Cookies and memories

(Tartine’s Lime-Oatmeal-Currant Cookies, Belinda Jeffery’s Salty Peanut Butter Cookies)

The other day, my mother asked me if I would make some cookies for the upcoming visit of my sister and her family. Of course, I said yes straight away.

My sister, if you must know, is the model child in our family. Not only did she graduate from University with an honours degree, but she’s now married, and she had a wedding, which my mother got to organise in its entirety. She also now has two lovely little girls (and because she lives in New Zealand, my mother can play Granny without having to babysit too often). Furthermore, her husband happens to be the son of one of my dad’s childhood friends.

Even though being different personality types meant that we quarrelled a lot as kids (later to be united in our irritation of our much younger brother .. whom I must stress that I also love, just in case he reads this), I am in great debt to her because she was the one who introduced me to all kinds of literature. From Enid Blyton to Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman and William Gibson. Also, I still can’t imagine anyone else but my sister, who had no interest in my kind of music whatsoever, acquiescing to chaperone me to some extremely seedy pub in a dodgy location, just so that I could see a band I was obsessed with at the time.

When we were kids, we were rarely allowed to eat any kind of cookie beyond plain Marie biscuits or maybe homemade gingerbread. It was only during each Chinese New Year that there would be the unavoidable abundance of Chinese peanut cookies, love letters and tins of Danish butter cookies that at the time, we considered the ultimate luxury item.

I haven’t baked any cookies in awhile, so I guess I went a little bit overboard. This time, I have attempted a few new recipes, as well as some old favourites, like Alice Medrich’s Sesame Seed Coins. These cookies, which are quite similar in texture to Chinese Peanut Cookies, are incredibly tender and full of sesame flavour. In fact, you can even make them with peanut butter instead of tahini, but I think the original will always be the one I like best.

A good cookie, I believe, is like a celebration. A celebration of good ingredients, encapsulated in a few small bites. It connects me with the cup of tea I drink, the couch I’m slumped on, and the television I’m staring at, or a friend I’m celebrating the return of and the sister I’m looking forward to seeing again.

(Chocolate and Caramel Sandwich Cookies with Chestnut Jam)

(Alice Medrich’s Sesame Seed Coins)

(Alice Medrich’s Pecan Penuche Shortbread)

Pecan Penuche Shortbread with Rum :
(from Alice Medrich’s wonderful book, Pure Dessert)

170g unsalted butter, melted and still warm
99g firmly packed grated piloncillo sugar or light muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
191g plain flour
73g pecans, coarsely chopped
Turbinado, Demerara, or granulated sugar for sprinkling

Line the bottom and four sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the sugar, rum, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and half of the pecans and mix just until incorporated. Pat and spread the dough evenly in the pan. Let stand for at least 2 hours, or overnight (no need to refrigerate).

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 148’C.

Sprinkle the remaining pecans over the top of the shortbread and press them gently into the dough. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, leaving the oven on. Sprinkle the surface of the shortbread with pinches of the turbinado sugar. Let the shortbread cool for 10 minutes.

Using the foil, remove the shortbread from the pan, being careful to avoid breaking it. Use a thin sharp knife to cut it into squares. Place the pieces slightly apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment and return to the oven for 15 minutes to toast it lightly. Cool on a rack.

Shortbread keeps for several weeks in an airtight container.

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  1. shez said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

    i am uncertain as to which part i am the most excited about – the fact that someone else consumed (and treasured) copious volumes of Enid Blyton, or the idea of salty peanut butter cookies, fresh from the oven.

    and love letters! which are always abundant at our place around CNY, so melty and flaky and tasty (though red and tingling fingers from folding them remind me well as to why we only make them once a year…)

  2. Y said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

    Shez, I never got to make love letters (carefully stored on paper, in a Milo or milk powder tin?), but I certainly ate my share of them! I think in hindsight, my obsession with Enid Blyton had something to do with all the mentions of food in her books.

  3. Caitlin said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

    Oh, Neil Gaiman – how I love his books! I must admit, me and my sister quarreled all the time growing up; it wasn’t until we were hours and hours away that we really got to know each other and could get along. Funny how that works, huh? Now I send her random packages filled with things I’ve baked, and she does the same for me. Love across the miles.

  4. Sophie said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

    I love each of these little celebrations (I love that analogy, btw). They are so dainty and yummy sounding. Gosh, so darn original. I want ’em all! That chestnut jam is amazin’!

  5. chocolatesuze said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

    enid blyton! and all those fantastic lands where food sounded way better than my boring dinners. ooh and the slide down the tree! ah my childhood just flashed before my eyes. and i love love love the cny peanut cookies!

  6. food librarian said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    Oh! These are just beautiful and for such a great family!

  7. Laura said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

    I love Alice Medrich. Have you tried the walnut cake? Really tasty. I published a recipe from Bittersweet, her almond cocoa nib sticks, really yummy.

    I have a sister too, and we fought a lot, now we are great friends.

    Great pictures, you make me want to try new recipes too!

  8. cakebrain said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

    ah. these cookies are so darn gorgeous…so much so that I can imagine how wonderful they would be with a nice cup of tea! I’ve got to try these recipes ’cause they look so delicious!

  9. Arwen from Hoglet K said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

    You’ve had some sweet chestnut success then? I like the idea of chestnut and chocolate.

