Monday, May 30, 2011

I Can’t Help Myself

Flags Out Today

Happy Memorial Day to my American readers!  Some say that here in the States, this holiday is the unofficial start of summer, but I say that those people clearly do not live in Texas, where we are now celebrating two months of summer.  And by “celebrating,” I mean that we are hiding in our caves with the air-conditioning humming a soothing tune.  Actually, I’m a little concerned right now that my AC is not working, as the temperature seems to be holding steady at about 85 degrees F here inside my cave.  Either the box that makes things cold is not working, or it just can’t keep up with the heat today.  It’s 95 degrees outside right now, so your guess is as good as mine.  (I should have left the AC running when I left for work this morning.  Oh, regret!)

Update on the AC situation(!): in a rare moment of lucidity, I decided to be proactive and call the People in Charge to complain about the AC.  Ten minutes later, the maintenance guy showed up.  Ten minutes after that, cool air was flowing into my apartment.  The problem, he told me, was ants.  Ants had blocked the connector that transmits the electrical signal from me, inside the apartment, to the air-conditioning unit outside.  I fear and loathe the ants already, and I had been warned about their destructive powers.  Now I feel validated in my ant hatred.  It’s funny: for someone with a professional interest in insects and other arthropods, I seem to dislike a lot of them.  But I will say that the ants and the crickets (which I despise) are making the roaches seem almost friendly by comparison.

For better or worse, I spent most of the day at work, but the whole time, I was looking forward to coming home to a chocolate-banana malt and a few “biscuits,” as the British say.  I tweaked a Nigella Lawson recipe to turn her recipe for digestive biscuits into a slightly sweeter and strangely addictive cookie.  Nigella’s recipe is barely sweet at all, but I really liked the texture of her recipe the first time I made it.  I followed it obediently except that I used all butter instead of the shortening/butter combination that she specifies.  Shortening grosses me out, and I really don’t want to know if I’m eating it, so that means I cannot cook with it.  But butter—I like butter!  And the more I cook and bake with butter, the more I like it.  Anyway, to make a more cookie-like biscuit, I increased the sugar twofold and added a teaspoon of vanilla.  That’s it!  And it did the trick: these cookies are subtly sweet with a lovely crunchy texture and a pleasantly whole-grain, wheaty taste.  They’re such understated cookies that I should not love them as much as I do, but I can’t help myself.  I think they’d be great vehicles for a frosting, such as a malted chocolate frosting, but I haven’t tried it yet.  I can’t bring myself to adulterate them with any frills, frosting or otherwise.  They’re just so tasty.  I think it’s the butter that makes them so good. 

They Call Them Biscuits

Digestive Biscuits, Americanized

Adapted from How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

The dough for these “biscuits” comes together using a method similar to how one makes pie crust by hand.  I am no pastry chef, but I thought the texture of these cookies was great, so I must be doing something right.  So fear not, would-be pastry chefs!  These cookies are not too hard to make and they are a good excuse to bust out your cookie cutters.  For my birthday one year, my awesome friend Ammie gave me some leaf-shaped cookie cutters, and I like to use them when I make these cookies.  I always think of sugar cookies when I think of cookie cutters, and these cookies are like sugar cookies for grown-up hippies.  And the leaf shapes are a sweet reference to nature, which is just perfect for tree-huggers!

1/2 cup oats

3/4 cup graham flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 cup granulated sugar

6 tbsp. cold butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

About 1/3 cup milk

1)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or other silicone baking pad.

2)  In a food processor, buzz the oats to a finer texture.  I buzz them into a mixture of fine particles that resemble flour and larger flakes.  Dump the oats into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3)  In the bowl with the oats, mix together the oats, flours, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Cut the butter into dice approximately 1/2-inch in size, and then, using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers.  This is the fun part!  Keep working the butter into the dough until you have what Nigella calls “a floury, bread-crumby texture.”  It won’t seem like enough butter for all those dry ingredients, but please trust me: it will be enough.

4)  Mix the vanilla and milk together in a small measuring cup with a spout for pouring.  Pour the liquid into the oat mixture, a tablespoon or two at a time, and mix the milk into the dough after each addition.  The dough will start to come together.  I always use the full 1/3 cup milk, but Nigella seems to imply that you may not need all the milk.  At any rate, add enough liquid to help the dough come together.

5)  Flour a nice big flat surface.  Gather the dough into a ball, dust it with a bit of flour, and roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut the dough into shapes as you like—I use my leaf cutter and I also make rectangles or circles—and place the unbaked shapes on the prepared baking sheet.  Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out again, and cut more cookies.  Repeat the gathering, rolling, and cutting until you’ve used all the dough.  If you like, use a fork to prick the cookies stylishly.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.  This change in color may be difficult to see because the graham flour makes the dough a beige color, but I find that 12-14 minutes yields crunchy but not overbaked cookies.

6)  Allow the cookies to cool on their sheet on a wire rack for a few minutes, then move the cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Transfer to an airtight storage container when the cookies are completely cooled.

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