Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I visited England three times in the mid-to-late 1990s, and on the third trip, 13 years ago last week, I met A. I immediately introduced him to my favorite British food, Chocolate HobNobs, and during our three months studying abroad at the University of East Anglia, we consumed a great many of them. (I also think I ate a Cadbury bar every single day, alternating among the many exciting varieties only available in the U.K. Ah, for the halcyon era of my innocent young metabolism!) Since returning stateside, I’ve only been able to get my hands on HobNobs a few times, although (like the array of exotic Cadbury bars) they’re becoming more widely available here (I bought some at Cost Plus World Market last year). And, to be only slightly flippant, on those rare occasions when I do taste one, I am still reminded of those long-gone days of carefree adventure and young love.
We don’t celebrate our anniversary per se, except to casually remark its passing, but I bookmarked this copycat HobNob recipe at Cookie Madness forever ago and figured the start of our 14th year together would be a good excuse to give it a try. If you are unfortunate enough to have never tasted a HobNob, (a) my condolences; and (b) they're basically crisp oat cookies--er, biscuits--with chocolate on top (there are also plain ones, but I've never bothered with those). Sounds simple, but there's something in their crumbly texture and wheaty, not-overly-sweet, slightly salty flavor (and, in my opinion, its interplay with the sweet, creamy milk chocolate) that makes them incredibly addictive. Amazingly, the copycat recipe pretty much nails this.
I was a bit surprised the recipe worked out at all, considering how much I ended up messing with it. Usually I follow cookie recipes to the letter, because I know that precision is important in baking and I'm no great improviser. But having gotten all set to make these cookies, I realized that the entire recipe was structured around making the dough in a food processor, and I don't own a food processor. Feeling uncharacteristically cavalier, I decided to just wing it by rearranging the steps as in a standard cookie recipe--mixing the dry ingredients, creaming the butter with the sugar, adding the rest of the wet ingredients and then the dry ingredients--and making the dough with my KitchenAid mixer. I didn't have salted butter, so I used unsalted and added extra salt, and I didn't have whole wheat pastry flour, so I used white whole wheat (but made sure to weigh it out), and following the suggestion in the comments for the original recipe, I also added wheat germ to amp up the wheaty flavor. Then, I figured that since I was already flirting with disaster and I'm terrible at working with dough, I'd skip the laborious effort of rolling out the dough and cutting circles with a cookie cutter and just make drop cookies instead, rolling tablespoons of dough into balls with my hands and flattening them slightly on the cookie sheet to approximate HobNobs' neat circles (actually, I originally planned to shape the dough into a log, chill it, and then slice it into cookies, but I got lazy). Miraculously, even with all these changes, the cookies turned out deliciously, and just as HobNoblike as I could have hoped, down to the characteristic grainy texture (McVitie's calls it "nobbly," which is adorable), although since they contain butter instead of palm oil, they're more flaky than the sandy original--not entirely a bad thing. I'd have to do a side-by-side taste test to be sure, but the homemade version might even be better than the real thing. I'll definitely be making these again every September 8--or any time I have a craving for a little taste of nostalgia.
1¼ cups rolled oats (120 grams)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (50 grams)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour (50 grams) (I substituted white whole wheat, but if you do this, be sure to weigh out the 50 grams because the density is different)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1–2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
9 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup packed brown sugar (50 grams)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (25 grams)
2 teaspoons corn syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces chocolate (I think Cadbury milk chocolate is perfect in this case, but if you prefer dark, you won't be totally inaccurate--there is also a dark chocolate HobNob variety now)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
2. Process oats in a food processor or blender until fine. Add to a medium bowl with both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and wheat germ and whisk to mix.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or just a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer), cream butter with both sugars. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and mix well, then reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in several additions, mixing just until blended (dough will look dry).
4. Scoop out 1 heaping tablespoon of dough, roll it into a smooth ball with your hands, set it on the baking sheet, and flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand. Repeat with remaining dough.
5. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.
6. When cookies are completely cool, melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Spread melted chocolate over cookies. When the chocolate is partially set, you can drag a toothpick or fork through it to make a HobNob-like crosshatch pattern, if you like.
Yields: 12–14 cookies
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: I did not try freezing these, but they stayed pretty fresh in a sealed plastic container on the counter for nearly a week.