Nothing separates our common language so much as baked goods. In Scotland, where I grew up, a cookie was a yeast-leavened cake, a sweet dough made with bread flour, baked in individual rounds with a very smooth glazed surface on top, sometimes with currants or raisins kneaded into the dough, often with large crystals of sugar sprinkled on the top.
In the UK generally, however, a cookie is a name for a specific type of sweet biscuit – large, thick, and chewy, often enriched with pieces of chocolate or dried fruit. These are also called American Cookies, like the sweet mini-cakes that get sold with coffee are called American Muffins….
(And let’s not even get into what we call scones/Americans call biscuits, what we’d call biscuits/you’call a cracker or a cookie… Someday, I will cope with the distinction between turnip/swede/rutabaga, too.)
Was reminded of my resolution to continue Tuesday Recipe Blogging regularly in 2009 when Gary Farber posted a link to this fabulous article in the NYTimes on Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing.
The key points in the article are: never melt butter in the microwave (I keep butter in the freezer, and take it out to slowly defrost the night before I plan to bake with it) and cookie dough needs to be as cold as possible when it goes into the oven. (Which is why many recipes advise rolling the made-up dough into a cylinder, wrapping it in clingfilm, and leaving it in the fridge until you’re ready to cut slices off and bake.)
That said, I love making biscuits. Or supervising their making. The basic ingredients are just flour and fat and water, and sugar for sweet biscuits, and you can keep several children quiet for hours by proposing the treat of making biscuits, then letting them mix and roll out the biscuits, and cut out shapes with a knife (fancy cutters restrict the imagination…), then baking the biscuits, and finally getting to eat what they made, as well as (key points) picking out a few of the best to give to their parents when they get home (I’m speaking as a childminder) and clearing up the mess afterwards. (And enforce good manners by requiring children to ask politely and respond with goodwill to requests for shared equipment, otherwise they get banned from the biscuit-makers table. So far the threat of banning has always been enough. But then, I mean it.)
But there are some recipes which I think of as cookie recipes, mostly the ones which are, yes, thick, rich, and filled with good things… and usually found on American websites.
Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Spices: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamon. I like a large spoonful of ginger, about half that of cinnamon, and about half that of nutmeg, cloves, and cardamon. Spice to your taste. I have also been known to add a sprinkle of pepper or even chilli, just for that extra bite. Also, 1 tablespoon of cocoa and a pinch of salt.
Fresh and crystalised ginger: 1 tablespoon of green ginger, finely grated. 1/2 cup of crystalised ginger, finely chopped (optional, but fab).
Chocolate and flour and butter: 7 ounces dark chocolate (or 1 200g bar) to 1.5 cups flour to 4 ounces of butter.
Magic: 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
Sweet: 1/2 cup dark brown sugar and 1/3 cup of molasses. Substitute treacle if you must, but it really should be molasses. If you oil the cup before you start, it’ll be much easier to get the molasses out of it. Also, 1/4 cup white crystal sugar for sprinkles.
I have a set of US measuring cups bought because (a) so many US recipes use them, and (b) for baking, it’s often quite useful to be able to just use proportionate measures without messing about with weights.
Sift the flour, the ground spices, cocoa, and salt, together in a bowl.
Let the butter get soft (room temperature, assuming your rooms are a nice normal 12-15 degrees, and see New York Times on the dangers of melting the butter) and beat in the green grated ginger, the sugar, and the molasses, in that order, until all are combined.
Dissolve the baking soda in a small amount of boiling water (like, less than 2 teaspoons worth).
About halfway through mixing the sifted flour/spice into the butter mixture, add the dissolved baking soda.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and mix the pieces of chocolate into the cookie mixture: also (if you’re using this) the crystalised ginger pieces.
Roll the mix into a cylinder, wrap in clingfilm, store in fridge for at least half an hour and better, overnight.
Flour a baking tray, have the oven hot, have a bowl of white crystal sugar ready. Cut slices off the cylinder, press into the white sugar, and bake in oven for about 10 minutes. Stay in the kitchen. Do not get distracted. These cookies bake fast – they’re done when the surface is just slightly cracked – and if you leave them too long they lose the lovely chewy texture and become crunchy chocolate gingerbread cookies. And shortly afterwards, charcoal with a lingering flavour of ginger somewhere about them.