The blog of a doctor, a baker, a wisdom tooth taker!
A house is not a home without a well stocked biscuit tin. Biccies were a childhood comfort I’ve never grown out of. Be it a wee plate of digestives and a nice strong cup of tea just to use to dunk, not drink from when I was recovering from a bug as a tot; a packet of “shorties” and a plastic cup of tea they always filled too much to tide me over zooming home to Hungry Hubby when he was merely Fuzzy Fella on the Virgin train from London to Liverpool some years ago now; or a packet of peppery sinus clearing hot ginger nuts to dip into coffee just because I adore that sticky goo, fizzly sweet chew they become once dunked preferably whilst watching old movies tucked up in a blanky when home alone on a cold winters day. Big biccie love in Casa Blogs! As Nigel Slater said, he does love a biscuit but the he uses the word “cookie” simply because they sound more delicious that way. These from Nigella most certainly are that.
Normally I like to play with a recipe, to bring something of my own tastes and techniques to the dish but this time, the fiddles are minimal. I leftout the pecans as I forgot to buy some plus I thwack the cookie tray midway through baking to flatten and thus increase the “chew” factor further but other than these modifications, this recipe stands alone! Nigella, pour moi, has always delivered big time on the sweet recipes – on reflection, her cookies recipes really are excellent from her first book onwards. So good I even included her choc chip cookies from Express as part of my wedding favour cookie bags but I digress (how unlike me I hear you cry… Not! Lol…).
As I’d left out the nuts I upped the dried cranberry quotient (especially as I bought a bargainiferous bag from Costco – 1kg of Oceanspray for £6.99!) a touch but do add finely chopped pecans if you can. If for no other reason then they are seasonally very appropriate. Even in my young childhood home when money was extremely tight, every Christmas we would buy one if not two big fat drums of mixed natural nuts (along with drums of Mini Cheddars which I passed up in favour of the nuts or box of After Eights which resided in our Christmas fridge as long as we could bare to ration them out for!). They, for me, are a celebration of the season, along with bringing in a bough of an evergreen tree to symbolise that the lush fertile periods of farmed produce would return in the New Year from which the modern tradition of Christmas trees comes from and I look for many away to celebrate the season with an extra handful of nuts squeezed in wherever possible. Chunked up bars of white chocolate add that melting nursery fat vanilla sweet mouthful counterpart to the chew of the dried berries, which take on an almost juicy jamminess on baking perfectly.
For anyone whom has made their own archetypical Christmas cake, the buttery molasses rich scent and Steiff teddy bear brown colour one achieves from creaming the dark brown sugars and butter together to start, you must share my joy in realising the happiest time of the year is upon us! For it is reasonable to say in traditional (aka Bero book style) baking one would use caster sugar for almost every other bake but a Christmas cake, that special cake deserves bringing out that bag of sodden dark sugar meltingly tender crystals. These cookies use a little dark brown and a little caster sugar – I do recommend you use the dark so you get that extra hint of Christmas in your cookie (especially if you prefer the scent, nay the thought of a trad Chrimbo cake more than you enjoy eating all those dried fruits) but if you can’t find it, use only light soft brown sugar. You need that caramelly hit here.
Another homey addition which just smells magnificent on baking is that of oats. I look for skin care products which contain oat as much for their remarkable skin soothing properties as for the distinctive, wholesome smell they give off once baked or heated in a dry pan. Be sure that on mixing in the flour and oats that you stop as crumbles form as you see in the picture above then tip in your berries and chocolate. Churning in the latter too helps bring the dough together with only one or two revolutions of your stand mixer flat beater – any more and you risk over beating and smushing up the additions too much!
A lightly oiled American tbsp measure is the perfect wee scoop for these cookies – which spread considerably on baking (well they do if you cream the butter for ages and ages like I do so the dough is very aerated and easily melts in the oven to produce a thin but chewy bellied cookie – perfection itself!). A batch (one eggs worth!) makes 30 tbsp sized cookies. If you don’t need them all at once or rather, want to add some to your Christmas hampers then you can dollop out mounds onto greasproof, freeze until solid then pop in a bag in the freezer until you need them. They only take a minute or more in the oven to cook from frozen. I made these scoops larger as I wanted bigger cookies to gift away (plus I eat enough of the small ones as it is!).
A point to consider on baking is what finish you want to achieve – if you like a crisp cookie, one which sucks up steaming hot tea then leave them to cool on the baking tin as the residual heat produces a crisper finish. If you want them softer and tender if chewy bellied, take them out of the oven once they are brown around the edges but the middle gives ever so slightly when pressed. Once out of the heat, carefully transfer each one separately to a cooling rack with a flat, wide spatula to preserve the precious chew.
So why don’t you pop a batch in the oven, pop a Christmas movie or if you have it, the old BBC Narnia series on, flick on your fairy lights and set the kettle to boil. To dunk or not to dunk is your own decision but regardless, a cup of freshly brewed tea or coffee in your most treasured Christmas cup perched alongside a plate of these cookies will soothe your soul by virtue of all those warming molasses, oats and melting vanilla of the white chocolate, no matter how stretched the festive season tries to make you.
Get the recipe here – Christmas Cookies