A Collaboration with Nilufer Tea, The Best Organic Tea (ft. recipe for the most ideal pairing)

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Title says it all. Bleary-eyed from 5 hours of sleep, a neatly wrapped bundle in the post set my mind and palate into gear for the day. It’s been ages since I last indulged in a cup of tea, breathing in a subtle fragrance, meditating on steam. Now that I’ve been back in Singapore for a while it hasn’t occurred to me to have anything hot; dinner is typically preceded by a frigid green juice or iced water. Nevertheless, tradition transcends change of climate, and so I settled down to a long lost habit. Sent so kindly by the folks behind Nilufer tea, an organic herbal tea brand I am so grateful to have become acquainted with the past week, I decided it was only appropriate to enjoy them with the chewiest, chocolate-pumped salted cookies, of which recipe I recently developed. The best organic herbal tea, I learned, is borne out of love, sweat, and quality. This is quality tea, I repeat, which uses non-pesticide herbs & flowers with premium dried fruits. How stunning is that.

Straight from the hands of independent Japanese tea farmers, Nilufer has put itself a head above the crowd of conventional tea brands by capitalising on ethical business, involving itself in every step of the tea-making process, from laboured harvest to artisan packaging. I was stunned by the simple array of complex flavours to choose from– red rooibos, chamomile, herbal fruit, rose and ginger rooibos tea. I absorbed its ethos in its entirety as I placed a delicate ginger rooibos teabag into my mug.

Going vegan, as I have mentioned before, is not just about the food, but a keen awareness. Of where I am, what I’m doing, what is happening all around–I am now sitting outside in our little garden, feeling the cushion beneath me, beige and smooth, still learning to live comfortably with the dense air, as if packed solid with noise that does not move, as Sebastian Faulks beautifully puts. That awareness naturally involves awareness of one’s use of resources, and so though I am not as tea-crazed as some of my English friends, with a cup of tea comes an appreciation of the here and now, instilling some sense of emotional granularity, and the lesser need to constantly compare oneself with everyone else, caught up and blind in the world of faster, bigger, better. Every second is your own. I was therefore excited to collaborate with a brand whose ethos resonates so well with this sentiment; Nilufer’s organic approach rooted in sustainability would similarly appeal to many other vegans in Singapore. Learn more about the best organic herbal tea before treating yourself. Revel in that rare authenticity.

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Their rose tea was alluring and fragrant, which, by the way, also restores female hormonal balance and peace of mind. Perfect after an insanely busy office day. A touch of hibiscus accentuates a heady floral aroma with a hint of strawberry. Chamomile, one of my long-time favourites, is mixed with orange, ginger and lemongrass in an exotic blend for a more revitalising, mid-work kick. Chamomile also stimulates the production of enzymes in the gut for efficient digestion, complementing my passion for a gut-friendly plant-based diet.

My personal favourite was the very first flavour I tried– ginger rooibos. Red rooibos and peppery ginger up the ante here with spice and tingling earthiness, red rooibos itself being a potent antioxidant to help fend off oxidative stress, burnishing your beauty routine with several minerals for rapid skin regeneration and hair growth. All sounds pretty wild, but after meditation on each flavour, I for one am more inclined to believe.

Scrolled starry-eyed through their website. Thorough health and beauty articles (on Nilufer Tea blog) are written to pad out their wellness ethos. Do also check them out on Nilufer Tea Instagram and Nilufer Tea Facebook.

Now for cookies. Which, in my opinion, are perfect with this tea. Before I went vegan I was hooked on one particular recipe, and I was swimming in the conviction that nothing, ever, could beat it.

Until I went vegan and developed this baby (haha).

The chew is what will get to you. The secret here is the resting time in the fridge and top quality chocolate. The idea is that this gives the sugar in the cookies time to mix into the other ingredients and so, upon baking the next day, the sugar caramelises more efficiently and you get a deeper caramel flavour and chewier texture. Your cookies also spread less because the chilled cookie would have more solidified that melted fat. That means making the batter the night before is most ideal if you want to wake up to a glorious, familiar wafting fragrance and cookies with the best shape, form and flavour. No need for any flax/chia egg or funny flour (though by all means play around with buckwheat spirulina charcoal flour if you feel inclined to). The ingredients shine through in their simplicity and natural affinity for each other. Salt and sweet. Each bite is chockfull of chocolate, of which varied size and thickness offers such complex mouthfeel. The middle is dense, dark and sinfully chewy.

