A restful holiday break has come and gone, but cookies and hot drinks in the winter are here to stay.
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.
(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)
1/2 tsp fine salt
200g light brown sugar
170g plain, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
extra coarse salt (for sprinkling at the end)
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!
This. These! I have been making these repeatedly the past 3 or so months (aside from my banana bread). A hybrid of blondie and muffin, you get devilishly chewy edges and a soft, plump, risen middle, bursting with coffee flavour. I have no excuse for a late post, I just really have been enjoying making these and not much else, unless you count a load of pasta dishes following by disappointment with HelloFresh. I used to be a big fan, but now, not as much. So haphazard kitchen experimentation it is.
The secret ingredient is the instant coffee powder– don’t scoff until you’ve tried it. It blends in so easily with the batter and melts in the oven, but you may get little specks of the stuff in the final thing, which only enhances the coffee narrative.
Coffee blondies, makes 6-7 muffinsor one loaf of blondies
100g butter, at room temperature
50g light brown sugar
50g white sugar
1/2 tsp fine salt
110g plain flour
1 tsp instant coffee
1/2 tsp baking powder
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and prepare 6-7 muffin liners. Alternatively, grease a standard 9×5-inch loaf pan; you can use this mold for the same batter and its quantity.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the soft butter, sugars and salt using a strong metal whisk. Use a rubber spatula to help cream everything together. Once pale and fluffy, add the egg and whisk that in well. Then tip in the flour, baking powder and instant coffee. Use the rubber spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet.
Scoop large tablespoonfuls of batter into the muffin liners, or scrape everything into the loaf pan. Bake for 20 mins. Insert a wooden skewer into the centre after 20 minutes- if it comes out wet then bake for 3-5 more minutes, or until the skewer emerges again with moist crumbs. Let the muffin liners or loaf pan sit for 10 minutes on a cooling rack before cutting and serving. Best enjoyed alone with a cup of coffee. Perfect.
Having woken up from a deep heady nap that lasted all of 1 hour, I finally feel motivated to share this. Sometimes I get ideas that I know may have been attempted before or seem too simple to write about, but even these should never be left behind, especially if they taste this good. I struggle to remember that it’s not about whether your idea has been attempted before, it’s about how well you do it.
I recently read an article about why people with anxiety or depression should not be eating processed, inflammatory foods so as not to increase inflammation in the body- one of the root causes underlying the mechanisms of neurological disease is inflammation. I have always known this, and would not stir at the accusation of me being something of a hypocrite, waxing lyrical the good fortune of nutrition and a plant-based diet, while I myself write lengthy blogposts about sugar. I understand, I do, but having experienced the terrifying nature of what restricting entire food groups can do to my own health (orthorexic tendencies, heightened anxiety in social situations centred around a meal), and trying to cut out sugar entirely many times, I know that such drastic measures do not cut it, at least for me. Which is why I promote these recipes not to promote diabetes, but rather a sense of moderation, to let people know that yes, it’s ok to have this cookie once in a while, and you won’t die. And of course you can whip out the stevia or trivia as substitutions if that suits you better…
Sandwich time. Speaking specifically about toasties, I ate these regularly in primary school, and was relieved to not have to pack lunch in high school because God forbid I got another one. Only kids eat these anyway, right? Yet, squidged between my regular Asian lunches of mixed economy rice, I found myself buying the occasional (tuna mayo) sandwich. Then university rolled round. One of my close friends offered to share his delicious-smelling toastie with me. I reluctantly tried the deceivingly simple concoction of cheese and tomato, and could not help the wave of nostalgia rippling through my body as I sunk my teeth into the pressed, golden bread, glossy on the underside with the perfect hit of mayonnaise, and I do feel that mayonnaise is the underdog in a lot of classic favourites. Here I replicate something similar for the sweet tooth- you can do this in a toastie maker of course, but I decided to do it on a stovetop for adaptability.
Ah, an unreal crisp. Golden, buttery bread giving way to a soft, goo-on-goo inside. Once again, so simple, such child’s play. And yet, so satisfying. Given the pandemic and all the political nonsense in the world now, it feels good and right to return to what grounded us as children- a safe and familiar haven. As humans we like to seek out patterns and familiarity, to some degree. This may be an element of that. Little things like making toasties and sharing them with coffee may even help us rewire our brains for positivity and excitement.
Note: you can use bread that is not white of course, but white toasting bread is usually the optimal shape for toastie making, readily absorbing the melted butter that you brush on top and letting the heat penetrate its pores when the toastie maker is ready.
Peanut butter Marshmallow Toastie
*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe
2 thick slices of white bread*
1 tbsp butter*
2 tbsp peanut butter
half a banana, sliced
handful of marshmallows, each sliced in half*
*vegan sub: use vegan butter or vegetable oil instead of butter (I suggest staying away from avocado oil as the flavour is too strong and will overwhelm the rest of the flavours). Use vegan marshmallows instead of regular marshmallows.
