What to bring as a gift when you’ve been invited to dinner? Wine? Flowers? They’re so cliché, not to mention expensive. When faced with this dilemma, I tend to reach for my cookbooks. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I had two hours to produce something that would be delicious and welcome, but not too showy – there’s nothing more rude than one-upping your hostess!
I selected two books and went out into the garden to leaf through them in the sun. First, I had picked Paris Boulangerie-Patisserie, by Linda Dannenberg – not the most realistic choice since these recipes generally require time, practice, and special ingredients, none of which I had! But, looking at those pictures always inspires me and gets me in a baking mood. Next, I opened up Baking Unplugged, by Nicole Rees. This book is truly a gem. It’s full of wonderful homey recipes, which use ingredients I usually have lying around in my pantry. Most of them are quick and easy and none of them require fancy equipment or electric gadgets to produce.
As I leafed my way through pages of muffins, cakes, pies, and tarts, I landed on the perfect hostess gift: cookies! They’re simple, delicious, and won’t upstage dessert. I settled on Chocolate Fudge Cookies – chocolaty enough for the kids, yet somehow sophisticated enough for the grown-ups to pair with a glass of red wine or port after dinner.
I very rarely find a recipe I don’t want to change – Julia Childs is the only chef whose recipes I consider too perfect and sacred to mess with – so I couldn’t help tweaking Nicole’s recipe to make it my own…
Chocolate Fudge Cookies
(based on Chocolate Fudge Cookies recipe from Baking Unplugged, by Nicole Rees)
½ cup (125g) unsalted butter
7 oz (200g) good quality bittersweet chocolate*
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder**
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 pinch each: ground chili powder, nutmeg, clove, ginger, and cinnamon**
½ cup good-quality chocolate chips*
* I used Callebaut
** I have this wonderful can of Monbana spice-flavored cocoa powder. I used 3 tablespoons Droste and 1 tablespoon Monbana. Since I assume most people don’t have Monbana on hand, I have provided you with the alternative of using all plain cocoa powder and adding the spices yourself.
Pre-heat the oven to 350° F/180°C (320° F/160°C for convection oven).
Melt the butter and chocolate in a heavy-bottomed pan over very low heat, stir well, then pour into a large mixing bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.
Whisk the sugar into the chocolate until the mixture is fluffy and no lumps remain.
Stir in the eggs and vanilla extract until smooth – do not overbeat!
Stir in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and spices until well combined.
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop tablespoons of dough, spaced about 2 inches apart, onto baking sheets lined with baking paper.
Bake in batches for 8-10 minutes – cookies should be puffed in the center, but still quite soft. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.