This week, we return to the pleasures of baking, with a transatlantic treat. Regular readers will know I have a keen interest in, and deep love for, many of the classic foods of North America.
I adore the big, brash flavours of proper Southern barbecue, with its dark, sticky sauces and smoky, tender meat. I love the sandwiches, colossal, almost comically overfilled things, impossible to eat with any measure of grace.
Emerging from a proper deli sandwich, with its myriad layers of pastrami and pickles, with smears of mustard on one’s cheeks, is a real pleasure, and something that, despite the UK’s appropriation of all things American, can still only really be enjoyed on US turf.
Some things have managed to leap the Atlantic and embed – hamburgers, skinny fries, milk shakes, ribs etc – but other classic have hitherto failed to fully integrate into our culinary lexicon.
One such deeply-entrenched American tradition is that of milk and cookies. If you’ve watched any television or films from the US since we began importing them, you’ll have surely noticed the frequent appearance of this classic snack.
It’s so deeply ingrained in the social culture of the US, like our reviving cup of tea. Whereas we grew up coming in from school to a biscuit and a glass of squash, most American children will barrel through the door, drop the bag by the stairs, run to the fridge and pour themselves a big glass of milk and snaffle a brace of cookies.
It’s what they have at morning break in ‘little school’, and it’s what most adults still indulge in when they’re feeling a bit glum. Very much like our ‘cuppa’, it’s almost as much a cure than anything else. And of course, in the US, the cookie is still the king of the biscuits.
READ MORE: Stephen Jackson: Banana Caramel Cake
Where we have adopted the more European style of chocolate-coated, multi-layered snacks, the US still adores its big, soft, chewy cookie. It’s the perfect texture for dipping in the ice-cold milk, and can be any of a hundred flavours, from the classic raisin and oatmeal, to the bang-on-trend goji berry and linseed.
The key to a good cookie is not to overcook the dough. They should be baked until just on the point of setting, then allowed to cool and harden a little, leaving a yielding, squishy interior. I have a soft spot for a nice double chocolate cookie, and thought I’d do these with you today. Then, only recently, I saw a recipe for a caramel-filled blonde cookie, and the little light bulb above my head lit up. Why not combine the two?
A rich, dark truffly cocoa cookie, with a molten caramel centre, flecked with crunchy sea salt (which, when used in moderation, really boosts the chocolate-y flavours) served alongside another recipe I’ve been longing to make, cereal milk.
We’ve all enjoyed those last slurps of tasty, sweetened milk from the bowl after demolishing a serving of our favourite cereal, and it was the brilliant US chef David Chang, of the excellent Momofuku restaurant, who decided to elaborate this into a drink in its own right.
You can use almost any cereal you fancy, but you should make sure it is toasted a little to accentuate the flavour, and that it gets a good steeping before straining and ‘seasoning’ with sugar and a flicker of salt.
A small glass of this milk, chilled well, is absolutely fantastic when taken with one of these soft, caramel-centred cookies, rich and full of deep chocolate-iness; a refined version of the American staple that you may find becomes a regular snack in your home.
For the cookies:
275g butter, softened
250g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
50g cocoa powder, plus extra for rolling
A pinch of Maldon salt
60g sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
340g plain flour
300g dark chocolate, finely chopped (or in small buttons)
Icing sugar (for rolling)
1 bag small chewy toffees (at least 18)
For the cornflake milk:
500ml full-cream milk
70g cornflakes (or your preferred cereal)
15-20g unrefined light muscovado sugar, to taste
A pinch of Maldon salt (optional)
To make the milk, preheat the oven to 150°C / Gas 2. Spread the cornflakes on a parchment-lined baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes, until the flakes are lightly toasted, which greatly intensifies the flavour of the milk.
Cool, then transfer to a large jug. Pour the milk into the jug and stir. Allow to steep for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Strain the milk through a fine non-reactive sieve into a bowl, pressing gently with a ladle to release as much milk as possible from the mushy pulp.
Whisk the sugar (adjusting the amount to your preference) and a pinch of salt into the milk, and chill until you’re ready to serve.
Now for the cookies; line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.
In the bowl of a mixer, slowly cream together the butter and powdered sugar, until pale and fluffy. Sift the cocoa powder into the bowl and mix until combined.
Beat in the sour cream and add the vanilla extract.
Next, sift in the flour and mix until smooth.
Stir in the chocolate chips and knead the dough together briskly.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour. Heat the oven to 170ºC / Gas 3.
Pull and shape the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and roll each around a chewy toffee, sealing completely to form a sphere.
Roll them in cocoa powder and place on the baking sheets.
Don’t flatten then, they will settle on their own.
Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, until just set but still a little soft, sprinkle with a little sea salt, then let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
When the cookies have reached room temperature, after about 30-45 minutes, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately, or store until needed in an airtight tin at room temperature.