*gluten-free sub: use gluten-free bread
Take one slice of bread and spread one side with butter. Repeat with the other slice of bread (around 0.5 tbsp butter on each slice). If you’re using a toastie maker, use slightly less butter. Make sure your butter is soft before spreading. Then spread 1 tbsp of peanut butter on the other side of each slice of bread. Now have your two slices facing you with the peanut butter sides facing upwards. Put the banana slices on one slice of bread and the cut marshmallows on the other. Then sandwich the bread slices so that the banana and marshmallows face each other on the inside of the sandwich.
Heat your pan on medium heat and press the sandwich down. Use a spatula to press it. After around 4 minutes check the underside of the sandwich with your spatula- it should be golden-brown and the marshmallows should look melty. Flip the sandwich over and press down again. Cook for another two minutes. The banana should be soft and the peanut butter and marshmallows should be soft and melty. Cut whichever way you want and enjoy alone or with a strong coffee.
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.
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…!
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.
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
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)
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.
A few things I want to say after the past few weeks. Just as a side note, I’ve actually been meaning to put this up for quite a while but as usual, a lot of things regarding work and travel got in the way, and I also did not want to put something of a sensitive topic up too soon.
Constantly reposting images and Instagram stories makes good for collective awareness but is not as important as action and effort.
In the past I never had the courage to challenge racism if and where I identify it, and I’d like to think I am getting better at it. This will probably involve more difficult conversations with loved ones and friends. Not necessarily in a defensive way, but rather constructive. I usually struggle with challenging friends more so than just family (with whom we usually have no filter) in this manner sometimes, but it’s about trying.
Racism is like a defence mechanism against insecurity and anxiety. If someone is secure in his or her own identity then there’s no need to put others down, but the truth is that the person experiencing this suffers chronically and deeply, and may have to feel like he or she always has to prove oneself, or that he’s never good enough to do anything, acting like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs place physiological needs (food, water, shelter) as the most basic needs we must have established before the needs of, in this order specifically: safety, feeling loved, having good self-esteem, and finally that of self-actualisation, which would propel us towards our highest goals and help us achieve them. Without the basic need of love and support fulfilled, and with many black people already suffering a lack of the most basic needs on a global basis, I think it’s fair to say that it is insensitive and ignorant if we dismiss their plight.
And finally, on a slightly unrelated but also very important note, although this oil is everywhere, any small step to try and reduce its usage would benefit our planet and its inhabitants many years into the future.
I was actually thinking about these points while baking the bars (don’t worry there’s a recipe at the end of all this), and now that I’m reflecting upon them I’m once again reminded of how good of a meditation baking is. I’d love to know if anyone else experiences this sort of calm and peace while kneading dough or simply mixing things together in a bowl.
I haven’t been baking all that much lately because of stress and bouts of anxiety that crop up every now and then, which tend to prevent me from being at my productive best, but these tahini chocolate chip nut bars were some sort of magic the last weekend. I noticed my boyfriend’s pantry had a bounty of unused nuts so I thought it would be fun to play around with my usual tahini chocolate combination but this time with a sprinkling of various nuts. Now that I’m living in a house with him and many more people, it feels more justified to bake and share the goods and of course get feedback!
The sesame in tahini itself already screams wonderful earthy, nutty tones so I thought pairing it couldn’t turn out all that bad. After the first test I knew I hit a jackpot. The combination of everything together made for this chewy bar with a classically fudgy, chocolatey middle. The best part was receiving the positive reviews from three flatmates, which were thankfully in line with my own expectations. It’s been a while since I could bake and share what I made with people– I still get nervous letting my own family try my experiments let alone folk I only just met! So that of all things really warmed my heart. I had to try again the second time, and second time was the charm. Not the prettiest of desserts but simple and easy to eat. Nothing could be better.
One last note: you can opt to swap the milk chocolate for dark if you want, I just personally prefer a sweeter chocolate for a more delicate opposition to all the earthiness and nuttiness going on.
Tahini chocolate chip nut bars
170g flour (gf sub: use 160g of gluten-free flour mix, or more ground almonds)
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
3 tbsp chopped pine nuts
150g milk chocolate (vegan sub: vegan milk or dark chocolate)
80g butter, melted (vegan sub: vegan butter or margarine)
½ tsp salt
100g white sugar
75g brown sugar
1 egg (vegan sub: use a flax egg- mix 1 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel to thicken up for a couple of minutes before using)
1 tbsp course salt (e.g. Maldon) for sprinkling
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Alternatively, you can also use a loaf tin and bake just half the batter first if you want to test a smaller batch.
Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave on a high power for 30 seconds, and set that aside to cool for a few minutes before using. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, chopped pine nuts and milk chocolate. In a separate and slightly larger bowl, mix together the melted butter, ½ tsp salt, sugars, egg and tahini. Add the dry mix to the wet one and mix until everything comes together- the mix should look pretty thick and rather doughy. Scrape the mix into the prepared tin, use your hands to press the batter into an even layer in the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. When 12 minutes is up, use a wooden skewer to poke the middle of the pan. If it comes out with moist crumbs, take it out and leave to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes or so. If it comes out clearly wet with batter, leave it in the oven to bake a little longer for a couple of minutes. Once the bars are done baking, leave to cool completely on a wire rack or heatproof surface, sprinkle with coarse salt and cut into bars however big you want after at least 10 minutes of cooling. Enjoy with ice cream or simply on their own.