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!

Éclair Cake

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The virus has swiftly shifted, uprooted, the entire the world. It came so suddenly, and I was whisked back home before my hair had a chance to get greasy. It’s been a while since my last post, but my suitcase is still half-open, propped up  near my bed, waiting for me to pack it again…  I honestly think we’re going to come out of all this better, in the sense that we’ll be more self-aware: keenly in tune with our emotions, how to work well from home, and with a better understanding of who we prioritise as regular contacts in our lives, or in other words, whose familiar presence, online or not, is gratifying and exciting in a rather ungratifying and unexciting period of our lives.

Below are some journal excerpts and other cool things I’ve learnt recently. I put these here not as a random gesture but rather to embrace the non-sequitur, the random ebbs and flows in everyday life, just like the onset of the coronavirus. The quotation marks are a reminder to myself and whoever reads this that this is coming straight out of my journal:

09/04: “neophobia= the fear of trying new foods. I used to try and learn a few every week and am trying to make that a habit again” and “consumption of fructose favours lipid biosynthesis in the liver”

11/04: “In the heat of the moment, be it conflict with family or self-frustration or feeling behind in anything or everything, it’s okay to try and love yourself”

12/04: “riposte: a retaliatory action”

13/04: “trying to control a disturbing emotion is a bad strategy: it teaches our brain that we can’t handle that emotion, and our distress intensifies-A.A.Gill’ By the way, I highly recommend Gill’s autobiography Pour Me, which was an intense, fun, unputdownable read”

16/04: “There was plenty anger inside me last night. Couldn’t control my tears and lashed out at the smallest thing. It was probably a lot of suppressed anxiety and anger that exploded at a bad time. Need to walk and walk and walk. That always helps. With a mask.”

17/04:”Scientific American: Remdesivir is a popular antiviral known for treating Ebola, and inhibits the enzyme RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, which RNA viruses including SARS-CoV2 uses to replicate their genetic material. Compassionate use of Remdesivir in 53 severe Covid-19 patients found that 63% of those taking it improved, although this wasn’t an RCT”

18/04: “The morning feels peaceful and there is fresh light pouring from my window. Covid-19 or not, Nature reigns supreme. Nature knows no pandemic. It just IS. Existing. Still standing. Feeling lucky to be alive. But I miss Oxford and seeing friends in cafés so terribly much (picture below)!!”

Of course there’s plenty I don’t share from this journal, which is a messy mishmash of science bits and food bits and personal bits.

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Pretty gardens around my college

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This cake was one random, impetuous adventure. It’s not a prissy élan sort of cake made up of little éclairs, rather one which has components reminiscent of parts of an éclair. It has a creamy batter and chewy edges, which reminded me of the milky éclair middle and the chewy choux its encased by respectively, in a typical éclair. Of course, the signature chocolate ganache top. Eaten with yoghurt, sour cream or anything mildly tangy, the chocolatey top and wobbly, chewy middle, it’s unusually perfect. Look at the inside– it’s dense without being tough or chewy, except the edges. I added some homemade salted caramel because I felt that extra posh but of course there’s no need, although I do recommend adding a little more salt on top of the ganache before serving.

Another one-bowl affair. Another sweet moment, and a time to pause.

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Éclair Cake (Makes one dense cake in a 9×5-inch loaf pan, around 6-7 slices)

Ingredients

160g (1.25 cups) flour

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

0.5 tsp salt

2 eggs (vegan sub: vegan flax eggs made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl and setting that aside for a while to gel up)

225g (1 cup) butter, softened to room temperature (vegan sub: vegan butter/ margarine)

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp maple syrup mixed with 240ml (1 cup) milk of your choice (I used whole but feel free to use a vegan substitute)

120ml (0.5 cup) double cream (vegan sub: vegan double cream)

1 cup dark or semisweet chocolate chips

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F) and then butter or line a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Line the pan by cutting a piece of parchment paper that has two sides the same length as the loaf pan itself, and the other two sides a little longer than the pan’s breadth so it will be easy to take out at the end. In a large bowl, whisk together the soft butter, salt and sugar, then add the eggs and whisk well until nicely incorporated. Then add the milk-maple mixture and mix well.

In a separate bowl, briefly whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Tip into the wet mix and use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything together until just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes. Check at the 45-minute mark- a wooden skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. While it’s baking, make the ganache by putting the cream and chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high in 30-second increments until melted together. Mix with a spoon after each increment to encourage the melting. It will look like a lovely, glossy pool of thick melted chocolate.

When the cake has cooled for around 20 minutes, slowly pour the ganache on top. You may have some left over, which you can use to spoon on top of ice cream or your PB&J toast because anything in this life, in your life, is possible. Serve a slice with sour cream or whipped cream, and homemade salted caramel

Moist Avocado Chocolate Loaf Cake

Hate it or love it, the ‘moist’ hopefully caught you off guard.

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(Apologies for the almost horrific slice cuts here, I have yet to get a serrated knife for my uni kitchen).

