The beauty of comfort baking
In the midst of Ireland’s response to combating the spread of COVID-19, Janine Kennedy encourages relaxation and, above all, comfort food.

Facing the news of Ireland’s lockdown with trepidation? Have you been reading too many depressing headlines?

For the many people working from home – or the full-time parents facing several weeks of kids underfoot (and no access to indoor playgrounds!) – I say this: take a few minutes every day for yourself.

Step away from the laptop. If the weather is co-operating, go for a walk. Forget diets and schedules for a little while and do something that makes you truly happy.

Baking

For me, baking is probably the most relaxing and mindful activity of all time. For others, it might be exercise, doing crosswords or reading a good book.

It’s hard to take time for yourself when the kids are running wild all over the house, so if you can get a close friend or your partner to help, take advantage. I have recipes that I like to do with my kids, but mostly I prefer to bake alone, in the quiet. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Homemade cookies are something I grew up eating as a treat

Homemade cookies are something I grew up eating as a treat. My mom made the most amazing chocolate chip cookies and I’ve worked for years to perfect a recipe of my own.

When it comes to cookies, everyone has their own personal preference. Chewy, crunchy, brown sugar or white – there are lots of variations on this basic recipe that can create a different outcome.

For me, the perfect chocolate chip cookie is moist, richly caramelised (through the use of golden brown sugar) and generously flavoured with vanilla.

Ingredients at hand

I always keep ingredients for cookies, cakes and breads in my pantry. Not because I panic-buy for difficult times like these, but because they are staple ingredients used to make a multitude of recipes.

Flour, baking powder and soda, salt, vanilla and several types of sugar don't spoil easily and are so handy to have. I usually keep oats for baking (as opposed to our breakfast oatmeal) and chocolate chips, sprinkles and food colouring on hand as well.

If I’m feeling fancy, I'll sometimes brown the butter before making the cookies. You do this by cooking the butter until it’s nearly burnt – it will be brown, bubbly and nutty-smelling.

I also sometimes sprinkle flaky sea salt on top of each cookie, before baking, and will use high-quality, roughly chopped dark chocolate.

Classic

For my family, though, I keep it classic. Milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips and some oats for good measure. Once, I was out of soft brown sugar and had to use demerera – it was a total game changer; they were delicious!

You can portion these cookies before baking and freeze them, or you can make the dough and leave it in the fridge overnight or for up to three days. If refrigerated, get the dough back to room temperature before baking.

If there’s any point I’m trying to make right now, it’s this - while we’re all at home, just know it’s ok to switch off and enjoy a cookie.

Ultimate chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup/170g softened butter.
  • 1 cup/250g soft brown sugar
  • ½ cup/125g white (granulated) sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 ½ cups/320g plain flour
  • 2 packages/200g milk or dark chocolate chips
  • Directions:

    1. Preheat your oven to 190°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

    2. In a large bowl or stand mixer, add the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Mix on high (you can also mix by hand, but it’s easier in a stand mixer or when using a hand mixer) until completely mixed and light and fluffy.

    3. Add the egg and vanilla. Continue to mix until the mixture is pale in colour and well-incorporated. I usually leave the mixer on medium for about five minutes.

    4. Add the soda, flour and salt. Mix until just incorporated.

    5. Add the chocolate chips and, if you like, you can add 1 cup of oats at this stage. Mix until just combined.

    6. Drop by the tablespoonful on to the baking sheet, leaving a good bit of room between each drop of dough.

    7. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown – about 12-15 minutes.

    8. This makes around two dozen medium-sized cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to a week or freeze for up to two months.