Cream Cheese-filled Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Well. There’s something about the cold air today. Fall transitioning into Winter. Apple pie, hot ciders, and pumpkin everything. All of which I love, but the one thing I felt like making, in fact my very first bake in my graduate dorm kitchen, was something that had nothing to do with apples or pumpkins. It’s something I really wanted to dig into straightaway, That’s it. Simplicity in the form of divine, ooey gooey, dense, filled chocolate chip cookies. Simplicity because it’s been made too many times to count the past week, to the point where it almost becomes automatic, a habit, and you want to make it way more than what real life warrants as necessary. That, my friend, is when simplicity becomes extravagance. It feels like home, and home can be extravagant.

I sit here in my new laboratory office space writing, because it hasn’t occurred to me to try blending my two main habits– food and science, together. I’m sure this can work, especially if I have to wait for something to finish running in the lab. Makes my life that much easier, and I can’t be sitting around in cafés all the time…

Speaking of habit, lately I’ve been re-thinking my presence on social media. I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with Instagram (like most people I’m sure), but for the whole of last week I cut it out totally just to focus on the work I should be doing here and also to see if I would feel any differently during or after the experience. My takeaways: I had no urge to open the app during that week, only to reply someone who I couldn’t reach on Facebook Messenger either. I had an urge to see where everyone was going and eating in London, but resolved that by a few Google searches and actually checking my emails from London press companies properly. Secondly, after re-installing and opening the Instagram app after that little break, I felt almost completely indifferent to the feed. I pressed on a few story circles just to see what a few people were up to, stayed for a grand total of 2 minutes, then closed the app again. I actually started reading more, and the days have stretched longer. It’s a strange, surreal feeling, since for most of my teen years I remember being addicted, sadly, to the feeling I got when a photo got a certain number of likes or when someone commented on how delicious something looks. Which is fine, the whole point of Instagram for me is to find the best and newest places to eat, and to share my passion for baking, to show how easy it is to whip up something simple and delicious in the kitchen, but it was the external validation I became addicted to that I started to loathe. Everything grew into a fixation on numbers– how many followers and likes do you have? Because clearly this shows how credible you are as whatever creative artist you may be. I’m already lucky enough to have met some amazing people on the platform, and even still somehow get invited to tastings, but it was that tedious scrolling, the fixation on numbers, as well as the recent discovery that someone who I really admired on the platform blocked me for no apparent reason… yeah, that really got to me, when it shouldn’t have. Truthfully, my skin is not thick enough for me to be healthy and happy and maintain a strong presence on the platform, and that’s when I decided a break was not just an option, but something necessary. Now I do feel much less inclined to post about little mundane things about my life, and I’m less scared of posting less and less. It feels good, because Instagram isn’t real life, My main passion has been this blog, what you, dear reader, if you’ve gotten this far, are reading right now. This is the product of my passion, where I can write long-form and not worry about how many characters I write because Instagram isn’t for captions, it’s made for visual artists, Which is why food bloggers can gain a lot of ground there, but I like to write (blabber), too, and why should I feel guilty about that? Anyways, I’m not missing out on anything if I’m not exposed to it, and I’m happy with how much time I’ve been saving, too. Amazing. I can now post and do what I want whenever I want, no pressure. In a sense I am very glad my whole livelihood isn’t reliant on a social media presence, and my main goal is to use science to help humanity in a bigger way. Food will be weaved into that too, but baking doesn’t have to become my sole identity.

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One thing I realise Instagram made me do sometimes was to make things, experiment with combinations, that I myself may not necessarily have tried of my own accord. I would eat a raspberry sumac scone any day of the week but sometimes, at any one time, it may not really be something to make. However, by virtue of how pleasing it sounds, how sophisticated and exotic, I would do it anyway. These cookies, much like most of my blondie recipes, on the other hand, are something I will make again and again until the day I die. A one bowl wonder, once again. Adapted from my usual  cookie recipe, but I slightly reduced the amount of flour just to let the thickness and flavour of pure peanut butter shine through. I’m also starting to prefer dissolving salt in the wet ingredients first instead of whisking it into the dry ingredients. The final yield of cookies is the perfect mix of sweet, savoury and creamy. I hope that this can put a smile on your face one day.

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Cream cheese filled chocolate chip cookies (makes 4 filled cookies)

Ingredients

205g (1 2/3 cup) flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp cornflour

2 tsp salt

1 egg (sub: 1 vegan flax egg made by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water)

5 tbsp white sugar

5 tbsp brown sugar

150g butter, room temperature (sub: vegan butter)

3 heaped tablespoons cream cheese (I used Philadelphia brand but any will do; sub: vegan cream cheese)

3 tbsp icing sugar

100g chocolate, chopped (I used a mix of dark and white chocolate, you can use any combination)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the cream cheese and icing sugar in a small bowl and then put in the freezer to set while you make the cookie batter.

