Tahini Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

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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.

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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.

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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

Ingredients

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)

85g tahini

1 tbsp course salt (e.g. Maldon) for sprinkling

 

Directions

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.

Classic Cinnamon Rolls

 

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetLately 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:

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Rye strawberry balsamic brownies from Woodlands Sourdough
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Smoky cruffin from Maxi bakery by Bearded Bella
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A naked salted caramel cake for my mum’s 50th! 

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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.

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Classic Cinnamon Rolls (makes 8-9 rolls)

Ingredients

For the dough:

240ml (1 cup) milk

2 tsp active dry yeast

4 tbsp white sugar

1 egg

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

 

Directions

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.

Milk and Cream Cheese Roll

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetAnother week coming to a close, another surreal reality coming into focus, continuously playing.

Random things/journal excerpts:

07/05: This has been a foundation of salve and is keeping me sane throughout all the hours of each day and each night. Grateful.

08/05: Stop half-assing things. Full-ass everything. And remember there’s a whole world out there for me (and you) to discover.  Also, drew up a relatively simple Mother’s Day menu of tomato bruschetta, mini avocado toasts, banana-egg pancakes, vegetarian frittata…!

11/05: I have a Pinterest board now for French fashion and pretty interiors and it is making me so very calm and happy. For many years I’ve forgotten how much I love old, moody things. When I was a teen my own Instagram account started out as a more aesthetic page; the food existed as an aesthetic branch too but the reining theme was still wispy, old, pretty things. The delicate heel of a suede ankle boot, my favourite red lipstick smeared on a tissue paper, an elegant striped tee, an unusual floor tile, a messy strand of pasta on the edge of my plate. Coming back to that is very nostalgic in the best possible way.

And now for this sublime thing!

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Words can’t express how stunned I was by how light and fluffy this roll turned out. I got inspiration from a Youtube video and ended up changing most of its recipe so I thought I could make a blogpost out of this little experiment. A weightless sponge just about holding onto a whipped cream cheese filling. I have not played with a gluten-free version of this but that would be fun to experiment with, if you have a gluten-free flour blend or something like almond flour on hand.

It was so satisfying to make the sponge, like handling a bouncy cloud from a faraway dream. I can’t believe this is a sponge, I kept saying to myself as I spread the air-light batter onto the baking tin. The first time I made this there was too much cream cheese, which ended up weighing down the sponge and cracking it far too early. Tasted delicious but wasn’t as pretty. So if you’re not too bothered by that then feel free to add a little more cream cheese to the filling mixture.

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Milk and Cream Cheese Roll (makes one roll, serves 6-7)

Ingredients

For the sponge:

30g (2 tbsp) room temperature butter/melted butter (or flavourless oil)

1 tbsp condensed milk (tried this with ‘sweetened creamer’ too and it worked fine, so use that if you have that instead)

60ml (1/4 cup) milk of your choice

0.5 tsp salt

5 egg whites (vegan sub: use the equivalent in aquafaba, or the liquid from 1 can of chickpease. If using normal eggs, save the yolks for a soufflé pancake, devilled eggs or mayonnaise)

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

75g (3/4 cup) white sugar

60g (1/2 cup) cake flour

2 tsp milk powder (sub: vegan milk powder)

2 tsp cornstarch

 

For the filling:

100g (half a standard package) cream cheese (vegan sub: vegan cream cheese)

150ml whipping cream/double cream (vegan whipped or whipping cream)

2 tbsp sugar

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 160C (320F). Line a standard baking tin/cookie tray with parchment paper. With a small whisk, whisk together the condensed milk, milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave this for 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, briefly whisk together the cake flour, milk powder and cornstarch. Tip this into the wet mix and whisk well. Whisk in the salt. You should have a thick, beige batter that drops off relatively easily off the whisk. In a large, clean bowl, tip in your egg whites and cream of tartar. If using the aquafaba, it will take longer to whip up, around 5 minutes.

Whip the egg whites using an electrical whisk for a minute until frothy. Add half of the sugar and continue whipping until you get soft peaks that easily drop off the whisk. Add the rest of the sugar and continue whipping until you get relatively stiff peaks. Take 2 tbsp of this whipped egg white and add it to your first mixture of milk, condensed milk and butter. Mix this together well with a whisk or spatula until smooth and homogenous. Add this to the rest of the whipped egg whites/ aquafaba and fold until everything is just incorporated. Tip this glorious, whipped mixture onto the baking tin, spread into an even layer and bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes.