I feel like I’ve finally settled into January right when it has mostly ended. Not to say January wasn’t great, in fact it was amazing and I’ve already changed a few important (bad) habits, but I do feel as if my head’s been slightly all over the place, for no particular reason at all. It might be down to a waning self-confidence and general stress. For that, the solution is baking, the right amount of socialising, and deep work– I’ve caught myself too many a time staring at my phone screen as if it will give me the answers to all my burning, deep life questions.

A classic problem of the privileged 21st century life is not knowing what to do with a lot of ripe fruit. Ripe bananas are always tossed into a flurry of melted butter, sugar and flour to make pancakes or banana bread/cake. Avocados are left behind because they’re less lucky. Their hard shells of a coat don’t make it easy to spot when they’re ready, and sometimes it’s a little too late, so you smell the rotting brown flesh and toss it immediately.

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The first time I made this loaf it was a hit in my graduate dormitory, but a tad too dry. This time it turned out much more moist, which I definitely prefer. So bake it longer if you don’t fancy such a moist crumb (which you can clearly see below). The chocolate is optional but the bittersweet nature of some of the dark stuff goes a long way, piercing the creamy avocado crumb. You end up with a crusty top, creamy fluffy inside and melting dark chocolate.

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Avocado Chocolate Loaf Cake (makes 6 large slices)

Ingredients

1 large ripe avocado

190g (3/4 cup) butter at room temperature

2 tsp salt (use just 1 tsp if you are using salted butter)

200g (1 cup) sugar, I used a mix of raw cane and brown sugar

3 organic, free-range, medium eggs (use two if you have large eggs)

1 tsp vanilla extract

300g (almost 2.5 cups) flour, use plain flour or substitute half with buckwheat, which is what I did

2 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

60-80g chopped dark chocolate

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mash the ripe avocado. Add the room-temperature butter, sugar, salt and eggs and whisk those in well. In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking powder and chocolate and whisk together briefly. Tip this dry mix into the wet and mix well with a wooden spoon until everything comes together, but do not overmix. Your batter should be neither too wet nor dry, and should easily drop off your spoon if you give it a firm flick. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. A wooden skewer inserted into the middle after the baking time should emerge with moist crumbs clinging to it. Enjoy warm with a pat of butter or nut butter on top. Keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days, or freeze and reheat for a future midday snack.

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

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It’s getting cold here, and there’s a lot on my mind. Had a rather therapeutic and somewhat emotional talk with a stranger this morning. It’s hard to admit that one needs therapy, let alone talk to others about it. Nevertheless, it was oddly, strangely therapeutic. I’m even thinking of starting some sort of online blog to chart progress. It’s mostly to do with a great deal of self-doubt and esteem issues, possibly stemming from some stuff that happened in the past. I don’t know who reads my blog, as old as it is now, but it does help to type things out, because although the daily journal does help a great deal too, sometimes my brain runs too fast and it’s just a tad more gratifying to see everything immediately leap from brain to post. It’s also juicier stuff that I can instantly plop onto here, too, for my (hopefully more regular) blogposts. And if it helps just one person today, then that will be all the more rewarding.

Before me: French Toast. So let me describe it to you. The crusty, almost too-hard outside is deceiving, there is a world of golden softness within. The right degree of egged saturation, not too soggy, although that would still be better than stiff or overdone. A pile of whipped cream and melted berries. Some fresh, some frozen, all warmed up to let a bounty of juices seep out. French toast is like a person. You don’t know what he/she is really like until they open up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a nice, big breakfast like this. Some days I forget to have proper meals and it all ends up being a big mess of sugary snacks all the way through the day, which I know sounds like child’s play but sadly it’s true, at the grand age of 22 (coming on to 23). You’d think I’d have at least a healthy side to me… Not to say it’s non-existent, but it could definitely be 3.5x better. It’s a bit disappointing; sometimes I imagine my younger self thinking about the woman I would be now in 2019, and although I’m not too far off, I do wish some bad habits which I currently harbour were not so etched into my sense of self that the sense of self is, ultimately, warped, half-false.

In times like these, when I feel out of control, I always have to remember to come back to my element. That meditation on the sweet, can help one see the sweet things in life. But there should be a careful line drawn between allowance (of the sweet stuff) and dependence (on the sweet stuff). I can’t classify my love for sugar as a sickness, but it would do me good to be mindful, and not always have the French toast at every café I visit (ok who am I kidding). It is only a distraction if you let it be that way. Some fleeting thoughts that I’m not sure may resonate with any of you:

  • Fresher’s week here at Oxford a couple of weeks ago was overwhelming but I met a good number of incredibly interesting individuals. It does seem therapeutic to engage in conversations with these people, it’s a nice peek into the grander problems of the world, and I’m whisked away into the real world, that of heavy issues that I can be part of a solution to, away from the trivialities of my own head. I do tend to get stuck in my head a lot, forget about the big picture. Why I’m here, why I love it here, why I love doing what I do.
  • I met people who I really got on with, but many are here just for a year. I’m trying to figure out who I can truly connect with over my 3 years doing a PhD here.
  • Talking about PhD, I still don’t quite know what I’ve gotten myself into, ha.
  • Looking at babies makes me happy. Oh, the innocence and bluntness.
  • I hate the way nails split or crack at the most undesirable places.

