Easy and delicious: sesame cookies

sesame cookiesOn a recent visit to London, my friend Jia showed me the new cookbook she bought because she thought I would like it. I took one look at it and immediately went out and bought it myself! As soon as I got home I had to try it, and I started of with these sesame cookies from the Okashi cookbook. They are really easy to make and as my colleagues can confirm: totally delicious too! Here’s how to make them:

Put 220 g plain flour in a bowl and put it in the freezer to chill (the recipe says to sift the flour, but I don’t bother, these days flour is fine enough already). Beat 100 g softened butter with 100 g icing sugar until soft and creamy. Add 2 egg yolks and mix well. Add the chilled flour and 100 g grilled sesame seeds (the recipe suggests using half white and half black sesame seeds, but I didn’t have that so I used all the same) and fold in with a spatula.

Divide the dough in half and transfer each to a piece of cling film. Shape into a 12 x 7 x 2.5 cm rectangle (just think “cookie size” – no need to get your ruler out). Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Slice the chilled dough into 5-7 mm think slices and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 20 min until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Will easily keep for a week in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Signs of autumn: dried cherry and pistachio biscotti

cherry and pistachio biscottiI absolutely love winter and I think autumn is a great prelude. Although these past days have been very nice, it’s been too warm and sunny for me. I love seeing the wind through the trees and hearing the rain on the roof, nothing like a good thunderstorm to make me sleep like a baby! Autumn also means you can start putting lots of hearty stuff on the menu: the first tajine is already tasted, fish pies, mashed potatoes, meat loaf… are all still to come. And for tea no more ice cream or frilly bits but something with a good bite, like these biscotti. I found the recipe in my Kitchen Aid cookbook (it came with the machine – yes, I finally got one!) but you can easily make it even if you don’t have one. Here’s how to make it:

Heat the oven to 160 C. In a bowl, mix 300 g plain flour with 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 150 g sugar and 1 tsp szichuan pepper (if you don’t have this, you can just leave it out or replace it by a grind of black pepper and some lemon zest – I opted for mixed spice, but only half a teaspoon as the cinnamon in it can be quite overpowering). Add 3 eggs and mix to a soft dough (it will be slightly sticky). Add 75 g dried cherries and 75 g pistachios (unsalted and shells removed) and mix again until incorporated (you can do all this by hand as well).

Divide the dough in 2 parts and roll each to a diameter of 4 to 5 cm.  Place on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment and bake for 20 min until the sides are starting to brown. Remove from the oven (leave the oven on, you are baking them twice – hence the name, “bis-cotti”) and leave to set for 10 min. Then cut in 1 cm slices and place on the baking sheet again. Another 10 min in the oven and some cooling on a wire-rack and you are ready to dip them in your coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Enjoy!

Use up left-over dried cherries in cherry and chocolate cookies.

Sweet and tart: chocolate and cherry cookies

chocolate and cherry cookiesPart of having your birthday is taking treats to work for your colleagues. As we both work in big offices, that means lots of colleagues, and cookies are always a great option in that case. These are the cookies my boyfriend chose to take for his birthday. The recipe is from my trusted Les cookies de Laura Todd book (the basic recipe is always the same, so you can add whatever you want). I made a huge batch (hoping to have some left for the weekend) but not a single cookie returned… the dried cherries needed for this recipe are now a big hit in my household, some end up in granola, others just go “missing”. Here’s how to make them:

Preheat the oven to 140 C and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Mix 250 g softened butter (you can use margarine as well) with 350 g soft brown sugar until fluffy and soft. Add 1 egg and beat well until incorporated. In two batches, add 375 g self-raising flour (or use regular flour and add 1 tsp baking powder as well), a pinch of vanilla powder (I used a small bag of vanilla sugar, you could use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract of the seeds of half a vanilla pod as well) and a pinch of salt and mix well. Now add 150 g dried cherries (chopped if they are too large) and 250 g dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.

Roll small balls of dough with your hands, put them on a baking sheet and flatten it lightly with the back of your hand. Space the cookies well apart as they will spread. Put in the oven for 15-20 min. Enjoy!

