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

160g 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.

 

Art-inspired High Tea at the Rosewood

The best London has to offer. In the grey of day-to-day, there are flickers of inspiration, of tonality and light, that truly spark the mini creative in me. There are some things I simply cannot pass up. Like a kind invitation to a wine party. Or a biscuit-and-jam session. Or an Agatha Christie fan club session, or any deep random conversation topic in general. This kind invitation to tea at The Rosewood London was one of them, and for all the right reasons.

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Art-inspired? Tea? Scones and dessert? Take my life already. Launching next month, the gorgeous Rosewood will be hosting this artist-inspired tea session in The Mirror Room, and they were kind enough to invite me for a tasting. Just thinking about it now is pretty mind-boggling, for I cannot believe, after a hectic library session, hair and mind messes of tornadoes, that I was bestowed with such beautiful works of art and stunning service. My world was turned upside down for a full 2 hours, and fleeting as that period was, I only have good, no, excellent things to say about the whole experience.

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There are no words for the ambience of the Mirror Room, which exudes such sophistication and  old-world beauty. Plush buttoned sofas lined up along the middle of the wide and dimly-lit corridor, waiters like secret soldiers welcoming and smiling. I was Alice, the Mirror Room a very real rabbit-hole.

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Now I do apologise for the quality of the photos here– although I did bring  Tim (my camera), the settings messed up halfway and I ended up with just one dark picture, so you will only find slightly inferior iPhone shots here. Still no excuse to not sing high praise for the highlight of my week. I must agree with the words of talented pastry chef Mark Perkins, the hidden star of the show, who also nicely summarised the ethos behind his stunning creations:

“Rosewood London’s quirky interiors reflect the British capital’s history, culture and sensibilities, featuring the works of some of the world’s most renowned artists, with contemporary pieces complemented by more traditional art throughout the hotel.”

The menu is a real work of art in itself. To take you through this fairytale of a teatime, I’ll describe each inspired creation from left to right (1-5) in the picture you see above:

  1. Yayoi Kusama: Goodness. Milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set, on chocolate sable biscuit, inspired by Kusama’s recent exhibition at the London Victoria Miro galleries. This was one of my favourites, the firm chocolate sable supporting the delicate mousse and cremeux (pudding custard), everything dressed in a vibrant yellow glaze.
  2. Damien Hirst: It would be impossible to forget one’s virgin encounter with Hirst (ok not him, rather his shark-in-a-tank get-up), spellbound by his abstract, almost vulgar creativity. This white chocolate tart flavoured with cassis jelly and yuzu curd is inspired by his pharmaceutical-style series of spot paintings, finished with Hirst-style regimented and decorative pop-art coloured spots of gel.
  3. Alexander Calder: The American is renowned for his innovative approach to art by using wire and industrial materials to craft ‘drawings in space’. This is the inspiration for a delicate but impressive sculpture that combines the flavours and colours of pistachio and cherry. The perfectly executed, tiny cake was glazed with red chocolate, reminiscent of Calder’s famed mobiles.
  4. Banksy: By far my absolute favourite, and so much so that I recreated a caramel-inspired bit of sweet just this morning. I sat there on one of those plush sofas, meditating on the  classic flavours of vanilla and chocolate, amplified by the overall textural complexity. The little cube honoured and perfectly replicated creativity honed and sporadically discovered over so many years, each bite a spark of magic. Banksy’s iconic ‘Girl With a Balloon’ – arguably one of his most famous artworks – provided inspiration for a delicate white chocolate cube filled with a light vanilla cream choux, cherry jelly, hazelnut caramel and chocolate crémeux, garnished with an intricate and tiny replica of the enigmatic artwork itself.
  5. Mark Rothko: Rothko’s bold use of colour has provided the inspiration for a layered coconut and raspberry sponge, filled with coconut mousse, fresh raspberries and adorned with bright pink raspberry chocolate. The flavours here were simple but still admirable.

Do yourself and a loved one a favour and head down to the Rosewood next month for the most unforgettable high tea experience. The whole tea experience comprises a delicate, time-honoured set of finger sandwiches, the five art-inspired works, a glass of champagne, plain or raisin scones, your tea of choice (their pu-erh is potent as potent gets), and the best service you will find in London. It will be priced at £45 per person (£55 per person with a glass of “R” de Ruinart Champagne or £57 per person with a glass of “R” de Ruinart RoséChampagne).

Mirror Room

Rosewood London

252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN

Open daily 7am-10pm

Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake

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Because I actually cannot believe this is a (mostly) improvised, pseudo-original recipe. Honestly, it’s pretty glorious. Ok fine, if that’s a little too much undeserved self-praise, I guess I’ll just say that darn, I’m one enlightened cake-maker. A mixing of some fine ingredients, a thrusting of good pink ladies on the top, a sudden decision to say…

YES, I really do think salted caramel will go nicely with that.

