Messing with British Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Since moving to Cornwall, I’ve made it my mission in life to mess with the Britishness of British baking. Not because British baking is bad. It isn’t; it’s fantastic. Have you eaten shortbread? Or scones? Or pain au chocolat? Or—wait a minute, that last one’s French, isn’t it? (And in case you’re not familiar with the stuff, it’s not pronounced like the English word pain, it’s closer to pan, and it’s basically a croissant with chocolate inside. Mmmm.)

So okay, we’re not talking about a tradition that goes back, unmixed and unmessed-with, to Alfred the Intolerable. British cooking has done what pretty much every culture does: it’s adapted, stolen, borrowed, and claimed as its own whatever bits happened to work—so much so that now people ask, with an almost straight face, “What’s more English than curry?”

How am I carrying out my mission? I’m baking, and I’m feeding my friends and neighbors. It all sounds so harmless, doesn’t it?

Irrelevant Photo: Fountains Abbey

Irrelevant Photo: Fountains Abbey

So here’s my recipe for chocolate chip cookies, because chocolate chip cookies are even more American than Mom and apple pie. They’re probably more American than the flag. The recipe’s in imperial measures. (Shouldn’t we start calling them American measures, by the way? The empire’s gone and—does any country other than the U.S. still use them these days?  And I’m not sure how many people know what imperial measures means.) But back to my point, I’m not going to try translating it into anything sensible like the metric system because the last time I did lost three weeks of my life and didn’t get it right anyway. So forget it. Besides, what’s more American than an irrational and antiquated system of measuring that we inherited from a country that’s since abandoned it and which we will fight to the death rather than give up?

Am I off the topic yet?

The recipe was adapted from one my friend J. found in the Duluth, Minnesota, News Tribune. The introduction explained that the more sugar a cookie has, the more it spreads out in the oven. The original minimized the sugar, which suited me because my chocolate chip cookies had been turning into chocolate chip wafers and I like a thick cookie. I’ve cut the sugar back even further and substituted oatmeal for some of the flour. If that sounds healthy, don’t kid yourself, they’re lethal, but you can increase the sugar if you like. I’ve left the amount a bit vague (a scant ¼ cup, in one place) for exactly that reason. Not to mention because I’m exactly that sort of cook—a bit vague, probably even a bit scant.

If you want the cookies to turn out well (and why would you make them if you didn’t?), you have to find really good dark chocolate—preferably chocolate chips. In the U.S., that means semi-sweet—none of that milk chocolate mess. In the U.K., I’ve had a battle to find good chocolate chips. For years, all I could find were brown waxy things that tasted like buttons that had popped off an old-fashioned shoe. If that’s all you can find, don’t buy them. Chop up chocolate bars (I’ve used 70% chocolate) with the back of a knife and make chocolate chunk cookies, but chunks of chocolate bars don’t keep their shape the way chips do. They’re good but not the same. For some time now, friends have kept us supplied with American chocolate chips, which is a real luxury, especially when you look at the cost of postage, but recently I’ve discovered that Dr. Oetker’s make decent chocolate chips, even if they come in itty bitty bags and are overpriced. In the U.S., you can buy chocolate chips in industrial-size bags. We’re seriously serious about chocolate chips.

If you’re in other countries, I have no chocolate chip advice to offer, but I do know this: If you open the bag and taste them and they don’t taste like much, they won’t get any better when you stir them into the batter and bake them.

The recipe makes an insane number of cookies. (I did warn you that, as a cook, I’m a bit vague.) I freeze whatever we don’t eat on the first day and take them out when we have company. They’re good frozen. Maybe even better. Honest. I discovered this the time I hid them from myself and—surprise surprise—found them. And ate them on the spot.

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies                               

1 c. whole wheat flour

2 1/3 c. plain white flour

1 ½ c. rolled oats (any thickness will do)

2 tsp. baking soda (that’s bicarbonate of soda)

2 tsp. salt

12 oz. (that’s 3 sticks if you’re American) butter

Scant 2/3 c. brown sugar

Scant ¼ c. white sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

Lots of dark chocolate chips  (about 2 ½ c.)

 

Cream the butter and sugars. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients, then the chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, leaving some room for them to spread out.

Bake 9 – 11 minutes at 375 F.,  or 185 c., or 165 c. with a fan oven.

