Thursday, September 23, 2010

[Cookie 091] Sesame Seed Cookies


Hello folks, I'd like to introduce you to someone. This is Marjorie. She is my hero/tailor.

I am forcing her to be my friend.

And obviously, my first step towards achieving this goal was to make her cookies. Specifically, these Sesame Seed Cookies.


Okay, I think I should do some 'splaining. First off, I am taking a Projects in Photography class this semester, and it focuses primarily on portrait photography. Which is pretty rad, in my opinion, since I never get around to actually shooting posed portraits and I have really wanted to give it a try. For our most recent assignment we had to pick a Ghanaian that we were relatively chummy with (or not--just depends on how confident you are with potentially awkward situations) and photograph this subject over an 8-12 hour block of time. So, I chose Marjorie, who is the go-to seamstress for most of the students in my program. She always came off like somewhat of an enigma to me, in part because of her no bullshit attitude and somewhat stony countenance. Plus, she can sew a pretty 1960s cocktail dress in about 6 minutes, from raw fabric to ironed lapels.


So I set up a date to come in and shoot some pictures of her, and in preparation I make a batch of these Sesame Seed Cookies (mainly to get on her good side before I would proceed to bug the hell out of her with my camera). Another example of how baking cookies has helped me where my social skills are lacking! I hand her the tupperware containing the cookies, and she takes a bite, and says "You did good" and then continues her cutting and measuring. I felt like I was in a detective movie and had just returned to my boss with a particularly juicy bit of info, and the P.I. gruffly patted me on the shoulder and told me "Ya did good, kid." Yay!


Anyway, I shot a million pictures, only got a few that I like, and none that I love. Oh well, c'est la vie. At least the cookies were a hit, and that's what I should be talking about anyway! So I'll hop to it.


These cookies are really good. You must excuse their appearance, because once again my crazy oven situation messed them up pretty badly. But the dough is delicious and the flavor of the actual baked cookie is pretty awesome. The sesames get all toasty and pack a bunch of flavor as well as crunch. I would most definitely make these again, because not only are they easy to make, but they are unusual, so you can impress your friends (and friend-crushes) without breaking a sweat.


Sesame Seed Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hulled sesame seeds, toasted


  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line four baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda, and set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. Add reserved flour mixture, and beat until combined. Add toasted sesame seeds, and beat until incorporated.
  • Using a spoon, drop cookie batter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, onto prepared baking sheets, allowing at least 2 inches between cookies for spreading.
  • Bake until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack.

  • ****
    {End Results}
    Baking Difficultly: 1/5
    Ingredient Accessibility: 4/5
    Tastiness: 4/5
    Attractiveness: 3/5
    Is it worth it?: Yes! Especially those of you who are fans of sesame know who you are.

    Drink: No drink. Nothing.
    Song: Side with the Seeds -- Wilco
    Activity: These would be good served at a nice little tea party or to give as a gift. See above anecdote.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Favorite Cookie [081-090]


    Another round come and gone. Actually, it's the 9th round, and 9 is my lucky number, so I would have to say that I'm a little disappointed that this set of ten cookies weren't better. These were my summer cookies, so I really have no excuse for not going all out! We had some really nice ones, that's for sure, but nothing that really blew my socks off. Is that even an expression? Blowing socks off? What?

    Anyway, it's definitely going to be a rough 10th round, that's for SURE SURE. This whole gas oven with no temperature gauge is killing me! I am literally baking completely blindly. Oh, and there is a nation-wide gas shortage, so that also doesn't really help me out. And to top it off, I don't have a cookie sheet, so I've been using a roasting pan. Aaaaand, I only have a 1-cup measure and 1/2-cup measure. No teaspoon measures. Yep. And the butter they sell here is sold by the 200g block, with no tablespoon/cup measurements on it, and I have no scale. Sooooooooooo…yeah.

    But let's cut the crap and get on with it. Here's the 9th round, in all its mediocre glory!