In a bowl, whisk together the butter, sugars and egg. Add the salt and whisk it in. In a separate bowl, briefly mix together the flour, cornflour, chopped chocolate and baking powder with a fork, then tip it into the butter mixture and use a spoon to mix everything together well. Use your hands once it looks a little dry, once you get in there you’ll realise that it just takes a minute to let the warmth of your hands bring everything together nicely. You should have a thick, soft dough. To assemble, first take the cream cheese mixture out of the freezer. Then take a golf ball-sized chunk of batter, roll it up and put it on the lined pan. Slightly flatten this piece of dough and use a finger to make a mild dent in the middle, then put a teaspoon of the cream cheese mix into the centre and cover it with another chunk of dough. You only have to use enough to cover the cream cheese. Repeat until the rest of the dough is finished, you should have 4-5 large filled cookies on the baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, no more and no less. When you take them out, the edges will be a soft golden-brown and the tops will still look quite soft, but they will set a little more once out of the oven.

 

The Best Chewy Snickerdoodles

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I have made these cookies at least 3 times, all within the same week I realised these cannot be anything less than the best vegan snickerdoodles EVER. Really, I was so excited. Just sitting there, spatula in hand, the other covered in a greasy mix of cinnamon, butter and sugar. How could this be? These must be one of the best things ever to savour (in moderation, of course). Preceding the most wonderful vacation I’ve had in a while (Belgium, Germany and Austria, woot!) were these cookies. Just these, nothing more and nothing less, and nothing more was needed, to be very honest. Now I’m babbling, but clearly you can tell how excited I am about these. I considered sharing the recipe for these on a whim on Instagram, but realised they’re too special not to have a reserved spot in the archives.

The word ‘best’ of course elevates everyone’s expectations, and I promise these won’t let you down. All my friends who tried it said various things:

‘Better than Ben’s (with reference to the popular Ben’s Cookies here in London)?!’,

‘Oh my God I can’t stop’

‘Holy s***.’

But enough with the all bark and no bite. I’ll rat this one out, you deserve at least that. These are by far the most chewy, delicious, cinnamony snickerdoodles I have ever had. Loving the cracks and crags of these, which you can enjoy below, alongside some shots of the trip I just came back from, where every day ended with a full belly and fuller heart.

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Munich’s harsh light that fine day
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Ghent, Belgium: That time someone actually cooked breakfast for me: Hot sautéed cinnamon apples on a bed of warm porridge. Mmmmm.
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Schladming, Austria: Where we dined on a dinner of fresh air, a view of the mountains, crisp white wine and a sweet potato eggplant curry

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Stiff and chewy all the way through. Rolling them in my ratio of cinnamon and sugar will yield incredibly chewy outer edges and a perfectly sweet bite each time. Cinnamon goes way back, and this love affair with this spice has no end. Cinnamon is able to prevent cognitive brain decline, whilst boasting many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Petri dish experiments, as reductionist as they sound, still have shown some potential anti-cancer properties. How cool is that?

Another day, another one-bowl wonder. It’s a simple matter of creaming together vegan butter and sugar, before adding the dry ingredients and mixing everything until you get a relatively dry mixture. But texture should not fool you– this recipe will yield the most chewy cookies after baking, as the butter melts and moistens everything. It is a true dream, I say.

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Snickerdoodles (makes around 12 medium cookies)

Ingredients

330g plain flour, or use half whole-wheat if desired (I have not tried the latter, but I guess this would yield a sturdier, more earthy-tasting cookie)

1/2 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

pinch of salt

1 egg (vegan substitute: 1 flax egg– make it by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water and letting that gel in a small bowl for a few minutes before using)

1 tsp vanilla extract

150g butter at room temp (vegan substitute: vegan butter or margarine)

130g (around 3/4 cup) of white sugar

120g (around a packed 3/4 cup) of light brown sugar.

mixture to roll cookies in: 30g white sugar mixed with 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (you may realise you do not need all of it when rolling your cookie dough in this mixture)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 180C and line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar using a fork or electric whisk. I simply use a fork and spatula to cream it to save on some washing! Mix the butter and sugar until you get a smooth, fluffy consistency. Add the egg/flax egg and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.

Next, add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Mix everything by hand or with an electric whisk. The mixture will be quite dry and crumbly (don’t worry, they won’t turn out like this). Roll the mixture into 2-inch balls, then roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place the balls at least 1 inch apart as they will spread a little.

