It’s mighty quiet out there.
I can almost hear the echo reverberating around the hum of the internet.
Even though normal life for many has come to a grinding halt, the buzz, the hyperactivity of the internet lives on, perhaps even more now millions of us are couped up at home, with only the four walls, ‘the members of our household’ as they call it, and our phones to stare at. Now more than ever it’s not unusual to see everyone gazing blankly at their screens as they slide further down the sofa. The internet’s dark fathomless abyss seems very friendly and welcoming. Meanwhile, the real world is a pretty quiet place.
Gaylord and I had just started travelling the South Island when New Zealand’s call for lockdown came. We had piled his van high with general stuff (too much stuff in his opinion, not enough in mine, for instance, where have all my socks gone?) We drove across the mountains to Takaka, a sun-soaked town with golden beaches, hippies with dreadlocks and shops which were slowly but surely closing with apologies taped to their front windows. Preparing for the worst as rumours started to spread about campsites and national parks closing, we were still shocked at the sudden announcement of 48 hours until national lockdown. The ferry back to Wellington was closed. Domestic flights cancelled. We were stuck. A nomadic life is unsustainable during a pandemic.
Luckily, new friends came to our rescue and now we’re holed up safely in an Airbnb south of Wanaka with five other travellers – or, as we should now be known, home-dwellers. And we’ve done well out of the situation too, the house is big with large squashy leather sofas and blankets for cold nights, power showers which I’d immediately come to miss during our mere five days of travel, and a log fireplace. The perfect abode for staying inside. And better than a stationary van.
So, all in all, I left Wellington with the best intentions for an adventure. And after a wonderful ten-day adventure with my family, then a few dreamy evenings on the road, finding campsites, star gazing and eating Pot Noodle, I’m now back at home, our coats hanging by the door and backpacks somewhat emptied, detitris all over the bedroom. An adventure in itself, after all these are unprecedented times, and, worryingly, who knows what the future holds.
Therefore, this is a moment to find distraction, otherwise our minds drift into restlessness and fear for the next few months. My new housemates and I play vicious games of cards, read books, watch movies, go for walks in our sleepy town, and of course, spend hours whiling away the time on our phones. Already the internet is bursting with store cupboard recipes for the bored housebound. I feel a bit awkward as I’m very late to the bake-off party, but I’m hoping my niche could save me.
As travellers, caught like deer in the headlights, we arrived at our new home with only the essentials. Sure, our nearest supermarket isn’t far, but this is a lockdown and not a time to be popping out for that bag of soft brown sugar. Assuming they haven’t sold out yet. So, this recipe is for people like me who don’t have the equipment or ingredients for a bake-off. We could only find self-raising flour. We don’t even have scales. If you’re in a similar situation, or simply aren’t prepared for lockdown, then never fear you’re not stuck with endless Victoria sandwiches for the next four weeks (even though there’s nothing wrong with a Victoria sandwich), these are the cookies for you.
I don’t think anyone can resist a chocolate chip cookie, especially when they’re crumbly, soft and chewy, and every mouthful contains a morsel of chocolate. Need I mention browned butter and a molten core of Nutella? These, thanks to my ironic lack of ingredients, stingy attitude, and habit to substitute and get creative, tick all the boxes.
Brown sugar is usually essential for a soft textured cookie due to its higher moisture content, and unfortunately, I don’t have any so I substituted it for white sugar. To compensate once the cookies are rolled into chunky little balls they must be whacked in the freezer for the fat to solidify. Thus, the fat will only melt nice and slowly, and the cookies won’t spread with brittle, burnt edges.
Browning the butter adds the brown sugar’s lost nutty caramel flavour. And as for the Nutella… Break a cookie in half and out oozes a chocolate hazelnut pool, rich and sweet but perfectly off-set by the sprinkle of sea salt on top. Oh yeah, there are also shards of chocolate scattered throughout the dough – shards not chunks because I’m stingy and only had five pieces left. It’s a devil of a cookie. Perfect to keep up your spirits for thirty days lockdown.
Brown butter and Nutella cookies
Adapted from I Am A Food Blog’s recipe
As I don’t have scales in this Airbnb I’ve had to rely on cups. I’ve never been a fan as they can be fiddly, messy and imprecise, whereas a set of digital scales bish bash bosh everything is weighed to the exact half-gram. Sadly, that luxury is not available, however I’ve included both cups and grams quantities in the recipe.
Makes 6-7 cookies
1/4 cup/75g Nutella
3/4 cup/100g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt + a couple of pinches for the top
1/4 cup/55g butter + 1 tbsp
8 tbsp/100g white sugar
5-6 chunks of any flavour chocolate
- Grease a large baking tray – I used butter and flour to grease mine because, yes baking paper is another thing I don’t have! But grease however you wish. Dollop teaspoon-sized blobs of Nutella on the tray and freeze them while you make the dough.
- Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a small saucepan – ideally a pan without a non-stick surface so you can clearly see the colour of the butter as it starts to darken. Keep your eye on it as it begins to foam. Once it smells nutty and rich, the colour is deep gold and little flecks of milk solids turn brown take the pan off the heat. Be careful, you don’t want the milk solids to burn.
- Pour the butter into a measuring jug to ensure you still have 1/4 cup. Add the extra 1 tbsp butter and leave it to melt.
- Measure the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl, mix and set aside. Finely chop the chocolate, and yes any flavour will do as, after all, you’re in lockdown!
- Break the egg into a cup, beat to combine and pour half into the butter. Mix and pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Add the chocolate shards and mix all together. It should be a soft dough. Shape it into 6 or 7 equal sized balls.
- Flatten a ball of dough. Take the tray of Nutella balls from the freezer and, after gently prizing them away from the sheet, wrap them in cookie dough, sealing it tightly. Repeat with all the cookies and line them slightly apart on the baking tray.
- Pop the tray back in the freezer and turn the oven to 190C/375F.
- After 15 minutes the oven should be hot so slide in the cookie tray. Bake for 10 minutes, until the cookies are golden. Lift them onto a cooling rack and eat one immediately while the Nutella is warm and the cookies are gooey.