With Christmas only half a month away, it’s only natural to start thinking about presents and edible gifts right now. While I do love receiving them, making my Christmas presents from scratch can be intimidating for me, and I know why. The pressure of sending out something that must be both impressively delicious and as close to perfect as possible can be a daunting task, especially when you’re not equipped with a professional kitchen or large industrial ovens. It’s for times like these that I strongly believe we ought to stick to our basics. If you have a good chocolate chip cookie recipe or a trusty back-pocket brownie recipe to go to, you don’t have to fuss too much because these are presents everyone really enjoys getting. I don’t know a single soul who can turn down my mum’s brownies, and I personally find my chocolate chip cookies turn out even better than store-bought ones. It’s important to get some of these foolproof recipes down to the T because when all else fails, and sometimes they do, a fudgy brownie or gooey cookie wont.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
-Temperature is possibly the most important thing to keep in mind when making a good chocolate chip cookie. That 30 minutes of good chilling time of a well-creamed cookie batter will result in the best cookies you’ve made. Chilling it further results in a firmer cookie.
-Using a mixture of brown and caster sugar helps the cookie stay soft as they bake which is important because a good cookie must be ever so slightly crisp on the edges and yield gooey pools of chocolatey fudge the closer you get to the centre. Brown sugar contributes a lot to the chewiness of the cookie and this is important in the final texture, and this is the reason why the ratio of brown sugar to caster sugar is like 2:1.
-Roughly chopped bits of chocolate are better than using chocolate chips or disks of store-bought chocolate.
-Never forget to rotate your cookies halfway through their cooking time to ensure an even colour all around.
-The trick to getting those nicely wrinkled up chocolate chip cookie edges is to raise the cookie pan once the cookies are almost done and bang them down against the oven rack at least twice.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield 30 cookies, give or take
I feel like everyone should have a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. This one is mine and it doesn’t let me down. Technique is important so read the method carefully.
All-purpose flour 350g
Baking soda 1 tsp
Baking powder 1 1/2 tsp
Instant coffee powder 3/4 tbsp
Salt 3/4 tsp
Butter 250g at room temperature
Brown sugar 200g
Caster sugar 100g
Eggs 2, at room temperature
Vanilla essence 1 tbsp
Dark chocolate 400g, roughly chopped
Sea salt flakes for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and line three sheet trays or a Swiss roll tins with baking paper.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, coffee powder and salt in a bowl.
In another bowl, cream together the butter and two sugars for five minutes, scraping down after 2.5 minutes and proceeding. Add in the egg and continue to beat for a minute, scraping down again, then add in the vanilla essence. Beat for another minute again and stop.
Add half the dry ingredients and run the beater again until just combined but still looking a bit shaggy-for about 15-20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in the rest of the dry ingredients. Again, just run the hand beater for another 15-20 seconds. Finally add in the chocolates and use a spatula to just bring everything together-one or two turns at the most. Then transfer to the freezer and let it chill for 30 minutes.
Once the dough has chilled, use an ice cream scooper to drop balls of dough on the tray preferably with an inch of distance between each cookie. I can only fit six in a tray at a time. Top with a bit of sea salt in the centre and transfer to the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes. Read on.
Turn the cookie tray around halfway through the cooking time for even browning of the cookies. When the cookies look 3/4th of the way done, open the oven, raise the cookie sheet and bang it back down two to three times between 30 second intervals for the crinkly edges. The cookie is done when the sides feel set to the touch.
Remove the cookies and let them stand on the baking sheet for 10 minutes to cool after they are out of the oven. They need to stand so that they continue to cook and their bases will set. You can eat them right off the rack.
-Once you’re done incorporating the egg with a hand-mixer, just do everything else by hand. This way you won’t end up over-mixing the batter.
-Bang the tin before it goes into the oven
-Under-bake till wet crumbs stage. That’s when you know your brownie is ready to come out. Insert your skewer at a slant to check if your brownie is done. If it comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it, but no batter, then it’s done.
Mum’s Master Brownie Recipe
Yield 20 brownies
I’ve been eating these since I was 16 and I never tire of them. It has that much-coveted fudgy interior with a delicate cracked which makes these. Mum’s been kinda secretive about this recipe of hers, and it’s so darn simple, I don’t know why.
All-purpose flour 1 1/2 cup
Baking powder 1 tsp
Salt 3/4 tsp
Caster sugar 1 1/2 cup (or a combination of caster and brown if you have time on-hand)
Chocolate 250g, roughly chopped
Vanilla essence 1 tbsp
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line a 33cm by 28cm brownie pan with baking paper.
Melt together the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl for short spurts of 10 seconds or melt both the ingredients together in a double boiler setting and let it sit outside to cool till room temperature.
Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
Beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla using a hand-blender till well combined, about 2 minutes till nice and frothy.
Add the chocolate mixture to the egg and sugar mixture and stir briefly. Add in the all-purpose flour and baking powder mixture and mix briefly by hand till just combined. Bang the brownie tray against the counter once firmly before transferring to the oven and let it bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer interred sideways comes out with a few wet crumbs attached.
