“They were the only chocolate chip cookies I had ever baked. That’s because they were, in my mind, a certain kind of best. Not “best” as in the best in the world, or even the best I’d ever eaten, but “best” in the sense that I’d choose them, at least some of the time, over ones that actually are.
They were the best because they meant something to me.”
– Jessica Fechtor, Stir.
This post is part of Pinch Me, I’m Eating’s 2018 Novel Recipes series, a collaborative collection of posts from food bloggers highlighting recipes that are featured in fiction. Each post includes a book review and a recipe from the novel.
In her memoir Stir: My broken brain and the meals that brought me home, food blogger Jessica Fechtor tells of her life-threatening aneurysm that tore her life apart. More importantly, she tells of how she slowly but determinedly rebuilt her life and her health with the help of family, friends and food.
Having been a long-time reader of Fechtor’s blog, I knew and loved her gentle, eloquent and unpretentious writing style. The memoir is in some ways a very long blog post, but also gives the reader an honest insight into an unexpected, devastating illness and Fechtor’s refusal to let it overcome her. In Stir, Fechtor shares in her warm, engrossing way her experience with her illness intertwined with the history of how she met her husband, how the two of them fell in love and how they eventually got married. The flashbacks are helpful in understanding the incredible, resilient love between them, which sees them overcome this hurdle together.
Fechtor’s inability to study or work during her rehabilitation period drove her into the kitchen, creating meals to nourish her family and friends, and refocusing her attention while she healed. Her blog, Sweet Amandine, was born of this time in her life. And of course, there are descriptions of the food in Fechtor’s delightful style, the kind of style that is like a door opening into a cosy living room with a warm fire and a plate of freshly-baked cookies on the table. The kind of writing that makes one want to enter that living room, snuggle on the couch with the cat and be best friends with the writer.
For me, Fechtor’s evolution into a food blogger struck a chord. I started One Small Pot five years ago at a time in my life when, while not comparable in magnitude to Fechtor’s experience, was devastating for me. With a rapidly failing marriage to which I was desperately holding on and a major career disappointment, I was grasping onto anything that made me feel in control and like I was making progress. This is when I discovered food blogging. Flicking through established blogs like Sweet Amandine, I was swept up in the words, the artful photographs, and the way food was linked with the human experience, and I wanted in. Without too much thought, I began my blog, and I held on to it like it was a life-raft, the one thing that wasn’t slipping from my grasp. To begin with, the photography was sub-optimal, the writing a little better but still somewhat pedestrian. I knew though, that I could do better and that by doing more of it, I would do better.
That marriage ended and, somewhat to my surprise, the world didn’t. The career path was reassessed and redirected, with the realisation that I could love doing more than just one thing. By then, my blog had blossomed into something I was starting to be proud of. A success after what felt like a series of fails. It was something on which I could refocus my attention and mould into whatever I wanted, after feeling I had so little control for so long.
Fechtor is right. These cookies do not end my search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But they are definitely worthy of being one of a few very good choc chip cookie recipes. They are robust, with a hefty crumb, the textural quality that only wholemeal flour can offer and enough salt to cut through the buttery sweetness. So while this is not the be all and end all of choc chip cookies, it’s definitely worth making, tasting and sharing – several times – on your choc chip cookie journey. And then a few more times, just to be sure.
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Slightly modified from Stir: My broken brain and the meals that brought me home by Jessica Fechtor (a Kim Boyce recipe).
3 cups wholemeal plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt + extra sea salt
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter softened (but not melted)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla paste
220g good quality 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped into ½ to 1 cm pieces
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1 tsp salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer or another separate bowl, place the butter and sugars. Mix on low speed using the paddle attachment or with a hand-held electric beater until starting to cream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Add the vanilla and mix.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low-speed until barely combined. Stir through the chocolate chips until fairly evenly distributed.
Scoop the dough into even sized balls using an ice-cream scoop. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the top of each ball of dough. Here, Fechtor recommends placing the balls on a tray, covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for 24-48 hours before baking. I have tried this method, as well as baking after refrigerating for 30 minutes. I didn’t find a noticeable difference between the two, but suggest you try both methods (more cookies for all!!).
When it is time to bake, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and lay them out on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Leave about 5-7 cm between the balls and each other, and the tray edge. Bake for 16-20 mins, until the cookies are beginning to brown. Remove from the oven when they are still soft, and allow to cool completely before sliding them off the tray and directly into your mouth.