There is always something therapeutic about making bars. It’s pretty easy to do, for a first, and also hard to mess up, even if you miss a few tablespoons of an ingredient here or there. These tahini bars are quick, simple, and you will want to make them more than once. The perimeter is more cakey than chewy, and the middle holds a fudgy consistency. Delicious.
I have made tahini bars before, but these are extremely no-fuss, and simple substitutions (for example, using just brown sugar or vegan egg in place of the normal eggs here) suffice. I don’t know when I will get sick of tahini, but until then, I’ll be making these bars.
No-Fuss Tahini Bars (makes 9 medium bars)
130g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
70g butter, melted (in a microwave)
1/2 tsp fine salt
150g light brown sugar
90g tahini (around 1/3 cup)
If you haven’t already, melt your butter in a microwave by placing it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaving on high in 30-second increments or until completely melted. Preheat your oven (no-fan setting) to 180C and line a square 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan with baking parchment.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, salt, egg and tahini. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients using a rubber spatula. Pour the batter, which should be quite runny, into the prepared pan, and bake for at least 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs. If the batter is still wet, bake for 5 more minutes. Take the pan out and leave it to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares and consuming .
On today’s episode of ugly delicious, I welcome the peanut butter sand cookie.
Soft, crumbly cookie with hard edges and a distinct peanut flavour
Pretty much a peanut butter crumble in a cookie. I think I cracked these cookies the second time. The first time, I deemed them too dry, although a friend told me that they were just to her taste. The second time, they retained the typical chew of your denser peanut butter cookie, but also had a soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth crumbly consistency. I couldn’t help but think they resembled sand somehow, hence the name.
You can use processed peanut butter here, but the natural oils of natural peanut butter, when blended into the rest of the liquid part of the batter, makes for an extra smooth and delicious result. Definitely go ahead and use chunky peanut butter too, if that’s your preference.
It’s all about the texture here. My go-to cookie is rich and chewy with hard edges, but this is quite something, too. When you bite into the cookie, you get a pure peanut butter flavour dispersed through large, fluffy crumbs, and then as your teeth sink in, all that strong flavour concentrates into a grind of chew at the end of the bite.
Peanut butter sand cookies (makes 6-7 large cookies)
110g peanut butter (preferably natural peanut butter but use any sort you like)
110g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp fine salt
90g brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
optional: 100g chocolate chips, and flaky sea salt for sprinkling on top
Preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
If your butter or peanut butter is hard, place them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or until soft to touch, not melting. In a medium bowl and using a whisk, whisk together the butter, peanut butter, salt and brown sugar until it looks light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and whisk that in too.
Add the flour, baking soda and optional chocolate chips. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet, bringing everything together until you get a sticky, thick batter. Use an ice cream scoop or your hands to scoop large golfball-sized clumps of batter onto your prepared pan. Sprinkle on the optional coarse salt on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then take them out and let cool and set for another 10 before eating. These cookies keep well for up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature, but you can also freeze them. Take out and microwave one for up to 2 minutes with a break after a minute, for a warm cookie. Best eaten with vanilla ice cream, or with a steaming cup of milky coffee!
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.
Lately I’ve found it hard to wrap my head around the concept of balance and moderation, realising that I’m pretty wired to think about everything in black and white. I either have a totally intellectually fulfilling day or I don’t. I either eat extremely healthy one day or I don’t. Clearly balance is something I’m still trying to conquer as a habit, as elementary as that may sound. Translating this lack of moderation to my creative endeavours, sometimes I’m so focussed on creating something new and exciting that I forget the roots of my baking pleasure– classic favourites. I get a high from riding on this streak of new things that I forget the magic of a simple classic. I’ve been putting this particular recipe off for a while. Cinnamon rolls are a tried and true classic and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy a bite of these gooey, cinnamony treats. I made these the first time almost 5 years ago using a random online recipe and loved them best with a cream cheese frosting. Aside from cinnamon rolls, I’ve enjoyed and made a few things that I’ve really enjoyed the past few weeks:
Back to rolls. I know the classic version doesn’t have the (Americanised) cream cheese frosting, but I must say that this is the version I prefer. The tangy cream cheese pairs perfectly with the sweet bun, which can get too cloying if not cut through with something a little sharper. I recently tried making them again. Although the buns themselves were heavenly- all airy and light, it was missing the element of moist tenderness which I believe a good cinnamon bun should have. So I modified it to have a shorter baking time and, as most good baking recipes have it, more butter. Quite a bit more. It’s also a good idea to cover the rolls before baking with a layer of aluminium foil so that the tops of the rolls do not burn from the direct oven heat. You get these golden-brown, soft, delicious cinnamon rolls with very little effort. You don’t need a standing mixer to make them but it made my life a hell of a lot easier (and cleaner)! You can also just use some elbow grease and knead these for a little longer, just 10 minutes. It’s a good workout, at least.
Classic Cinnamon Rolls (makes 8-9 rolls)
For the dough:
240ml (1 cup) milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
4 tbsp white sugar
60g (0.25 cup) salted butter, melted
0.5 tsp salt
250g (2 cups) cake flour
200g (1.5 cups + 3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
For the filling:
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
150g (0.75 cup) dark brown sugar
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the cream cheese frosting:
150g cream cheese
0.5 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste for a richer vanilla flavour)
150g white sugar
Pour the milk into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 mins. It should feel warm but not scalding to the touch. If it’s very hot then wait a minute for it to cool down a little. Add the yeast and wait for it to activate, or around 3 minutes. It should have a light brown froth on top. It is ready when there’s a light brown froth on top. Pour this yeast-milk mixture into the bowl of your standing mixer (or just a large bowl if you’re doing this by hand) and add the sugar, egg, salt and melted butter. Whisk together. Then add the two flours and on medium speed, let the standing mixer knead the mixture well for 6-7 minutes. If doing this by hand, knead the mixture a little bit in the bowl first to let all the ingredients come together, before tipping it onto a well-floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky or is sticking to the bottom of the mixing bowl, add more flour. Add enough flour so that you have a pliable and slightly sticky but not too sticky consistency. Shape the dough into a rough ball, place it back into the bowl and let it rise for at least an hour with a damp cloth, to keep the dough moist while the yeast does its work to expand it.
Right before this hour is up, mix together the room temperature butter, brown sugar and ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Once the dough has risen (an hour later), tip the dough out onto a floured surface and use a rolling pin to gently roll it out into a 9×14-inch (22x35cm) rectangular piece of dough. Use a spatula to smear the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture onto the flattened dough, leaving a half inch border around the edges. It may initially seem like a lot but it really is just enough!
Tightly roll the rectangle lengthwise and place the log so that the edge is at the bottom. Use a serrated knife or piece of floss to cut the rolls into 1-inch pieces. You may have to cut off the two edges first as they don’t have much filling. Place the rolls in a greased 9-inch round or square baking pan, cover these and leave them to rise for half an hour. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) in the meantime. Once the half hour is up, cover the rolls with a piece of aluminium foil and place them in the oven to bake for 16 minutes. While they are baking, make the frosting by mixing the cream cheese with sugar.
Once the rolls are finished, leave them to cool for 10 minutes before smearing a generous amount of cream cheese frosting onto each roll. These are best served the same day they are made, warm and fresh. They can also be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days, but microwave before serving to make sure they are warm and the insides stay gooey.