Monday, 7 January 2013

Date & Prune Bars - and a timely recipe book review

A new term and a new book to try out. Actually a couple. Just before Christmas, I was sent The Cookiepedia and the Cookie Dough Lovers Cook Book. 

But before I tell you about them, I need to set the scene for today's baking session. So indulge me.

What I wanted to cook today was a cake. I hadn't quite worked it out but what was damn certain was that it was going to have bananas, peanut butter and chocolate in it. This came upon me at lunchtime as I sat there sharing what should have been my first peaceful home alone lunch of 2013 with Blue. The banana/peanut butter combo is what I like to eat when I'm feeling hungover weak, and that was how I was feeling.

I was very ready for the term to start today. I love and adore my children. They are (occasionally) fabulous, funny and engaging. However, after 2 weeks of intense (to the point of fever pitch) excitement over Christmas, culminating in an exceedingly late night on New Year's Eve, followed by a few days of boredom low key R&R as the Husband and I geared back into work last week, I couldn't wait to get them out of the door they were ready and raring to go. 

Except it never quite works out like that does it? As the result of the excesses of Christmas, Blue was suffering a 'blockage' in the bowel department, and whilst not wishing to be indelicate or reveal details in a manner that he might use in future as evidence of parental cruelty, let's say that we were at a critical and, for him, poor lamb, delicate & painful situation which meant that sending him to school this morning was not an option. The dog, on the other hand was, for reasons unknown, suffering at the other end of the spectrum - as the Husband discovered whilst creeping around early morning in the half-dark trying to get out of the house early without waking the rest of us up. Fortunately, he had his shoes on...

For me, a morning at the doctors, at the chemist and trying to work while simultaneously make sure the dog was outside as necessary and the boy was drinking at least a glass of water every hour, meant that I was definitely feeling weak by lunchtime (and not hungover, although I'd nearly reached for the gin bottle on a couple of occasions). I followed my sandwich with banana & peanut butter on toast, just to keep my strength up, you understand, and thoughts of cake flooded into my head.

Now, neither of the books I was sent contain anything like a recipe for a magic mummy rescue peanut butter, banana & chocolate cake - I have decided that I need to formulate one of those in my head if I'm going to meet the precise balance I'd require between the contingent ingredients - but I was flicking through The Cookiepedia, and lo, a recipe for Fig Bars. With thoughts, then, of the boy and his bowels in mind, I decided to selflessly set aside the calorie laden cake thoughts, and devote some time to cookies.

I really like this book. It's American and so the gripe I have about American measurements and insufficient conversion that I raised a couple of weeks ago still applies, but there is a fairly thorough conversion table in the back of this cute, little, ring-bound, hardback handbook. it still doesn't quite go the whole volume to grams thing that I'd like, but I guess you can't have everything.

The Cookiepedia is written by Stacy Adimando with lovely photos taken by Tara Striano. The tag line (if that's what it's called) is 'Mixing Baking and Reinventing The Classics', and there certainly seem to be plenty of classic cookies in here - even as someone who isn't particularly au fait with American baking: chocolate chip cookies, Linzer cookies, shortbread, oatmeal raisin cookies - nearly 50 in all. There are loads of pictures, and I love that each section (there are 6 cookie sections: Buttery, Chocolaty, Fancy, Fruity, Spicy and Nutty & Seedy) has a visual index. 

At the beginning, there's also an 'ABC of Cookie Baking' which is quite interesting to read as a Brit baker because it gives some useful ideas about how to handle the whole US cups issue, and also an insight into US cookie baking, which is not so different from UK biscuit baking, I guess, but I enjoyed reading it.

Look! A 'Notes' section! For guilt-free scribbling
Adimando writes in an informal friendly style, not at all patronising, and with bags of enthusiasm. What I also LOVE is that each recipe has a little section at the end for 'NOTES' - so unlike most of my other tomes which have scribbles all over them, which I always feel slightly guilty about, this one actually invites you to write down things, variations etc. And on the subject of variations, most of the cookies have just that - at least one, sometimes 3 or 4 alternative approaches to the extras or the toppings. Just how most of us bake - and I think this really encourages less confident bakers to be more creative.

Back then to the Fig Bars with Orange Zest. Well, as it's 'austerity January' round here, and I didn't have figs - or as it happened, oranges, after a quick rummage in my (still reasonably well-ordered cupboards) they turned out to be Date & Prune Bars with Lemon Zest. But I think Adimando would approve. I've added the UK measurements I used, checking my conversions against the recipes in Baked in America, and where I substituted ingredients, my substitutions are in italics.

Date & Prune Bars with Lemon Zest

1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (225g) light soft brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange zest grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups (300g) plus 2 tablespoons all purpose plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda powder
1/4 tsp salt

11/4 cups dried figs approx 200g dates and prunes, chopped
1/4 cup (55g) sugar 2tbsp maple syrup

(Adimando suggests dates and the substitution of maple syrup for the sugar here so I'm not going too far from her original)

Make the cookie dough by creaming together the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then add in the egg, vanilla and lemon zest ad mix till combined

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt then add gradually to the butter/sugar mix and beat till just combined.

