Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It feels good to settle into routine in another country. The air is clean and fresh here, the experiences full. There are so many things that I easily take for granted on a daily basis, like walking in the public gardens nearby, or having access to clean water and delicious food at any moment. As much as I love the UK, Germany is beautiful, quaint and interesting in its own ways. Some things I’ve really been enjoying have been:

  • Grocery shopping in Germany. There’s always high-quality food at decent prices, even at the more ‘upmarket’ stores.
  • Evening reading with a drink
  • Of course, the bakeries here. Nussecken and Rosinenschnecken are a couple of my favourites, alongside the classic franzbrötchen.
  • The app Freedom which has (finally) allowed me to melt into phases of deep work on a daily basis, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • This movie and this movie. I’ve learnt and remembered so much during each.
  • Making a page each, every month, for ‘Memories’, ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Recipes to Try/Recipes I loved’ in my bullet journal. They’re simple pages, lined at the border with the dates, 1-30/31, and it’s so fun to fill them in every day, even if there’s nothing or not much to write at all. The very act of putting it in the bullet journal is still fulfilling since it makes me want to fill up each day with something anyway. For the Recipes one so far this month, I currently have my boyfriend’s zucchini lemon pasta and these cookies on it…!

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It’s a classic peanut butter chocolate party. I’ve played with many variations of this tight-knit couple over the years which you can find over at the recipe index. I have a lot to say about this cookie and I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s because I felt like a child making and eating it, with the simple use of white sugar and milk chocolate, no frills and no special ingredients. I didn’t even have baking soda, for goodness sake. But there I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, suddenly five again, happy to have made something delicious yet deceivingly simple.

My first bite was linked to this thought: wow, chewy reached a whole new level. Call me stupid or childish but breaking into one of these cookies was tantamount to tears-of-joy-ecstasy. I couldn’t explain it while standing there in a kitchen so I’ll just babble here. Made a small batch first to test and it came out beautifully, albeit one minor flaw, and I knew I had to share the recipe this week. Puddles of melted chocolate, a gooey, saturated, buttery centre, crisp and chewy edges. I originally planned to make something totally different, but I was craving and wanted to test this successful cookie again months after making them, and the happiness these cookies brought me sent me over the edge, so these are taking the cake this week.

The original recipe I wrote up uses brown sugar and olive oil, the latter of which I used for a more interesting depth of flavour. They’re less crisp around the edges and more of a dense, fudgy cookie, whereas these are slightly lighter with its use of the classic duo- butter and white sugar. The use of white sugar makes for a very craggy surface, which is both aesthetically pleasing and fun to bite into. In most of my recipes I like to use both white and brown sugar for flavour and a dense texture, but the use of solely white sugar here did not compromise on anything since the flavour focus falls on the peanut butter anyway. Try and use that natural, grainy, unsweetened peanut butter; the processed stuff would work well too but try and make sure it’s unsweetened. White sugar may be replaced with cane sugar and brown sugar, but you will end up with a less texturally complex cookie that’s less chewy overall. Finally, as with all good chocolate chip cookie recipes, coarsely chopping the chocolate will make for a more pleasurable eating experience, and the unevenly sized pockets of melted chocolate on a craggy white surface are a visual wonder to behold.

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one of the cookies, warmed up, with tahini, honey and mixed frozen berries, wow

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 6 medium cookies, can be scaled up as needed)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that is mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

60g (1/3 cup) butter, unsalted (*vegan sub)

1 tsp fine salt

140g white sugar

1 egg (*vegan sub)

70g (1/4 cup) peanut butter (I used smooth, but you can use whatever texture you prefer)

130g (1 cup) all-purpose flour (*gf sub)

1 tsp baking powder

80g (almost a whole bar) milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute with dark chocolate here if you prefer)

Coarse salt (such as Maldon) for sprinkling

 

*vegan sub: instead of regular butter use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine

*vegan sub: 1 flax egg: make this by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

*gluten-free sub: substitute the all-purpose flour for the same amount of gluten-free flour blend or 250g of almond flour (I don’t recommend using coconut flour here)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter on high heat for 30 seconds, or until melted. Let that cool for 2 minutes. Then tip the melted butter into a larger bowl, add the sugar and salt and mix well with a whisk. Add the egg and whisk that in well too.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and chopped chocolate, then tip that into the wet mix. Stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon until everything is just combined. You should have a sticky, thick, but soft and pliable consistency.