Breakfast in a cookie: oatmeal, raisins and goji berries

Breakfast cookiesI was having a bit of a cold and getting tired of all the chicken soup, so I needed to take action. In oriental cuisine, the tart goji berries are used against colds (in chicken soup, but also in tea, cookies…) so I decided to make some cookies with them. I wanted something a bit “healthy” as well, so I thought rolled oats would do just the trick! I went ahead and adapted the Oat and Raisin Cookie recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook to my liking. Here’s how:

Preheat the oven to 170°C and mix 135 g unsalted butter (at room temperature) with 160 g brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg and a few drops of vanilla extract and mix well. Stir in 190 g plain flour1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda1/4 teaspoon mixed spice (the recipe calls for cinnamon, but I think it easily overpowers and I’m a bit tired of the taste) and 55 g rolled oats (you can still use your electric mixer at this point). Now stir in 80 g raisins and 40 g goji berries (or cranberries – you can also use all raisins of course or even add chocolate chunks) until evenly dispersed. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and arrange equal amounts of dough on the tray (I roll a golfball size ball in my hand and then squish it a bit on the tray). Make sure to space them apart as they will spread while baking. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown and firm. Leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Tastes delicious for a whole week! Enjoy while listening to I feel better by Gotye.

Use up left-over rolled oats in apple and oatmeal cookies. Use up raisins (and goji berries, cranberries…) in bread pudding or rum-raisin cookies.

Quick and tasty: Mechels cakes

Mechels cakesI haven’t been blogging regularly lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been baking! I’m in the middle of preparing a move (boxes everywhere) so I don’t always find the time to write everything down… Also, I’m going for fast and easy recipes now, and this is definitely one of them!

I’m getting into a phase where I’m getting more confident in baking and I’m starting to try my own variations or twists. This is such a recipe and with it comes the difficulty of finding a name! As it the shape and concept of Eccles cakes but with a more Belgian content, I opted for “Mechels cakes” as I will soon be living in Mechelen anyway (@Sophie, we’re moving in six weeks, so we should definitely go for a coffee once we’re settled in!) so it seemed like a nice reference. Luckily, not only the name sounds good, they tasted great as well (otherwise I wouldn’t be sharing the recipe of course). This time we didn’t have any leftovers for family or colleagues…

Here’s how to make it: in a small saucepan, heat 50 g raisins with 20 g dark rum and 40 g water. Put the lid on and allow to simmer for 20 min, then drain. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Chop 1 apple in small pieces and mix it with the drained raisins, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, the crushed seeds of 4 cardamom pods and 3 cloves, a pinch of ground ginger and a pinch of ground nutmeg. If you have a sweet tooth, you can add 1 tbsp sugar as well.

Take a roll of shop-bought puff pastry and cut 8 cm circles from it (if you buy pastry in a block, roll it out to 2-3 mm thickness). Put a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the disks, brush the sides with beaten egg or water and bring the edges together into the centre, ‘wrapping up’ the filling. Turn the discs over, seam side down, and flatten them slightly by hand or with a rolling pin. Place on a baking tray slightly spaced apart, brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Make three incisions with a knife (about 1 cm long) and bake in the oven for 20 min or until golden brown (if you added sugar, the raisins and sugar will caramelise through the holes). Allow to cool on the baking tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy while listening to Moves like Jagger by Maroon 5. Use up leftover filling in bread pudding or in cookies.

Sophisticated treat: tea finger cookies

Tea Finger CookiesThese cookies are a long time favourite of mine, I’ve made them time and time again because they are easy and delicious to make (and because I love tea of course – if you don’t like tea, then these cookies are not for you). They passed an important taste test as well: the “colleague yummy factor”. They got two thumbs up from all my colleagues! My colleagues often act as guinea pigs, and so far without objecting. This recipe comes from The Cookie and Biscuit Bible, yes, it exists and I love it! It contains over 400 recipes actually, so a long way to go still before I tried the lot… I’m sure my colleagues won’t mind!

Here’s how to make them: beat 150 g softened butter with 115 g light muscovado (brown) sugar until light and creamy. Beat in 2 tbsp Lady Grey tea leaves (about 6 bags), followed by 1 egg and 200 g flour. Using your hands, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a long cylinder. Put it on a sheet of cling film and gently press down on the top of the dough to flatten it slightly. You are aiming for a long rectangular shape. Wrap the dough in the cling film and chill in the fridge for about 1 hour (can be longer of course).

cutting your cookie
Cutting your cookies

Heat the oven to 170 C and line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Take the dough out of the fridge, unwrap it and, using a sharp knife, cut the dough widthways into 5 mm slices. Place on the prepared baking sheets (no need to space them far apart, they won’t move). Sprinkle the cookies with a little demerara sugar and bake for 10 min until the edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool on the baking sheets for 5 min before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy while listening to Little Old Lady from Pasadena by Jan and Dean.

You can of course let your imagination run wild and try this with any kind of tea leaves you fancy. Let me know which combinations you came up with!