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Chewy Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 12 medium-sized cookies)

Ingredients

250g plain flour, or use half plain flour and half whole-wheat/oat flour

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

200g good quality dark vegan chocolate (use Lindt’s 70% or another vegan brand), chopped into chunks

110g soft, dark brown sugar

100g white/coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

coarse salt for sprinkling (I use Maldon)

1 tsp vanilla extract

100ml plain vegetable/canola/sunflower oil

80ml hot water

 

Directions

Line two baking trays with parchment paper and set aside for the time-being. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the chopped chocolate. In a separate medium bowl, mix the oil, vanilla, water and two sugars together with a fork. Tip this into the dry mix and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is just combined.

Using an ice cream scoop for consistency, scoop your batter onto your lined baking trays. There should be 12-14 even balls. Press the balls down slightly with your fingers and liberally sprinkle salt over each one. Place the trays into the fridge to firm up for at least 10 hours or overnight (important, as stated before these instructions!!). The next morning, bake the cookies in an oven preheated to 180C (350F) for 12 minutes, no more and no less. There will be a little raw better on a wooden skewer stuck into a cookie- fret not, that’s what you want! The first time I did this I was sure it couldn’t be that raw, but the insides do firm up a little once you take the trays out of the oven and let the cookies cool completely

I’ll repeat that- let the cookies cool completely. The cookies may have a bit of rise but they will eventually deflate. The result? Inch-thick, ridiculously chewy, stretchy cookies, loved up with hand-chopped chocolate for an intense flavour and complex texture. These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, though I promise they won’t last that long.

Chinese Walnut Cookies on Meringue Nests

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The early morning light is my bolthole before the day’s heartbeat ramps up. Right now I hold a small morsel of chocolate shortcake from my school library’s café, ashamed it’s not exactly what’s featured in today’s post, but its texture is reminiscent of just that.

Chinese New Year is still in the works, but its official advent last week was all the prick I needed to get myself busy in the kitchen, playing and toying with random festive ideas to half fool myself into thinking, as the only Chinese in the house, that pineapple tarts, oranges, ang baos (red money-filled packets) and all sorts of goodies were right there with me, emanating a pink blossom-hued energy, a light.

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These walnut cookies are little gems. Based off your traditional Chinese walnut cookies, which are very literally melt-in-your-mouth, the dough bursting with fresh chopped walnuts, brushed with an egg glaze and topped with raw walnut halves.

Their characteristic crumbly, buttery state got me thinking: this could pair more than well with a slightly unforeseen texture. My penchant for anything chew and goo may not be known far and wide but that’s precisely what I thought would tie it all together, and the answer, I knew, lay in the all-exclusive meringue. It did take a few tries before the right meringue consistency was achieved– too hard a meringue nest would fail to complement the more robust nature of the cookie, and the whole thing would corrode and disintegrate easily.

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This was a perfect surprise, for myself and a few family members. You bite into what’s almost like a paradox of taste. the buttery, femininity cookies are maturely ground, hard-bred, by the earthy and almost indelicate walnuts. Teeth sink a little further and are welcomed by the soft crackle of just-hardened meringue nest, still filled with white chewy goo in their hollows. Perfect by themselves, or with teeth-cleaning mandarins.

Chinese Walnut Cookies on Meringue Nests (makes 6 cookies, scale up as needed)

Ingredients

For the cookies:

125g plain flour

1/4 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

pinch salt

40g butter, unsalted and at room temperature (sub: vegan butter)

40g sugar

1/2 a beaten egg, about 30g (sub: half a flax egg made by mixing 1 tbsp flax with 2 tbsp water, of which you can save half for later in the process, or 30g vegan egg replacement)

30g finely chopped walnuts (do this yourself or buy ready-made chopped walnuts)

6 walnut halves

 

For the meringue:

100g white caster sugar

2 egg whites (sub: vegan egg whites, and I have heard you can use chickpea water for this!)