To make the Chocolate Fudge Sauce for these brownies, in a bowl, add 150g golden syrup (light treacle), 65g salted butter, 120g brown sugar, 200ml cream and 150ml milk. Heat these ingredients together in a saucepan over a low simmer for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and break 300g dark chocolate into pieces adding it bit by bit to add to the fudge sauce and thicken it. Let it cool down and thicken to pourable consistency.
TART SHELL/ BUTTER PASTRY
For years I followed a Rachel Allen tart shell recipe blindly. It was the only tart shell recipe I trusted because it was the tart my mum made for us. My first Quiche Lorraine used that tart shell and the only two tarts on this website use that recipe too. However, that is not the best shortcrust recipe out there, but this one right here definitely is.
What’s really great about this recipe is how incredibly buttery it is. Using a good quality butter here would so totally up the rich taste of this tart, but I’m stuck with Amul, which is cool too, but just saying, white butter is better (French butter is best).
My tart shells are never the beautiful kinds with crimped edges, flowery designs and intricate braids. I have neither the patience, nor the artistic sensibility to make a super neat pie, but what my pie may lack in looks, it more than makes up by way of a delicious crust and an even better filling. Someday maybe I’ll get there, but today is not that day. So if you’re a klutz with the whole roll the dough on the rolling pin and roll out on the tart shell step, I’m right there with you. If it breaks, it’s all good. You can still patch it up. Even if you do decide to give up on the tart, here’s a ready dough for you to make shortcrust biscuits with. Simply stamp out Christmas shapes using a cookie cutter and bake them. That’s it!
EXPERT TIP: To stop your pastry from getting a soggy bottom from a wet custard being poured into it, after blind-baking the tart shell (blind-baking is a technique in which you par-cook the tart shell and seal the pastry. It’s done by adding baking beans or other oven-friendly weights in the cavity of your pie shell, then baking it, then finishing it without the weights which prevents the base of the pastry from expanding) Paint the sides of the pastry with an egg-white wash before proceeding with the last two minutes of finishing the pastry as this forms a layer between the filling and your tart shell. The following recipe has a pretty wet custard and you can definitely try this technique out.
Basic Tart Shell
Yield 1 tart shell, can be easily doubled
This recipe can be easily doubled, and is a delicious recipe. Using white butter is a bonus, and if you don't have it, use salted butter from a brand like Amul or Britannia. It's all good. Find the recipe for the nasik orange tart filling below this recipe
Salt a pinch
White butter 115g, cold, cut into cubes (I used Punjab Sind's White Butter)
Ice cold water 3 tbsp, plus more if required
Egg white wash optional
Whisk together the flour and salt. Add in the pieces of butter and use your hands to work the butter into the flour, pressing it into the flour, flattening it against your palm until you’ve worked in most of the butter. You want to keep some small lumps of butter intact. Make a well in the centre of the dough and add 2 out of 3 spoons of the water and mix together till the dough comes together into a ball that you can knead. Knead one or two times just to make sure everything is combined. It should not feel sticky at any time and more on the drier side. Add more water if necessary, otherwise wrap it in clingfilm, flatten it out a bit into a cookie shape and freeze for 15 minutes.
To blind bake the tart shell, set the oven to 220 degrees celsius to preheat. Very lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the pastry into a large circle about 2 inches wider than the tart shell. Roll outwards from the centre for a more even thickness of pastry. Rotate the pastry as you roll it out to handle it better and recolour as you go to prevent any sticking. You could use a tart shell with a detachable base or just a regular pie dish too. Either flip the rolled out pastry onto the tart, or gently unfurl it using a rolling pin. Leave a bit of overhang for the pastry and snip of the extras and set aside for any patchwork or to make the cookie cutter shortcrust toppings for the pie. Freeze this for 5 minutes before handling it again. The objective is to keep the pastry as cold as possible. Tuck the bits of overhang inwards into the edges of the tart shell and tuck the corners inwards a bit using your fingers till it holds some semblance of neatness. Transfer to the freezer for another 5-10 minutes till the oven preheats. Transfer the tart shell to the oven with a baking paper placed in the centre of the cavity and weighed it down with heavy beans till all the corners are covered with the beans to stop any bits of pastry from rising up. Blind bake for about 15 minutes or till the edges of the tart are just starting to turn a golden colour. Take the weights out of the tart shell and brush the insides with an egg white wash and transfer back to the oven for 1 minute more till the eggs have cooked and formed a layer on the pastry.
If you’re looking to make a tart shell and add an already cooked filling to the pastry, you could at this stage also go ahead and completely bake the crust which would mean another 10-12 minutes in the oven. Cool the crust completely before adding any filling.
For the Nagpur Orange Tart filling, I used 1 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice from seasonal Nagpur oranges and mixed it together with 5 egg yolks, 3 eggs, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of cream cheese before pouring it into the blind-baked pie shell and baking it for 30-35 minutes at 160 degrees celsius. The tart is done when shaking it produces a very slight jiggle at the centre of the tart.