    1st place (Blue Ribbon!): Maple-Pecan Shortbread
    Alright, these were really nice. Besides the fact that they are very easy to make look nice (you just cut out a perfect circle of dough with a cookie cutter and squish a pecan onto it! simple!), the cookies have a surprisingly deep flavor--even if you don't add the maple extract, like I didn't. The maple syrup lends enough rich flavor alone, and the toasted pecans in the dough work fantastic with it. Highly recommend this one!


    2nd place (Honorable Mention!): Wholemeal Almond Biscuits
    These also have a really nice flavor that's a little unexpected. The cookie itself is a lot like a Hobnob (OMAHGAH HAVE YOU HAD THESE?!!? LOVE), but a lot less sweet. In fact, they are hardly sweet at all, but have a great cinnamon undertone, along with the toasty almond flavor of the biscuit. Great for tea, or really any fancy, fruity dessert. Pile on the clotted cream plz.


    3rd place: Almond Horns
    So almondy, so good. And they are majorly adorable, right? Am I the only one that gets all warm and fuzzy inside when she sees an adorable cookie? Is it bad that I look at cute cookies like normal people look at cute puppies?


    4th place: ANZAC Biscuits
    Okay, I ranked these highly because they basically introduced me to the nectar of the gods: Lyle's Golden Syrup. Holy shit, I can't even begin to tell you how many cans of this I'm bringing back to the US--customs or not! As for the cookie itself, I could eat the dough for hours/years/eternity.


    I was partial to these because I really love whole-wheaty, nutty, oatsy, hippie-dippie snacks, and these really fit the bill. But I have to say, they are more like a cake than bar, and hardly could be considered a cookie…just sayin', Martha.


    These definitely look very elegant and nice, but they didn't end up being as flavorful and spicy as the uncooked dough was. They tasted a little boring and bland once baked, but they are fun to make, so that's a plus.


    7th place: Fig Bars
    These took a lot of work. Yep. Making the fig filling is fun and it is very aromatic and delicious, but for some reason once the cookie is all assembled and baked, the fig filling isn't all that special tasting anymore. The assembly of the bars (ie. the rolling of dough, spreading of filling, and sandwiching of the two layers of dough) is a little tricky and tedious. They're good, but not worth all the effort.


    These taste exactly like you'd expect, and I think that the only reason Martha made the recipe "GIANT" was because the dough itself isn't all that special. The use of vegetable shortening does, however, lend a pleasantly different taste and texture to the cookie. You could add stuff to this recipe and easily spice it up, if you're interested. Add white chocolate chips, dip the bottoms in ganache, somehow incorporate peanut butter...


    9th place: Baci di Dama
    Ugh, what a serious pain in the ass. "Piping" the filling onto these little poops was a disaster, since the filling absolutely didn't hold its own and spilled all over the place. And the cookies, once I managed to actually get them to set and solidify, were hard and chewy and not so fab. Meh.


    10th place (Brown Ribbon!): Chocolate-Ginger Leaves and Acorns

    Alright, great. Got those done and behind me, and I'm ready for the new! But maybe that's just the Rosh Hashanah speaking. To all of you enjoying the first signs of autumn, I am whole-heartedly jealous of you. Eat lots of pumpkin and spice for me, because right now I'm looking at nothing but pineapples and plantains for another 3 straight months. Until my next post, soon...

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    [Cookie 090] ANZAC Biscuits


    Damn, the big 9-0. So close to one hundred. But more importantly, this cookie should be acknowledged as the very first cookie I baked here in Ghana! And the very first cookie I ever baked using a gas oven! So many milestones, so many feats! I exaggerate, yes, but still I think the fact that I was able to produce mildly edible cookies using an oven that has no temperature knob and is essentially just a sealed box with a blazing fire inside of it deserves a little pat on the back. Well, when I say mildly edible I mean that the first batch I made I burned the hell out of the bottoms of (it was only thanks to my friend Ayden's nose that we realized something was going wrong in the kitchen), and the second batch baked for way too long and got overcooked and hard, though beautifully golden brown. But the cookie itself, let me just say, YES.


