If it's too early in the morning for a bit of woo-woo new-agey-ness, then I recommend you stop reading, because I'm about to tell you that the universe made me buy this oven...
and then bake these cookies...
Chapter 1: First glance
Our lovely neighbours in Las Torres del Parque, are also our neighbours at the Usaquén market where we sell Choco Q chocolates. Diego and Andrea are the owners of the La Castaña cafe, and they make seriously tasty baked empanadas. (Because they're baked, I can pretend that they're not bad for me. Please don't mention the butter content of the pastry, let me keep my fantasy.) Diego spent two years in Paris restaurant kitchens and one day, in one of our market conversations, he was lamenting the lack of good french-style bread in Bogotá. So I gave Andrea and Diego one of my homemade loaves, and since then Andrea has been trying to convince me to sell them. On one such occasion, I used my oven as an excuse. It is as old as our apartment and very temperamental. It has broken as often as we've paid rent, and costs about as much to run. Andrea, not to be deterred by a small matter of equipment, pointed at their cafe oven, an industrial convection appliance made by Unox, called Lisa.
Chapter 2: The catalyst
Bogotanos are awfully proper, especially when it comes to the small courtesies. For example, when someone stands at the front of a bus and begins their sales spiel for the packets of nuts, highlighter pens, or story they're selling, their salutations are always answered with a resounding bus-wide "buenos días" or "buenas tardes". No matter how much the commuters would prefer to ignore the vendor, their response is automatic, having been drilled deep into their psyche as the polite thing to do. This required courtesy crosses socio-economic boundaries, and overrules caffeine withdrawal, tiredness, crappy days or too much social stimulation. Everyone, everywhere in this city, is unfailingly polite. Except the electricity company. There is only one, and they are jerks.
Last month they cut our power. Apparently our automatic bill payment, which has worked seamlessly for the last 8 months, failed. There was no late payment notice, no courtesy call to say "by the way, you haven't paid us". They just sent a guy to our apartment building while we were out, and cut the power. Twenty-four hours later, after some frantic running about the city to find a bank that would accept a late payment, and some frantic calls to Codensa asking them kindly to restore power, we had electricity again. I desperately needed to bake some bread-dough that had been languishing in the non-functioning fridge for too long, so I turned on the oven, and immediately heard a loud bang. After the smoke cleared, I determined that the elements were blown, and for the ninth time since moving into our apartment, the oven was broken.
Chapter 3: Second impressions
I had been waging a passive-aggressive war with our unseen landlady who refused our request, when we first moved in, to replace the oven. Despite the time delay, extra hassle and the unfortunate need to have the real estate agency's dodgy handyman in our apartment, every time the oven broke I insisted that the landlady pay the paltry amount required to send someone around fix it. This mini-explosion however, was my Waterloo. It was too much, I was too tired to continue the fight, the time had come to admit defeat and buy a new oven. In researching counter-top options, I decided, for fantasy's sake, to check out the website of a local restaurant equipment supply company, and discovered the range of Unox industrial beauties. I recognised La Castaña's empanada baker, but the prices were impossible to justify. Smiling sadly, I switched to the Kitchenaid website instead.
Chapter 4: Thwarting impatience
I would have got on a bus then and there to get myself to the Kitchenaid store in the north of the city (yep, there's a dedicated store here!!!), but it was approaching 5pm, the dreaded hour for anyone living in the centre of Bogotá when roads are switched to a northern direction and travelling south becomes a near impossibility. Whilst counting the hours until the store opened again the next morning I received an email. It listed items from a friend of a friend, who until recently, owned a cafe. And what much-coveted-stainless-steel beauty was on the list? Yep, the Unox Lisa convection oven.
Chapter 5: Cookie justifications
Using the universe as my irrational rationalisation, I paid a significant-but-not-full price for a second-hand industrial oven, when a consumer grade version would probably have sufficed. To further rationalise this expensive purchase, I have been experimenting with cookie recipes, with the idea that I could add cookies to the Choco Q repertoire. I have in fact sold a few batches in the past, but haven't offered them as a regular item because, until recently, I was working with a seriously unreliable oven.
I'm still tweaking recipes (aka eating a lot of cookies), but here's the frontrunner so far. They're the perfect balance between cakey and chewy, with bits of caramel goodness amongst the required chocolate chips.
Chocolate & Caramel Chip Cookies
(adapted from Fields of Cake's national cookie day recipe)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 tbs water
- 1/4 cup cold butter cut into cubes
- 3/4 cup cold butter, grated, and stored in the freezer till you need it
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla powder or extract
- 2 cups white flour
- 1 cup wholemeal flour
- 1 tsp baking powder (or 1/4 tsp if you're baking in the thin air of Bogotá)
- 1 cup dark chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup of nuts (I used walnuts but macadamias, pecans or hazelnuts would be equally amazing)
To make the caramel, combine the white sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to boil over low-medium heat, stirring very occasionally, until it turns a rich caramel colour. Take off the heat and add the butter. Stir vigorously to combine, then set aside for 20 minutes or until it's cooler but not yet set.
This part is best done in a stand-mixer:
Combine the frozen grated butter and the brown sugar and mix until just combined. (If you're still waiting for your caramel to cool, I suggest putting the butter mix in the fridge while you wait.) Add the caramel to your butter mix, turn your mixer to high and breathe deeply. The caramel will harden when it hits the cool butter mix, the butter mix will melt a bit from the warm caramel, the mixer will make loud cracking noises as the caramel breaks up, and the bowl will spit caramel chunks at you if, like me, you made a double batch and the bowl is too full. But it's ok. Everything will be ok.
When the caramel has broken-up sufficiently that your mixer is not longer making horrible noises, add the vanilla (if using extract), scrape caramel from the mixer paddle if need be, and mix a little more. Then add the eggs one at a time and mix until just combined.
In a separate bowl mix the salt, vanilla (if using powder), baking powder and flour. I use a bit of wholemeal flour just to give the cookies some texture, but you can use all white if you prefer. With the mixer on very low, add the flour a little at a time, and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and mix through. Be careful not to overmix the flour, or you'll develop too much gluten and the cookies will be tough instead of chewy.
Using your hands, roll the mixture into large balls, bigger than a golf-ball, and place on a baking tray (you can pack them close together), then chill the cookie-dough-balls in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, or up to 24 hours, before baking.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius, 390 degrees fahrenheit. Line another baking tray with a silicone baking mat or baking paper. Place the cold cookie-dough-balls on the tray, making sure you have plenty of space in between, and place the tray in the middle of the oven. Reduce the temperature to 180 degrees celsius, 360 degrees fahrenheit, and bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are a nice golden brown.