Turn the dough out onto some clingfilm, flatten into a disk, wrap in the clingfilm and put in the fridge for an hour.

Make the filling by heating the chopped dried fruit, the maple syrup and 250ml of water in a small pan till it starts to boil. Reduce the heat and bubble until it starts to look 'jammy'. Set it aside to cool.

Roll half the dough out into a rectangle about 8 by 13 inches, transfer onto a piece of greaseproof paper and trim the edges to form straight lines.

Spread half the fruit mix down the middle of the dough, then fold one side over the filling, then the other side, so that it overlaps. Repeat with the second half of the dough and fruit mixture, then place both 'logs' seam side down on a lined baking tray and put in the fridge for at least 20 mins (I didn't read this bit, and they seemed to turn out OK, but I thought I'd leave the step in).

Pre-heat the oven to 375F (200C).

Bake the logs for 20 minutes or so until golden and firm, then leave to cool on a rack before slicing into 11/2 inch wide slices.

Tasty. Not too dissimilar to a mince pie type thing (and I'm thinking wicked and thigh thickening thoughts as I type about the left over brandy butter that's still in the fridge), but as they cool, I'm also wondering about making a lemon icing and drizzling it over the top too, before feeding them to the boy tomorrow if nothing has, ahem, shifted, by then - all those dates and prunes. Bound to get things moving...

And what of the other book? Well, what can I say. This Cookie Dough Lovers Cook Book is exactly that. It is basically recipes in which you make cookie dough, and then use it in other things - ice cream, brownies, waffles, crispy cakes.

Now I love cookie dough & cake batter as much as the next person with her finger in the mixing bowl, but really? We're talking recipes like Cookie Dough Billionaire Bars  - you know like Millionaire's Shortbread, but with an extra layer - of raw cookie dough - between the caramel layer and the chocolate topping. 

I couldn't go for this. I just couldn't.

The book is presented in a similar way to The Cookiepedia and from that point of view, I enjoyed it. It's attractive to look at and although i didn't make anything out of it, the instructions seem clear and easy to follow. There are invariably long ingredients lists because you are making the cookie dough in addition to whatever cake or confection you are adding it to, but that's inevitable. It's American (of course it is) and there's less in the way of a conversion guide, and introduction generally than in The Cookiepedia, but it's not pretending to be a 'how to' guide, more a show case for "...cookie dough and its many virtues: the rich buttery decadence, the gritty crunch of brown sugar, the exotic aroma of vanilla..." . I know where she's coming from, I really do, but for me it stops with a finger in the bowl, not with Cookie Dough Dessert Pizza.

So there you have it, a hit and a miss for me with these 2 books. I am sure there are people out there who will go for the Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook, but my favourite was definitely The Cookiepedia, which I know I will use again, dodgy conversion issues aside..

I'm also adding this to the Alphabakes Challenge for January 2013 hosted by Caroline Makes
and also Ros at More than the Occasional Baker because the letter this month is D so the Date and Prune bar fits in there just nicely.
I was not paid to write these reviews, but I was sent a copy of the books. I was not required to write a positive review and the views are my own.


  1. Ooh, the Cookie Dough Lover's cookbook sounds enticing, but I may have to give the Cookiepedia a chance as well!

    1. You're probably more clued up on the cookie side of things anyway, so you'd probably already know most of what's in The Cookiepedia

  2. Lovely stuff, I love the photography in the books x

    1. They are very pretty books, it must be said!

  3. Not seen either of these books before but I'll look out for them. We have the same spotty plates!

  4. Ahh, don't you love those heartwarming Christmas holidays? Ahhhhhh. Now, I'm with you RJ, I don't really get the cookie dough thing..

    1. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time, but we all need our space, if you know what I mean!

  5. They both sound interesting, although I never completely understood the Cookie Dough obsession my husband's family in the US have! Hope all is well in the various departments in your house now! :)

    1. Yes, without giving too much detail, the dog is solid and the boy is soft. Result. The bars are delicious too - they were a bit hard when first out of the oven but softened and mellowed overnight in the tin. I still haven't iced them but feel that it would be a good addition!

  6. Wow, I didn't realise there were so many things you could do with cookie dough, that book looks really interesting! Your cake bars look great, thanks for sending them into Alphabakes!

  7. Sorry you didn't get to make your cake, but date and prune bars do sound rather good. Hope everything is back on track now. Once of the best cakes I've yet made was a chocolate, peanut butter and banana one. Just in case you are still looking for inspiration, here's the link, although when I make it again, I would use butter rather than margarine.

    1. Choclette, thank you for that linnk - I am still craving the chocolate/peanut butter/banana cake and not yet made it so this may well be the one! Thank you x


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