    You’re right about the food in Enid Blyton sounding so good. I remember asking my mum if I could have a pork pie, but she said in reality they were very greasy and yucky.

  10. Karen said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    I love love love Enid Blyton – I had all the series! When I was growing up in Perth, I use to go to my backyard shed on rainy afternoons with an umbrella (which I imagined to be my meeting place Secret Seven style) and read Enid all day with a jug of lemonade, a sandwich and toffee pop cookies. Sometimes I use to sneak a slice of cake when Mom wasn’t looking. It’s one of my treasured childhood memories 🙂

    Your cookies are mouthwatering by the way!

  11. Y said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    Caitlin : Absence makes the heart grow fonder? 🙂

    chocolatesuze : Aren’t they great? I haven’t had them in awhile, but used to eat them by the handful. I loved the way they just dissolved in your mouth.

    Sophie : The jam is very very good. I’m trying to make it last for as long as I can, so I only filled the top of the cookies with the jam. Like a chestnut jam pond.

    food librarian : Thanks!

    Laura : I’ve seen that walnut cake in the book, but haven’t tried it yet. Going to put it on my To-Do list. Thanks for the recommendation!

    cakebrain : Thank you! More importantly, I hope my nieces like them too.

    Arwen : Ah, no. The pain of the chestnut disaster is still too fresh in my mind. The homemade chestnut jam was a gift from the same friend who gave me some chestnuts to begin with.

    Karen : Toffee pop cookies? Lucky you! I dreamed of going off on an adventure somewhere with a bottle of lemonade and (bizarrely) some lozenges (I had no idea what they were at the time, but some character or other was always packing them and they sounded tasty..)

  12. baking soda said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    I’ll call my sis today! We’re 5 years and a lifestyle/character apart but still my little sis. Yes, Enid Blyton (have you ever re-read the books? they’re so not PC viewed with todays eyes) were they the ones where one of the moms always had some cold chicken in the fridge to make sandwiches?
    Your cookies look like little celebrations really!

  13. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

    Hmm I like the look of the flower ones with the cut outs but I suspect I’d love the taste of the peanut shortbreads!

  14. Piggy said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    Lovely! Every single creation looks so yummy and perfectly done! I was a great fan of enid blyton when I was a kid too. 😉

  15. Zita said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    Ha… your sister sounds exactly like my sister, the model child 😉

    beautiful assorted cookies… the Chocolate and Caramel Sandwich Cookies with Chestnut Jam are so pretty 🙂

  16. Ali said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

    Oh I just had the most vivid and amazing flashback of The Faraway tree, where they ascend the tree into a different land everytime…. oooh the ‘land of goodies’ and ‘the land of treats’. How glorious!! I now honestly think these books may be the real reason I got into cooking in the first place. I must immediately find the Enchanted Forest books and read them all at once . Thank you so much for the reminder Y, not to mention the beautiful cookies. x

  17. lisaiscooking said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

    They all look fantastic! I have to try the pecan penuche shortbread. Sounds wonderful.

  18. Helen (GrabYourFork) said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 3:00 am

    oh they all look so good! and oh yes Enid Blyton. i would always linger over the pages that talked about their lunch!

  19. linda said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 3:34 am

    That’s a whole lotta cookies you baked, wouldn’t mind tasting them all with my tea…yum!

  20. Patricia Scarpin said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 3:47 am

    These look phenomenal – can’t even pick a favorite!
    I’ll start by making the penuche shortbread – printing the recipe right now. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Anita said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    Beautiful selection of cookies! I hope you enjoy your sisters’ stay.

  22. Julia said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 7:34 am

    This are amazing. I love the Chocolate and Caramel Sandwich Cookie. Who doesn’t like a cut out? Reminds me of the Linzer cookies I made at Christmas – but better! I also loved Enid Blyton. The Fareaway Tree series was my favourite. My mum kept all my books for me and they are neatly tucked away in big boxes now. Love mum!

  23. Tartelette said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    I am going to bookmark March and April on your site and go back and look at them when I have time. I am loving the buzz feeling around here! So many goodies to wrap my head around!

  24. cathy x. said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

    hey you made pb cookies too! 😛

  25. Lorinda said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 11:21 pm

    I’ve said it before, your photography skills are breathtaking, great depth of field. Those cookies look amazing. When oh when are you going to set up shop? The world needs your cookies!!!!

  26. Y said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    Cathy : Not the same as yours, I’m sure! When are you going to show us some pictures?

    Lorinda, we should open a shop together. I’ll make the cakes, you can decorate them. I love your prize winning Wall-E cake, by the way!

  27. carolyn said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 2:22 am

    how do you do it? all of this baking?! your food sounds delicious and i really admire your plating skills, as well. I aspire to bake as many cookies as you do – but my hubbie restrains me 😉 if you have a chance, i would love your blog advice (i am a beginner)!

  28. Ceecee said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

    These cookies look amazing! Unless I’ve missed it on your blog, could you please share your chocolate caramel cookie recipe? Thanks so much 🙂 Happy baking!

  29. Y said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

    Hi Ceecee! Thanks for your comment 🙂 The chocolate wafer recipe is here and the caramel filling is here.
    Let me know if you have any queries about either.

  30. Sandy said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    I just mixed up the dough for the Sesame Coins. I’m a little concerned and want to know if your experience was the same. My dough is not as Alice described it would be – slightly crumbly and would have to be pushed together. It instead is gooey.

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