My daughter has been cooking with me ever since she was 2 years old. On winter days, we would often find ourselves stuck indoors - a very unusual thing for us - and by noon, I'd have exhausted all imaginable preschool activities. So, after hours of glueing, cutting, building and pretend-playing, I would take out the cake tins.
I would hand out the ingredients, bowls and whisks, one at a time to Chotto-ma. She would then carry them into the living room and keep them on a messy-mat. It took her little legs several trips to carry everything, but she would do it with utter concentration and a serious face. She would heave, and huff, and puff her way with the heavy packet of flour, the tin of sugar and the big heavy bowls. We would then sit down on the floor, and measure and mix, and cover ourselves in flour, and have a great big laugh.
When the cake was baked, we would wait for D to come home, and then sit down to slices of warm cake, with two cups of black coffee and a glass of warm milk.
On one of these baking afternoons, when Chotto-ma was about 2 years and 4 months old, I handed over the last of the ingredients and followed her into the living room to a sight that made me stop. On the messy mat, lay everything we would need, but in very clear order. The dry ingredients were all on the one side - the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, along with a big bowl and spoon. On the other side of the mat stood the wet ingredients - the milk, eggs, butter, olive oil, vanilla essence - along with a bigger bowl and a whisk. As I stood there, she pointed at the mat and said 'Baking pow-er?'
I quietly retreated into the kitchen to get the ingredient I'd forgotten.
She's three now, and could teach you how to bake a mean cake. So, this winter, we moved on to cookies. We often bake a batch when Chotto-ma visits friends so that she can take some with her. Getting a little pile of homebaked peanut butter cookies, on a chilly day, makes everyone happy.
This recipe is adapted from Orangette, by the lovely Molly Wizenberg. It's one of my favourite blogs to read - she writes with such a clear voice, and shares her world with such warmth that every post makes you feel as if you're sitting opposite her in her living room, talking and eating cake. Or a cookie, in this case.
Salted Peanut Butter Cookies
Molly's recipe is more fine-tuned. I had to simplify mine because the decision to bake them was a sudden afternoon urge, and we had to make do with what we had at home. And I also lowered the sweetness to suit my liking. The cookies lived up to their reputation - they were the best peanut butter cookies I've had in a long time - they were salty, peanutty, chewy and just right.
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tbsp fine sea salt
250 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup muscovado sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ cup natural salted coarse peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 160°C, and line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
Beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. I used a wooden spatula to do this. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Then add the peanut butter and vanilla, and beat till blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, and mix.
Place round blobs of the batter onto the prepared tray. I used my hands to form round, flat 2-inch disks. Take care to leave plenty of space between each disc. I baked 8 cookies per tray. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and pale golden around the edges, but their tops have no color. (As Molly says, 'the cookies will not look fully baked, and this is important! The chewy texture of these cookies depends on it.') Transfer the pan to a rack, and cool the cookies completely on the sheet pan. They will firm up as they cool. Eat when fully cooled.
And while you're waiting for it to cool, repeat batch with remaining dough.