Peanut Butter Sand Cookies

On today’s episode of ugly delicious, I welcome the peanut butter sand cookie.

Soft, crumbly cookie with hard edges and a distinct peanut flavour

Pretty much a peanut butter crumble in a cookie. I think I cracked these cookies the second time. The first time, I deemed them too dry, although a friend told me that they were just to her taste. The second time, they retained the typical chew of your denser peanut butter cookie, but also had a soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth crumbly consistency. I couldn’t help but think they resembled sand somehow, hence the name.

You can use processed peanut butter here, but the natural oils of natural peanut butter, when blended into the rest of the liquid part of the batter, makes for an extra smooth and delicious result. Definitely go ahead and use chunky peanut butter too, if that’s your preference.

It’s all about the texture here. My go-to cookie is rich and chewy with hard edges, but this is quite something, too. When you bite into the cookie, you get a pure peanut butter flavour dispersed through large, fluffy crumbs, and then as your teeth sink in, all that strong flavour concentrates into a grind of chew at the end of the bite.

Another one-bowl wonder!

Peanut butter sand cookies (makes 6-7 large cookies)

Ingredients

110g peanut butter (preferably natural peanut butter but use any sort you like)

110g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp fine salt

90g brown sugar

1 egg

135g flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

optional: 100g chocolate chips, and flaky sea salt for sprinkling on top

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

If your butter or peanut butter is hard, place them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or until soft to touch, not melting. In a medium bowl and using a whisk, whisk together the butter, peanut butter, salt and brown sugar until it looks light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and whisk that in too.

Add the flour, baking soda and optional chocolate chips. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet, bringing everything together until you get a sticky, thick batter. Use an ice cream scoop or your hands to scoop large golfball-sized clumps of batter onto your prepared pan. Sprinkle on the optional coarse salt on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then take them out and let cool and set for another 10 before eating. These cookies keep well for up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature, but you can also freeze them. Take out and microwave one for up to 2 minutes with a break after a minute, for a warm cookie. Best eaten with vanilla ice cream, or with a steaming cup of milky coffee!

French Toast Pudding

No, it’s not Christmas. But I was reminded of a favourite french toast bake while writing up my list of curated recipes. You need not use panettone, but gosh, yes, this fluffy Italian bread is perfect for dunking into french toast custard and then baking. You can use any soft bread like brioche or challah really, but you would need to soak these slightly denser breads a little longer in the custard batter.

Soft, eggy threads of sweet dough.

You get the rich flavour of panettone fixed in a homogenous, sweet, eggy batter similar to that of a firm bread pudding. I looked through previous recipes for panettone french toast and casseroles, and most of them use cream, but I personally don’t think you need the cream in the custard, and you let the flavours of the panettone and everything it’s studded with shine. Once again, a one-bowl wonder with everything done (and maybe consumed) in less than an hour. What I love about french toast bakes is that it takes little to no effort, as you chuck everything into the oven without having to fry each piece of bread separately, no matter how large a griddle or pan you have.

Mine here just had chocolate chips, but there’s usually some dried fruit in there too, and I added some chopped pecans on top for crunch. The french toast pudding bakes very fast because the voluminous, airy bread allows the custard to quickly seep into and bake into every crevice.

French toast pudding (6 servings)

Ingredients

Half a whole panettone (500g) or about 5 cups of challah/brioche, cut into large 2-inch cubes

3 eggs

240ml milk of choice

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine salt

optional: chopped nuts and extra chocolate chips, around 1/3 cup in volume

optional: coarse sugar (like demerara) for sprinkling, and fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream for serving

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), no fan setting. Take a little cube of butter and rub it along the bottom, corners and and edges of a 9×11-inch casserole dish, or you could also squeeze it into a 9×9-inch brownie pan. Cut the half of a panettone into 1 inch thick slices. This will be easy if you’re using traditional uncut panettone, because then you can simply cut it as how you would a cake. If you’re using challah or brioche, or another type of light and fluffy bread, cut the bread into 2-inch cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cinnamon and salt well.

