World Peace Cookies in a Non-American Kitchen

Every year, I give up sugar for January. My palate needs a serious cleanse after stuffing my face with eggnog and fudge for most of December, and I like to start the year off practicing restraint. The rules are somewhat vague, but the banned items include not only desserts, but added sweeteners both chemical and natural, and under its many names: no honey, no agave, no dextrose, no concentrated apple juice, and so forth. A banana or a glass of milk is acceptable, Kettle Chips with sea salt and crushed black pepper are not, as they contain added sugar.

You think you know what you are giving up, until you start checking labels. This means giving up most charcuterie and sausages, almost all grocery store breads, and here in the Netherlands, canned beans. What? Yes, it’s true. Sugar lurks in so many unexpected places.

I’d recommend setting a time to give up sugar, if only to open your eyes and to develop a habit of checking labels, but I’m not here to get you to cleanse, I’m here to give you cookies.

I brought Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies, one of my favorites, to an event at the very end of January. It worried me to serve them without tasting them (plus I wanted to eat them), but I’ve made them many times in the past and followed the recipe exactly.

February 1st rolled around and my husband and I greedily ate the few leftover cookies for breakfast. Delicious! However; these are made with a chocolate shortbread dough and the European sugar I now use (of course it had to be the sugar) threw off the texture.

I’ve made some small adjustments (in the process recipe testing a bit more, poor me), if you use turbinado or another sugar with large crystals, or if you have difficulty accessing good brown sugar.*

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup raw cacao powder**
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (11 tablespoons)
3/4 cup white sugar, run through a food processor for a few whirs. Don’t turn it into powdered sugar, just reduce the granule size.*
1 tablespoon molasses or date syrup*
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preparation:

Sift the flour, cacao powder, and baking soda together.  

Beat the butter on medium speed with a hand mixer, or with all your might by hand, until it is soft and creamy. Add the sugar, salt, molasses, and vanilla and beat for 2 more minutes.  

Add the dry ingredients, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and mix for a few seconds. Mix only until incorporated – the dough should resemble meal and won’t look like it will hold together.

Fold in the chocolate, just until incorporated.

Use your hands to press the dough together and divide in half. Shape each half of the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches thick (that’s 4 cm) and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill anywhere between 3 hours to a few days before baking, or go ahead and put them in the freezer for longer storage.

Baking: 

Fully preheat the oven to 325 °F (that’s 165 °C). 

Slice one of the logs into 1/2 inch thick rounds (just under 1.5 cm), and set them on a parchment lined baking tray. Press any crumbling rounds back together, and leave around 1 inch (2.5 cm) of space between the cookies.

Bake for exactly 12 minutes. Don’t wait until they look done, or until it feels right — set a timer and take them out at 12 minutes. If you are baking from frozen dough, you have permission to bake for 13 minutes. Let the cookies rest for a few minutes on the baking tray before transferring them to a cooling rack. If you, like me, only have one baking tray, move on to the second log of dough now, or store it in the freezer for later.

Enjoy just barely warm to room temperature. Pairs perfectly with a dark coffee or a cold glass of milk.

 

Notes:

* Brown sugar in North America is made from sugar and molasses. If the ingredient list contains colors, caramel flavoring, etc, use my method instead and make your own. If you are indeed making these with “normal” American ingredients, use 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar and 1/4 cup sugar for your sweeteners, as Dorie calls for in her book.

** If you are making this in an American kitchen, you are likely using natural cocoa powder, which is the standard. While the two may differ nutritionally, they function the same way in this recipe — proceed! I’ve listed it like this because typical cocoa powder in Europe is Dutch processed and cannot be used here, as it will change the chemical reaction. You can often find raw cacao powder at health food stores or marketed as a superfood.

I’d like to thank Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan for developing these, as Sablés Chocolats, Sables Korova, and finally, Word Peace Cookies, and to The Splendid Table for first bringing them to my attention. You are all heroes.

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Treat Yourself Right

Some time ago I realized that my automatic response to the concept of “treating myself” was almost exclusively sugar, shopping, and alcohol, plus the occasional pedicure. I felt limited that I automatically reached for the same things over and over, and indignant that these are the only options promoted by our culture!

These are still treats to me, but I’ve been cultivating a better way to love myself, and give myself the freedom to have small rewards and enjoyment without spending so much money or fueling a sugar addiction. It is still luxury to nourish yourself and to invest in your own mental and physical health. Some of these still require you to open your wallet, but they aren’t self-depleting.

