Sunday, 13 July 2008

Les Plus Grandes Biscuits du Monde (The Biggest Cookies in the World)

As I pottered in my kitchen this afternoon, cooking, cleaning, and cursing the unfinished corners that always seem to be collecting grime and goo, I thought about two things which my apartment lacks. The first, of course, is a dishwasher. Though a rarity in all but the most elaborate Parisian kitchens, even regular washing-up practice hasn't noticeably impacted my ability to dry glasses well. The second thing missing is neighbours. Sure, there's the Anglo-French couple next door who once watered my plants, and with whom there is sometimes vague talk of getting together for a glass of wine, and the woman upstairs who is formal but friendly when she greets me in the stairwell. But what I'm after are neighbours cum friends--the kind who would eat your leftover baking experiments without thinking you're trying to poison them, who would lend you chairs for a dinner party which had grown beyond 4 people, and who, at least from time to time, would occupy one of those chairs at your table.

One of my favourite aspects of the first two years I spent at Oxford was the sense of being part of a neighbourly community. The Manor was, at least to the outsider, simply a college dorm occupied by 20-somethings, with the same dirty shared kitchens and wine bottles overflowing from the recycling bin. But it was exceptionally convivial--and, I'd like to think, somewhat more sophisticated than its undergraduate counterpart--when it came to preparing and sharing food. Within my extended circle there was a regular tradition of expansive Sunday evening dinners and Tuesday night "tea and cakes," as civilized as the former were often raucous. But whether in search of another mouth to feed, a uncracked wine glass or some washing-up liquid, it was rare that an evening was entirely self-contained or self-sufficient.

The nostalgia wanes somewhat when I remember the constant piles of unwashed dishes, or the frequent migration of food and utensils from kitchen to kitchen. But I do miss the casual interactions around food which were commonplace then and all too rare now. I hope that when I again live full-time in a country where my neighbours and I speak the same language, that there will be more knocks on the door in search of flour and, perhaps ultimately, friendship.

* * *

For the time being, though, I take extreme pleasure in the fact that one of the veterans of "tea and cake"--and an extremely dear friend--has moved just a 25 minute walk from my part-time London home. It's not quite close enough to be officially neighbours, but given that he and his wife were last living some 5,000+ miles away in Delhi, I'm willing to overlook the technicality. When we were invited to see their new place, I also had the opportunity to make a home-made housewarming gift, something I'd been looking foward to doing for years.

The molasses spice cookies I chose to bake, as if aware of the auspiciousness of the occasion, expanded exponentially in the oven. But full of spice and molasses (I used heaping measures of the former and a very flavourful version of the latter), they were very tasty, if comically large. If I'm lucky enough to impose more baked goods on nearby friends such as these, I'll be very lucky indeed.

Molasses-Spice Cookies

Adapted From the Cooks Illustrated Best Recipe Cookbook, via Smitten Kitchen

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed (I used molasses sugar)
1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 1/3 cup for rolling cookies (here, I used, at least in part, granulated brown sugar)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses

Preheat oven to 19o degrees Celsius. Combine flour baking soda, salt and spices. In a separate bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and molasses. Add dry ingredients in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined. Place remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar in shallow bowl. Working with 2 tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 1 3/4-inch balls, cover each lightly with sugar and place them on ungreased baking sheets spaced 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.

Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking, until outer edges begin to set and centers are soft and puffy, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.


The Late Bloomer said...

Hi there! Saw your comment on Maîtresse. I made some similar molasses gingersnap cookies last fall, from a recipe on the Culinate website -- they look very similar to these, although I imagine Deb from Smitten Kitchen must have snazzed them up even more, so I should give this recipe a try too! I need a good excuse to break out the molasses again, because I don't use it that often. And who says gingersnap spice cookies need only be reserved for the winter?! They're heavenly with a good tall glass of milk, or with tea -- bien sûr! And I remember how they expanded in the oven too -- it was fascinating!

Loved this post. Will be back again... (Oh, and I can relate to the lack of interaction with neighbors here in France -- the only ones my boyfriend and I have contact with are the retired couple across the hall, and that's only on an occasional basis. They have accepted baked goods in the past, though -- I don't think anyone would refuse freshly baked food!)

Shira said...

Hi, a belated thanks for your comment. I'm thinking perhaps a tart citron presse--or perhaps iced coffee (something I haven't really encountered since I left the US a decade) would work w/the cookies too. Or perhaps an ice cream sandwich...