It’s highway season again. When we, our family, neighbours, friends and colleagues all hop in the car and drive somewhere at least 300km away. This is the Thursday before Easter, the start of a four week public holiday long weekend.
Last night, we drive for 6 hours and arrived at the Mr Gander family beach hut at 11.20pm.
It seemed all of Sydney was on the move with bumper to bumper traffic (all following that truck). Leaving the cities behind, the highway wound past bushland and forests, we rolled through a sleepy town, sleepy suburbs, bushland, a sleepier suburb, a solitary street with hushed houses and a solitary street light. Then “home”.
I was never happier to see the beach hut, with its solitary street light. And Mr Gander’s mum in her silk pyjamas, coming to say hello and offer a cup of tea.
During the drive, we ate the last of these chocolate chip cookies. They proved to be unexpectedly comforting and heartening after a hasty dinner by the highway. I made these a couple of days ago for friends who had driven from Canberra and had a similarly stodgy dinner on the highway (the most exciting thing was the boiled vegetables used for garnish). One of them
ate inhaled three cookies, and then talked about Banach space while nursing a glass of wine.
When I started out to bake for our highway-dining friends, I wanted to adapt David Leite’s recipe for the ultimate chocolate chip cookies. I had one evening rather than 36 hours, so the hardest thing was not losing too much of that famous flavour profile: “[the 36 hour cookies] had an even richer, more sophisticated taste, with stronger toffee hints and a definite brown sugar presence.” The cookie dough was also drier as the flour became more hydrated during the long resting time.
I had 4 hours of resting time. To replicate that toffee flavour, I used dark, dark brown jaggery, an unrefined cane or palm sugar. I slightly upped the amount of bread (higher gluten) flour, as I read higher gluten flours absorb more liquids and thought this would result in a drier dough.
Then, I tinkered with the cookies: either by pushing chunks of white chocolate into the cookie just before baking, or making the cookies into thumbprint cookies topped with a bit of fig jam. Extra chocolate or figs can never be a bad thing, right?
The cookies have homely look, in a ‘from the farm house kitchen’ kinda way – chunky, flecked with chocolate chunks of varying sizes, golden with butter and brown sugar. They invite you to grab one on the go, and then tempt you to nibble on another, preferably with a strong espresso.
The cookies’ texture was crumbly, just sturdy enough to get to your mouth, and then it’s just moist enough to become a soft mouthful of buttery, chocolatey richness with a hint of caramel.
Highway season cookies
Eaten by the side of the highway, at the end of a long week (at least, it felt like a long week), they were like a comfort blanket. So, this is now our post-highway dinner cookies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them all year round, even when it’s not highway season. I’m also thinking of other ways to tinker with the recipe, maybe by wrapping the cookie dough around a ball of chocolate-peanut butter ganache, so the soft crumbly cookie will give way to an extra fudgy centre.
Until next time.
Ultimate highway season cookies
225 grams (8 ounces) cake flour
255 grams (9 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 1/2 sticks (I used 285 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (I used 285 grams) jaggery or dark palm sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (I used 225 grams) white or granulated sugar
2 medium eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds (I used 260 grams) dark chocolate, 60% or higher cacao. I used a block of dark chocolate, but the recipe calls for chocolate féves (discs).
Extra sea salt for sprinkling
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. If using a block of chocolate, chop it into large chunks, about 2-3 times the size of commercial chocolate chips.
2. Cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and the vanilla. Mix well. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined, then add the other half. Fold in the chocolate.
3. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Preheat the oven to 176°C (350°F).
4. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place balls of dough on the baking paper (the recipe says the size of generous golf balls, mine were a little smaller and I had enough for two trays. If you’re using chocolate féves, flatten any that are sticking up. If you’ve chopped the chocolate, don’t worry about sticking out bits – they flattened out in the oven. Sprinkle the cookies lightly with the extra salt.
5. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden (if you’ve made golf ball-sized cookies, the recipe calls for 18-20 minutes of baking). When the baking tray is just cool enough to handle, lift out (or slip off) the baking paper onto a cooling rack.
Serve: by the side of a highway, or with cold milk, or with a strong coffee while reminiscing about strange mathematical theory, or games of bridge.