Why the cookie is the pandemic's #1 snack

Updated: Jun 28, 2020, 11:25 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

With baking becoming one of the most preferred non-work activities under the Coronavirus lockdown, chefs tell us why the warm and gooey bite is the ultimate comfort food

Hertzoggie are puffy pastry tarts filled with apricot jam and coconut meringue from South Africa
Hertzoggie are puffy pastry tarts filled with apricot jam and coconut meringue from South Africa

Every year, on April 25, Australia and New Zealand observe Anzac Day (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) to commemorate the lives of military men who fought the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Although it led to a devastating defeat of their forces, people Down Under remember the sombre occasion with the sweet and sturdy Anzac cookies, prepared using oats, coconut, butter, flour, bicarb and golden syrup. Legend has it that the bakes were invented to beat rationing and food shortages at the time. "The soldiers' wives would send these biscuits to the troops. Due to the long shelf life of the ingredients, the snack could survive the long sea jaunt," says Siya Donde, home baker and owner of Cookie Cutter.

Devashree Muni
Devashree Muni

As we find ourselves quarantined with limited supplies, the warm comfort of cookies and its connection with difficult times, hit home. It's what prompted Donde to introduce her patrons to the delicious world of lesser-known cookies with a social media campaign titled, #cookiecountrytravel. She started the virtual voyage with Australia's Anzac and moved to cookies from other regions in subsequent weeks. "I picked black sesame cookies from Japan, alfajores from Argentina, the chocochip from America and Scottish shortbread from London, because I had friends and connections in these places." With their help, she zeroed in on recipes by famous pastry chefs from the regions, whom she has acknowledged in her Instagram posts. "Unfortunately, I couldn't follow the recipe to the T due to the unavailability of certain ingredients. I had to come up with worthy substitutes." For instance, in the Anzac cookies, she has replaced golden syrup with honey, and apricot jam with fruit jam in Hertzoggies from South Africa. Donde says the Hertzoggie are puffy pastry tarts filled with apricot jam and coconut meringue. They were first baked by the Cape Malay community for General J Hertzog, to show him their support. The cookies were eventually named after Hertzog, who was the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1924 to 1939. In the country, hertzoggies are usually served with a cup of English tea on the side.

Siya Dhonde
Siya Donde

Incidentally, the search for terms such as cookies, bread, yeast, has shown a significant rise during the previous month, according to Google Trends. On Instagram, people are sharing photos of their home-baked items under related hashtags such as #cookiesofinstagram #quarantinebaking #baking, and #homemade. Recently, Yajush Malik, head chef at Gallops, shipped a batch of delectable choco-chip cookies to his close friends. It was a recipe he had revisited after a long time. "With restaurants locked up, I've been home since March. If I don't bake and cook, I'll lose touch with my skills," says Malik. He started baking with the hope of bringing cheer to monotonous days and keeping the creativity alive, but the encouraging feedback inspired him to make more. Malik says his cookie recipe, made with demerara sugar from sugarcane, is time-consuming because of the detailing that goes into it. "I spend 40 minutes whisking the batter till I achieve the right consistency. You have to ensure that the sugar doesn't dissolve fully because that's how you get the soft gooeyness. I also cut chocolate chunks by hand instead of using chocolate chips." Like Donde, Malik often improvises his recipes. "There's not much scope for things to go wrong in baking if you stick to the measurements, because baking is a science. If there's a step where manual effort is required, there's room for error. For instance, you may overmix the batter. So, baking is easy to ace if you practise it three to four times."

Anzac biscuits are prepared in Australia to commemorate the lives of military men who fought the Ottomon Empire during World War I
Anzac biscuits are prepared in Australia to commemorate the lives of military men who fought the Ottomon Empire during World War I

In January, pastry chef Devashree Muni of Cocoa Cellar launched liquor cookies alongside macarons and cupcakes. After weeks of experimentation, she zeroed in on two flavours: one with vanilla, cinnamon and Baileys, the other with whiskey and cashew. "Because Baileys is more of a desserty liquor, I knew it would lend itself to cookies. I chose whiskey for a more nuanced flavour. The cashew gives it a nice crunch, just like chakna with a drink," she says. It took her four to five batches to get the boozy cookies right. Given that alcohol has the tendency to evaporate on baking, she had to tinker with the temperature, time, consistency and size until she was happy with her creation. According to Muni, cookies are incredibly versatile. "They are buttery and delicious and lend themselves to customisation. You can eat them at anytime of the day. The only hitch—they get over too soon."

Yajush Malik
Yajush Malik

Legend has it that the bakes were invented to beat food shortages at the time. "The soldiers' wives would send these to the troops. Thanks to the long shelf, the snack survived the sea jaunt."

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