Welcome back, it’s been a while.
Today marks a change in the direction of MattJWaller.com due to the fact that I’m at University. The content of the site will now start to veer away from the traditional political and economic analysis that you have all become accustomed to reading as this sort of thought will now be channeled into my University work.
Instead, you will be delighted to find that I am now focusing on useful tips and observances that I’ve come across in my time at Uni and at home. Thus, the premise of this series of articles is to track my experiments in cooking at Uni with what can be only be described, if we’re being polite, as an adequate kitchen and an infrequent, at best, food supply.
To provide a bit of background I have to mention that I’m now attending St Annes college of Oxford University and thus am now residing in a house with many of the most friendly people on the planet. To make things interesting there are a never ending list of allergies and dietary requirements that have been collated and affixed to a cupboard door which limit the ingredients that can be used when I am cooking for people, which is whenever I cook. These requirements range from nut and egg allergies to wheat intolerances, vegetarianism and a reaction to spicy food. This means that I’ve been forced to completely re-evaluate my home pallet of food which is not necessarily a bad thing as I’m now trying a whole range of outlandish foods and recipes which will, time permitting be chronicled to some degree here.
In this edition I recount my first experiences with an electric oven and wheat-free flour through my mission to create the perfect wheat-free cookie.
I have been baking cookies for years and can honestly say that just before University I thought I had perfected it. I had my own recipe which incorporated speciality ingredients such as unrefined golden caster sugar and scottish porridge oats in the perfect balance to get that majestic chewiness that comes with a good American style chocolate chip cookie. Now, however, they have taken away my extensive gas oven, my ability to use plain flour and most importantly, my time. Thus I’m essentially back to square one and so have had an experience in experimenting with a multitude of different combinations of butter and sugar in addition to the alien wheat-free flour that I had accepted the challenge of using.
Another important factor to remember in this process is that, as ridiculous as it sounds for someone who really enjoys cooking, I didn’t remember to bring weighing scales with me to university and thus I have been perfecting the art of weighing by relativity. This is by finding something that has a mass of around the quantity of ingredient you are trying to measure and using it, through the virtue of right and left hands, to compare against the measured quantity until the ingredient seems at about the right weight.
The recipe I started my venture into wheat-free cooking with is this one, by Anthony Worrall Thompson. I did however, as per usual, replace and modify the quantities of the ingredients to somewhat match my original perfection of the chocolate chip cookie. I replaced the caster sugar with the obligatory golden caster sugar and the plain flour with that of a wheat-free variety.
Now I’m going to be perfectly honest here and admit that my initial batch of 26 cookies failed. In style. This was partially my own fault through severe oven mismanagement and also also partly down to Mr Worrall-Thompson who instructs to make the cookie dough “pliable” in order roll it out into sausages in which to cut the relevant “pucks” of dough off to make the cookies. What he fails to mention is that the amount of flour needed in order to get the dough into a “pliable” state is about triple the amount specified and consequently, through the virtue of not being able to weigh accurately and blindly following the recipe, the cookies came out of the oven either charred slightly or dryer than “a dead dingo’s donger” (it’s actually a saying, look it up!).
Luckily, I had split the dough into half so went back to the drawing board with the other half and the left the first batch to be rapidly devoured by house mates who had no such similar qualms about their quality. In order to rectify the problem that Worrall-Thompson had left me I whacked in about half a pack of butter and good pile of sugar and stirred the resultant mixture until it resembled the consistency of thick porridge. Rather than rolling the mixture into “logs”, I slopped it, using a spoon, onto the baking tray using a spoon to create small kind-of circular piles of dough.
With some better oven management (through the arrangement of the trays being rotated throughout the cooking process) and the new recipe I managed to pull off something that I would deem acceptable as a cookie and learnt a bit about oven management as the constitution of a chewy cookie in the process. Another thing I noticed while using the wheat-free flour is that it is far more starchy than regular flour and thus, for a reason I haven’t quite worked out has to be cooked at a marginally lower temperature to avoid a type of “crust” forming on the cookie.