Use your hands or a large spoon to scoop batter into golf ball-sized pieces and place them onto the prepared baking tray. You should get 6 cookies exactly. Flatten the cookies slightly and sprinkle with coarse salt. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12 minutes exactly. The cookies should still look soft when you take them out of the oven, but the edges should look slightly darker- that’s when you know they’re done. If not, bake for 1 minute longer. Leave them to cool for at least 10 minutes before digging in. These are of course best enjoyed warm but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container or freeze and reheat whenever you want.

 

5-Ingredient Chewy Gluten-free Chocolate cookies

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“Life as we know it is merely an afterthought in the global scheme of the cosmos”- Avi Loeb.

It’s May and most of us are still under lockdown. It’s real easy to get caught up in the weirdness and pain of today, so estranged from the social entanglement, that milieu we are so familiar with. But as Avi reminds us soberly, we are a very small part of the universe and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture– that is, the constant movement of the sun, of nature in general, the people who don’t have a roof over their heads (ever), the constant love we can show those closest to us, the constancy of human creativity which can be cultivated by indulging in our favourite hobbies– cooking, talking to friends, movies, knitting, whatever. This in itself is solace, to me.

Random thoughts and journal excerpts:

04/05: On a brighter note, pandemic solutions are also solutions for the environment. Prior to this current commotion, land clearing reduces biodiversity, which means that the species that survive are more likely to host illnesses transferred to humans.

24/04: Open your windows!! Virus aside, it’s very easy to have difficulty breathing because of too-high carbon dioxide levels in our own homes. Especially now of all times, when we’re all stuck at home.

03/05: There’s a new doughnut and sandwich place called Korio and they sell the fluffiest doughnuts (and cinnamon-sugar doughnut holes, the only thing I could get a hold of one sad Tuesday afternoon).

06/05: This girl’s channel is whack and I’ve started watching one of her videos after journalling almost every morning. I’ve really been savouring mornings, which are like pages of empty magic because nothing really happens yet, but I can sit and daydream and drink coffee and journal a bit before getting on with other things (exercise, work, etc). Talking about exercise, light weights can really transform a workout.

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I know a few people have requested a gluten-free recipe, and since I know a couple of gluten-intolerant people myself, why not! It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve played with and takes just 13 minutes in the oven. Like many of my other recipes, you simply have to chuck the ingredients in one bowl, whisk them together and be done with it.

These cookies have an incredibly chewy exterior and moist, air-light interior richly studded with dark chocolate. They’re rich with gooey chocolate, yet light and melt-in-the-mouth. I originally just used the vegan egg for this, then experimented with actual egg, then just egg white which yields the chewiest texture out of all three options. It also makes the cookies shiny and glossy, while letting the chocolate stand out as the main ingredient, both in the form of the cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The chocolate added at the very end is optional (but not really).

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Chewy Gluten-free Chocolate cookies (makes 6 medium cookies)

Ingredients

150g (around 1.25 cups) icing sugar

60g (0.5 cups) cocoa powder

0.5 tsp salt

60-70g (large handful) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

2 egg whites (vegan sub: use 2 flax eggs instead by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 4 tbsp water and letting that gel in a small bowl for a few minutes before using)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350C). Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper. If using vegan eggs, make that now with the ground flaxseed and water before using later. Whisk together the icing sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl. If your icing sugar and cocoa have been sitting in your pantry for a while, then you’re better off sifting them together instead of just whisking. Add the egg whites/vegan egg and whisk together until smooth and glossy. Add the chocolate chips and use a spoon to fold those in until incorporated. Put heaped tablespoonfuls of wet batter onto the baking trays, leaving 2 inches of space between them because they will spread. Bake for 12-13 minutes, or until there’s a clear hard and glossy crust on the cookies. Enjoy alone or with a nice scoop of vanilla bean ice cream/yoghurt. Can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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

Millionaire’s Shortbread

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21/03: How weird it feels to be somewhat stranded in my own home, wearing a mask and maintaining distance from my own family members. Weirder still to know there is potentially something incredibly deadly I’m harbouring in my own body, because ‘statistically speaking, there was definitely someone with Covid on that plane…’, in the parlance of my friend!  Day 1 of my quarantine started at 8pm last night, after a groggy long flight home. I remember the very sudden, very sad decision I had to make back in Oxford just a couple of days ago, to come home. Mostly to appease family, to at least be (nearer) them during such a strange and curious time. Anyway, walking around the city centre was not the same anymore, this virus which has manifested itself as the anomie of the new decade turning every city we know and love into practical ghost towns.

