Chocolate, date & walnut kisses

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Lois & Me is about drawing attention to Lois Daish and her contribution to the history of food and cooking in New Zealand. But as well as adding to this history, Lois is fascinated by it and her Listener columns would often include historical research into particular aspects of New Zealand’s culinary history, particularly our baking tradition. Kelda Hains describes Lois’ approach to recipe development as ‘scholarly’ as it was often based on a good deal of reading and research. In this way, Lois’ Listener columns are ‘curated’; they may not always be recipes of her own devising, but they always involve her careful selection and testing.

I get so much enjoyment from reading through Lois’ Listener articles and wish that more people had ready access to these well-crafted and fascinating pieces of writing. Here is an excerpt from Lois’ October 2003 column entitled ‘Give us a kiss’:

‘Perhaps this is what happened. A cook made a tray of small drop biscuits, and thought they looked a bit meager and decided to join them in pairs with butter icing. The idea wasn’t entirely new. Flat biscuits, cut into rounds with a cookie cutter, had long been made into jam sandwiches that went by various names such as Shrewsbury, Belgian or German. What was new was the idea of joining biscuits that had been dropped from a spoon, or rolled into balls and then pressed with a fork. And these pairs of biscuits were given the name “kisses”, a term that had previously been used for small sweetmeats and which still persists in Hershey’s chocolate kisses. More interestingly for us is that, according to the Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English, the first recorded use of the term “kiss” for a pair of biscuits was in New Zealand in the 1936 edition of the Women’s Institute Cookbook. Before long, community fundraising cookbooks included recipes for ginger kisses, coconut kisses, sponge kisses and, perhaps the best-known of all, Maori kisses, which was used for several types of kisses that had cocoa in the recipe, the most popular also including finely chopped dates and walnuts.’

Chocolate, date & walnut kisses (Lois Daish, Listener, October 25 2003, p.42-43)

85g soft butter

85g brown sugar

115g flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup chopped fresh walnuts

1 cup finely chopped dates

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut a length of baking paper to cover a flat baking tray. Beat butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa and add to the butter mixture along with the milk. Add the walnuts and dates and mix thoroughly. Roll balls of mixture (Lois suggests half the size of a walnut; I made mine into balls weighing 15g each). Place balls of dough onto the baking tray and push down lightly with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes until the biscuits are firm at the edges but still slightly soft in the middle. Place on a rack to cool. Once cool, join the biscuits in pairs with vanilla buttercream icing. Makes around 15 kisses.

Vanilla buttercream icing

125g unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons milk, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or 2 teaspoons cocoa

Cream the butter with an electric beater or food processor until very pale. Add half the icing sugar and while beating add the milk. Add the remaining icing sugar and vanilla or cocoa.

Peanut brownies

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If your previous experience of peanut brownies is from a purchased bag of allegedly baked-on-a-farm biscuits, then you might understandably have a take it or leave attitude towards this old-fashioned baking staple. Prepare for that to be changed. These peanut brownies are incredibly delicious and cheap to make. Another old baking favourite due for a fashionable comeback in my opinion (see also Fruit Loaf).

Peanut brownies (from Lois Daish, A Good Year, p.61)

250g raw peanuts

140g softened butter

200g caster sugar

1 free-range egg

200g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons cocoa (I used heaped tablespoons of Blooker Cacao)

Preheat oven to 175°C and begin by roasting the peanuts. Spread the peanuts into a single layer in a baking pan with sides and roast for 10-15 minutes, shaking the pan every couple of minutes. They are ready once the skins split and the nuts turn golden; keep a close eye on this process. Leave to cool and then rub the peanuts between your hands to remove the skins; take the tray outside and blow away the skins into the garden (or make use of the Wellington wind to blow away the skins for you).

Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and use an electric beater to beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and beat again until light. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into the butter mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the peanuts and mix again.

Line two baking trays with baking paper and place rolled balls of dough (about 30gm makes a good sized biscuit) onto the trays allowing room for them to spread out. Lightly press down the biscuits using a fork (run it under the tap and flick off excess water to stop it sticking to the biscuits). Bake for around 15 minutes; you don’t want to under bake them but they do catch quickly. Leave the biscuits to cool on a cooling rack and store in an airtight container.

Gingernuts

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This is home baking at its most simple and straight forward. These biscuits are made from inexpensive ingredients that you are likely to already have at home. Making these gingernuts helped to remind me that baking doesn’t need to be complicated, use flashy ingredients or be particularly excessive. A simple batch of homemade biscuits really doesn’t take much time and will be enthusiastically devoured by flatmates and colleagues, or just keep them for yourself as a wee treat to have with coffee at morning tea time.

Wanaka gingernuts (Lois Daish, Listener, August 29 1998)

100g butter

225g sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon golden syrup

250g flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons ground ginger

Preheat oven to 170°C (I prefer not to use fan bake) and line a flat baking with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and golden syrup. Beat again and then added the sifted dry ingredients (important to sift to ensure no lumps of baking soda). Roll the dough into balls (about 20g makes a good size of biscuit) and place onto the baking tray with space for the biscuits to spread; don’t press the biscuits down. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown; keep a close eye on them from the 20 minute mark.

Dutch caramel cookies

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Leeds Street Bakery salted caramel cookies are justifiably famous. Chewy, dotted with caramel and flecked with sea salt, one of these and a long black is a recipe for never sleeping again. I came across a recipe in Good Food for Dutch caramel cookies and reading through it, I thought that they might just be a little like the famous Leeds Street ones. I quickly ran to the kitchen to find out.

Lois’ Dutch caramel cookies are shorter and slightly less chewy than the Leeds Street ones, but very delicious. I swapped white sugar for brown sugar to add a stronger caramel back note to the cookies and I couldn’t hold myself back from sprinkling the tops with sea salt.

Lois’ original recipe specifies to mix the smashed caramel shards through the cookie dough, but I found this resulted in the caramel at the edges of the biscuits melting and spreading across the tray as they baked. The second time around I sprinkled the caramel in the centre of each flattened ball of cookie dough which worked perfectly.

Salted caramel cookies (adapted from Lois’ recipe for Dutch Caramel Cookies, Good Food, p.169)

100g white sugar

100g butter

100g brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

150g white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons cold water

Sea salt

To make the caramel:

Grease a small tray or baking dish and set aside. Put the white sugar in a small saucepan and put over a medium heat. Heat gently until the sugar turns into a dark amber syrup – you can swirl the pan if there are bits of undissolved sugar, but don’t stir with a spoon. Pour the caramel onto your greased tray and set aside to cool. Once set and cold, smash up into small pieces (not a powder) with the end of rolling pin or wooden spoon.

Biscuit dough:

Preheat your oven to 170°C. Cream butter, brown sugar, and vanilla and then add flour, baking powder and water. Mix until well-combined. Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place onto a flat tray lined with baking paper. Flatten the balls with your palm and sprinkle a pile of the caramel shards into the centre of each one. Push the caramel down into the biscuit and finally, sprinkle the tops with sea salt. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown (start checking the biscuits after 15 minutes – I didn’t use the fan bake setting in my oven).

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