Thursday, May 17, 2012

You've got the right puff, baby. Chocolate chocolate cookies on.

I sing to my cat Quincy all the time - and I don't know if that's weird, or what. My neighbour probably thinks that it is. But in all honesty, it's one of the things that brings joy to my day. I look at her little face and into her giant eyes and just sing to her, about her. All the time. And I don't really care if people think I'm mad. 

I'm know I'm not the only one who does this, anyway. Two of my closest friends sing to their cats too and I think being able to share that kind of madness is one of the reasons that I love them so much. And I really love that we each participate in this nutty act in our own way. One friend composes songs from scratch. The other makes her cat play along - guitar (or sometimes drums) with his little paws. And me? Well, I tend to rewrite the lyrics of songs I love to make them about Quincy. So it made me laugh very, very much when I received this in an email from a friend this week:

Yep, click on it. That's the artwork to my first album of Quincy covers. Isn't it beautiful? Isn't she beautiful? Or... lovely? I wanted to make something for the friend who sent it to me, so I looked (once again) to Good to the Grain for the answer. And I found it, in Kim Boyce's recipe for 'chocolate chocolate cookies'.

I feel a bit ashamed to say this, but chocolate isn't my favourite thing in the world. I mean, I really like it - and sure, sometimes I'm in the mood for a really good piece (or two). But no chocolate display makes me weak at the knees and (at the risk of Hannah never speaking to me again) I would never buy a packet of Tim Tams. I probably wouldn't even eat one if there was a packet open in the office. UnAustralian, I know. But these cookies! First of all, they're packed full of 70% cocoa dark chocolate; half is melted into the batter, half is chopped and stirred in. All is delicious. Secondly, the texture of the cookies is kicked up into a whole new level when you roll the sticky batter in cocoa nibs. Oh, CACAO NIBS (or however the hell you spell it). Bitter-sweet and fruity, they gently toast as the dough relaxes into a sexy sprawl in the heat of the oven, so that you end up with a crackly and shiny cookie, studded with these crunchy and ever-so-gently-squeaky little bits of cocoa bean. And finally - you might not be able to tell from looking at them - but these little darlings are made with spelt flour. After the addition of all that chocolate, you wouldn't think that'd mean much. But the nuttiness of this sweeter flour lingers beyond the intensity of the chocolate and helps to deliver a cookie with awesome might and complexity.

I think that bloke that did my album artwork liked them. I think you might, too. x

Chocolate chocolate cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce

I made two small changes to Boyce's recipe as it appears in her book. First, I made a half quantity of the dough, driven by the fear that I may never fit into my swimsuit again. Secondly, I made the cookies approximately half the size Boyce does (1 tablespoon of dough, rather than 2), because I like smaller cookies. I've adjusted quantities and baking times here accordingly. But you really, really should get this book. 

115g unsalted butter
240g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa), roughly chopped
2 eggs
1 cup sugar, rounded (a real full cup!)
1 cup spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt (or a tiny bit less of flaked sea salt)
1/2 cup cocao nibs

1. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave. Stir to thoroughly combine.

2. Combine the eggs and the sugar and beat with an electric mixture for around 3 minutes, or until pale and creamy. With the beater still running, slowly add the warm chocolate until thoroughly combined.

3. Sift the spelt flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture and gently mix until all ingredients are combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

4. 15 minutes before you're ready to bake the cookies, turn your oven on and set to 180C/350F. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use a tablespoon to scoop rounded quantities of the dough, pressing the top of each ball into the cocoa nibs before placing on the tray. Ensure there's enough room for the cookies to spread; I fit about 8 cookies on each tray.

5. Cook for for 15 minutes, or until cookies have spread and the edges have firmed. They'll still be soft in the middle, but that's a-ok! Shift them, paper and all, onto a cooling rack. Repeat until you have as many cookies as you want. Or keep the dough in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Monday, May 7, 2012

olive oil, chocolate and rosemary cake

If you read lots of food blogs, you might think that the last thing the world needs is another glowing review of Kim Boyce's book, Good to the Grain. But I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with you.

I've had this book for a little while now and had, until a couple of weeks ago, only made the now-famous whole wheat choc chip cookies. I didn't tell you about them because it seemed that everyone else was telling you about them. But holy heavens, if you haven't made them yet, jump to it: they are good. They've come to be known in these here parts as the cookies by neighbours, friends and family. Can you see why?

But just the other week I realised my fridge had been overtaken by carrots. Does that ever happen to you? I remembered a spelt flour and carrot muffin I'd seen in the book, so got to work one evening preparing all the ingredients so I could whip up the muffins before work in the morning. And holy moly, they were incredible. Moist, wholesome and sweetened not just by the combination of brown and white sugars but by the grated carrots and the spelt flour too. They're topped with an oat bran-fortified streusel topping, which turns them into a textural delight. See?

After the success of these muffins, I decided I really need to bunker down and get cooking. Well, baking, more specifically. I need make everything in this book, ASAP. But then I realised that if I really jumped into the task with the gusto I'd summoned apr├Ęs muffin, it wouldn't be long before I found my velour leisure suit becoming uncomfortably snug (yep, velour). So I decided that I'd let myself make a treat a week from this gorgeous selection - and that I'd give at least half of what I made away.

So this week I made Kim's olive oil, chocolate and rosemary cake. And oh... yes baby. Most people think they've misheard when you first say 'rosemary' followed by the word 'cake'. Unless they're Italian. Rosemary is one of the key ingredients in castagnaccio, the Tuscan chestnut flour cake that also contains raisins and pine nuts. I've been eating the castagnaccio made by Lisa Costa at Coffea Torrefazione Bottega pretty much for years now (and yes - she still makes it, so go try a slice!), so I jumped to try a cake recipe that included both rosemary and chocolate. 

Boyce is right when she writes of the magic that happens between the oil, the smoky chocolate and the pungent herb; the flavours of each are heightened, complemented and yet balanced by each other. It's pretty spectacular. The mix of white and spelt flour generates a toothsome crumb, soft but robust enough to suspend the broken shards of dark chocolate that are scattered through the batter. It is one of the most exciting cakes I've had in a long time: beautiful with coffee in the afternoon, but elegant and surprising enough to be part of a casual dinner. 

As you'll see below, it's also a sublimely quick and easy cake to whip up. Of course you don't have to use a tart pan, but there's a certain genius in the idea: the olive oil in the batter means that the edges of the cake make love to the corrugated edges of the pan while it's in the oven, resulting in the most deliciously crispy and fragrant crust. Dirty, but deliciously true, my friends. 

Olive oil, chocolate and rosemary cake

oil for the cake pan
3/4 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt, or 2/3 tsp flaked sea salt (like Maldon)
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tblsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
140g dark chocolate, chopped roughly (Boyce says 1/2-inch pieces)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. With a pastry brush or paper towel, grease the pan with olive oil. 

2. Sift the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. 

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until combined, then add the oil, milk and rosemary. Whisk again until all ingredients are well combined. 

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix in gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until well combined. Fold in the chocolate and pour the batter into the prepared pan. 

5. Bake for around 40 minutes, or until the edges are deep golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (Do check at 35 minutes, as my oven seemed faster and the cake was done a little earlier).
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