Maybe you’ve all have seen the statistics, but it’s still worrying to know that despite Italy’s early efforts to contain the virus by shutting down many of its schools and quarantining a dozen towns in its northern regions, 600 people died by 10 March, up from just 100 on 4 March. It’s clear to see how Covid-19’s course has put us all on a trajectory of uncertainty and stress. As imprisoning as it felt to sign the 14-day quarantine form, it was pretty relieving to face the familiar, vigilant, Singaporean healthcare system, knowing I’ll be able to walk and visit cafés (as you do), and see dear friends afterwards. More than 12 hours in and feeling fine, and hopefully some planning and scheduling of distracting yet enjoyable hobbies, together with some mind-ticking activities, will dampen the stress and anxiety that has yet to build up over the course of the next few days. I am lucky enough to have a space at home large enough to see me through hours of sleeping, exercising and writing, with the occasional trip to kitchen because these baking fingers won’t calm down by themselves. These things help. Baking, can help.

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A close friend mentioned his penchant for Millionaire’s Shortbread, something I have only tried once on a whim from a corner store, and only ever seen in the UK (although it’s apparently Australian). It seemed too simple not to try, with its pleasing three layers of crumbly, buttery shortbread, caramel and milk chocolate, in that very order from base to top. I toyed around with a few recipes and utilise a very handy microwavable caramel, an experiment which arose from a combination of laziness and curiosity. And it’s during times like these that that very combination can be so rewarding.

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Easy Millionaire’s Shortbread (makes 16 squares)

Ingredients

For the shortbread:

226g (1 cup) salted butter (add a half teaspoon of salt to the flour if your butter is unsalted), at room temperature

100g (0.5 cup) white sugar

250g (2 cups) plain flour

 

For the caramel:

113g (0.5 cup) salted butter

1 tsp extra salt

300ml (1.25 cup) heavy/double cream

350g (1.75 cup) brown sugar

 

For the chocolate layer:

200g (2 thin bars) milk chocolate

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C and line an 8×8 or 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment, with two longer sides to help you lift the squares out of the pan easily later on. In a medium bowl, cream together the room-temperature butter and sugar with a fork or whisk. The butter should either be a little too cold or just about room temperature, not melting. Add the flour (and salt if you did not use salted butter) and mix everything together with a spoon until it all just about comes together. You should have a crumbly mixture that holds together when you squeeze it with your hands. Tip this mixture into your baking pan and press down until you get an even layer of shortbread. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until you see the edges go a very light golden.

While that is baking, make the caramel. Melt the butter by putting it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaving it for 30 seconds or until just melted. Then add the salt, cream and brown sugar and mix everything together until well combined. Microwave this on high for 3 minutes, then take it out. The mixture will be very hot and bubbly so just be careful here. Stir the caramel briefly, then microwave it on high for another minute. Open the microwave door and leave the caramel to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Once the shortbread is done, take it out of the oven (you don’t need the oven anymore at this point so you can turn it off) and leave it to cool for half an hour before pouring on the cooled caramel.

Now for the easiest part of all the easy parts: Break up your milk chocolate into another microwave-safe bowl and microwave it for 1 minute on high. Take out the bowl and use a fork to mix the chocolate to spread out the heat which will continue to melt the remaining chunks of hard milk chocolate. Leave the chocolate to cool for 10 minutes or until it’s just warm to the touch, before pouring it on the caramel layer. This is an important step because pouring on too-hot chocolate will melt the hardened caramel layer and the chocolate and caramel will merge into one homogenous mess. Not that it won’t taste good, but you want the three separate layers for taste and visual impact.

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.