    ANZAC Biscuits I suppose were a funny first choice cookie to make during my stay here in Africa, considering that they are a cookie that got its name from the Australian New Zealand Army Corps during WWI. Apparently, they were a popular cookie to mail to soldiers, and I can see why since they are pretty sturdy and probably won't taste bad after a few days (though mine didn't last that long). They have oats, coconut, and Lyle's Golden Syrup in them--the latter two were readily available at my local supermarket, and for a cheap price too. And let me just say: Lyle's Golden Syrup. Holy shit. This is the stuff that God drinks, I swear to you. Oh mah gaaaaaaah! I want to put this on everything I eat, from now on. Done.


    The other ingredients, like flour and butter, were super expensive at the market here because I couldn't find any that weren't imported. Oh well, I guess I'll make do somehow. At least the baking soda is in the cutest container EVER!


    Anyway, the recipe is pretty simple and requires that you melt your butter with the Lyle's Golden Syrup, so you don't have to set your butter out on the counter an hour early to soften up! Whipping up the dough is easy peasy, and perfect if you don't have an electric mixer on hand. Then you just scoop out balls of dough with your cookie scoop, if you have one. If not, you just roll balls of dough between your hands, and make sure to pack them tightly so that the cookie doesn't fall apart too much.


    (Oh and by the way, check out the mega-kitchen that we have in my dorm here! That's only half of it, too! We have 3 oven/stoves, but only 1 has gas! I feel like I'm on a cooking show...or not at all) The next step, or actually the step before all the dough-making actually, should be to preheat your oven. Yeah no big deal, whatever, just turn the knob to 350ยบ. Okay, I know I'm a totally newbie to this whole gas oven thing--BUT WHAT THE HELL?! You have to literally aim a flaming match underneath the bottom of your oven and pray to god that it catches fire?! And then you can't really adjust the flame (at least on ours you can't)?! And we don't have an oven thermometer yet! Blind baking!! Ahhh!! So of course, the first batch we decide that it's fine to stick our cookie sheet/roasting pan on the lowest rack, so it burns the cookies' tushies to a blackened crisp and leaves their tummies all doughy and undercooked. Then, thinking we had outsmarted the oven, we raise the sheet to the top level and the cookies bake for almost twice as long and looked perfect, but were so cooked through that they hardened up into rocks. Siiiiigh. At least it was a learning experience. Next time, the middle rack should be just right--the third bowl of porridge, if you're into metaphors or some shit.


    So, these cookies are pretty delicious and easy and great and you should make them if you have a sane-person's oven. But hey, gas ovens ain't so bad. They get hot in like 3 seconds and...yeah, that's it. Okay, I'm over it! No one said it would be easy cooking on an entirely different continent, worlds away. Imma make this happen! Go go go! Welcome to a new semester of cookie baking--Awkwaaba.


    ANZAC Biscuits
    Makes about 3 dozen


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Lyles Golden Syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup boiling water

  • Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, and coconut. Set aside.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with syrup. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water, and add to butter mixture. Stir to combine. (Be careful; if the butter is hot, it will bubble up considerably.)
  • Add butter mixture to dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice-cream scoop, drop onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart (be sure to pack the scoop tightly so the mixture doesn't crumble). Flatten cookies slightly with the heel of your hand.
  • Bake until golden brown and firm but not hard, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

  • ****
    {End Results}
    Baking Difficultly: 1/5
    Ingredient Accessibility: 2.5/5 (Depends on where you live, I guess)
    Tastiness: 4/5
    Attractiveness: 2/5
    Is it worth it?: Yes! Oh man, and the dough...I could eat it for. ev. er.

    Drink: These would be good with milk, or nothing at all.
    Song: How Hard -- James Apollo
    Activity: Mastering the art of gas oven baking in a third world country!