Take each panettone slice and dunk each side in the custard for at least 3-4 seconds on each side, then lay the slices down in the prepared tin, each slice slightly overlapping one another. If you’re using other bread, just dunk each cube into the batter for 3-4 seconds before positioning the cubes in a relatively geometrical arrangement in the baking tin. Once the bread slices/cubes are arranged, pour the rest of the custard evenly all over the top, and if using, the chopped nuts and chocolate. Sprinkle the optional demerara sugar on top, then place the tin into the preheated oven.

Bake the french toast pudding for 15 minutes, take it out and serve immediately. Best eaten with fresh fruit, a la mode!

Maxi Coffee Bar

A small space with a well-lit interior with a couple of chairs, and a bench outside. Come here to read a book or work for a while on a weekday.

If you didn’t know, I was really into reviewing cafés before I knew about a lot of other life things, like doing the dishes properly and folding clothes neatly. I just read this one and couldn’t believe how much time I devoted to these. I stopped doing these reviews years ago due to time constraints and it’s impossible to keep up with changing menus and me flitting between England, Singapore and Germany… Nevertheless, after visiting quite a few special/hole-in-the-wall ones recently, and now that I no longer use Instagram, I feel that it is time for a review comeback. It’s a way of documenting these experiences in greater detail, making them more special and less fleeting.

Iced cereal milk latte ($7.50), the star here (ignore the dry nails)

In brief, if I would come back for anything, it would be this iced cereal milk latte and the canelé (shown below). The foamy, sweet brew is still reminiscent of an actual caffeine drink with a smooth and mildly bitter espresso, and the twist of salt takes the whole thing to the next level.

That canelé must be consumed with the latté together for the real deal. A moment of crunchy sweetness, washed down with a refreshing milky brew. The outside of the pastry is beautifully crisp without a weird burnt taste, the inside bouncy, sticky and moist. Not too sweet, not plain and painfully dry like many others I have tried. I can’t remember the price ($5?) but it was so reasonable for its size and quality. They also have a range of sweet and savoury toast options, all made in-house.

Yup, I’ll be back.

Maxi Coffee Bar
6 Ann Siang Hill
Hours: Tues-Fri 8am – 5pm, Weekends 9pm – 5pm, closed on Mondays

Cream Cheese Marmalade Brownies

Stop, this combination is insane.

There is plenty to love about a fudgy brownie, and more so about the combination of tangy cream cheese with sweet yet slightly bitter orange marmalade. I do recommend orange marmalade here for that reason, but any marmalade you have will work. One of my top 10 recipes is this brownie pudding, which formed the main inspiration for today’s recipe but is not in the blog archives. I guess it’s a little bit of a secret, and I don’t know if the word pudding is a good enough excuse to get away with such a runny centre. Language is everything, isn’t it. A classic one-bowl manoeuvre wrapped in a delightful flavour contrast.

A classic fudgy brownie with an edge that’s only slightly chewy, with jammy bits studded here and there due to the marmalade. You might think they’re the raw parts at first, take it from my initial disappointment.

Cream cheese marmalade brownies (serves 8-10)

Ingredients

For the brownies:

105g dark chocolate, chopped, or bittersweet chocolate chips

150g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp fine salt

2 eggs

70g brown sugar

130g white sugar

130g plain flour

For the topping:

60g cream cheese

10g sugar

6 tsp orange marmalade

Directions

Preheat your oven to 160C, fan off. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that two edges are longer and hang off the sides for easy removal. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave together the butter and chocolate or chocolate chips on high for a minute. Make sure your butter is at room temperature or slightly cold, and not rock-hard from the fridge. Remove the bowl from the microwave and use a fork or spoon to mix everything together until you get a dark, liquidy consistency and the butter and chocolate has melted together nicely. Microwave for longer if your butter is still a little hard. Let the mixture cool for 2 minutes. In the meantime, add your two sugars and pinch of salt into a separate, larger bowl. Add the chocolate mixture and use a whisk to whisk it in well. Then crack and whisk in the 2 eggs. Finally, add the flour and use a rubber spatula to fold it in well, then pour the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and homogenous. Add teaspoonful-sized dollops of the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie batter, then add teaspoonfuls of the marmalade just next to the dollops of cream cheese mixture. Use a knife to swirl the topping randomly into the batter. It should look slightly weird and messy. Sprinkle some coarse salt (like Maldon) on top if you’re fancy like that, but you can skip this step. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist-to-slightly-wet crumbs. Leave the brownies to cool for 10 minutes before cutting. These keep at room temperature for up to 3 days, but you can freeze them if you don’t have many people to share these with!

