Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

A restful holiday break has come and gone, but cookies and hot drinks in the winter are here to stay.

Oxford in the winter is still a sight for sore eyes after a hot Singapore break

As of right now, these are the only cookies I (and you) need. Butter slowly browned on the stovetop, mixed with brown sugar, egg, and just enough dry ingredients to hold the flavour together. No exceptions for using light brown sugar; you need something dense enough for mild treacly essence but which won’t distract from the brown butter, and the soft sandiness of light brown sugar does the trick.

I made these at least 5 times already both here and in Singapore. Gone-in-the-hour type cookies. Brought them for a friend’s birthday and they were scoffed in no time, too. The secret really lies in the brown butter, so make sure to melt the butter low and slow for ultimate flavour and texture.

Behind the scenes of trial 1: squish
Slight inspiration for the cookies: Gail’s ginormous chocolate chip cookies

(And yes, I prefer these cookies to Gail’s ones). So incredibly soft, chewy and delicate on the inside, with a cracked top. Chocolate all the way through, too. 100g is enough but go for 150g if you’re the sort who needs plenty in every bite.

Brown butter chocolate chip cookies (makes 6-7 medium cookies)

Ingredients

150g butter

1/2 tsp fine salt

200g light brown sugar

1 egg

170g plain, all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

extra coarse salt (for sprinkling at the end)

Directions

First, preheat your oven to 180C(350F) and line two medium baking pans with baking parchment. In a large saucepan, melt the butter on low-medium heat until the butter starts to pop and sizzle and you can see the light-coloured milk solids separate from the brown liquid. You know you are done browning the butter when you can smell something skin to mildly burnt toffee. Turn off the heat and let the butter cool for 5 minutes in the pan before pouring it into a large bowl together with the light brown sugar. Whisk the brown butter and sugar together well, you should have something that looks like wet sand. Add the egg and whisk it in too, with the half teaspoon of fine salt, until everything is well homogenised and smooth.

Finally, tip in the flour, baking powder and chopped dark chocolate. Use a large spoon or rubber spatula to fold the dry into the wet ingredients and mix well until there are no dry floury spots left. You should have a relatively thick batter which still drops easily from the spoon with a strong flick of the wrist. Take heaped tablespoonfuls of the batter and put onto the prepared baking tray. No need to flatten the cookies, as they will flatten and spread quite a bit during the bake time. Space the cookies out so that there is at least 2 inches of space in between the cookies. Bake for 10 minutes and let them cool for at least 5 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Once they are done baking, sprinkle on some coarse salt (I use Maldon) on each cookie. Finally, apply generously to face!

Lemon Olive Oil Cake (one-bowl)

It started with a birthday. It had to be done: something simple and stress-free. This cake post has been in the works for a while, not because it necessarily needed a lot of tweaking, but more due to the fact that I haven’t taken a picture of my actual, circular cake yet, and went straight to going crazy with the blondie version, which this cake seamless transforms into. I have made olive oil cakes before, but the combination of the zing-zang-pop of tart lemons, and many glugs of heady liquid fat, is special.

I know, you’ll be standing there in your kitchen, pouring all that quality oil into your bowl, thinking, what a waste! But no! No. In the parlance of Zadie Smith’s stance on love and relationships, it hurts as much as it’s worth.

The beauty of these one-bowl recipes, as usual, lie in their ease and grace. You simply mix together the wet ingredients first, then tip in the dry, then you sprinkle on some granulated sugar before baking to get this beautiful golden, crackly top once it is finished baking in the oven.

As pictured below, I reveal to you a more behind the scenes shot of recipe testing, which included plenty of char, which I don’t mind but is not particularly photogenic. Nevertheless, it was just as sublime, darkness and all.