Cool 2 minutes or more on baking sheets before removing.

23 thoughts on “Messing with British Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookies

  1. I’m surprised to hear that British chocolate is not up to snuff. Did everything go downhill when Mondelēz bought Cadbury? Or did it begin before?

    Needless to say, “Mondelēz” is a very foreign sounding name for an American company. I’m not sure I’d trust their chocolate, either.

    Anyway, now I want cookies.

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    • Other chocolate here is fine, but chocolate chips don’t seem to have gotten themselves on the cultural map yet and there aren’t many to choose from. The chocolate chips I said are so waxy aren’t Cadbury’s–if Cadbury sells chocolate chips, I’ve never seen them–so we can’t blame a foreign takeover. As for what sounds American–ooh, that’s a tough one. We’re made up of so many cultural streams that you could make a pretty good argument that anything sounds American.

      But if Mondelez is throwing its cultural weight around, I’d at least expect decent chocolate chips.

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    • I just looked it up in my not-very-good dictionary (no root, no history of the word), which defines it as “barely sufficient.” My own definition is “a deliberately vague amount less than the stated measure.”
      That doesn’t really help, does it? But it does given the inquiring mind an incentive to experiment.

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  2. Just made a standard batch (from the back of the chocolate chip bag) of these last night for a volunteer thingie today. Your recipe sounds delish. As children, we foiled my mother’s attempts to keep cookies around longer by developing a taste for frozen cookies. My father prefers them that way to this day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like other readers I too had a laugh over your description of English chocolate chips. Although it is more time consuming, when there is no American-style industrial-sized bag of chocolate chips to be had, melting a chocolate bar and then creating little “chips” by pouring the melted chocolate through an icing bag works.

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  4. I’m from Canada, more empire than the Americans. We still use imperial measures here. And no don’t call them American please. They wanted nothing to do with the empire and threw all your tea into the harbour. I mourn that tea! Many here still wish we were under the Queen. I’m one of them. Have British roots and so proud of them! Have family in Plymouth. Remember…just because we are in North America we are a separate country.

    Scant: A little less than the full measure. Or “just a little of the top”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scant is a little less than the full measure–just shy of the top (to toss in another phrase that may clarify or confuse; sorry, I can’t help myself).

      I promise I never have and never will mistake Canada for a part of the U.S., but I do have trouble with what to call all those strange pounds/ounces/cups/pints measurements. Imperial measures is correct but not, I suspect, widely understood–at least in the U.S. Maybe I need to call them several things, in sequence. Thanks for raising the issue.

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      • Didn’t mean to come across so strong. Just hate it when someone assumes we are a shadow of the States.
        The States use imperial measures also. You are not confusing.
        I’m right with you Ellen, when it comes to tossing in phrases. We have something in common.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Your tone was fine–nothing to apologize for. Living next door to the U.S. can’t be easy. In Mexico, they have a saying: Poor Mexico, so far from god and so close to the U.S. And just to annoy the Mexicans even more, people from the U.S. tend to call themselves Americans–as if North and South America held no other countries. People who are conscious of that call themselves North Americans, but Mexico’s in North America too. As, of course, is Canada. Having been thoroughly hassled about that by some friends, I tried something that basically translates to United Statesian, but Mexico’s full, formal name is the United States of Mexico, so that didn’t work either. “Well, we’ve got to call ourselves something,” I said, at which point (if I remember right) we all gave up.

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          • Leonard Sweet used “USAmericans” in books I read (while married to an ex-Canadian immigrant and shopping at an “Americana Market” where nobody admitted speaking English). I liked it. Online a lot of people mock it.

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            • When I did some editing for a book publisher, I learned that it’s not just the purists among us who are careful not to randomly call the U.S. America–it’s also Americans who sell to the Canadian market. But I still don’t have an adjective that’s easy to say. USAmericans works, but–well, maybe I just haven’t gotten used to it. Thanks.

              And people online mock all kinds of things. To hell with them.

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  5. It is now 4:30AM here in the United States of Middle North America. I couldn’t sleep ,so I decided to write a blog post for this weekend but ended up reading your post about Chocolate Chip/Chunk Cookies and now I am going to head off to the kitchen to bake because I can’t get Chocolate Chip/Chunk cookies out of my head. If I don’t post this weekend, it’s all your fault!

    Liked by 1 person

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