Jammy Dodgers

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I had a wonderful vacation in London.  So while I know most of you see cookies, we're actually talking about biscuits today.  British biscuits, that is.  In general, British biscuits are what we call cookies in America, with the distinction that biscuits are of the crunchy, drier variety that's so perfect with a cup of tea! 
Tea and biscuits go hand in hand. Think of the history and tradition of taking tea and you can understand the natural pairing of sweet crunchy biscuits such as shortbread. I naturally gravitate towards soft, chewy, gooey cookies but it never ceases to amaze me how good a simple biscuit is when I do have it.  Tins of Royal Dansk butter cookies are part of my earliest childhood biscuit/cookie memories and growing up during the first handful of my years in Hong Kong, British foods, including biscuits, have a special place in my heart.
It's always fun to pay homage to something by making something to eat!  Our trip to London was such fun - we were lucky to enjoy great weather and we soaked up the beautiful city, friendly people, and classic eats.  From Sunday roast to afternoon tea, it was wonderful to be in a place so familiar, yet so different from home.  

One of the best experiences I had in London was afternoon tea.  My fellas and I enjoyed all the comfort and deliciousness of a true English tea experience at Fortnum & Mason (which, incidentally, is now my favorite shop in the world). Honestly, I had modest expectations (because, so often, afternoon tea looks appealing but doesn't quite match up taste-wise) but I walked away realizing that afternoon tea can not only look beautiful but also taste incredible. Everything - from savory to sweet - was delectable, enjoyed leisurely in a beautiful and comfortable setting.   
While it might be fun to recreate afternoon tea at home one day, I started with a small inspiration to pay homage to afternoon tea.  My son had the children's array of afternoon tea eats and among the treats on the top of his 3-tier cake stand was a Jammy (or "Jammie") Dodger, or so we were told.  It was a simple shortbread sandwich biscuit (cookie) filled with jam; they're much like linzer torte cookies, minus the almond meal. Jammie Dodgers are apparently a very popular children (and adult) biscuit in the UK, made by Burton's Biscuit Co. for over 50 years. If you're wondering about the "Dodgers" part of the name, it was named after a comic strip character.

Maybe it's the catchy name but the little biscuit stuck with me and I made a small batch of them at home to enjoy with my family.  These shortbread biscuits are tender and buttery, plus they melt in your mouth thanks to the powdered sugar used in the dough.  Jammy Dodgers are usually filled with strawberry or raspberry jam; I filled mine with strawberry and apricot jam and breaking away with the "rules", I also sandwiched a few with Nutella for my son.
Much to everyone's surprise (particularly his own), the 11-year old truly enjoyed the formal afternoon tea experience and while he wasn't eager to attack his Jammy Dodger there (he's not a fan of fruit jams unless it's in a tri-color cookie), he was a huge fan of my at-home Nutella version.  He's asked me to make more again for him soon - now I call that a successful bake!  



Brownie cookies

Have room for more cookies?  I sure hope so because I can't seem to stop making them lately and it's fun to share!
The latest contribution to the cookie jar is a small batch of deep, dark brownie cookies.  I saw them, dubbed "the browniest cookies", come across my Instagram feed from Smitten Kitchen a few weeks ago and was surprised I hadn't seen or made them before.  How can I resist brownie cookies...well, I can't!
I quickly made some.  I say "quick" because not only was I motivated by the promise of "brownie cookies", there was also the much-appreciated added bonus of being able to make these cookies in one bowl, without a fuss.  They materialized onto my kitchen counter very quickly.
These cookies are dark and deeply chocolaty, made with unsweetened chocolate and Dutch-processed cocoa powder, combined with pieces of chopped bittersweet chocolate.  I baked them for just about 11 minutes and I wondered if I should have taken them out of the oven even a bit earlier because the center looked a bit dry to me and I was aiming for fudgy all the way.  When I tasted them, they were actually quite moist in the center so I was happy...but I do still wonder whether I could get away with taking a tablespoon or so of flour out from the recipe...

Since these are not very sweet, this is for those who enjoy that balance of the bitter-sweet (I sure do).  If I had a qualm about it, it's that they're a bit messy to eat since the cookies tend to break off and be a bit crumbly at the corners.  I have to say I still prefer straight-up brownies over brownie cookies if I had to choose but fortunately for us, we usually don't have to and can enjoy as much variety as we want.  Aren't we lucky!



Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

I'm going to take these cookies and use them as another ode to the joys and benefits of simple baking...

Sometimes, I need a little baking therapy when I'm stressed and want to relax.  I get into the kitchen, into my "happy place", and in those instances, I go for easy recipes - cookies or muffins, generally - that I can whip up with familiar, routine-like movements that are soothing on their own. The most recent time I really needed a baking "session", I went for a small batch of these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.  In place of some of the chocolate chips, I chopped up and included some peanut m&m's as well.  I like the touch of variety, color, flavor, and fun it throws in.
You might have recently seen this article on the psychological benefits of baking for others.  It articulates much of what we know and feel if you enjoy baking as much as I've come to.  I don't only bake to de-stress...I bake in all moods and for all different occasions, and I would say I'm usually very happy when I do it, but for times when I do need to decompress, baking is a familiar and happy ritual that does that.  It has been a great outlet and source of joy, and I'm grateful to have discovered it and be able to indulge in it.  

