Monday, 4 March 2013

Best cookies (Μπισκότα)

After a sunny warm February, we are back to cold wet weather. As we say in Greek, Μάρτης, γδάρτης,  a pair of rhyming words, meaning "March strips your skin bare". When it's cold, cooking comes more easily, as you feel like eating more food and more often. It's a perfect time to bake biscuits to fill the cookie tins.

Sweet treats in our house have to be easy to make because I use up so much energy cooking other meals. I've found that the best easy-to-make biscuits are all eggless. This suited me yesterday when the weather was very cold and wet, making it a good day for using the oven over a long period.

The simplest recipe I use for making cookies is based on the traditional Greek Christmas (and in some places wedding) sugar cookie, kourambiedes. It is made with just flour, icing sugar and butter. Flavourings are not necessary if you use high quality butter; at any rate, they contain chopped blanched toasted almonds for added flavour. 

Best cookies: kourambiedes are made with a basic butter-icing sugar-flour dough with chopped almonds. Icing sugar is sprinkled over them when they have cooled. 

I recently used this basic butter-sugar-flour recipe to make a delicious white-chocolate-cranberry biscuit. The recipe was originally from the web, but I noticed how similar it was to kourambiedes in its most basic form. 

Best cookies: butter-icing sugar-flour, white chocolate chips and craisins; butter-demerara sugar-flour, with ginger powder and golden syrup.

The most famous chocolate chip cookies recipe includes eggs, two varieties of sugar and baking agents. But the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever made have been eggless, with no raising agents and only one kind of sugar (and not much of the latter, either). The basic kourambiedes recipe can also be used to make a wide range of biscuits, yielding a light crisp cookie which can be flavoured in a variety of ways, by adding cocoa or spice powder, chocolate chips and/or nuts.

Best cookies: butter-soft brown sugar-flour, milk chocolate chips, grated coconut and walnuts chopped small.

Although olive oil can also be used to make similar cookies, I find that using it requires extra flavouring to mask the taste of the olive oil. Although I use olive oil instead of butter in all recipes, except for kourambiedes, recently I've resorted to using it more often when making biscuits. Olive oil cookies don't use eggs, but they do need a raising agent, otherwise they will feel and taste rather heavy. But they are also included in my 'best cookies' range because they are very filling, aromatic and tasty - the perfect Greek sweet for dunking in tea or coffee.

Best cookies: ladokouloura (olive oil biscuits) rely on my own supplies of olive oil and oranges, which makes them a very economical biscuit for daily use.  

For my basic butter-sugar-flour cookie recipe, you need:
250g butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar - depending on the type of cookie you want to make, you need to use the appropriate variety of sugar:
     - icing sugar gives a soft white dough
     - soft brown sugar gives cookies a golden colour
     - soft brown sugar creates a burnt-sugar taste in cookies
     - demerara (crystal beige-coloured sugar) makes slightly cookies crunchy
enough plain flour to make a soft dough that is pliable and easy to knead - it all depends on what you add to the basic dough, which changes the quantities of the flour:
     - chocolate chips (~1/2 cup)
     - grated coconut (~4 tbsp)
     - chopped nuts (~1/2 cup)
     - raisins and other dried fruit (~1/2 cup)
     - cocoa powder (~4 tbsp)

Place the butter and sugar in a bowl. If you are using grated coconut and/or cocoa powder, mix it in with the sugar. Blend them together to a paste with your fingers. Now add the flour, again mixing it in with your fingers. If you are using chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruit, mix it into the dough at this stage.  Break off knobs of dough the size of ping-pong balls. Flatten slightly, and place on a greased baking tray. Place about 15-20 on a tray, leaving some space between them. Bake in a moderate oven (180-200C) for 15-20 minutes. Allow them to cool for five minutes before removing from the tray.

Best cookies: butter-soft brown sugar-flour, milk chocolate chips, grated coconut and walnuts chopped small - and some cocoa for added chocolate flavour. Yours won't burn like mine did; I cooked them in the wood-fired oven - never again, for cookies!

These frugal cookies keep well in an airtight tin. I try to make at least two batches of cookies per baking session, because they are eaten too quickly. Although they are easy to make, you don't end up doing much else other than baking cookies if you make only a small batch. Although it's not a great crime to eat more than one cookie at one sitting, I like to remind the kids that we should try not to eat them too quickly. Am I mean?

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