Chewy Molasses Cookies

Good morning, 2018.

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Today’s mantra is to foil the decrees of fate. It’s a new beginning. A time to accomplish or start something crazy, something you’ve never perhaps thought of doing, something that challenges and awakens you. Though I’m not all one for resolutions, I do believe in constant improvement, be it beginning of the year or just to try for a week, and some of mine include meditation and dedication to spreading some creative plant-lovin’, delicious inspiration. All harnessed by wild flavours, backed by both the sheer fun of it and the constantly evolving, growing fields of scientific research to justify the increased consumption of plants.

This is long-awaited, you and me both. The day is waning and the night, calling. Sitting here in the cutest café in Brick Lane, one that, as usual, I’ve been meaning to visit for quite a while. How I’ve missed the abundance of vegan foodthings and places in London. I’ve found it easier to accommodate and adapt in Singapore and Japan, some of the most vegan-unfriendly places yet in Southeast Asia, but it’s nice to come back to a haven of cheap rice and gourmet goods galore, all of which make this endeavour to be a little more kinder and connected way more convenient. One thing I learnt, especially in the past year, is that it’s ok to not care what other people think. Kein stress.

Japan, the family’s most recent adventure, was a wild chase of dreams. We were caught in a blizzard (not so fun), I had the most amazing vegan kaiseki (darn fun), where they fried apples and braised five different species of yam just for me. Pitied the poor chef, but hey, maybe I helped expand his own creative horizons. Every little course was a magical bonsai garden, bursts of flavour, emotional flavour. It’s this refinement and creativity I wish to recreate in my own sweet, plant-based endeavours.

And here is a recipe that heralds both Christmas and the New Year, from me to you. I made this at the start of the Christmas week, and made it again two days later. And again here, trying to preserve the fire of the festive spirit that is now withering like the sun each day at 4.

Chewy cookies aching with molasses, rounded and sugar-shelled. Spicy, hearty, dense. 

Here’s to defying gravity this 2018.

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Chewy Molasses Cookies (makes 8-10 medium cookies)

Ingredients

50g almond flour

60g cornstarch

pinch of salt

120g almond butter, store-bought or homemade

120g applesauce

50g coconut sugar

1 tsp ground ginger (optional)

1 tsp cinnamon (not optional)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp lemon juice+1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp sugar (I used coconut, but you can use white/brown)

Optional Icing: 1tsp lemon juice+ 5 tbsp icing sugar

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Line two baking trays with parchment paper. Tip all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk everything together with an electric mixer or a fork. Break off large chunks of the dough, roll into balls and place on the parchment paper. Press down lightly so that and bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes. Once done, leave to rest on the counter to cool; they should be quite soft to touch, but don’t do that too much else they’ll just crumble and fall apart. Make the icing and drizzle onto the cookies.

Marmalade White Chocolate Breakfast Pudding (for one)

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Books and (hopefully efficient) memory work make up the corpus of my life right now, but that won’t stop these mini experiments.

The classic milk/dark chocolate and orange combination has been done countless times before, so I thought, why not give the slightly neglected white stuff a chance? Stuck my hand far at the back of my cupboard and broke a bar into chunks. Threw it into the mix. It did just the trick.

Ah, that char? Yeah, the oven wasn’t being a very agreeable host that morning. I made a few recipe modifications after taking all necessary photos, and am pleased to say that the final product, the second shot, went into the hoop. Pretty darn delicious. Spongy and fluffy in the middle, sweet like dessert, but the orange peel almost makes it wholesome. Firm, caramelised top and bottom crust. And of course, like pretty much most of my recipes, this is easy easy easy. 5 minutes tops for everything.

Before I leave you to it, check out these links:

Make these cookies. The only minor change I made was substituting half of the milk chocolate with white chocolate (can you tell I’m on a bit of a white kick?), but the results were glorious. The resting method that relaxes the gluten and lets the flour absorb as much of the liquid as possible yields teh chewiest, gooiest, YUMMIEST cookie.

‘Large claims and scant evidence’ indeed

Brings me to tears. Perhaps it’s all the minor keys and tinkling notes, but listening to this particular composer has a serious emotional effect on me.

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Marmalade White Chocolate Breakfast Pudding (serves 1)

In a small bowl, whisk together one egg yolk, a splash of vanilla extract and 3 tbsp sugar until mixture goes slightly pale.

Add a pinch of salt, a half tsp of baking powder, 2 tbsp flour, 1.5 tbsp marmalade (I like thick chunks of rind in mine, but do so with whatever sort you prefer), and 2 tsp whole milk.

Add a handful of white chocolate chunks (around 15-20g) and mix. Pour everything into a microwave-safe mug or ramekin, and microwave for 1.5 minutes (90 seconds) on high. Check after 1 minute- it might be done by then. A wooden skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.

My first spontaneous pairing with thick greek yoghurt convinced me that that, together with more marmalade and white chocolate, make for the best toppings to eat with this pudding.