 

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and both baking powder and baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. I just used a spoon for this; it’s easy when your butter is at room temperature. Tip this into the flour mix, alongside the chopped walnuts and half the beaten egg. The mix should be very dry and only just come together when you mix this by hand. I suggest using your hands here as it’s easy and you can feel when the dough just comes together.

Prep cookies on pan– grease a baking tray and take 42-43.3g of dough for each cookie. Roll each bit of dough into a ball, place on the tray, then press a fresh walnut half onto the top. You should get 6 cookies from this batch. Brush the cookies with the remaining egg, then bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes. Once the cookies are done, leave to cool on the counter and turn the temperature down to 100C (212F).

Make the meringue. In a clean bowl and with a clean electrical hand whisk, beat the egg whites until they go frothy. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until you get a glossy, opaque white meringue. Spoon tablespoons of this onto a silicone or non-stick baking tray and flatten slightly so you get 6 discs out of the volumes stated above. Bake the discs for 1.5 hours (90 minutes), and check that they haven’t burnt or anything, for sometimes ovens really do stupid things, at the 1-hour mark. The surface should be a pale pink-brown colour, cracking into one should have little effort and the middle should still be white and gooey.

Press each cookie into the tops of the meringues. These are best eaten immediately for optimum enjoyment of the texture interplay, though they can be stored for a few days in an airtight container.

 

 

Blueberry Vanilla Bean Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Coconut Cream

Whipped, marshmallowy coconut lemon cream sandwiched between two chewy and tender blueberry-and-vanilla-bean-littered cookies. 

After returning from a trip to Penang with a friend who’s seen me through the best and worst of times (thanks for tolerating me Ruru, if you’re reading!), I felt like making something which would preserve a few key memories just that much longer. There was one night we were sipping cocktails by the beach, the undulating waves smoothing out the ridges of our minds left behind by whatever burdensome thoughts or happenings that inhabited its corners. Thought back to a creamy pina colada. Lemon and coconut. Blueberries. Beach and zen. The picture was made whole.

The trip was filled with laughter, food so good just thinking about it makes my heart beat a little faster, unanticipated hair-lightening treatments from the glaring sun, and ease apace with excitement. I remember waking up at 3:15am the last night at the hotel for no reason at all, caught in a mild trance, so happy to be alive. Surreal, but hopeful. Time spent with the right people and the accompanying in-depth discussions on anything and everything unleashes new takes on life and all it has to offer. When the glimmer of the world seems to disappear, a little getaway revs the psyche.

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The factors which elevate this cookie sandwich to a whole new level are:

– the right ratio of white to dark brown sugar. Dark brown sugar provides the desirable hit of molasses, but it’s also slightly more acidic so it reacts more with the baking soda, making it rise more. It must be balanced with the right amount of white sugar for the perfect combination of fudge and crisp.

– melted butter. This produces denser, chewier cookies; the creaming process incorporates too much air so I chose to do away with it, though it may be desirable in other cake-based recipes

– refrigeration. Yes, it makes a mammoth difference, and you can read more about it here. More on this a bit later.

– and finally, the almost pornographic smushing together of warm cookie and cool, whipped lemon coconut cream. The combination of flavours here just can’t be beat.

I mean, really.

Have the cookies by themselves, in which case you won’t be missing out on much. Each cookie is charmingly ridged at the edges, character obtained only by the mandatory chilling before baking. This serves to dry out the cookie dough a little, thereby concentrating the sugars to produce a chewier, more flavourful cookie. The use of dark brown sugar in this case means that you end up with a rich hint of molasses, and a moist interior devoid of excess ‘doughiness’. The cookies also spread a little less during baking because the fat is solidified during the crucial resting process, and though one would think this would reduce the chewy factor, it only does the opposite.

Or crown them with this divine lemon curd-flavoured cream. It’s a magical dance of pina colada-esque beachside vibes and the natural purity of a chewy cookie lucky enough to be on the sunny island in the first place. I might be getting a bit carried away.

