Have you noticed how many good things come in sandwich format?
Or macarons – like the raspberry tea & chocolate tahini ganache ones that my darling sister-from-another-mother Meeta carried in her luggage from Germany to give me when she stayed over for our Spice Girl London weekend for Food Blogger Connect '10.
A layer cake is essentially a sandwich, wouldn't you say?
And of course there are actual sandwiches of of the lunchtime variety – from exotic creations like rocket with lime mayo or Prosciutto, figs and Brie; to the humble cheese and tomato or tuna mayo sandwich.
However you look at it, the sandwich format works well in sweet as well as savoury combinations, which might be the reason that many of South Africa's favourite cookies (we call them biscuits in South Africa – but koekies in Afrikaans, so cookies is not a great leap…) are some sort of sandwich cookies. Of course, there were Marie biscuits, Tennis biscuits and Eat-Sum-Mors; but real biscuit heaven came as a sandwich: Lemon Creams, Romany Creams, and my personal favourite Choc-kits* (and I am not alone – there is even a Choc-kits Facebook fan page!). So what is it that makes Choc-kits* so special? I would say it is balance. The combination of the slightly chewy coconutty biscuit and the sandwich filling of pure melty chocolate is perfect, and definitely has the edge over the far more chocolatey but less complicated Romany Creams.
You know how they say you never go to the beach when you live by the sea? In the same way, when something is available for you to eat every day, you don't indulge, but wait until that something is taken away… And that's exactly where my craving for Choc-kits* started: their inavailability increased their desirability by tenfold when I moved to London! OK, to be fair, you can get them over here, but only in specialist South African stores (at specialist prices!) rather than on supermarket shelves. I was living a Choc-kits* deprived life!
And then one day I had an e-mail from a reader asking if I had a Choc-kits* recipe that she could make at home. Genius! Why had I never thought to ask my mom for a Choc-kit* recipe? Oh yes – because I thought I'd always live in a country where they are readily available…! Anyhoo. Undeterred, I trawled the Internet and came up with… nothing. Not a trace. But in my random wanderings, I did come across a recipe that purported to be for Romany Creams – yet the picture to me looked a whole lot like Choc-kits*. I sent the recipe on to Liana with the caveat that I hadn't made them myself and were not sure they were what she was looking for, but had high hopes that they were in fact Choc-kits*. And I was thrilled when she wrote back to say that she had tried it and that the recipe did in fact yield a good facsimile of Choc-kits*!
Now that Choc-kits* from my very own kitchen were within my grasp, clearly it could only be a matter of time before I tried them for myself. And so it came to pass that said kitchen was transformed into a cookie factory this weekend. I would be lying to you if I said that these were as easy as pie – there is a bit of faff involved, but the recipe makes about 32 sandwiched cookies in jumbo size, and probably at least 50 in normal commercial Choc-kits* size – so you won't have to make them again for a while. Here are the things I learnt in the process:
- I wanted to try and approximate the shape of the commercial cookies, so I decided to haul out my mom's vintage cookie pres (and in any event, the dough is so full of butter that it is very hard to handle unless you have frozen hands). However… the presence of rather a lot of coconut in the batter meant that the holes where the batter was meant to come out of the press, simply clogged up. Nick came to help and, in his endless ignorance of the physics of the cookie press, unscrewed one end when I was not looking. You know Old Faithful geyser in the Yellowstone national Park? Imagine if it started spewing cooking dough instead of hot water, then you will have an approximate idea of the scene in my kitchen. After a major cleanup operation, I fitted the press with a large, straight frosting nozzle which worked perfectly. LESSON LEARNT: big flakes of coconut can't fit through small cookie press holes!
- This is possibly the best-tasting cookie dough in the universe (as I learnt while nibbling on bits scraped off my kitchen counters, windowsills and fridge – see above). LESSON LEARNT: Ben & Jerry should approach ME next time they want to put cookie dough in their ice-cream.
- The cookies expand quite a lot as they bake, so what seems like a normal Choc-kit* sized blob of dough when it goes into the oven becomes a Giant Mutant Choc-kit* once baked. LESSON LEARNT: pipe the dough smaller than you think you need – or do what I did and make jumbo Choc-kits!
- As the chocolate for sandwiching the cookies has to harden enough to hold them together and preferable remain shiny and pretty, you should temper the chocolate before sandwiching the cookies. Tempering chocolate is one of those culinary activities that acquires mythical status – people believe it is more difficult than it really is and are put off working with chocolate because of it. In a nutshell: when you melt a chocolate bar, its chemical composition changes subtly and to get it to behave like the chocolate we all know (glossy; hard enough to snap), you need to make some very specific temperature changes in order to cause the crystals in the chocolate to behave in a certain way, and to make sure the cocoa butter and cocoa solids do not separate and cause unsightly white marks on your chocolate. Far more experienced folks than me have written excellent pieces on tempering – I would refer you to Baking 911's tempering guide or David Lebovitz's excellent chocolate tempering in a nutshell guide. I did give it a go but discovered that my candy thermometer is useless as it only starts at 100F, and I was meant to be working at temperatures in the 80s. Oh well. It's not fatal, but I can't say it was a textbook case of chocolate tempering! LESSON LEARNT: get a chocolate tempering thermometer that measures temperatures below 100F!
All that aside, though, this recipe yielded amazing results – they really do taste like Choc-kits*, although crispier and less chewy. Next time I might reduce the amount of shortening and bake for a little less time to see if I can enhance the chewiness. But other than that, they were perfect. All they needed was a glass of milk and I was instantly transported back to being at primary school and having cookies my parents' kitchen in South Africa.
CHOC-KITS* RECIPE (adapted from here) – makes about 32 large sandwiched cookies
250 g butter, softened
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1.5 cups desiccated coconut
2.5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp cocoa
200 g melted chocolate
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence, then the eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each one. Mix until the mixture is pale yellow and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa. Add the sifted dry ingredients and the coconut to the butter mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon until all dry ingredients have been incorporated.
If NOT using a cookie press, form a ball of dough with your hands and roll it into a cylinder about 2.5cm in diameter. Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 mins (otherwise it will be too soft to work with). Remove from refrigerator and slice into rounds about 1cm thick. Place the rounds on a baking sheet covered in baking paper, leaving about 2cm around each cookie.
If using a cookie press, fill the press with dough and fit a plain icing nozzle with a wide opening. Pipe small ovals about 4cm long onto a baking sheet covered in baking paper.
Bake at 180C/350F for 15-20 minutes. Remove the cookies and cool completely on a wire rack.
Melt and temper the chocolate (see note above), then working quickly, spread the flat base of a cookie with a generous amount of chocolate, sandwich with another cookie, and place on a rack for the chocolate to harden. Repeat until all cookies have been sandwiched.
* Choc-kits is the registered trademark of National brands Ltd.
This post is part of a new series for 2010 called Sundays in South Africa. The series started as a way of providing visitors with some ideas of what and where to eat during and after the FIFA World Cup 2010 which took place in June/July 2010 in my home country of South Africa! Although the tournament is over now, I will still try to post a review of somewhere South African, or a South African recipe, every Sunday as culinary inspiration for visitors. I can't pretend it is going to be a comprehensive guide to South Africa – but it will certainly be enough to give visitors some ideas! Click here for previous posts in the series.
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