Double Marzipan (simnel-style) Cupcakes

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A lightly spiced, currant and nut-stuffed fluffy cupcake, with a layer of marzipan on top and in the middle. 

I’ll tell the truth– I had no idea my usual Saturday baking experiment was really of traditional substance. All I knew was that I needed to use the marzipan which called my name out sadly every time I opened the little pantry door, as well as the currants I kept for but never used over the Christmas break. So I diddle-daddled, thumb-twiddled, and decided to make these 2-layer marzipan currant cupcakes, only to realise after a bit of research later that these babies are already a thing, and what adorable, moreish things they looked right there on my screen. And so I made them, with heavy tweaks. And loved them.

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This cupcake is truly a thing of beauty– the crumb is of unbeatable lightness, yet the crumbs adhere just the right amount to each other so the cake itself is not too forgiving; the top and bottom bits of the middle layer of marzipan ooze into the adjacent airy crevices a tad, sweet goo cemented to buttery crumb, like little cilia on epithelia (is that too far).

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The amount of eggs used in this recipe is almost double what I expected, but all at the right cost, for that volume provided the perfect amount of moisture, lightness and bind. I substituted the oil with melted butter because I didn’t have any oil on hand, and used almonds and yoghurt as extra additions. Another thing I love is that the use of mostly liquid ingredients here lessens the workload and time needed to make these (by the way, the perfect cook time here is ~25 minutes, tried and tested).

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Once out of the oven, the flat top so characteristic of cupcakes as well as the sides boast an almost-firm, sugary crust, which is why I highly recommend eating these straightaway or at least the same day, for the following day that outer texture will be much less pronounced.

That belly goo, though.

Double Marzipan (simnel) Cupcakes (makes 12, heavily adapted from BBC Food)

Ingredients

450g marzipan

275g white caster sugar

115g (one stick or a half cup) butter, microwaved until softened (melted is fine too)

4 eggs

3 heaping tbsp (50g) honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

200g plain all-purpose flour, plus some extra for rolling out marzipan.

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

60g (1/4 cup) cream cheese, at room temperature (I microwaved mine to quicken the warming process)

60ml (1/4 cup) yoghurt

150g raisins or currants, or use a mix of both

100g chopped/flaked almonds

 

Directions

Line your cupcake tin with 12 liners, and preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Roll the marzipan out on a surface lightly floured, or lightly dusted with some icing sugar. Cut out 24 discs– 12 that are 6cm wide, and 12 that are 5cm wide. All should be 3mm thick, as specified in the original recipe (lesson learnt: using an actual ruler beats doing this by eye by a mile).

In a medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices, chopped almonds, and currants/raisins. In another, larger bowl, whisk together the sugar, melted butter, cream cheese, yoghurt, honey, vanilla and eggs.

Tip in the dry mix and mix until everything is well incorporated.

How easy was that.

Spoon a tablespoonful of batter into the first liner. Place a 5cm-wide circle of marzipan on top, then fill the liner with batter until it’s 3/4 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Check with a skewer to see if it comes out clean.

Once the cupcakes are out, top each with the 6cm-wide marzipan circles. It’s important, as the recipe states, to do this while the cupcakes are still warm, for this helps seal the top bits of marzipans to the cupcakes, forming a nice and even (and aesthetically pleasing) layer.

For reasons mentioned above, try your best to consume these the same day. Nevertheless, these may be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

 

Cinnamon Sugar-crusted Cream Cheese-stuffed French Toast

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There’s french toast, and then there’s cinnamon sugar-crusted french toast with a cream cheese filling and warmed berries. It’s your pick.

There are no extravagant steps, not too much brain energy involved. You dip good bread in luscious custard (or do it the eggless/vegan way), dip that in cinnamon sugar, fry in a pan.

Then you spread some cream cheese frosting (not the bought stuff, no no) on one slice, layer with warmed berries, layer on the other slice.

Then you ooh and aah for a bit, drizzle with maple syrup, and then EAT. Cream cheese and berries ooze out the sides, berries give up their juice.

That right there is the best morning.

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The cinnamon sugar crust is key. It’s what takes this to a whole new level, and adds a luxurious sweetness so you don’t need as much maple syrup later on.

Sweetened cream cheese may be substituted for yoghurt here, but I find the cream cheese adds proper oomph, volume, and just the right amount of tang. Together with the warm berries, this makes the perfect french toast sandwich.

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Cinnamon Sugar-crusted Cream Cheese-stuffed French Toast (makes 1 sandwich)

Ingredients

For the french toast:

2 slices fresh challah/white sandwich bread/sourdough, around 3/4-1 inch thick (I keep mine in an airtight bag in the freezer, and let thaw for a half hour before I need or want to use it)

1 egg

60ml (1/4 cup) milk

1 heaping tbsp ground cinnamon + 6 tbsp white sugar

splash vanilla extract

butter for frying

 

For the cream cheese filling and warmed berries:

2 heaping tbsp cream cheese spread

1 tsp milk

1 tbsp icing sugar

handful of berries of choice (I used blueberries and raspberries)

 

Directions

In a shallow bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar and set aside. Preheat your pan on medium-high heat. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla extract. Once pan is hot, add a knob of butter and listen out for a sizzle; if the butter browns too quickly turn down the heat a little.

