got carried away in the kitchen today (and it wasn’t the first time either). with the radio on, today showcasing best Polish hits of all time, I feel at home. listening to the songs I grew up with and spent my teenage years listening to, it feels as if the big chunk of my life was gone, a finished chapter. it feels strangely calming, though. i remember when i was 13 and my little sister was born, i said: i will be so old when she’ll go to school, i will be 21! and back then i’d consider it ‘being old’. now, i am (rapidly!) approaching thirty and somehow i don’t have this nagging feeling: where are all these years gone? instead, i feel quite content with where i am in my life now.
spending a day in the kitchen is my idea of ‘rest’. if someone had told me i must spend all day in bed, i would immediately start looking for a way out. when the radio is on, the washing machine quietly washing away, the windows are open and the big mug of tea is made – i am ready to conquer the kitchen. i’d plan my ‘menu’ a day in advance, walk to the supermarket in the morning, get my ingredients and then, little by little – i’d work my way through the mountain of tasks i entrusted myself with. weighing the ingredients, kneading doughs, whipping creams, whisking eggs, creaming the butter, making custards, chopping, cutting, mincing and – in a joyful fury – swearing like an old sailor, when something goes wrong.
i love those moments of creative solitude, when i know that there will be two final outcomes: some delicious (or failed!) things to eat and one exhausted cook. i always hope to get everything done before my boyfriend gets home from work. i think it’s this sense of being on a mission, which can only be completed, if finished on time.
what’s on today’s “menu”? broccoli and green peas soup with homemade choux-pastry ‘croutons’ and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. quite a humble menu, as i need to be done and ready to leave for work before 6pm. i am a big fan of soups. healthy, yet filling. quick and easy to make. and the combinations are endless: whatever’s in the fridge, goes into a soup, making it an adventure every time. i can never be quite sure of how it’s going to taste in the end. as for the chocolate chip cookies – the story goes far back, when i was still working in a coffeeshop in Krakow.
it was probably one of the first ‘American’ style coffee shops in town, selling fancy sandwiches, a big choice of confectionery (brownies, blondies, chocolate chip cookies among them) and a wide array of coffees, ranging from a simple Americano to a sickly sweet Kahlua Caramocha (with kahlua and caramel sauces, topped with whipped cream). the coffeeshop was brand new and shiny, located in an old building, on the most famous street in Krakow, and i could never quite comprehend how on earth people could afford having a coffee there, as prices were ridiculous (i was not able to afford a latte with what i earned per hour).
it was my first encounter with the world of coffeeshops (now many of the ‘chain’ coffeeshops sell the same stuff, just with different names): the Big City Life, Ultimate Modernity, represented by a takeaway cup of skinny latte with an extra espresso shot and a bagel with salmon and cream cheese. i was overwhelmed. as we had to ‘study’ the ingredients of all the sandwiches we sold (and there were a lot of them), i grew more and more interested in foods from around the world – they sounded so interestingly ‘exotic’: prosciutto, camembert, bok choy, focaccia, avocado, mimolette (which is to this day, one of my favourite cheeses) – so many things i have never heard of before. at first, most of our guests were foreign tourists, which was quite challenging for us, a team made up of mostly students, who haven’t travelled abroad much (or not at all). i remember one day, marked by an ultimate embarrassment: one lady, i think she was from England, decided to correct my broken English (bless her, she did it subtly and quietly). she asked when she can get some sugar for her coffee, and i said: ‘behind the corner’, literally translating Polish phrase (‘za rogiem’). she smiled, leaned towards me and said (almost whispering): ‘around the corner, not behind the corner’. i instantly turned into a beetroot, my face redder than my shirt, mumbled ‘thank you’ and occupied myself with Very Important Tasks (wiping the sides, refilling the fridges, etc.), until she was gone. since that day, i have never made this mistake again.
but back to food. indulged in the world of coffee, learning the secrets of brewing a perfect espresso, preparing a silky smooth flat white, pouring a mug of latte with a pretty ‘latte art’ on top, making fluffy cappuccinos and espresso machiattos, i found myself becoming a fan of this previously unknown world. coffee often comes with a treat. possibly to overcome the bitterness of the brew, many like to have a cake or a biscuit with it. also, since coffee in a cafe is often consumed with a friend, the prospect of an afternoon spent on gossip makes it a great atmosphere for eating.
the cakes. pastries. biscuits. cookies. virtually all of them were new to me, i heard of them for the first time when i started working there. carrot cake (cake made of carrots, how come?!), chocolate fudge cake (omg, so big and dark!), caramel brownie tower (probably 700kcal in 100g, if not more!), oreo cheesecake (wow, just wow), blondie (beautifully gooey piece with chunks of white chocolate), chocolate brownie, chocolate chip cookies, biscotti (how can a biscuit be so hard, yet so delicious?), American style apple pie – the whole new world of cakes i have never came across. i spent countless hours ‘researching’ at home, browsing the internet, trying to find out what are those mysterious, foreign-sounding treats, i wanted to be able to explain to my family and some guests, who (like me) never heard of such treats, what they were.
and since they were sillily expensive, i attempted recreating them at home. i wanted my family to try some of the treats from ‘confectionery’ section, without spending a fortune. i decided that chocolate chip cookies will be the easiest to make, and so i started my search for a perfect recipe. i tried many, before i actually took some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies home. some would turn out way too hard, like a stone. some would be bland. some would be way too sweet. it was then, when i discovered my favourite to this day website, with recipes for cakes, cookies, pastries, especially American style treats. The Joy of Baking features the best (i found so far) recipe for chocolate chip cookies, a recipe that always works and makes soft, gooey cookies.
i wonder, to what extent my decision of working in a coffeeshop and the first encounter with, now widely known, coffees, cakes, sandwiches and ingredients i never heard of before, influenced my interest in food. i am not keen on playing a ‘what if’ game, but i can’t help but wonder: would i be where i am now if it wasn’t for this coffeeshop at Florianska Street? the people i worked with, the unforgettable memories, the laughs and fails, dealing with extraordinary ‘busy’ or excruciatingly long shifts, with hardly any guests walking in. this shop, the people there, our dream team.
and the recipe for you guys, slightly adapted from the Joy of Baking website. easy peasy, takes about 30-45min and the cookies are ready!
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 cup of butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
1 cup walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts, chopped
How to make?
1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Prepare two baking trays, lining them with a baking parchment.
2. Beat the butter with your electric mixer, until smooth and creamy. Add the sugars and beat until well incorporated and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at the time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix well again.
3. Add flour, baking soda and salt to the butter and egg mixture and beat until incorporated. Lastly, add chocolate chips and chopped nuts, and stir well with a wooden spoon (or your mixer). You can also use M&Ms, like I did, they add a nice crunch to the cookies.
4. Now it’s time to form the cookies. Use a tablespoon for a small-sized cookies and two tablespoons (or an ice cream scoop) for large ones. Form a ball out of dough, and place on the previously prepared baking sheets, pressing lightly. Remember not to place the cookies too close, as they will flatten when baked.
5. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, sometimes it takes even less than that, depending on your oven. If baked for too long, they will be stone-hard. Cool on a wire rack.
All done! Time to enjoy the cookies now.