Blueberry Vanilla Bean Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Coconut Cream (makes 11-12 medium-sized, or 3-inch wide cookies; adapted from my an old cookie recipe)

Note: Feel free to double this recipe! I halved and adjusted the quantities from my previous experiment just to test it, and the first trial turned out much better than I thought. So go ahead and multiply accordingly, if you so wish.

Ingredients

For the cookies:

95g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour

half a vanilla bean with the insides scraped out, or substitute with half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

85g (half cup) white sugar

70g dark brown sugar

115g unsalted butter, melted

1 egg

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

70g (half cup) fresh or frozen blueberries

For the coconut lemon cream:

150g chilled, canned coconut milk (take a can and leave it in the fridge overnight, then open it to reveal a thick, more ‘whipped’ consistency)

50g (2 heaping tbsp-fuls) of lemon curd

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate, smaller bowl, rub the vanilla bean into the white sugar. Skip this step if you don’t have vanilla bean. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, dark brown sugar, white sugar speckled with vanilla bean, vanilla extract (only if you’re not using the vanilla bean, and the egg. Add the flour mix to the melted butter mix and stir briefly until just combined with a wooden spoon. Add the blueberries and quickly mix them in gently (sounds ironic, I know). A little pop here and there won’t hurt, but it’s better to let the oven to the work, creating those pockets of warm blue goo.

Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.While waiting for the cookies to cool, make the lemon coconut cream. In a bowl with an electrical whisk, beat together the chilled coconut milk and lemon curd. Beat on high for ~1 minute, at which point the coconut milk will look thick but the mixture is still pretty runny. Place the bowl in the fridge, during which time it will thicken into a more mousse-like texture. It’s quite magical.

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Once the cookies have rested, take them out of the fridge and use a tablespoon to scoop out the batter, then use your palms to roll gently into little balls. Place the balls on the cookie sheet and press down slightly to flatten them a little. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes.

Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes on the pan on a cooking rack before removing. Sandwich two with the chilled lemon coconut cream. Fear not, the cookie sandwich has made one hell of a comeback.

Almond Butter Cookies

A. B. C. Should I continue with D, E, and F?

Dense, Easy, Flourless. WOW that went down well. I swore that would take longer than expected.

I never meant to do it– promise. This Almond Butter Cookie action (hopefully the acronym stuck the first time you read it) pounced on me instead of the other way round. People have things for things, and my thing yesterday morning was almond butter. I eased a dribble down a side of toast, drizzled on some honey, then some course sea salt. It’s easy to contemplate life over breakfast. Almond butter honey toast is magical. Why not turn your jar into a batch of bloody easy cookies?

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The very next morning, I decided to have one for myself with some newly bought macadamia butter (yes! It’s real!), raspberry jam, and more chopped almonds. Exquisite. Sometimes simplicity is key, but the lavish combination didn’t hurt this aching almond affinity.

I’ll give you just a line: Dense, chewy, buttery (in the most nourishing sense). These cookies are slightly crumbly due to the natural texture of raw almond butter, hence putting it just a rung up on the fragility ladder, but the lovely squidgy interior of slight under-doneness, packed with lush, nutty almond flavour, makes this one bowl affair way worth it. Alright. A couple of notes on this jazzed up loveliness:

– once the cookies are baked, leave them! For a half hour or so before touching. They are soft and rather fragile once out of the oven, so you don’t want to fiddle with them too much.

– use raw, natural almond butter, and make sure that all the natural oil (which usually rests on top of the more solid mass of almond butter in the jar) is thoroughly mixed in, using a knife or spoon.

– you may add whatever you like after getting the base recipe straight, be it chocolate chips and almonds (as in my case), or perhaps crushed biscuits (?) and sea salt. The versatility of a cookie is something to herald and marvel at. It’s pretty impossible to exhaust all possibilities and combinations..