Find some flowers:

Cut them from your own yard, ask a friend if you can cut a few from her yard, cut them from the lilac tree in that vacant lot. Or buy them from your local farmers market, or over-priced flowers from the grocery store. It’s okay to do something that feels convenient and indulgent on occasion, and to enjoy something that is fleeting.

Take a bath:

Now that I do not have a tub, I long for the many wasted days that I took it for granted. When I first moved into a flat without a bathtub, I sadly googled how to remedy this. I had to laugh myself out of sadness when I found a woman who posted on a forum (I paraphrase): “I’m a two bath a day type of gal. When I lived in an apartment without a bathtub, I found that if I curled up on the shower floor and cried for 45 minutes, it just about did the trick.” If you, like me, do not have a bathtub, look for a sauna or steam room. There might be one at a gym just around the corner from you. Every once in a while I have a soak in a friend’s giant tub when she is out of town.

Have a good stretch:

I often push aside the needs of my body when I feel stressed and busy. Rather than adding it to your to do list as a chore, alter your mindset and reward yourself with a stress free session of yoga in your own home or at a studio as a reward. Give yourself the freedom to alter your priorities: put aside your well-balanced meal plans and eat nachos for dinner instead, and take the time to stretch your muscles. Most importantly, forgive yourself.

Take a nap:

When I was a teenager, I spent a summer napping at the park — until my mother found out what I was doing. I would take a blanket and book as pretext for belonging, and had a perfect spot scoped out. It was just on the other side of a ridge next to a baseball field, just out of sight from everyone and their dog, but I wasn’t in the bushes or a secluded area. I see my mother’s point, now. Take an indulgent little nap, but maybe better not in public.

Leave your phone behind:

Put your phone away as a reward, not as a punishment. Let yourself sneak away in the quiet. I often leave my phone and my keys behind when I go on a date with my husband. I feel a little freer and don’t have to worry about my things. Without a purse or full pockets, I feel a little I’ve escaped!*

Just buy some fruit:

I know this probably sounds silly to many people, but fruit is expensive, especially out of season. Maybe you have your go-tos, but fresh berries (or basically anything besides apples, for me) can be both sweet and indulgent, and more comfortable than a half pan of brownies. I love kiwis, but also forget about them. They usually take up such a small amount of space in the produce section that they become a bit out of sight, out of mind. Growing up, I opened my stocking every Christmas to find a kiwi; in my adult life, every kiwi is a gift to me. More luxurious yet: buying pre-cut fruit. This makes me feel like I’m getting away with something.

The gift of time:

For me, this gift is painting. I like the idea of using this gift as permission to do that thing that you love doing, but never feel like you have time for, or feel guilty and neglectful of your responsibilities when you take the time to do it. Bring that feeling into a new light. Instead of a leisure activity that you never have time for, it can be a treat for that accomplishment at work or to chase away the January gloom.

Take a walk, look around:

Take a walk through the forest or a park or your neighborhood, not for exercise, but for the pleasure of seeing what you can find. Hopefully you will find miniature flowers pushing through the cracks in the sidewalk, weird purple rocks, and other small secrets of nature. I was especially practiced at this in college, when I took a few hours each semester, usually during finals, to take a thorough hike through the arboretum. I looked for all the tiny things. The electric green fern fronds, the puffball mushrooms, the wildly red growth just poking out of the mud. The colors are shocking once you are aware of a hair breadth of color rather than only broad brush strokes. Just about anyone can appreciate a breath of fresh of air and a walk somewhere green, but there is a joy that wells up when you discover the diminutive and secret in your surroundings.

Use that class pass:

I tend to feel guilty rather than smug when I go to an exercise class, even though I really enjoy them. Shouldn’t I be running around my neighborhood or doing handstands in my living room instead of spending money? No. Treat yourself.

This is no judgement on what you consider to be a treat, but an offering of possible alternate gifts. We all need a break and to take the time to invest in ourselves regularly. What are some other ways you reward yourself? I’d love to hear your insight and expand my list!

 

 

*I’m also plagued by anxiety, so I usually still take my identification in case my body needs to be identified, and because I am terrified of being caught without my visa on me.

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Jumping In

We’ve both toyed with the idea of blogging for several years now, and are finally, and fearfully, taking the leap. We aren’t ready. It will be personal, it will not be perfect. We hope to grow as we write, finally test those recipes we’ve been experimenting with, learn as we research, and to thrive, slowly.

We hope you will join us on our journey and build community with us.
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