While that’s baking, make the filling by whipping the whipping cream and 2 tbsp sugar  in a separate clean bowl until stiff. Tip in the cream cheese and fold it in well. Leave the mixture in the fridge until ready to use. Once the sponge is done, it will look slightly brown on top. Take it out and leave it to cool for 5 minutes on a cooling tray or heatproof mat, but not too long otherwise the sponge will crack when you roll it. Cut a piece of parchment paper that’s slighter larger than your cake and put it on top of the sponge. After 5 minutes, flip the sponge using the tray as a support. Remove the tray and peel off the layer of parchment that was originally underneath. Add the whipped cream cheese filling to the centre of the sponge and gently spread it evenly over the sponge. Using the parchment as a support, gently and slowly roll the sponge onto the filling. It should be a single, neat roll. Leave to cool in the fridge before cutting into 6-7 rolls with a serrated knife. Best enjoyed with coffee and a dainty fork because you need dainty cutlery for soft, fairylike, dainty desserts like this.

 

 

5-Ingredient Chewy Gluten-free Chocolate cookies

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“Life as we know it is merely an afterthought in the global scheme of the cosmos”- Avi Loeb.

It’s May and most of us are still under lockdown. It’s real easy to get caught up in the weirdness and pain of today, so estranged from the social entanglement, that milieu we are so familiar with. But as Avi reminds us soberly, we are a very small part of the universe and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture– that is, the constant movement of the sun, of nature in general, the people who don’t have a roof over their heads (ever), the constant love we can show those closest to us, the constancy of human creativity which can be cultivated by indulging in our favourite hobbies– cooking, talking to friends, movies, knitting, whatever. This in itself is solace, to me.

Random thoughts and journal excerpts:

04/05: On a brighter note, pandemic solutions are also solutions for the environment. Prior to this current commotion, land clearing reduces biodiversity, which means that the species that survive are more likely to host illnesses transferred to humans.

24/04: Open your windows!! Virus aside, it’s very easy to have difficulty breathing because of too-high carbon dioxide levels in our own homes. Especially now of all times, when we’re all stuck at home.

03/05: There’s a new doughnut and sandwich place called Korio and they sell the fluffiest doughnuts (and cinnamon-sugar doughnut holes, the only thing I could get a hold of one sad Tuesday afternoon).

06/05: This girl’s channel is whack and I’ve started watching one of her videos after journalling almost every morning. I’ve really been savouring mornings, which are like pages of empty magic because nothing really happens yet, but I can sit and daydream and drink coffee and journal a bit before getting on with other things (exercise, work, etc). Talking about exercise, light weights can really transform a workout.

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I know a few people have requested a gluten-free recipe, and since I know a couple of gluten-intolerant people myself, why not! It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve played with and takes just 13 minutes in the oven. Like many of my other recipes, you simply have to chuck the ingredients in one bowl, whisk them together and be done with it.

These cookies have an incredibly chewy exterior and moist, air-light interior richly studded with dark chocolate. They’re rich with gooey chocolate, yet light and melt-in-the-mouth. I originally just used the vegan egg for this, then experimented with actual egg, then just egg white which yields the chewiest texture out of all three options. It also makes the cookies shiny and glossy, while letting the chocolate stand out as the main ingredient, both in the form of the cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The chocolate added at the very end is optional (but not really).

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Chewy Gluten-free Chocolate cookies (makes 6 medium cookies)

Ingredients

150g (around 1.25 cups) icing sugar

60g (0.5 cups) cocoa powder

0.5 tsp salt

60-70g (large handful) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

2 egg whites (vegan sub: use 2 flax eggs instead by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 4 tbsp water and letting that gel in a small bowl for a few minutes before using)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350C). Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper. If using vegan eggs, make that now with the ground flaxseed and water before using later. Whisk together the icing sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl. If your icing sugar and cocoa have been sitting in your pantry for a while, then you’re better off sifting them together instead of just whisking. Add the egg whites/vegan egg and whisk together until smooth and glossy. Add the chocolate chips and use a spoon to fold those in until incorporated. Put heaped tablespoonfuls of wet batter onto the baking trays, leaving 2 inches of space between them because they will spread. Bake for 12-13 minutes, or until there’s a clear hard and glossy crust on the cookies. Enjoy alone or with a nice scoop of vanilla bean ice cream/yoghurt. Can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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.