My friends being the sweet guinea pigs that they are, have been devotees of this simple yellow cake. It has crisp edges and a fudgy middle, so it is pretty much right smack in the middle of being a cake and a blondie. You truly get the best of both worlds. Although the granulated sugar sprinkle at the end of the cake-making process is optional, it’s mostly a must, making for the most delicate crispy crust hugging the top and corners.

Lemon olive oil cake (for one 9-inch cake, serves 8-9)

Ingredients

The juice and rind of 2 lemons

3 eggs

210g (around a little more than a cup) white sugar

1 tsp fine salt

250g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

240ml (1 cup) extra virgin olive oil

3-4 tbsp granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a 9×9-inch square tin or a 9-inch circular baking pan with parchment paper. I recommend using a pan with a removeable bottom, as it makes removing the cake later a piece of cake (haha).

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, lemon juice and rind. Tip the flour and baking powder on top, and use the same whisk to first gently whisk the flour and baking powder that is sitting on top of the liquid batter briefly, then slowly incorporate everything together until you get a nice, homogenous batter. The batter should be yellow and rather liquidy, so it drops easily from your whisk. Pour the batter (and it should be easy to pour) into your prepared pan and sprinkle on the coarse granulated sugar all over the top. You may need slightly more than the quantity described in the ingredients list, according to your taste. Bake for half an hour. Check at the half hour mark with a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the cake; if the skewer emerges with moist crumbs, then remove and let cool for 20 minutes before cutting and serving. Bake for another 10 minutes if the skewer comes out still looking quite wet. The top should have a beautiful and the sides will have darkened slightly. Once the cake is cool, you can dust the top with icing sugar and maybe even some dried lemon slices. Serve with cream or ice cream!

Until next time,

Alex

Tahini Cashew Cookies

For anyone who doesn’t know, I was vegan for almost two years, not too long ago now. During that time, I discovered the versatility of the humble sesame paste. I stopped using it so much after moving to Oxford, but rediscovered how beautifully it blends into bakes just yesterday when I trialled these cookies for a third time. The taste just doesn’t fade, unlike a lot of other things like maple syrup, matcha or honey, of which you can end up using quite a bit of because the flavour is easily lost while baking. Anyway, this cookie…! It got all my flatmates’ seals of approval, much to my surprise, since tahini can very much be a love/hate thing.

The café near me actually does these amazing tahini chocolate cookies, which inspired me to make use of the stuff again. I have done tahini chocolate cookies before, but thought I would do a little twist with another earthy and grounding element- nuts. The result: fabulous. Definitely my favourite bake of June so far.

These cookies are light, chewy, not too sweet, and most importantly, the tahini is the main character of the show.

The only way to eat it

Tahini cashew cookies (makes 8-10 medium cookies)

Ingredients

100g butter, soft and at room temperature

160g white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

100g light tahini

1 egg

150g plain flour (optional: substitute half with whole-wheat flour)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

50g cashews, chopped

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. If you only have aluminium foil that works too, but bake the cookies for 5 minutes shorter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soft butter, sugar and salt. Add the egg and tahini and whisk those in well too.

In a separate bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and chopped cashews, then tip that into the wet mix and use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything together well. The batter should be quite sticky, not dry at all. Take heaped tablespoonfuls of batter and shape them into balls. If you want to get real precise, each medium cookie will be 52g. I did this and the yield was around 10 medium cookies.

Bake for 18 minutes but check at the 15-minute mark to see if the edges have browned slightly; once this has happened remove the tray from the oven and let them cool and set. The insides will be very chewy as they set, the edges nicely browned without being burnt.

Enjoy warm dipped into more tahini or with ice cream on top!

Cottage cheese white chocolate pancakes

I fed these to my three flatmates, all of whom have never had such a pancake before, and I got the green light from all. I’m no stranger to cheese in pancakes. I’ve made them a few times with this recipe, but this one with cottage cheese does stand out somehow, with its simplicity, distinction in flavour, and softness. Oh, so soft!

