wrists - weakened as they are by a deskbound day job - just could not cope. For the second set of cookies, I set to work while my girlfriend was out, and had to do it in several stages. Once 'creamed', lightly beat the egg and add it into the bowl along with the vanilla extract, mixing in thoroughly.

In another bowl, add the salt and cinnamon to the flour, then sift this melange into the main bowl via the sieve, mixing it all into what will become delicious cookie dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

No, really, do try. Have patience: the cookies really are worth the wait.

Once the dough is sorted, add in the chocolate chips and dried cranberries, mixing them in as thoroughly as possible, considering the dough is pretty darned tough. Divide the dough up into about twelve parts and lay them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. The original recipe claims that 7 minutes will be enough for the 'soft, doughy cookie' experience, while 10 minutes will just start to make them crisp around the edges. In the real world, it just comes down to how long you can bear to postpone the inevitable guzzling of your home-baked wonder-cookies.

Remove the baking tray from the oven then scatter the white chocolate stars over the top while the cookies are hot enough to soften the chocolate sufficiently that they adhere, but not so hot they just turn into vaguely star-shaped puddles of white chocolate, then leave to cool on the tray for a minute or so. Finally, transfer to a wire rack to cool fully. Or just eat them warm. It's your call.

The Results:
Sadly I didn't think to photograph this set of cookies, but they turned out rather well. Considering how large the chunks of dough ended up (far larger than 'walnut size', I can tell you!) they didn't merge into one ginormous, tray-sized Mega-Cookie, even though they flattened out nicely. Weirdly, I think they ended up in the oven for a little over ten minutes, but they remained soft and moist.

The addition of cinnamon gave them a slightly more Christmassy feel, and the white chocolate and cranberries complemented each other well. I think I delayed rather too long in adding the white chocolate stars over the top, as they tended to fall off rather easily, but the cookies went down well with my family. In fact, I left them over there, as my sister wanted to take some home with her.

Cookies Attempt 2: I Can See Rainbows...

This second set is a bit more recent - just yesterday, in fact. I'd been wanting to take another swing at making cookies ever since Christmas and, this time, wanted to do it all myself rather than wimping out and letting my girlfriend deal with most of it. Rather than just repeat exactly the same process, though, I wanted to try something else as the 'added ingredient'...

The same as above, except:
  • Forgot to add the cinnamon, damnit!
  • Used Skittles instead of white chocolate chips and cranberries
  • No white chocolate stars
Preparation Time: Far too long because I'm so out of practice in mixing things, even though the butter had been out for about 5 hours or so by the time I remembered I wanted to make cookies. 10 minutes in the oven.

Tools Required:
As above!

The Process:
Creaming the sugars actually got quite painful because it's been so long since I did anything like this... and, honestly, the last time I made meringue, I used an electric whisk. Since I spend most of my days with my hands poised over a keyboard and/or mouse, I'm afraid my wrists are wasting away.

Nevertheless, doing a little creaming punctuated by short breaks where I stifled cries of agony, I eventually managed to get to the stage of adding the egg and vanilla, and then the sifting-in of the flour and salt. As mentioned above, I forgot about the cinnamon until the dough was complete, which was pretty annoying. Ho hum.

My original thought had been to add little chunks of caramel or something similar but, while in Morrisons, my eyes alighted upon the bags of sweets in their confectionary aisle and, while I couldn't find caramel, I was intrigued by the possibility of adding Skittles to cookies. It may sound strange - and certainly my girlfriend cautioned against it - but if one can add Smarties/M&Ms to cookies, one can certainly add Skittles... and I had to increase the sugar content somehow, right? I didn't want my cookies, made entirely with my own hands, to be bland, did I?

So I dumped in about half a (174g) bag and mixed them in, then divided the dough into twelve more-or-less equal chunks, and placed them on the greaseproof paper-lined baking tray, as before. I set the kitchen timer for ten minutes and slammed the tray into the oven, planning to check in on the cookies at the seven minute mark.

Annoyingly, before even that point, they had spread and merged together, but still seemed far too soft to bring out of the oven. By the time the timer's alarm went off, the cookies were all golden around the edges, and one was even starting to look a little burnt in one corner.

The Results:
What I probably should have done was give the tray a half-turn, then put it back in for another 7 minutes or so, because the cookies I made all by myself were a little bit too moist and doughy at the end. They also adhered to the greaseproof paper rather too well, so they basically all broke as they were pulled off.

The lack in cinnamon didn't have too detrimental an effect on the flavour of the cookies - in fact, the fruity flavour of the Skittles managed to fool my girlfriend into thinking the cinnamon was in there. It didn't work quite as well for me, but they were certainly very tasty... if a little bland compared to the Christmas cookies.

I did manage to get photos of these, but only after my girlfriend and I had sampled some:

The day after I made these, they'd more or less reached the stage of behaving like proper cookies, though they still only reluctantly parted from the greaseproof paper.

And, yes, Skittles cookies are the Breakfast of Champions.