Coming Soon: Personal Tips and Curated Recipes (update: they’re up!)

As I myself hate anything long-winded, overly-positive or excitable, I will try to keep this short, sweet and informative. After some thinking, I have decided to monetise a few documents which I have been working hard on, and will soon put together properly. The reasons will be elaborated a little more in my newsletter, so if you have not already, definitely sign up for updates and details, including date of release (sign-up link is stuck to the top of the blog).

I hesitated for a long time to monetise anything on here. As many of my long-time readers know, the only things I did monetise were my mini local catering business which I was forced to suspend during the ongoing pandemic, and a thin book I published years ago. That said, after years of blogging, dabbling in recipe creation, photography and now balancing academia with other facets of life, I feel it would be crazy to continue blogging without sharing any of the invaluable information about things I learned during my PhD (on the link between gut health and mental health) and life in general, alongside some recipes I have never disclosed before, that have contributed to the optimisation of my work-life balance and health, despite the occasional depressive or anxious episode. I say this after helping an Oxford friend and even someone at home in Singapore with my recommendations, too.

I used to receive messages on my (now-inactive) Instagram account, about how I stay ‘fit, slim and healthy’ despite my love for baking. I responded with eat in moderation and enjoy sweets once in a while, but I knew deep down that there is so much more to it than just that. It also slightly saddens me that most of us still equate health with very specific formulas and sizes. Now, I feel ready to share my story of health-related ups and downs, tips, as well as additional insider recipes which have stuck with me through years of blogging.

How will it work?

You simply have to click on the tab in the side menu entitled ‘curated recipes and holistic guide‘. There will be 3 documents I will share (as of now):

  1. A guide to a balanced lifestyle and my signature recipes outside my baking hobby, including some personal and specific tips which have helped me tremendously over the years, for balance and overall wellbeing despite loving my sugar. I will include tips and tricks derived from my own self-help experimentation and personal epiphanies*
  2. A curated selection of 10 of my go-to simple breakfast and brunch recipes, with vegan substitutions
  3. A curated selection of 10 fusion recipes, which will also have vegan substitutions

*To make clear, this is not a definitive health guide. This little guide will contain some tips which work well for me and have done so for others, but nothing is restricted and no rules are advocated. You also get recipes and fun stuff inside, not a boring book on how often to eat a doughnut.

And why are these documents special? How are the recipes different from the ones on your blog?

More information about what will be included in the guide will be shared via my newsletter, including some personal health routines I stick to and what is the ideal drink to go with this particular french toast.

Despite being in the health sciences, I will not share anything too specifically health or science-related, because there are too many similar eBooks and such out there, and I acknowledge my current role as a doctorate student who is not warranted to give out any professional advice like a doctor or ‘life coach’ is able to. I provide something a little more all-encompassing, criss-crossed with some specific ideas and personal tidbits that I have never shared online before.

If you have been following this blog for a while, you would know I am always willing to offer recipes for free. Yet, some of the curated recipes I will share are veiled with a hint of secrecy and history, the sort my mum will tell me ‘not to share’, but now seem ready to show themselves. Further, the holistic guide includes some personal anecdotes which I have never shared online before, not even on my previous Instagram account or newsletter, derived from my own experience and research. Every free alexcrumb recipe, blogpost and newsletter is a product of my own experimentation, my heart and soul, so any support will be appreciated. There is also a donate button in the menu, if you like!

Stay tuned,

Alex