Sugar delight: meringue

MeringueAlthough I’m not a huge fan of overly sweet desserts, I do like the versatility of meringue. There are two types of this sugary delight: the French version, that is crumbly and baked all the way through, and the Italian version, still gooey in the middle. Maybe it’s due to my Erasmus stay in Italy, but I’m definitely a fan of the latter So this recipe is clearly of the gooey kind! A lot of people are a bit daunted by meringue, but it’s really easy to make and this is definitely a foolproof recipe, so don’t hesitate to try it!

Heat the oven to 100 C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Mix 2 egg whites to stiff peaks (egg whites freeze really well – if you have some in the freezer, just defrost completely first). Add a pinch of salt, this will make the mixing easier. You really need to be able to turn the bowl upside down. When stiff, add half of 140 g caster sugar and mix again until glossy. Now add the other half, as well as 1 tsp cornflour and 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar and beat back to shiny and stiff. The cornflour really is the magic ingredient here: it will make sure your egg white doesn’t move in the oven! Dollop 5 very large spoonfuls on a baking sheet (thanks to the cornflour, they won’t spread much and will keep their height) and bake on a low shelf for 1 hour until crisp on the outside. The meringues should peal easily from the paper. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. Enjoy while listening to Mambo Italiano in the version of El Tatoo Del Tigre.

Use up your meringue by crumbling it over ice cream or strawberries.

Cookies any style

cookies any styleWhen my classmates discovered my blog, they immediately thought it was about time they saw some of the good stuff too, so I decided to take some cookies to the exam (the class in question is my evening class Polish, I quite like languages). I didn’t want to do the same old tried and tested recipes all over again, so I decided to have some fun with it and come up with my own combinations. I made a basic cookie recipe, divided the dough in 3 part and went for 3 different combinations: M&Ms cookies, white chocolate and peanut butter cookies and bresilienne cookies (with nuts and caramel) and they all turned out great, so there were not a lot of cookies left for my colleagues the next day!

Preheat the oven to 140 C and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Mix 250 g softened butter (you can use margarine as well) with 350 g soft brown sugar until fluffy and soft. Add 1 egg and beat well until incorporated. In two batches, add 375 g self-raising flour (or use regular flour and add 1 tsp baking powder as well), a pinch of vanilla powder (I used a small bag of vanilla sugar, you could use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract of the seeds of half a vanilla pod as well) and a pinch of salt and mix well. Now add 380 g of whatever you like, or split the dough in 3 parts and add 125 g m&m’s to one part (I used the one with peanuts in them and left them whole for a fun effect and maybe also because I’m a bit lazy). For the second part, I opted for 125 g white chocolate (chopped) and 2 tsp peanut butter and for the final part I added 125 g bresilienne mix or praline (I still had enough left from making the caramel and nuts for my almond praline cake – it keeps well in an airtight jar). Enjoy while listening to Mahna-mahnam from the muppet show.

More foolproof and delicious cookies:

> Rum raisin cookies
>  Ginger and white chocolate cookies
>  Cacao and white chocolate cookies
>  Green tea cookies
>  Caramel cookies
> Apple and oatmeal cookies
> Smarties cookies
> Chocolate chip cookies
> White chocolate and cranberry cookies

Deliciously sticky: caramel cookies

Caramel cookiesA colleague of mine decided to switch teams and when his last day on the desk next to mine came up, it seemed only logical to bake some cookies to mark the occasion. I again opted for a recipe from my trusted Les cookies de Laura Todd book. It’s a great book: the basic recipe is always the same, so once you get the hang of it, you can add whatever you want! For now, I’m sticking to the recipes suggested in the book, but I’ll try my luck at new combinations soon, I have plenty of ideas already! But first, back to this recipe. I used Carambar in it, which are French very hard caramel sticks. If you can’t find those, any tough tooth sticking caramel will do!

Preheat the oven to 140 C and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Cut 150 g caramels (I used regular Carambar, the recipe recommends using the Cub’s, which are caramels coated in chocolate) in small pieces (about 3 to 5 mm large). Mix 250 g softened butter (you can use margarine as well) with 350 g soft brown sugar until fluffy and soft. Add 1 egg and beat well until incorporated. In two batches, add 375 g self-raising flour (or use regular flour and add 1 tsp baking powder as well), a pinch of vanilla powder (I used a small bag of vanilla sugar, you could use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract of the seeds of half a vanilla pod as well) and a pinch of salt and mix well. You can add the chopped caramel at this point by hand (as the dough is quite hard) as I did, or you can first put batches of dough on your baking sheet, and push 3 to 4 caramel pieces in each as the recipe suggests.