The curds naturally present in cottage cheese are a result of draining instead of pressing the product. The fact that it’s not aged like most other cheese you consume means it offers a slight, pleasant tag instead of just, well, a pungent cheesy flavour. It’s also very high in protein, which made it quite filling despite how light they turned out.

A lot of recipes I found online blend or process the cottage cheese to get rid of the curds, but I refused to dirty another appliance, and ended up really liking the bits of curd in there, which went wonderfully with the melting pockets of white chocolate. There is also hardly if any flour in there, which concentrates the flavour of the pancake and keeps them extremely light.

Serve these with more butter and honey/ maple syrup and your Saturday is so sorted.

Cottage cheese white chocolate pancakes (makes 6-8 medium pancakes)

Ingredients

250g (one tub) cottage cheese

2 tbsp sugar

2 eggs

50g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

30-40g (large handful) white chocolate, chopped

30g (2 tbsp) melted butter, plus some extra for cooking on the pan

Directions

In a bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, eggs and sugar well. Leave the lumps, you want them for both texture and flavour. Then fold in the flour, baking powder and white chocolate with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Finally, add the melted butter. Whisk until everything is well incorporated. Add a pat of butter to your pan, then put your pan on medium heat and wait for the butter to completely melt. Add 1/4 cup of heaping tablespoons of the batter to the pan and let them cook for at least 2 minutes on the bottom side before flipping. The pancakes tend to look prettier as you go on cooking, the first ones usually aren’t as glamorous. These take slightly longer than normal pancakes to cook, so be patient. The second side will take about a minute to cook.

Enjoy warm with butter and maple syrup. Yum.

6-month no social media update

To preface, by social media I mean Facebook and Instagram. I still use Whatsapp, Messenger and LinkedIn for work and to contact my friends and family scattered across the globe.

This is not a food or recipe-related post, and I usually put stuff like that in my newsletter (subscription stuck to the top of the blog), but since this habit has well become an important part of how I view creativity and mindfulness, which are the building blocks for the ethos of this blog, I decided to write about it here.

Almost 6 months have passed since I left social media behind. The plan was to quit for 30 days, and see how I felt afterwards. It was a personal challenge, to see if I felt happier, or more productive, or if there was any change at all in my lifestyle, habits and hobbies. After the 30 days, if I wanted to continue posting and engaging, so be it.

So I did just that. I logged in again after a month, and, as nice as it was for the first couple of minutes, the platform truly was not as exciting or stimulating as I thought it would be. It was the same feed, the same people I followed for years, the same content. Yet, my thumb slowed. I felt no compulsion to scroll and scroll, as I was so used to doing. It was the strangest thing, and part of me felt a little sad- why was I not excited by my friends’ updates anymore? Why did I not feel compelled to comment on things which truly engage or excite me? I knew deep down that it was in part due to the fact that I saw anything, happy or sad, posted on social media as rather superficial and sometimes narcissistic, depending on the content. I actually stopped using Facebook ages ago, and never took up Twitter. I used TikTok for a month before getting sick of how its haphazard nature prevented me from focussing on anything more than 2 pages of a book. Tumblr I quit when I was what.. 16? So those are behind me now. It was Instagram, this world of curated beauty, that I used as my main source of creative inspiration, especially since we all tend to eat with our eyes. I therefore thought that I needed it to be more creative, and of course, produce content for people who seemed interested.

Yet, funnily, its lack only spurred my creativity and honed my direction. I fine-tuned the focus of this blog to incorporate a health and wellness initiative, and drew up my little book of balance (found in sidebar), due to my passion for things like gut health and its relationship to mental health. Although the past year has ravaged us all with the pandemic, and made me rather unmotivated and ‘meh’ at times, I had so much more time and energy to put into any academic endeavour. Now, I bake or cook what I want, whenever I want.

