Saturday, October 16, 2010

tender cookies for a weary heart

For as long as I can remember, I have baked cookies. My very first baking effort was "Brown Sugar Cookies," from a recipe my Mom wrote out on an index card. I was just old enough to read, so 5 or 6 years old. I was not tall enough to work at the kitchen counter, so Mom set up the kitchen step stool. I put the bowl on the seat and the recipe on the top step. Mom lined up the ingredients on the counter, except for the flour, which was stored in "the flour bin" on the kitchen floor. Mom baked all of the family's bread, so we bought the 10kg bags (or whatever the Imperial equivalent was at the time). We were a baking family. I added my cookie baking to Mom's bread making. Soon I learned to bake bread too, and I branched out to cakes, pies and many other treats, causing us to buy even more flour. Cookies have always been my mainstay, though, and I have a few favourites that I rotate.

This recipe has been taken over by Fiona. She's in grade 12, and super busy with school and other activities. Sometimes when I'm heading up to bed around 10 or 11, she's just taking out the mixing bowls and preparing to bake a batch of cookies. I can understand totally what she's doing. Baking cookies is a calming activity. When life's demands are overwhelming, you can take 30 minutes to bake up a batch of sweet, golden treats to share with people you love. It's totally predictable and gratifying, an oasis of warmth and peace in the middle of chaos. Here are the chocolate chip cookies that got me through high school and university, with Fiona's adaptation noted:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2/3 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour (I use white, Fiona uses whole wheat - both are good)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugars. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Dump the dry ingredients on top, including the chocolate chips, and stir them in, just until fully combined. Don't overmix. Nobody likes tough cookies, and overmixing will toughen them.

Drop the very soft dough by spoonfuls onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet. You can make these big or small. Just leave room for them to spread out as they bake. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

The most important thing about these cookies is to take them out of the oven soon enough. You want them just a bit golden at the edges, indicating that they are done on the bottom, but not golden or brown on top. Catching them in time ensures nice, soft, chewy cookies. Actual baking time will vary depending on the pans you use, and the behaviour of your oven.

Remove the cookies from the pan immediately to a baking rack to cool.

Make 20-48 cookies, depending on the size. The recipe doubles, triples etc. easily if you want to make more. Also, they freeze well, but beware of how delicious they are frozen. You may think there are lots in the freezer, only to find that the cookie monsters in your house have been raiding your supply.

These cookies are so good, honestly, people have asked me to marry and or/or adopt them, just so they could be assured of receiving more cookies. Interestingly, Andy has never like them. They're too sweet for him, and he doesn't like the dark chocolate of chocolate chips. Oh well, I married him anyway.

The other recipe that I have to share with you is one for oatmeal cookies. These are still my specialty. Most oatmeal cookies I have tried are kind of bland, even if they include spices like cinnamon and cloves. This recipe incorporates orange juice and orange peel, which makes them zesty. The recipe is gi-nourmous, so you could cut it in half if you don't want enough to feed an army. They also freeze well.

Orangey Oatmeal Cookies with Apricots and Cranberries

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup orange juice (you can use frozen orange juice concentrate, undiluted, for a more vibrant orange flavour)
zest of one orange, chopped or shredded finely
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant oats)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried apricots, chopped into chunks

Start with a really big mixing bowl or you will wish you had. Cream the butter and sugars. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, orange juice and orange zest. Dump the dry ingredients and fruit on top of the wet mixture then stir in until just combined.

Drop the dough (also very soft) by spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until golden around the edges but not brown on top. Transfer to a rack to cool. Makes 1 ton of cookies.

You can play around with the addition of various fruits, nuts, even chocolate chips if you like. Chocolate and orange are quite nice together. I never put chocolate in these, because they are the ones that Andy loves, and I want to make sure that every last one of them is delicious to him. That's why he married me.

Guess what? We have a flour bin at home, 3 actually: one for white flour, one for whole wheat, and one for sugar. We are a baking family.

If you are feeling stressed, try baking some cookies. If you're like Fiona and me, you will definitely feel better for it.

question: do you bake?

mompoet - nourish yourself and those around you, with both food and soothing activity.

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