Almond Butter Cookies (flourless, makes around 16 medium cookies)

Ingredients

1 cup almond butter

1 teaspoon fine salt

75g white caster sugar

65g soft, light brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 egg

Optional: half a cup of chocolate chips/ nuts/ crushed biscuits

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F), and line and grease 2 cookie sheets. In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients listed above (yes, in that order, if you wish). Using 2 tablespoons, spoon a tablespoonful of mixture onto the cookie sheet(s), each circle of batter placed at least an inch apart from each other. There is no need to flatten the cookies as they will spread out on their own during the baking process; they should be slightly flattened balls of almond buttery goodness on the baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 9-11 minutes. Mine were done by 9 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least a half hour before touching, and then serve with glee.

Hot Cross Cake Cookies

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Sometimes things get to your head. Sometimes you mean for something to turn out one way, but thanks to some tiny, sudden instinct, or some recent experience with another different but wonderful foodstuff, elements which you never meant to blend together end up doing just that. Sometimes, that’s ok. Like this cookie.

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I never was a fan of fluffy, cakey cookies. I am a hard advocate of pin-thin, dense, chewy cookies, all nicely ridged round the edges and squidgy, half-baked in the middle. You could press the middle and your finger mark will stay. That chewy and squidgy (I love the word squidgy). I felt like doing something over the Easter weekend, but the entire of Saturday and Sunday was a blur, a hectic mess. A jumble of egg hunts, a scramble to feed my sisters and her friends breakfast (pancakes, if you’re wondering), a desperate longing for time cooped up reading in my room. Monday morning called for something dedicated to this holy occasion, but nothing too orthodox. Without much time on my hands, I resorted to cookies, a category I haven’t played with in what feels like forever. I had a gorgeous slice of sponge cake from (goodness knows) somewhere over the Easter weekend, and I guess that theme of airy lightness fed into this experiment. But I’m grateful for the mistake– I think the fluffy nature of this cookie (hence the ‘cake’ before the ‘cookie’ in the title) allows the more stuff to be, well, stuffed into each little cookie. Ah, the stuff. Good stuff. I’ll talk about the stuff.

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Specifically, soft nougat+dried fruit+chocolate. I personally prefer hard nougat, the sort which you’re afraid might make your teeth crack, but it’s the soft ones which work best in this buttery, cinnamony batter, for after the oven action, what you get are gorgeous, chewy, caramelised nougat residue, gooey and melted, with little bits of crushed almond and peanut strewn throughout (depends on the sort of nougat you’re using of course, I think pistachio would be lovely here). The lemon icing on top of the cooled cookies are quite literally the icing on the cake (cookie). The ‘hot cross’ theme limits just how much icing you can smother on these guys, but go ahead and dip one side of the cookie into the icing if you wish, for better indulgence. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Stuffed Hot Cross Cake Cookies (makes 15-18, adapted from here)

For the cookies:

240g all-purpose flour

100g light brown sugar (or white, if you don’t have any brown on hand)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g unsalted butter at room temperature

1 teaspoon each of baking powder and cinnamon

quarter teaspoon nutmeg

100g dried fruit/sultanas/raisins

50g each of soft nougat (chopped into small pieces), and dark chocolate chunks or chips

large pinch salt (half a teaspoon)

For the icing:

120g icing sugar and the juice from half a lemon

Preheat your oven to 180C and grease a couple of baking pans. In a large bowl and with an electrical or normal whisk and bicep action, beat together the softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and whisk to incorporate. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Chop your nougat into small pieces and coat them with a teaspoon of the flour mix, so the edges stop sticking to each other. Add the rest of the flour mix to the butter and sugar mix, then stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough. Add the chocolate, dried fruit/sultanas/raisins, then the nougat. Mix everything to combine.

Dollop batter onto the pans using two tablespoons or with your hands. Each cookie should be the size of a ping pong ball. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. You may have to do this in batches. While the cookies are baking, make the icing by mixing together (I use a mini whisk or a little fork) the powdered sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. You might not need all the juice from half a lemon. Put the icing into a small ziploc bag and set aside. Once the cookies are done, leave to rest in the pan on cooling racks for at least 15 minutes. Snip off the end of the ziploc bag and ice the cookies, drawing a cross on each one. Reinforce the ‘stripes’ by piping over the crosses again.