I’m not a biscuit person. Although, as a child biscuits were the one treat we always had in the house. We didn’t have crisps, cakes or chocolate on a regular basis and pudding was a rarity. But there were always biscuits in the cupboard, there for my sister and I to have along with the daily post-school cup of tea and chat about our day with mum.
Ginger nuts (probably my favourite – dunkability high although better with coffee than tea) and Mcvities digestives were a staple. Packets of Rich Tea lived in there for the duration of my mother’s relationship with my almost-step-dad, Bourbons for my Aunt and custard creams and Hob Nobs (sometimes chocolate covered) would pop up on a regular, yet infrequent enough to make their presence exciting, basis. Christmas also produced tins of rich butter Danish shortbread, perfect in their munching, melting, mouth-feel but perilous for dunking; and birthday parties always ensured Foxes Party Rings and Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers (which were also a favourite of our Labrador). After school visits to the houses of friends were a wonder of different options, but I never understood and still mistrust the Nice biscuit, or pink wafer chooser.
Teenage visits to my father for school holidays coincided with the junk/convenience food explosion of the late 80’s and early 90’s; resisted by my mother other than regular servings of chicken kiev, but positively encouraged by a baffled male parent, desperate to keep two bolshy daughters happy, or at least quiet because they were stuffing themselves silly on E numbers and utterly tasteless food. Half term weeks meant pop tarts, Findus crispy pancakes, take away pizzas, Microchips, Mars ice creams, trips to Mcdonalds and enabled my sister and I to discover over-sweet packets of Maryland cookies which would never grace my mother’s table. None of which were enjoyed, simply scoffed because they were forbidden by one parent and unnoticed by the other (cigarettes and alcohol soon followed in the same vein, but that’s a whole other post, or even blog).
For me biscuits should be the British type, to be shared with gossip, the day’s news and a steaming cup of tea (and if there is a dog around that you can allow to lap the dregs of tea and sunken crumbs all the better) but I never keep them in the house now and only ever crave digestives for their salty edge.
My ambivalence extends to my baking. I don’t really enjoy making them. I have the odd recipe bookmarked and they can be good for mass distribution, but rarely would a cookie be the top of my list for a Sunday baking session. I think it was the post that accompanied David Lebozitz’s Oatmeal Cookie recipe that drew me in. The nostalgic tale of American cookies from one living abroad and their role in sharing made me think fondly of my relationship with biscuits and the place they held in my family life. I do also like oats, in pretty much any form, so yesterday I made a batch of dough, let it rest in the fridge overnight and this morning baked tray, after tray, after tray.
I’m still not won over. I don’t enjoy the process as much as cake or muffin baking and having to bake in batches is tedious. This was not helped by my compulsion to double the recipe meaning I had enough to make 48 enormous cookies. This doubling also contributed to the rather haphazard results I think. Uneven distribution of the flour and oats – because of the sheer quantity of them all through the butter and sugar mixture meant that some cookies spread almost wafer thin in the oven, their edges singeing in the process, whilst some retained their dome-like form becoming a chewier, more satisfying treat. They really were too sweet for me too, but I used half raisins and half sour cherries which were a nice contrast when encountered, and the spices were a subtle background. It should be made clear that any issues I have with these cookies are purely mine – in taste and execution. The cookies from well mixed batter had a lovely shape and texture, and those with a sweet tooth have raved about them.
Taking these cookies into work prompted a conversation about baking for a Bonfire night party and reminded me of one of the few things I baked over the summer. These Cookie Bars with Pretzel pieces from Michelle, the Brown Eyed Baker were probably the most moorish thing I have baked in years. In both texture and taste I could happily munch my way through piece after pieces. The salty/sweet combo is to die for and in my little notebook, next to the date on which I baked them (10/06/10 if you’re interested) I have scrawled ‘easy!’
Chocolate Chip & Pretzel Cookie Bars
From the Brown Eyed Baker
300g plain flour
1 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp salt
170g butter at room temperature
175g light muscavado sugar
112g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tsp vanilla extract
120z chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups pretzels chopped
I used a sprinkling of sea salt and cocoa nibs, but Michelle suggested peanut butter, melted chocolate and more pretzels
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 9 x 13 pan
Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt
In a stand mixer mix together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and vanilla, scraping down the sides then with the mixer on low-speed add the flour mixture.
Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped pretzels, sprinkle on some sea salt and some cocoa nibs then bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.