Bake them in the oven for 18 minutes. Once baked, take the cookies out and use the bottom of a glass to lightly tap on the tops of the cookies to flatten them just a little. This evens out the conduction of heat and makes the cookies incredibly chewy and less raw in the centre. The cookies will look slightly pale and perhaps a little raw once out of the oven, but leave them to cool on your counter and they will stiffen and cook a little more. Resist if you can (I can’t). Enjoy on their own. These last quite a few days in an airtight container.

 

Peanut Butter Stuffed Salted Brownie Cookies

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Cancelled morning lectures obviously means whining here about it being the last week of term and waxing lyrical about all things chocolate (once more). A bit on that later. If I start on chocolate now, I’ll probably forget to add other mundane details about my life, and who would want that right? The ‘first day of the last term’ is a funny thing to say; it really didn’t feel all that long ago when I was panicking to my mother about basic things I might or might not be able to do, like laundry, bedsheets and having enough Asian fare in uni to keep me sane, because the impulsive decision to buy Tesco meal deals doesn’t quite cut it most of the time. It’s all just whizzed by much too fast. The Friday flight home is both an ecstatic and nauseating thought to me.

Despite my pension for café fare, I’m embarrassed to say that not once have I had my favourite alone-time at any one café, though I’ve definitely had the chance to visit some must-see places on my list. I should do a write-up about one of them soon, before I forget and the tides of life push me far ahead, me in blissful oblivion, once more.

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The other day I bought the loveliest little tub of peanut-speckles cashew butter, and just knew I had to use it another mind get-up. It’s practically peanut butter because of all those peanut bits, and since not everyone likes cashew butter and peanut butter is easier to find in stores, I decided to put peanut butter in the recipe title instead of what it really is. It’s not even the processed sort, which some recipes insist on for better results, but really you get a perfect peanut-buttery flavour upon first bite even with the natural unprocessed stuff.

The densest, fudgiest brownie cookie with white chocolate and dark chocolate bits, filled with peanut butter (and in this case, for the sake of aesthetic and flavourful pleasure, salted caramel spread on top). 

I like food hybrids like cruffins and cronuts and whathaveyous. Brownie cookies are on the list. The shape and form resembles that of a cookie, but the texture is all of what you want in a good fudgy brownie– this is not quite the chewy sort, but more dense and fudge-like. Definitely more than what you would guess the texture is akin to in the first picture above. The middle is soft, the edges still squishable. Best part? Adjacency of salt and sweet. Nothing beats it. Yes, my description vocabulary needs a bit of a boost, but squishable is still a word. And an accurate one here, at that.

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Peanut Butter Stuffed Salted Brownie Cookies (makes 18-20 medium-sized cookies)

Ingredients

125g (half cup) creamy/chunky peanut butter (natural or processed; either works fine)

30g (1/4 cup) powdered sugar (doesn’t need sifting)

large pinch salt

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

210g (slightly less than 1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour

35g (1/2 cup+couple of tablespoons) cocoa powder, doesn’t need sifting (I suggest Green and Black’s here)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

115g (1/2 cup or 1 stick) salted butter (unsalted works too, but flavour is enhanced with salted)

230g (1 packed cup) dark brown sugar

60g (a heaping 1/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

110g (one heaping half cup) of dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

*optional: an extra handful of white chocolate chunks/chips (30g) and one heaping tablespoon of salted caramel sauce

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease (line if you want) 2 baking trays. In a medium bowl, mix together the first 4 ingredients to make the peanut butter filling. Roll into small balls; you should have around 20 balls, if not more or less. Place the balls on a small baking tray and place in the freezer while you work on the brownie cookies.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, chopped chocolate (both white and dark) and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs, two sugars and vanilla extract (add the heaping tablespoon of salted caramel here, if you wish!). Pour the dry mix into the wet mix and mix until just combined. Take out the frozen balls of filling from the freezer. Scoop a heaped teaspoon of dough onto a baking tray, then place one ball of filling in the centre, press down a little, then take another teaspoonful of dough and place on top, smushing around the sides of the filling ball so it’s nicely covered. Repeat until the balls are all enclosed within the gooey chocolatey dough you made.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes– resist baking for longer even though the cookies look and feel weak to the touch after such a short baking time. If you happen to have made very large cookies, then bake for 11-12 minutes, but nothing more than 12. Leave to cool for at least half an hour before eating. These cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days, but they’re best eaten within 2 days, during which they retain the ultimate taste and texture. Eat with coarse salt sprinkled on top or more salted caramel sauce.