As with Brownies, the quest to bake a faultless Cookie can be a long and arduous process . It should be so simple: No complicated methods, no tricky elements to bring together - just some butter, sugar, eggs, flour and a filling of your choice to contend with.
But I believe that beneath this deceptively simple narrative, there is a complex and challenging subtext that has to be patiently deconstructed before the story can be fully understood. It is essential, for example, that the oven be precisely the right temperature, and that the cookies are removed at exactly the right moment to avoid either being too gloopy or too brittle - and it can take nerves of steel, and supreme self-confidence to judge when this moment is. And like Brownies, I've tried countless versions in my quest for greatness. (By the way, Dan Lepard's Rye and Hazelnut Brownie recipe is my current favourite - the perfect balance of crispy outer shell and gooey centre, plus the rye flour gives them a gutsy, rustic flavour - pictured).
So yesterday, I thought I'd try some Nigel Slater cookies which appeared a couple of weeks ago in the Observer Food Monthly - Hazelnut and choc-chip. (I should point out that I will always favour a recipe if there is a nut option, as I could cheerfully live on them in any manifestation). It specified that the butter be at room temperature and cubed before being creamed with the sugar. So here again I got out my new electric mixer, to see if I felt more at one with it this time. And yes, it made light work of the beating but as I eyed this airy mixture, I wondered whether this was in fact the right consistency for a cookie batter - after all, a decent cookie requires a heavier crumb, I feel.
Twelve minutes in the oven, and the results were - well, just OK really (see pic). Not as good as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's White Chocolate and Cranberry ones, which prescribe melting the butter first. I definitely favour this method. So again, a somewhat discouraging baking afternoon, and no word yet from the cake sale front line.
A little postscript: I am a great believer that one has to be in the right frame of mind before embarking upon any kind of cake making - positive, motivated and in general good humour. Earlier in the day, I had badly chipped my front tooth, and despite my colleagues assertion that I looked a little bit like Jane Birkin - 'if I squint a bit and turn my head to the side' - I knew that I more resembled a reject from the Jeremy Kyle Show. This was all very distressing, and impacted negatively on the outcome of the cookies, I sure. I've now been to the dentist and had it fixed, so I'm feeling more hopeful about tomorrow's birthday cake marathon...