Roll small balls with your hands, place them on the baking sheet (space them apart as they will spread) and push 3 to 4 pieces of caramel in each if you haven’t added the caramel to your dough already. Make sure the caramel is tucked away and not visible on the surface. Put in the oven for 15-20 min. Leave to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. The caramel will melt in the oven and get bubbly, but once cooled it will be rock solid again, so you may want to serve the cookies with a good dentist recommendation as well! Enjoy while listening to Caramel by Soulwax, a beautiful Belgian song, allowing you to really savour the cookies.

A colourful present: macaroons

Le macaronWhen some friends came to dinner a while ago, they didn’t want to arrive empty handed. Usually, you bring a bottle of wine, but as I’m not a big fan of wine at all, they wanted to bring something else. So they went to a cookery store and said to the lady behind the counter: we need a present for someone who loves to cook but already has everything. The lady knew just the thing, and that’s how I got my own Lékué macaroon set including a macaroon mat and silicone piping equipment. I already had the cutest cookbook on macaroons as well, the French book Les secrets du patissier: le macaron. I’ll admit, I mainly bought it for the gorgeous cover and the beautiful pictures, but it’s a fantastic book that helps you overcome your fear of tackling a macaroon recipe. So now, I only needed a good occasion which came about yesterday as we were invited to dinner by some friends. They have 2 little kids, so I assumed they would prefer sugar over wine too!

I opted for a batch of vanilla macaroons and a batch of raspberry macaroons, but the basic recipe is really the same. For 20 macaroons, first sieve 100 g almond powder and 100 g icing sugar in a bowl, stir to combine and set aside. Now make the meringue. You have 2 options here, either you make a French meringue where you first mix your egg whites until stiff and then add the sugar and mix again (the easy version) or you opt for an Italian meringue, where you add a hot sugar syrup to your stiff egg whites. This is more difficult to achieve, but your macaroons can’t fail with the Italian version, whereas for the French one all depends on the precision of the rest of your actions. On my first set of macaroons a year ago, I used the French version and got hollow macaroons as a result, so this time I didn’t want to take any chances and tried the Italian meringue instead.

Italian meringueFor both versions, first mix 40 g egg whites until stiff (add a pinch of salt to speed this up) – you’ll need 80 g egg white which is about 4-5 eggs (egg white freezes really well, so when you only need the yolk for a recipe, like for bavarois for example, just put the whites in a freezer bag). For the French version, add 100 g caster sugar in batches and keep beating until incorporated. For the Italian version, put the sugar in a small pan with 40 ml water and gently heat without stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 8 to 10 min until the syrup reaches 115 C (you can measure this with a sugar thermometer. If you don’t have one, just boil the mixture until it starts getting syrupy and starts to thicken, you need something like a runny shower gel consistency). Gradually pour the syrup on the egg whites and keep beating all the time. Continue to mix for about 10 min to cool down the mixture a bit. The result should be a glossy mix which holds it’s shape.

Piping macaroonsNow add 40 g raw egg white to your sugar almond mix and stir until well combined and you get a thick paste. This is were the two types start to differ: for vanilla macaroons, add the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract. For the raspberry version, add a few drops of red food colouring (optional). Stir until completely combined (it’s a great work-out for your arms). Add 1/3 of your stiff egg whites to this and stir well to loosen the mix. Now add the rest of the egg whites and gently spoon through until it’s fully combined. Put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe small circles on a baking sheet. Leave to stand for at least 30 min (this is a very important step: by doing so, the top will harden a bit and will rise uniformly in the oven which means the macaroons won’t crack).

Fresh out of the ovenPreheat the oven to 140 C and bake the macaroons for 15 min. If you used baking parchment, the recipe suggests sliding the paper on a slightly humidified surface when they come out of the oven as this helps the macaroons to come of the baking parchment more easily. Once cooled, sandwich the macaroons together with the filling (after trying them first of course, being a chef has it’s perks).

Macaroons in a box

For the vanilla macaroons, I opted for a vanilla buttercream filling. For this, mix 125 g softened butter with 70 g icing sugar, 80 g almond powder and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. For the raspberry macaroons, I used shop bought raspberry jam (the recipe indicates how to make your own, but that’s where I drew the line). Put in a nice box for a great present or store in an airtight tin for yourself. They are best eaten on the day or the day after, but they will keep for a couple of days. Enjoy!