Off the whim, all too sudden. Yesterday was the due date for the IB’s Extended Essay, so I feel it very fitting to celebrate with this recipe. It was a short return to my childhood of tree-climbing and grazed knees, after which I’d come home to find a well-sized slice of cheesecake my mother or grandmother bought from some gourmet store, which I enjoyed anyway because… cheesecake. I never found the rich tang displeasing as a kid; it was one of the few sorts of cakes I didn’t mind having at birthday parties. The flimsy, airy stuff never fascinated me. I lusted after half-cloying goop. I admit that this batch actually could have used twice as much salt in the caramel topping to counter the lemony, apple-y sweetness of the cheesecake, so I’ll put the better amount in for your benefit.

And with that, let’s go.

 

Ingredients

For the base:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (113g) softened, unsalted butter. Good butter, please.

For the filling and apple top:

  • 2 packages Philadelphia cream cheese, left to soften at room temperature (this would take at least a good half hour)
  • 1/2 cup white castor sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (or Greek yoghurt, which was what I used since I didn’t have sour cream on hand)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

For apple topping:

  • 2 small pink lady apples, or any sort which you enjoy eating on its own. Grab a green one if that’s all you have; doesn’t change the final product a whole lot. It actually depends how much of a flamboyant apple character you want your cake to have– the more the merrier, though I find thin layers atop the filling work well to even out the caramelisation process during baking.
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • one teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the divine gift of God that is salted caramel (makes a medium batch so it may be used in the future):

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 95g salted (!!) butter
  • 3 teaspoons fine salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (either single or double is fine)

 

Procedure

Before I start, I just want to say that I’ve recently become more inclined to writing method in prose, mostly due to how I had to do so for my extended essay, and I enjoy the more personal feel it establishes. But yes, cheesecake.

Start of by preheating your oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F), and grease a 9-inch round cake tin.Thinly slice your apples and toss them in a medium-sized bowl with the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside for now.

Make the base: With a wooden spoon, or if you’re 80% Neanderthal like me, your hands, mix the five ingredients together well in another medium bowl. Press into base of your cake tin and half an inch up the sides. Make sure the bottom is even. If you live in a supremely hot climate like I do, put the base in the fridge to prevent the butter from melting and causing the pressed-up sides to sink and go limp.

Make the filling: Using a whisk (not the electrical sort, just the single whisks), cream the cream cheese and sugar together till no more sugar lumps are present in mixture. Add in the eggs one by one and whisk well between each addition. Then, add in the fresh lemon juice, sour cream/greek yoghurt and vanilla. Use a wooden spoon to mix the last few ingredients in order to incorporate as little air as possible. I found this really helped with the final texture of the cheesecake.

Assemble and bake: Take tin out of fridge and pour filling on top. No pre-baking of crust, no nothing. Just pour and plop in the oven. Oh, after you scatter those moreish, cinnamon-y apples on top, of course. Please don’t forget that bit. As I said earlier, I find that thin layers arranged in rings starting from the edges serve to kick the look factor up 10 notches. Just so… Pretty. I could’ve been neater, but I was too excited embarking on this exciting baking expedition. Literally an expedition too, because I was running around grabbing ingredients and whatnot. I need to organise myself. Anyways, once the layers are done (I just did one nice layer), put the cheesecake into the preheated oven and bake it for 15 minutes. Once 15 minutes is up, turn down the temperature to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F) and bake for another 30-35 minutes. I took mine out after 33 minutes, because that’s the way I did it the first time I baked a cheesecake this method, and there were no cracks whatsoever. Works a dream.

Make the salted caramel (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction): Heat sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon. Continue to do so until all the sugar melts into a pool of dark, glossy amber liquid. Once this stage is reached, add the salted butter. It’s a pretty vigorous reaction, this one. Stir with spoon to help the melting process. Once all the butter has melted, slowly add in heavy whipping cream. This part is even more vigorous that the previous one; it will spit and rise as it starts to boil. Let the mixture boil like this for another minute before taking the pan off the heat. Let cool for another couple minutes before stirring in the salt. Store in an airtight container for future use, and reserve a half cup for later.

Once cheesecake is done in the oven, carefully take out. It should still be a little wobbly and tender in the middle. Leave to cool in the same pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, microwave half of the reserved caramel (it would have gone a little thicker and less liquidy) for a few seconds and liberally drizzle all over top of the cheesecake. Place the cake inside the fridge and leave for at least 4 hours or overnight. It’s good to make this kind of thing the day before. No sweat.

After at least 4 hours (or overnight), take cake out of fridge. Microwave the remainder of the reserved caramel and drizzle it over the top, however you like, however much you want. You’ll probably have some caramel left.

Bam. Double salted caramel whammy.

I’m thinking grape and crisp rice cheesecake next time, just because.