Winston Churchill called it his black dog. Sylvia Plath
virtually carved a literary genre out of it. And that old Mancurian wailer
Morrissey convinced a generation of susceptible teens that it was not only OK,
but that it could also be cool. Depression. Luckily I seem to have landed in
the odds/evens generation of my family that skipped the touch of the black
stick. I have seen the misery it can bring to ripp'd-asunder individuals however, and I have seen enough to know what I was feeling over the weekend would only
patronise those struck to say it was even close to depression. I'm also
getting too old to call it melancholia now - so lets just say I
was feeling blue.
I guess most of you feel this way now and again - hopefully not often and not
like clockwork - and I guess most of you have your own way with attending to
its craven desires. Drugs can be good. I have traveled this path on occasion
and sure, it works for a while. Some say heavy duty exercise can work, but
really - bleehh. My favoured treatment for the blues is unsurprisingly
enough cooking. But not any old cooking - just simply getting dinner ready won't
do the trick. What fixes things for me is cooking that has no regard for simple
biological sustenance - it means making stuff that really has no purpose other than
to entertain the palate and warm the soul. This usually amounts to sweets, but
strangely enough - I don't really eat sweet things much at all. I guess what
really works for me is the sheer hedonism of cooking food that has no other
purpose than to leave the diner happy. This is not food to purely stop you from
feeling hungry - it is food that conveys love - food that puts a
smile on one's face for no matter how briefly. It can mean cakes, it can mean
puddings, muffins, pastries, tarts - anything of this nature. Yesterday, to me
- It simply meant cookies.
By now you should be thinking "get the hell over it sneff", and
rightly so. Well Lo! The damn cookies worked, and so now over it I am. After an
hour or so of mixing and baking, then snacking on a couple of the resultant
treats I was feeling much brighter. But not as good as I felt later when I gave
the rest away to some friends. Looking at the gentle smiles on their faces, I
could see that they saw them as no more than tasty sweet snacks. Ironically
though, it was these very same unknowing smiles that made all the difference to me. These
were by now no mere cookies, they had undergone sweet alchemy - they were now love on a plate.
Gladly, here endeth the psychology lesson. Let's get down to the nitty
gritty. When I needed to make these cookies yesterday morning - I really needed
to make them right away. So a trip to the shops to pick up ingredients was out
of the question. I rifled through my pantry to see what was to be had. A
handful of almonds, some dates and a bottle of maple syrup.
This troika made damn fine cookies indeed, however I really didn't have
enough nuts to make their inclusion worthwhile, and I wasn't happy with the way
the maple flavour translated once out of the oven.
Earlier today when I got to work, I decided to have another shot and get
these cookies just right. I had pistachios, hazelnuts,
almonds and pine nuts to choose from, but the walnuts were
the freshest so in they went. I also had a jar of treacle that I had meant to
turn into hot treacle puddings but somehow never got around to. What a pair
these two made. The walnuts were soft, rich-tasting counterpoints to the
dentally-reckless crunch of these decadent cookies. And the treacle - this
by-product of the sugar cane refining process is similar to molasses. Like
molasses, treacle is dark and densely syrupy. And like molasses, it also
carries a complexly bitter payload along with the hedonistic sweetness. It is
complex stuff indeed, and it added just the right amount of depth to these
cookies that the maple syrup couldn't provide.
The more attentive cooks amongst you will have already guessed that this is a
bit of a master recipe, but for the rest of you, let me spell it out clearly.
Just the same way I made these cookies first with almonds and maple - then
the next day with walnuts and treacle - you too can substitute any sympathetic
flavours that you either desire or have handy. As long as you stick to the
basic structure of butter, sugar, egg and flour - then these cookies can be
easily and endlessly varied. And just in case you are reading this wistfully,
but have never made cookies before and fear that they are too difficult, then
hear this. Cookies are just about the easiest and most forgiving sweet baked
treat that you can make. Cakes, muffins, tarts and pastries may be in another
league, but anyone, I mean anyone can make cookies.
Lets get baking.
Pre heat your oven to 180° C (360° F). Place the soft butter and two sugars
into a large mixing bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until they are well combined
and the mixture is soft and starting to look pale. This step is known as
creaming the butter and sugar. Not so hard huh? 2-3 minutes of elbow work
should do it. Add the egg and beat the mixture until smooth and thoroughly
combined. Add the nuts, treacle and vanilla (if using) and mix well to combine.
Add the flour and stir until the mixture comes together and is forming a dough.
Using your hands, gently work the mixture until smooth and all ingredients are
evenly incorporated. This should only take 30 seconds or so. Remember, this
isn't bread - there is no need to knead the dough.
Line a baking sheet with non-stick silicone paper. Cut
the dough into 4 equal quarters. Take one quarter and cut into 3 equal sizes.
Roll each piece into a ball, place onto the baking sheet and flatten out into 5
cm discs with the palm of your hand. Using the tines of a fork, press firmly in
the centre of each cookie to flatten it out a little more, while leaving an
indent. Press with the fork again at a 90° angle to create an attractive
pattern. Continue until the baking sheet is full. These cookies do not spread
as they cook, so there is no need to space them out too much. Bake for 10
minutes, or until nicely golden. Remove from the oven and lift the cookies over
to a wire rack to cool - otherwise the base of the cookies will turn a little
soggy. Continue until all the dough is used. When all the cookies have cooled,
and if there are still any un-eaten, transfer to an airtight container and
store at room temperature for up to 5 days.