So a couple of weeks ago when I was in need of a little de-stressing, I went into the kitchen to whip up some of these cookies for my family.  We always welcome a fresh batch of cookies!  I knew it would put a smile on my face and on my fellas as we enjoy them together afterwards.
To stretch out the process of making this batch of cookies, I did it the old-fashioned way, by hand.  The mixer and electronic equipment are a great help in general but it's amazing how good it feels to work ingredients together, using your hands, doing basic things like stirring, whisking, and chopping.  You take your time and the process really can be therapeutic...

This recipe from Dessert for Two makes a dozen cookies (or a baker's dozen in my case).  I'm already partial to her small-batch monster cookies, which I've whipped up multiple times but as you know, there can never be too many variations of peanut butter, chocolate chip, or oatmeal cookies to try out and enjoy.  Bring 'em all on!  And if I can whip them up with basic ingredients that I already have at home, all the better!
This was one much-needed happy baking session!  And I'm curious...if you find baking relaxing, what do you like to make when you're looking to decompress and get a little "baking therapy"?


Celebrating with Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

These cupcakes!  Oh boy...I could say so much about them but basically, they are just ridiculously good!  Cooks Illustrated calls them "ultimate chocolate cupcakes with ganache filling" and I have to agree...they deserve "ultimate" status.  They are really something else!
Because take a look inside...these intensely-chocolate cupcakes not only feature a sturdy, dark, chocolate cupcake base, they have a dollop of chocolate ganache filling baked within them!  Finished with a top-hat of rich chocolate frosting, it is an ultimate chocolate cupcake experience.  
There are not many things I love more than chocolate and I'm pretty picky when it comes to chocolate treats, and I can tell you I was highly impressed and totally smitten with these.  They also brought back a good personal memory, of chocolate cupcakes my husband used to get for us at a bakery in Tribeca called, Umanoff & Parsons, that's been closed now for over 10 years.  Those chocolate cupcakes, which we still think about, live in my mind as the "ultimate" and this version comes very close (because it's hard to dethrone a memory that can no longer be tested)!
Talk about 'better late than never'...it took years for me to finally make these cupcakes!  I remember first seeing them in the magazine and then a post from Brown Eyed Baker cemented them in my mind.  But I have to confess that making cupcakes is not my favorite thing to do.  These cupcakes were a bit of a commitment but you'll be happy and thankful you made the effort when you taste it!

Recently, I finally grabbed a good opportunity to make them...in celebration of this blog's 6th anniversary!  Yes - hard enough as it is to believe - I'm still trying recipes, taking photos, and writing about some of them here in this little corner.  It's been a rewarding hobby and a creative outlet, a happy place where I indulge and make delicious discoveries such as these chocolate cupcakes!  
So let's pop a candle on top of one of these ultimate chocolate cupcakes and celebrate!  To those of you who take the time to visit, leave a comment when you can, I really appreciate your encouragement and kind words!  I don't know how much longer or at what pace this little blog will continue for but I hope I'll stay busy and make tasty discoveries for many years to come.  I can't believe the little treasure trove of recipes I've amassed here that my family and I truly love and enjoy over and over again.  It has been a real treat!
To all my fellow chocoholics out there, roll up your sleeves and tackle these cupcakes. You'll wonder if it's worth the effort and when you're done and finally sit down and take a bite of these deep, dark, rich (not particularly sweet), unabashedly indulgent cupcakes, you will think that "yes, they were totally worth it!"


Sweet potato-chocolate chunk muffins

I had to try these muffins because they combine two of my favorite things: sweet potatoes and chocolate!  On top of that, they are super easy to make.  If you roast and eat as many sweet potatoes as I do, set some aside to give these muffins a try. I'm happy I did!
These muffins are made with mashed roasted sweet potatoes (which basically replaces the liquid - typically milk or buttermilk - in the recipe), olive oil, and whole wheat flour (I used my standard white whole wheat flour), which gives the muffins a nice nutty flavor and texture.  Possibly the best part?  Bittersweet chocolate chunks stirred into the batter essentially guarantees that the muffins will be a hit.  I can now officially say that sweet potatoes and chocolate go very well together!  
The sweet potato part of the muffins might not jump out at you but much like baking with pumpkin puree, it adds moisture, subtle sweetness, and combines nicely with a touch of cinnamon.  It also adds a nice golden color and visuals are important when it comes to eating, right?  My family and I really enjoyed them and I'm happy to include them in my muffin-making rotation.  
Because we had just polished off a batch of double chocolate muffins (I think of those as our "house muffins"), I made a small batch of six of these to try them out.  I wouldn't hesitate to make an even dozen next time because these go down easy and as we all know, homemade muffins are much loved and appreciated.  I'm always happy when the cookie jar is filled and the cake dome has some muffins tucked inside.



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