Today isn’t a recipe for French toast, but that for an olive oil chocolate cake. Yes, olive oil and chocolate. I had this wonderful olive oil cake with my friend Zoe back when I was still living in London, at the famous Towpath café overlooking the lanky swishing river. I wanted to recreate such a cake, airy and flavourful without feeling like you’re just glugging down tablespoons of pure olive oil. More flavour, less grease, I guess you could say. I had a half mind to leave out the chocolate entirely, but 1. Everyone loves a chocolate surprise and 2. The olive oil taste here is pretty strong so the chocolate addition is actually complementary, if not necessary. It’s dense and sticky, so if you prefer a more cake-like cake then add slightly more flour and reduce the volume of olive oil.

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An easy process of mixing, in a single bowl. Almost an hour in the oven yes, but it’s worth it, especially when paired with something dairy or dairy-like, such as vanilla ice cream or coconut yoghurt. Eat this warm while looking outside, crisp air heralding the new season. My favourite season.

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Olive oil chocolate cake (makes one 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

100g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

240ml (1 cup) olive oil)

2 tsp salt

240g (1.75 cups) sugar

250g flour

½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda

3 eggs

120ml milk (of your choice, such as oat, almond etc)

80ml yoghurt

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Grease and line a 8 or 9-inch cake tin. In a bowl and with a metal whisk, whisk together all the ingredients except the flour, chocolate, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the remaining ingredients and fold in until you get a rather wet batter. Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes in the preheated oven. After baking, leave to rest for 10 minutes before cutting in and serving with yoghurt or ice cream.

Strawberry Streusel Cake

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This is, briefly and simply put, absolutely sublime. When I shared this loaf with my godparents, my mother and godsister, they all exclaimed it was incredible, especially doused in some heavy cream, after a lighthearted meal over denser conversation. And I do agree.

I’ll say it first before you get to the ingredients: This is a gluten-free cake. Yes, it is gluten-free, but. A but. I’ve recently become more aware of the effects of gluten not just in myself, but in others. I love my bread and might never stop eating it, however one too many a slice and I will feel it. The bloat, you get it. The carbohydrate may be the most demonised item in this current era of food-demonising, and it’s hard to determine what we could or should eat, if we end up eating anything at all. But this article puts things into nice perspective. That being said, the effects of refined flour cannot be denied and I too have to force myself to take it slow with the not-so-great stuff. There will always be room for dessert, just not every day of the week.

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Therefore, the side effects of a Saturday morning’s adventurous spirit include stepping outside of my little box of refined flour and sugar and trying things like almond flour. And how simple, plain and easy, it was. How joyous, to mix something as nondescript as almond flour with eggs and then boom, a perfectly intact cake is born.

The cake is moist without being gluey, with that perfect golden-brown all over after the single hour in the oven. I used strawberries here but feel free to use any berries you have on hand, and the same goes for the streusel topping which has mixed nuts, in which case you can use whatever nuts you like.

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Strawberry Streusel Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf)

Ingredients 

For the filling:

2 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen), stems cut off and diced

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

0.5 tsp cornstarch

 

For the streusel topping:

45g (0.5 cup) almond flour

handful of chopped nuts (I used a mix of almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and walnuts)

90g (little less than 0.5 cup) sugar

35g (0.15 cup) salted butter, melted

 

For the cake:

3 eggs

50g (0.25 cup) light brown sugar

60g (0.25 cup) caster sugar

150g (around 1.5 cups+ 2 tbsp) almond flour

0.5 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla extract

*Substitution notes:

VEGAN: Make 4 flax or chia ‘eggs’ in replacement of the 3 eggs, made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed or chia seeds with 8 tbsp water, and setting that aside to gel up for a bit. Substitute the butter with vegan butter.

KETO: Substitute the half cup of sugar with half cup xylitol or two-thirds cup erythritol

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). We start with the juicy berry filling: In a saucepan heated on medium heat, add the strawberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice and cook until the mixture turns glistening and sticky.

Now for the cake. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, vanilla extract, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the almond flour and whisk. The mixture should look pretty wet, but don’t worry since this will set nicely in the oven once it is finished baking.

Make the streusel topping by whisking all the streusel ingredients together with a fork in a separate bowl. Grease a 9.5-inch loaf pan, then add half of the cake mixture. Add the mixed berry mixture evenly on top, and then add the rest of the cake mixture, and then finally the streusel topping. Bake in the oven for 1 hour exactly. Remove and let the cake cool in the pan before serving (with powdered sugar and doused in heavy cream, preferably).