Take one challah slice and dip in the eggy batter for 10 seconds. Flip and do the same for the other side. It should be soaked through but not falling apart. Lift up the slice and let excess batter drip down, then immediately lay in the bowl containing the cinnamon sugar. Turn the slice and coat the other side.

Do the same with the second slice, then place both slices in the hot pan for frying. Wait 20 seconds for the first sides to fry, then flip. Wait a little longer, around 30-40 seconds, if you prefer a less soggy middle for your french toast (I like mine pretty soggy and saturated). The second side will take shorter to cook, so remove once you like the doneness.

In the same pan, add a little more butter, then plop in your berries. Let cook and sizzle– they will yield their juices after around 4-5 minutes of cooking and become warm and soft. Mix together the ingredients for the cream cheese filling.

Spoon the cream cheese and berries onto one slice of bread and then layer on the second slice. Finally, drizzle everything with good maple syrup.

Hot Cross Cookie Butter Baked Doughnuts

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No, it’s not a traditional hot cross bun, even though it should be, even though most of you probably think I should stop taking shortcuts…? Yeah, something labelled ‘hot cross’ should be in line with tradition, but I don’t think the 1916 Easter uprising in Ireland, or the fact that speculoos biscuits are traditionally eaten in the Netherlands before St. Nicholas’ feast, affected my decision to make something easy, fun, and absolutely yum.

It was solid instinct, in the light of a recent family reunion, that drove me in this direction. Finally getting to see family after what seemed to be forever was enticing, and with my doughnut pan hauled all the way from Singapore just for me, memories of the first time I made baked doughnuts triggered the oven fun.

Speculoos (cookie butter) chocolate-filled baked doughnuts with a speculoos frosting and cream cheese ‘cross’. Lezzgo.

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The best bit of the recipe? Chucking the cookie butter into the microwave, then oohing at the melted, gooey mess before you. This is the gold of the recipe, what will send you over the edge as you mix the wet into the dry mix and bring everything together into the second round of fun gloopy mess.

So you make these doughnuts, then pour more gold on top. Golden, sweet and glistening. You get the rich, chimerical flavour of cookie butter inside and on the outside.

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There wasn’t a fluffier, more tender belly. There is some chopped chocolate in there because I thought why the hell not, but that’s optional, and if you wish you could chuck in some nuts and raisins (I didn’t because I was giving quite a few of these to some people who didn’t like either). So customise it, love it, make it again.

Speculoos is made with cinnamon and nutmeg, so the additional incorporation of those components in this recipe really enhances that natural flavour, and it does make me think of Easter. Full of spice and lots of warmth.

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Hot Cross Cookie Butter Baked Doughnuts (makes 8 doughnuts, adapted from here)

Ingredients

For the doughnuts:

158g (slightly more than 1 1/4 cups) all purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

50g chopped chocolate (optional)

75g (1/3 cup) white sugar

1 egg

15g (1 tbsp) butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

120ml (1/2 cup) whole milk

3tbsp + 8 tbsp (1/2 cup) speculoos cookie butter spread (3 tbsp for the doughnuts, 1/2 cup for the top

 

For the cream cheese cross:

5 tbsp cream cheese spread (or take some off a block, that works fine too), microwaved until softened

1 tbsp milk

3 tbsp icing sugar

 

Directions

Butter or grease a 6 or 8-doughnut pan (use the 6-doughnut one twice for this batch, of course) and set aside. Preheat your oven to 177C (350F).

In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the chocolate.

In another microwave-safe bowl, add the one tablespoon of butter, half cup milk and 3 tbsp of speculoos spread, and microwave on high for 20 seconds, just until butter has melted. Leave to cool for a minute, then whisk in the egg and vanilla extract.

Pour the wet into the dry ingredients, and mix until everything is just combined. Pipe batter, or use two tablespoon measurements, into your greased doughnut pan. Bake for 8-9 minutes, no more no less. A wooden skewer inserted into the middle of one should emerge clean, but the doughnut should still feel soft and bouncy to touch.

While they’re baking, melt the rest of the speculoos spread in one bowl, and mix the ingredients for the cream cheese crosses in another. Put the cream cheese mix into a ziploc bag and snip off the end, in such a way that piping the cream cheese would have a flat ribbon effect, not a tube. I find it gives a more aesthetically pleasing result.

Once baked, remove doughnuts from the oven, let cool for a while and then dip into freshly melted speculoos spread. Don’t melt the spread too far ahead, else it will harden and it will be more difficult to dip into. Tip: dip the bottom of the doughnuts, not the top (the side you see when you open the oven), for the little airy pockets on the underside will absorb more of the spread when still a bit warm. Pipe the cream cheese crosses on your doughnuts.

These can be kept for 2-3 days at room temperature, but of course they’re best eaten immediately. Enjoy with a hot cuppa.