The Coronavirus baking phenomenon and a great cookie recipe

By , 31 March 2020

Right now, almost all of us are isolated and hungry for ways to pass the time. As our unease about the possibility of an approaching apocalypse has risen, Google Trends data has shown a corresponding surge in the number of people searching “chocolate chip cookies”. No biscuit, especially not one with chocolate chips in it, can be classified as nutritionally necessary quarantine cooking. So, what’s going on?

Anxiety baking and/or procrastibaking are related but distinct, epicurean activities both of which existed prior to the current COVID-19 crisis. The former refers to what Amanda Mull in the Atlantic called the millennial phenomena of “weekend baking as a salve to the ambient anxiety of being alive.” The latter was defined in 2018 in the New York Times by Julia Moskin as: “The practice of baking something completely unnecessary as an unconsciously deployed strategy that makes us feel skilled and nurturing in the present while distracting us from the future.”

Our current context is one in which there is no clear end to our fears thus the tried and tested predictability of what is essentially applied chemistry (substrates + enzyme + heat = cookies) is really reassuring. Baking biscuits offers an opportunity to successfully complete a tiny task. Get the measurements and the method right and the outcome is guaranteed. While the core concept remains comfortingly constant there is also an option to add affirming personalized pleasure by way of the addition of citrus zest or spices. We are collectively at risk and dependent on community behaviour to fight the virus but I am still me because I switch out plain chocolate chunks for the whimsey of brightly coloured Smarties.

Gooey on the inside, crisp on the outside.

What follows is my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Expect gooey on the inside, crisp on the outside, beautiful biscuits. Great with milk. Even better with a glass or three of Groot Constantia Rood 2016. I usually steer clear of chocolate and wine pairings – the risk of getting it wrong is high and horrible – but somehow all that stuff seems less important now. If you don’t like it, drink something else. Besides, it is unlikely that your quarantine cupboard has the same wine in it as mine. I liked the way the biscuits and booze accentuated each other’s smooth, fruity qualities. The mélange couldn’t and didn’t all together assuage anxiety but it did distract me on Day 2 of Lockdown. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to sit safe at home with the funds to be frivolous, this is as good as it gets.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Modified from Christine Capendale’s book Meals (Human and Rousseau, 2019). Makes approximately 18 large biscuits.

Ingredients

250g butter, room temperature

200g soft brown sugar

5ml vanilla essence

2 eggs, lightly beaten

340g self-raising flour

30g cocoa powder

Pinch salt

400g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (the original recipe calls for 200g white, 200g dark chocolate which makes wine pairing more difficult so I stuck to dark)

100g pecan nuts, chopped

Method

  • Grease two large baking trays. If baking right away, pre-heat oven to 180C.
  • In bowl 1, cream the butter and sugar together.
  • In a second bowl combine the vanilla and eggs.
  • In a third bowl combine the flour, cocoa, chocolate chunks and nuts.
  • Alternate adding small sloshes of the liquid ingredients and dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mix until combined into a dough. This alternating method will prevent the butter mixture from curdling.
  • The original recipe says spoon out tablespoon sized portions of dough onto the prepared baking sheet, flatten slightly with a fork and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes. I prefer to roll the dough into a long sausage shape, wrap in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour (ideally overnight) to develop the flavours. I then cut the dough into 1 cm rounds and bake at 180C. Either way, once cooked, cool completely on a rack. When the biscuits first come out of the oven they will not feel completely firm – this will happen as they cool.
  • Dr Anna Trapido was trained as an anthropologist at King’s College Cambridge and a chef at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. She has twice won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award. She has made a birthday cake for Will Smith, a Christmas cake for Nelson Mandela and cranberry scones for Michelle Obama. She is in favour of Champagne socialism and once swallowed a digital watch by mistake.

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