If you ever walk out of the Barbican tube station and take a left, keep walking till you get to the four-point crossing with a Starbucks to your left. Clerkenwell Road. A short walk off that road should lead you to several points of culinary bliss. Namely a deli-style salumeria, the glass windows of which are lined with deep and gorgeously gnarly looking legs of pig. There’s a pizza place that employed a cute delivery-boy who used to bring us discs and discs of late night pizza as we slaved away at the office.
Cross the road and there’s this Asian mom-n-pop place that serves laksa in bowls as big as the Canyon. The yellow of the laksa they serve always reminded me of haldi-milk, a mix of warm milk with turmeric, a.k.a. “cure for common cold” in India. There’s a quaint cafe that serves up freshly brewed coffee, a place so tiny that after you manage to squeeze yourself through other people’s arms and legs and bulky winter coats, you come out of the shop smelling of freshly ground coffee beans, aftershave and expensive leather wallets. Always a good thing when you’re in London.
Although, strangely, what I remember most fondly about Barbican and Clerkenwell is the news shop outside the station. A crummy old place heaving under piles of the day’s newspapers. It was again a tiny place over-stuffed, musty and with a jingling bell atop its door the kind that rings every time someone opens the door. Although, now that I think of it, the door used to be open almost always so passing commuters could rush in and rush out without banging into each other. And that news shop was the source of everything kitschy in my life. From Union Jack T-shirts to bejewelled key-chains to Mars and Bounty bars. That shop gave me as much pleasure as that God-awesome laksa and that memorable coffee. The T-shirts I wore while I slept, the key chains helped me poke drunks off of me on the late night tube rides and the candy bars I took home with me and savored slowly over episodes of Mock the Week and Frasier.
The candy always reminded me of what I could or could not do. I could have a Mars bar at 1 in the morning, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about that. They were not the posh kind, deep or gleaming in 70% blah-blah-BLAH. They were soiled with peanuts and gum-bruisingly chewy with nougat, and the sweetness of the caramel always gave me goosebumps on my chin. But they were part of my routine. A routine I had made for myself in a foreign city.
Well this post started with the photograph of churning almond butter so it can only lead to something good and nutty.
I can also tell you right now that you won’t be needing any good-quality chocolate for what we’re about to make. You can keep those bars away for the next time. Because starting now, I’m only going to mention the magic of trashy candy folded into the arms of glorious glorious almond butter. I’m only going to mention cookies. Mounds of light domes studded with bits of Mars and Bounty. While these cookies bake, the Mars bits burst out of the batter. For that matter, any candy with chewy caramel in it would behave in such disobedience. But I know you’ll be OK with it. The texture of these cookies make up for more than bits of explosive candy crater-holes.
Right now, as I’m typing, I realize that everyone’s not made for cookies. At least, I’m not. I made quite a bit of fuss with that peppery batch that I baked. And now I’m starting to think that this blog includes way too many recipes that I nag an awful lot about before trying and end up loving. In this case, the truth is that I wanted to gain bragging rights about making my own almond butter. After a lot of whizzing on a rainy afternoon we ended up with an over-heated blender and a huge quantity of clumpy almond butter that was promptly divided in two equal batches. The initial plan, however naive, was to make a batch of cookies with the first half and the rest, I was going to stir into a creamy Chicken Mughlai.
I don’t have a recipe for Chicken Mughlai here. Clearly the plan did not work. Instead, I made a third batch of trashy almond cookies and called it a day. In the whole wide world of baked goods that I’m not sure of, these, I baked thrice. I don’t want to let you down by not planning for Chicken Mughlai, but give me a day or two to recover from the memories of news shops and winter coats and then we’ll talk.
Trashy Almond Butter Cookies
adapted from Kirbie’s Cravings
Note: The recipe actually asks for 1 whole cup of almond butter. But for the first batch I baked, I used 3/4 cup of almond butter and 1/4 cup of plain unsalted butter. Needless to say, they turned out more…erm, buttery.
To make the almond butter, take half a pound (or 250-300gms) of whole almonds still with their skins on. Toast them dry on a non-stick skillet for a couple of minutes. They will give off a distinctly nutty smell when they’re done. Be careful not to burn any. Actually, you know what you could also get pre-toasted ones — the regular kind that we snack on. But make sure they’re unsalted. Whiz the almonds in a processor or blender on low speed till they turn into a coarse meal. Turn up the speed and they’ll start releasing their natural oils. This natural oil moistens up the coarse meal and turns it into almond butter. Keep whizzing and you’ll end up with liquidized gorgeousness.
Blitz the sugar in a blender till its all powdered. This helps the sugar to melt into the batter quicker.
3/4 cup of almond butter [see head note]
1/4 cup of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup of brown sugar [see head note]
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
Chopped up candy (2-3 bars of whatever you like, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces)
MIx all the ingredients, except the candy, in a big bowl till the batter is creamy but not runny. Toss the candy bar bits in a few pinches of flour and stir them into the cookie batter. Cover the bowl with cling film and rest the batter in the refrigerator for half an hour or so. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicon mat or baking paper. Take an ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out the batter and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes till the top of the cookies are firm to the touch. Remove the cookies from the sheet and place on a cooling rack and let cool.