Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_2615Though much has changed since I attended lower school – babies adept at navigating iPads, kids playing video games instead of board games, and an increasing concern with eating healthy – one thing remains the same. School cafeterias still serve terrible food.

I have choked down my share of cardboard-crusted pizza, tortilla soup made using yesterday’s leftover tacos, and slimy and grey cold cut sandwiches. However, there was one thing my school got right: the chocolate chip cookies.

From a young age, I learned to love cookies, if only because they were the only food option at school that didn’t activate my gag reflex. Every day, I would take one or two bites of my meal, then relish my two chocolate chip cookies. I switched schools after middle school into a totally different environment – an all-girls high school – but the food quality remained the same, if not worse, and the only thing worth eating was, you guessed it, the chocolate chip cookies.

People often embark on somewhat quixotic pursuits of the “best” vanilla cupcake or the “best” yellow cake or the “best” chocolate chip cookies. I’m of the opinion that it’s all rather subjective, and for me, the best chocolate chip cookies will always be those soft, under-baked cookies served at my lower school cafeteria. They did not have sea salt sprinkled on top or fancy chocolate disks, but they were moist (hopefully with butter and not shortening or lard or some weird chemicals), sweet…and they were the only game in town.

But some childhood memories are better left unsullied by attempts to recreate them. And so, I turned to the New York Times best chocolate chip cookie recipe to see if I couldn’t achieve something a little more sophisticated. With two types of flour, neither of which are all-purpose, chocolate disks instead of chocolate chips, and refrigeration time of 24-36 hours, these are quite the project.

Whether they represent something more “adult” or is simply an overly involved variation on something that should really be quite simple, I’ll leave for others to decide. They came out quite good, with a chewy, slightly cakey texture at the center, and a crunchier edge. They don’t quite measure up to the chocolate chip cookies enshrined in the memories of my youth, but then again, I suspect that no recipe, even the original recipe used by my school, ever will.

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The New Nutella

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My friends once told me that if I were to be any country in the world, I would be Belgium. I personally saw myself as more of a Netherlands, but after all of them unanimously agreed I was Belgium, I began to see their point.

Belgium just gets me. It’s a tiny country, I’m 5’1″. It has delicious chocolate. I love delicious chocolate. Belgians also make this liège waffle, which is perfect and delicious and chewy with crunchy pearls of sugar. And Belgium created Nutella, which I love dearly.

Belgium also has a beautiful and almost impenetrable forest, the Ardennes. (Of course, the Germans used it in both world wars to successfully launch attacks on France. Clearly, Europe learned its lessons.) Belgium also swore neutrality in both world wars, which I’ve always admired. World War I began for such ridiculous reasons, and World War II was, in my eyes, simply a continuation.

And Belgium is torn between two languages and two cultures, that of the Flemish and the Walloons. As a Chinese-American, I can understand the difficulties of straddling two cultures. Sometimes there is no compromise between the two, and I’m left in some sort of limbo. For example, paying the check is a fight for honor in Chinese culture, whereas in America, I feel like there’s always one person trying to avoid paying his full share. I end up embarrassed and upset either way.

Sometimes, you can’t win. But then sometimes, something comes along so winning and wonderful that all the bad just melts away. Once again, I owe it to Belgium. Thank you, oh great Belgian people, for discovering that speculoos could be made into a delicious, slightly spiced, crunchy yet creamy spread. But also, curse you, oh terrible Belgian people, for creating a substance that I literally cannot stop eating. It tastes good on bread, it tastes good just licked off a spoon, hell, it even makes oatmeal taste good.

Belgium, you’re the foodie of Europe and I love you for it. Thank you for creating so many delicious sweets and spreads, and despite all your political complications, I still think you’re a pretty cool place.

Then again, I would probably say anything for a lifetime supply of speculoos. You think I’m joking? As the Chinese would say, 我不是开玩笑。

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