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Thursday, 22 October 2009

Chocolate chip cookies (Μπισκότα με σταγόνες σοκολάτας)

A while back, I saw some large chocolate chip cookies prominently displayed in a bakery in the town centre. They were about the size of a desert plate. I decided to snack on one as I was doing my jobs around he town.

"Would you like me to heat it up for you?" asked the shop assistant. What's she talking about? I wondered. It had never occurred to me that a biscuit could be warmed up before it was eaten.

"No thanks, I'll have it as it is."

She carefully picked it up with a pair of tongs and put it into a paper bag.

"Be careful, it's soft," she warned me. That got me a little worried: a hot crumbly biscuit wasn't what I was expecting to be eating. I had visions of dropping crumbs on the front of my blouse, and in the middle of a town like Hania, that would make me look like a monkey that had escaped from its cage.

trendy cafe bar hania chania
Make or break: new casual eateries are opening and closing all the time; this one seems to be doing quite well - it's all about location.

After a brief discussion with the shop owner, it transpired that the shop assistant had been trained to tell customers these things. He explained that the biscuits were made using a prepared dough sold by (if I remember correctly) Pillsbury, who had given him instructions on how to prepare, cook and serve these chocolate chip cookies, a novelty for Cretan tastes. The store where I bought this rather large biscuit was also selling other international forms of pastries that have become part of the global cuisine: American-style donuts, filled sandwich rolls made with ready-to-cook pre-risen bread dough, and muffins, among others. These places never last long enough in our town, unless they offer something 'trendy' and 'different'; this store probably didn't manage to get the message across very well, because, after changing ownership, it eventually changed product line and began to sell more conventional (for Greek standards) snack food.

American-style chocolate chip cookies are also sold in convenience stores, mini-markets and kiosks around the town, found in the same place as the XL chocolate-filled croissants, fake apple pies, and packets of potato crisps; in other words, the junk food counter. The kind of people likely to buy them are the ones who also buy their frappe coffee from a kiosk; definitely not cookie connoisseurs.

*** *** ***

My daughter recently found a chocolate chip cookie recipe in one of her little-girl magazines and asked me to help her make them. After checking out the recipe, I decided that it wouldn't work (it contained yeast and what looked like disproportionate amounts of butter and flour). She pleaded with me to make them, but I couldn't bear the thought of wasted ingredients and effort, so I got out my trusty recipe book (my laptop with its wireless internet connection) and found Ioanna's recent post for chocolate chip cookies. There are some cooks and recipe sources you trust, and there are others that you don't trust, and I've used quite a few of Ioanna's recipes.

chocolate chip cookies
Yeast, 50g flour and 80g butter? Try asking the gremlins for an explanation...

So I gathered the required ingredients and Christine offered to mix them. The children were more interested in the chocolate drops than anything else: chocolate in any form always has that kind of effect on people. We mixed everything together and left the dough in the fridge (this recipe requires making a dough which should be refrigerated for one day). The next day, we cooked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. When they were ready, I wrapped a cookie in a paper towel for each child.

chocolate chip cookies
Mama's little helper

"How's the cookie?" I asked my son.
"Tastes like popcorn," he replied.
"How about you?" I asked my daughter.
"Why are they soft?" she asked back.
"And why are they hot?" asked my son.

The children thought these cookies were rather 'different'. They did not 'smell' like a Greek biscuit (a koulouraki usually smells of orange essence or cinammon).

chocolate chip cookies
Making the cookies
chocolate chip cookies

In general, I can't complain: my children take an interest in what they eat. But they have been indoctrinated into the Mediterranean taste regime, not just through their mother's cooking, but from the society they live in: their school lunches are similar to their schoolmates', party food has a well-known form wherever they may find it, even the smells of other people's cooking in the neighbourhood are familiar to them. Their taste spectrum may sound limited, but it is historically and culturally linked to their home. Their idea of what constitutes 'good food' was formed from a very early age, influenced by the culturally-based diet they've been raised on.

This will change as they get older. Crete's dietary patterns are also changing for both the better and the worse; more foreign food is making it onto people's plates on the island these days due to the island's large non-Greek resident population, more foreign dishes are being introduced in restaurants and other food establishments BUT: children are eating less healthy food, more junk, and more no-cooking required ready-to-eat mass-produced snack food. Crete's food is altering in line with the trends of global cuisine.

We cooked up another batch of chocolate chip cookies with the dough the next day (this dough can be kept refrigerated for up to three days). This time, we let the cookies bake until they were much more crispy. Then we let them cool down completely before we had them with warm milk and tea, making them much more palatable in the Greek sense. But the damage had already been done: first impressions count tremendously in kidzone. Eventually I'll remake them, but I might call them something else (or at least find a way to tweak the recipe).

chocolate chip cookies
Eating warm soft chocolate chip cookies for the first time can be quite challenging...

If you follow the directions of the original recipe to the letter, you will make 18 overly large biscuits from this dough (I followed Ioanna's instructions and made smaller cookies: we got 28 biscuits). By the time we got down to the last few balls of dough, we had tired of the chocolate chop cookie idea, but I can guarantee that the dough balls freeze well and can be cooked afer being slightly thawed out of the freezer when required.

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