Importantly, quitting has made me reevaluate relationships and what it means to be happy. Take my own close relationships, for example. I have a thriving relationship with my fiancée and closest friends, and social media is the last place I need to validate these relationships. I realised, quite late, that some of the happiest people I have met, who have defined what success means in their individual lives, don’t have any social media, or use it sparingly. I’m not saying that there is a definite cause-and-effect relationship between using social media and being happy, but it does have a ripple effect: no social media means loads more time to invest in relationships that you care about, and more time to invest in yourself, which definitely has a fulfilling effect. Now I can play board games, and read all the books I told myself I will read some day, or draw. Back when I actively used Instagram, I would look at those beautiful couples or people and think, wow, they must have everything, and yet there was something in me that felt slightly repulsed, and would even affect me for hours afterwards. It made me question things I was otherwise perfectly happy about, such as my appearance and own relationships. Moreover, I realised that just because you want to post something, does not make it more significant or make other people want to read it.

The thing is, a lot of people have social media, and that’s ok. I just think it takes attention away from personal progression in so many ways, and facilitates some rumination, usually on an unconscious level, about social matters that do not even affect you. True, you are not responsible for anyone’s emotions, and no one is responsible for yours. It is not anyone’s fault that you may feel jealous over their beautiful wedding photos, or adorable first child. But I would rather save myself this rumination or pondering over past happenings, over whether I should have posted something about my friendship fast enough on my story, or whether I should have replied faster to someone, because those simply aren’t in line with who I am, and what I value. I also don’t admire or agree with making money off of purely appearance, because it usually facilitates a lot of physical comparison, yet I found myself reinforcing all my physical insecurities. Further, I don’t derive pleasure from constant social interaction with people, including those who may genuinely be interesting to me, yet I forced myself to reply any praise or greeting immediately. Even when I set myself time limits, I either never stuck to them or found myself frustrated at how I did not get through all the posts I wanted to see. I have no regrets sharing my foodie life on Instagram for years, but the way social media can unconsciously mess up your priorities and how you communicate, and how you value yourself, is something I would rather not engage in.

There have been so many times I would come home from school or work late, and I thought, well, now I can enjoy mindlessly scrolling through Instagram because I deserve it. But I never was truly more energised or happier after these sessions. I could have, God forbid, just taken a short nap.

You can turn on me now and say, well, you’re too weak for social media then. The thing is, I don’t hate social media. It never really made me deeply sad or jealous. It is a valuable place for easy access of information and friend updates. The biggest problem I have is with the unconscious unhinging of our subconscious (I almost typed free will, but I don’t think we have much of that anyway), through pinning onto other people’s thoughts throughout the day, onto false and dangerous body ideals, onto carefully curated posts and advertisements, and on losing a sense of self and increasing lack of focus. Truly, I felt lost despite the supposed connection to the richness of our world.

Before this blogpost gets any more out of hand, here are a few takeaways from the past 6 months:

  • I am happier, and more productive, without social media. Therefore, I doubt I will ever go back.
  • After quitting, a lot of people, except perhaps a few, won’t even miss you. Sounds harsh, but unless you’re the Pope or Beyoncé, people are more selfish than you think. The world never revolves around you and it keeps spinning.
  • I can think for myself, and am less inclined to let the thoughts of others hit me first.
  • If I am interested in someone’s life, we can text or call personally. If I am concerned about someone, I would know better than to check their Insta for updates. Crazier yet, maybe even meet them in real life?!
  • Social media makes me more distractible for the rest of the day and wastes too much precious time.

That’s that. Perhaps I am just old and boring, but I wonder at the ability of entertainment purely from social media to advance humanity in any way. Maybe Tik Toks make you happy, and the videos are cute and short, but this is an illusion of efficient entertainment. You can do other things without increasing your distractibility. If you are passionate about creating content through social media, or find it simply the best source of entertainment and know how to manage your time with it, then go for it. It is just not for me, and it took me a long while to realise it. The truth starts out cold, then becomes comforting.