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Monday, 12 December 2011

Olive oil cookies (Λαδομπισκοτάκια)

Every weekend, I check which of my newly-acquired cookie jars is emptying the quickest, and by Sunday evening, it will be filled with something freshly baked. My home-made ladokouloura are much cheaper than any kind of good-for-dunking medium-quality semi-sweet store-bought biscuit (unless you buy the generic LIDL or EUROSHOPPER label, where you end up with lots of broken cookies as well as many crumbs - good for making a cheesecake base, if only cheesecake were part of the traditional Greek culinary repertoire).

http://www.cookingforengineers.com/pics2/640/DSC_2767_crop.jpg
I was looking for a new idea for a good biscuit with which to fill my newly-acquired cookie jars, when I chanced on this grandmother's blog. She put up a different cookie recipe for a whole year. In her first post, there was no photograph to accompany the first recipe, where she gives her version of Nestle's famous chocolate chip toll-house cookies:
"My next cookie memory would be the ever famous, possibly all-time favorite, the chocolate chip cookie. There is nothing better than to bite into a round circle of baked dough sprinkled with gooey melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. A chocolate chip cookie can dry tears, heal broken hearts, mend scraped knees and elbows and solve sibling arguments. Most of the problems in the world could likely be solved by a properly baked, right out of the oven, chocolate chip cookie. The power of a cookie is underestimated."
I feel the same way when I see my children dipping their hands into one of the cookie jars.

Toll house cookies are expensive to make in Hania, where neither high-quality butter or chocolate are cheap, so I've adapted the basic recipe by replacing the butter with our own supply of olive oil. It works very well. Chocolate chips are available in Hania only as cooking chocolate drops by Samouri and Jotis (except possibly in the wholesale trade to bakers, confectioners, etc); they didn't melt when cooked. I got get cheap, tasty, nice-looking cookies that everyone really liked.

Toll house cookies are a kind of 'drop' cookie - the soft batter falls off a teaspoon onto the cooking tray. From previous experience, I prefer to bake chocolate chip cookies so that they are firm all over. Greeks don't like chewy soft cookies (that's just part of their food identity), so I use more flour than the original cookie recipe. For me (and most Greeks, I'd say), a chocolate chip cookie needn't be eaten immediately, because Greeks don't eat hot biscuits (another food identity element). Greek cookies always need sitting time when they come out of the oven. At any rate, the batter can be prepared in different ways: as a cookie, slice or even from refrigerated dough. 

The best aspect of the original recipe is that it is very versatile. You can add nuts (whole, chopped or ground), dried fruit, grated coconut, dark or white chocolate, spices and cocoa to the basic recipe and get a whole host of cookie variations, not only in taste but also in appearance. That way, no one gets bored of eating your home-made cookies. It's amusing watching the kids rummaging through the cookie jar to reach their favorite one before anyone else gets it, especially if it's the last in the jar.

For the basic cookie recipe (yields 70-75 pieces), you need:
3-4 cups all-purpose flour (~ 70 cents; I used soft, ie low-gluten flour)
1 teaspoon of baking powder (minimal cost)
1 cup olive oil (our own supplies)
3/4 cup white sugar (~15 cents)
3/4 cup soft brown sugar (~20 cents)
(or just use 1.5 cups of soft brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (~15 cents)
3 eggs (30 cents)
(The basic recipe also includes a teaspoon of salt - I don't use it)

Start off by combining all the ingredients EXCEPT the flour in a bowl and mix well. The oil needs to be beaten into the mixture till it emulsifies, as it often sits on the top because of its light weight. Then beat in the flour gradually, to get the right consistency for firm cookies. The amount depends on your location and the temperature, as the original recipe (see top photo, right) correctly notes. The mixture will look like a firm batter, or a loose dough. It's the effect of the olive oil. Don't let that put you off.

 

Classic dark chocolate chip cookies and snowdrop cookies (cocoa powder and white chocolate) 

Now comes the fun part: you can divide your batter/dough (depending on how much flour you added to the mixture) to make different cookie flavours. I usually divide it into two lots, to make two different cookie flavours. For a start, you can add 1 cup of ground walnuts, almonds or coconut for extra texture. Or, you could make any of the following combinations noted in the photograph caption below. I was able to make them with just half a batch of cookie dough, being extra careful to keep the cookies a regular shape and texture, in order to cook evenly. None stuck to the bottom of the baking tray (it was greased with olive oil).

If Bertie Bott (from Harry Potter fame) produced 'every flavour cookies', this is what an assortment pack might look like: choco-mint, quince spoon sweet, halva, choco-halva, coconut, chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, orange, jaffa, walnut, coco-walnut, choco-nut, fig newton, ginger-walnut, and a couple more whose precise contents I don't remember.

Once you've made up your batter, drop your cookies with a teaspoon onto a baking tray. The dough can also be rolled in balls in your hand (as with my 'assorted flavours' cookies), which you can press down a little, to make the cookies spread out evenly. I can get about 20 cookies on one sheet, with enough space to spread. Bake the cookies in a moderate oven (about 180C) for 15 minutes for firm cookies, the way Greeks like them.

Happiness is... full cookie jars, and a weekly bundt cake for school lunches.

These cookies look almost festive for me, with their many colours, textures and flavours. The festive season is upon us and it came quite soon to Hania this year: winter set in early, following our early autumn's footsteps. By the middle of October, it was cold; by the beginning of November, we were using the heating system. Compare that to last year: in early December, we were thinking that we might be enjoying an outdoor barbecue on Christmas Day.

Cost per medium-sized cookie: about 5 euro-cents, if you have your own olive oil supplies.

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