In recent weeks, what with the fall in outside temperatures and the grey skies, I have been incredibly homely and ever so slightly anti-social. In this, what I like to call the adjusting to winter phase, I tend to hole up at home, mostly in comfy sweaters, reading (or binge watching Homeland on Netflix), listening to things on audio (books and podcasts) and baking. A lot of baking. I find it incredibly satisfying to be able to both bake and read simultaneously – something made possible by my conversion to audio books.
This Sunday, for example, I not only made the peanut cookies that are the actual focus of this post but also some banana bread with cacao nibs (for midweek 4pm snacks), and a peanut and pretzel brittle that, OMG, I should really learn to un-make because it is amazing, all whilst listening to The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. (I basically got to that point where I-had-to-know-what-happened and therefore could not stop listening). I took the brittle to netball, as a post-game treat, and it went down a storm. Andrés berated me on Monday for leaving him at home alone (he was on a day off) with the brittle, which was significantly reduced by the time I got home. More on the brittle soon. Here is a teaser in the meantime.
But peanut cookies. There are loads, mountains really, of recipes related to all things peanut butter and I certainly forget that the humble peanut comes in other forms (roasted and salted is my preference, or covered in caramel or even better, chocolate). Sometimes I want a cookie that tastes more like peanut and less like peanut butter. It’s not often, but it does happen. And so these cookies. They’re inspired by a recipe in Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III. I aspire to write like Nigel does – simply and yet convincingly.
Just the other day, after a walk up the hill to buy bread (from Small Food Bakery), passing trees of red, gold, burnt orange, the last occasional shades of green, the cloud came back in, low and dense in the sky, and I found myself in my bright kitchen, making lazy roast vegetable soup (as a vehicle for bread) and thinking I should write it all down – not only the cooking but the feeling bit, the descriptions of ordinary days that are fascinating to read, reflections on the weather, the state of a garden, a meal eaten out. And then I got distracted and I haven’t done so. But I think it might turn into something soon.
Reading The Kitchen Diaries reminded me that there is nothing more pleasurable than a simple meal – steak cooked just-so with salad, soup with bread (slathered in butter), roast chicken with root vegetables, potatoes cooked in various ways, a pork chop and a side of coleslaw. In my autumn cleaning of unread magazines and newspapers, I came across an article by Christopher Hirst in an old Independent on Sunday. The article detailed how recipes with fewer ingredients, seasonal highlights and simpler techniques had increasingly become Hirst’s recipes of choice. As much as I love a 22-ingredient, multi-step, equipment-heavy recipe (Hirst uses the example of Heston’s black forest gateaux), of late I have been far more inclined towards simple dishes and even simple desserts – four ingredient chocolate mousse, salted caramel, simple cookies. Nigel has a way of capturing that simplicity of eating in a few lines that make even the simplest of meals seem elegant.
My late grandmother, Alaire, bought me the first of Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries when I finished cookery school and it seemed like a happy coincidence that this third iteration was the book I chose (without conscious thought) as a post-viva reward gift to self. The Kitchen Diaries was the first cookbook I ever read like a novel – I am usually more of a dipper than a full-blown immersion reader of cookbooks but The Kitchen Diaries broke that rule and I have been reading III in much the same way: slowly, from cover to cover. I think the message in The Kitchen Diaries is similar to that found in the writing of Alice Waters: good food, simply cooked is a gift. One to be shared and to take time over, even on a messy, stressed-out weekday evening in midwinter. Oh to cook like that – with a sense of purpose – more often!
These cookies (which I have made twice in as many weeks) are simple cookies. Very little fanfare or excess. And yes, I have tarted them up slightly (with the addition of chocolate chips) to resemble a more glamorous counterpart but mostly they’re just goooood. I suspect they would be fantastic dipped in caramel. I had plans to half coat them in dark chocolate but they were gone before I could even begin to contemplate that. Just saying.
Inspired by the hazelnut cookies in The Kitchen Diaries III
120g roasted peanuts
100g smooth peanut butter
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g light brown sugar
50g maple syrup
250g plain flour
100g dark or milk chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a baking tray with parchment.
Blitz the peanuts to a course meal in a blender/grinder. You want something not particularly fine but with no visibly large peanuts left. Set this aside.
Cream the butter, peanut butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and fluffy.
Weigh the flour into a separate bowl. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and chocolate chips followed by the peanuts. Bring the mixture together with your hands into a not quite entirely crumbly mess. Turn this out onto a clean surface and knead lightly into a dough.
Form/roll into a log shape. Spread clingfilm across a flat, clean surface and transfer the log onto the clingfilm. Roll up the dough in the clingfilm and twist the ends. Refrigerate for an hour.
Slice the dough into rounds and bake on your baking sheet for approximately 12 minutes. The cookies should move if you push them with your thumb – that is how to test they are done. They will also be nicely golden. If they don’t move or are quite resistant to your thumb, let them cook for a few more minutes. Leave to cool on a tray before eating.
As I said above, I listed to The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith over the weekend.
I thoroughly enjoyed this article that outlines Nigella’s life through the meals she has eaten. I like to think that this blog will become a record of the various meals of my life.
I started to reread Wuthering Heights over the weekend. Nothing like a cold fog to transport you to the moors and some dark gothic novels.
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may be aware of my slight obsession with tiny dogs. Not actually teeny tiny dogs but terrier-sized ones. I have been known to embarrass my companions by trying to befriend them in the street or pointing them out and squeaking in a high-pitched voice. (I am aware that it is awkward. I simply cannot help myself.) At some point in the near future, I will actually get my own dog (the Pixilene having firmly shifted her allegiance to my mother) and then I will probably be less embarrassing in public. In the meantime, I love the sound of books like this one – a tribute and compendium of dogs known over the years.
Also, this blog. I intend to search for her book in a bookshop in London tomorrow – I am down on a research day but have hours to kill (and a sister to see hopefully) before my train.