Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_7834I know there are lots of chocolate chip cookies out there, but this is my go-to recipe. I prefer cookies that are chewy in the middle, and maybe a bit crispy on the edges. This recipe is quick, easy, and consistently good. For those living in Japan, you can replace chocolate chips with chopped up chocolate bars.

Ingredients
150g (11 tbsp) butter
½ cup white sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg
2/3 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips (or chocolate chunks)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat for three to four minutes (batter may be dry). Add chocolate chips.

Scoop dough out in 1-tablespoon balls. Place 2 inches (5cm) apart on the cookie sheet. Bake for 8-11 minutes. Don’t overbake!

Note: You can freeze the 1-tablespoon balls unbaked and then bake them straight from the freezer later. Just add a minute or two on the baking time.

Swedish Bread

swedish breadI love baking bread in the winter. It makes the whole house seem warmer and cozier, and warm homemade bread is one of my favorite things to eat. This is an old recipe that my Mom and I used to make when I was younger, and I hadn’t made in many years until this Christmas. It’s got egg, milk, and sugar in it, which make the dough rich and sweet, and it tastes like almonds. You can make regular loaves, or braid them like I did in the picture above if you want to be fancy!

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
½ cup (113g) melted butter or margarine
⅔ cup (133g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
405 mL (2-1/4 cups) hot milk
2-1/4 tsp dry yeast
¼ cup (60mL) warm water
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
7 cups (910g) white flour (approximately)

Optional: 1 egg yolk, 1/4 cup almonds (for topping)

Instructions
Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and hot milk in a large bowl and let cool to lukewarm. Stir the yeast into the warm water and let it stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Add the dissolved yeast, egg, almond extract, and 3 cups (390g) of the flour to the milk mixture and mix vigorously. Add 3 more cups (390g) of flour and mix well.

Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead for a minute or two, and let rest for 10 minutes. Adding the remaining flour only if the dough is too sticky, resume kneading until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Punch down, knead for a minute or two, and shape into two loaves. Place in two buttered 9×5 inch loaf pans, cover, and let rise until double in bulk again. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

For Braided Bread: After the dough has risen for the first time, punch it down, knead for a minute or two, and divide it into six equal pieces. Stretch and roll each piece with your hands until you have six long rolls of uniform size. Make two braids with them, pinching the three piece of dough firmly together when you start braiding and again when you finish. Tuck each end underneath the loaf. Place on greased cookie sheets, cover, and allow to rise until double in size. Brush with 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water, and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Bake for only 25 to 30 minutes.

Naan

IMG_7796This flatbread is easy to make and goes well with curry or lentils! It does take some time, but only because it has to rise for 2-1/2 hours. The actual working time is not very long.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 naan)
2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
3/4 cup (180mL) milk (you can also substitute all or part of the milk with yogurt)
1/2 tsp sugar
1-2 tbsp butter (optional)

Instructions

Warm up the milk, and add the sugar and yeast. Add the salt, and half of the flour, and mix well. Add the remaining flour, and knead until a smooth dough is formed.

Place dough in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 6 to 8 pieces. Let rest for 30 minutes. Heat your oven to its highest temperature. Roll out the dough into circles and bake for 2-4 minutes.

If desired, brush the warm naan with melted butter.

Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies

cranberry blissThese cookies are very Christmasy! Their color of red and white is really pretty, and the sweet white chocolate goes well with the tart cranberries. A cream cheese frosting is also really nice. This recipe makes a pretty large batch, so you can definitely halve it. The original recipe is from here.

Ingredients (about 4 dozen cookies)
Cookies:
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
227g (1 cup) butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips/chunks
1 cup dried cranberries

Frosting:
200g (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white chocolate chips/chunks, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Topping:
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup white chocolate chips/chunks, melted

Instructions

Make the cookies: Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Slowly add the dry ingredients. Fold in the white chocolate and cranberries.

Chill dough for 1 hour. Place rounded tablespoons on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 180C/350F for 10 to 12 minutes, until light golden on the edges. Let cookies cool completely.

Make frosting: Beat together cream cheese and melted white chocolate. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. If it’s not thick enough, you can add additional powdered sugar.

Spread the frosting on the cool cookies. Sprinkle with the chopped cranberries and drizzle with the melted white chocolate.

Ingredients in Japan: Butter and Fats

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

When I first came to Japan, I was horrified at the price of butter. Butter is sold in blocks of 200g (almost 1/2 lb), 100g (about 1/4 lb), and also in small packs of individually wrapped “pats” of butter. The best value is always the larger blocks, but in the past 2.5 years I’ve seen the price for 200g range from about 375 to 500 yen. In U.S. dollars this works out to $8.50 to $11 a pound. Therefore, I have not done a lot of cooking with butter in Japan! I usually use margarine (more on this below), or mix butter and margarine.

A bit more on butter: it is sold in salted or unsalted types. Unsalted is always more expensive for some reason, and is not always available. Some “fancy” butters are also available. For example, I have recently been seeing something that I think is “cultured butter”, which has a more tangy yogurt-like taste. In Japan, Hokkaidou (the northernmost island) is famous for high-quality dairy, so most butter sold in my area seems to be produced there. Another important note on butter is that Japan regularly experiences “butter shortages”, and supermarkets often limit the amount of butter that each customer can buy, or run out of butter and have no supply for a day or two.

A good option for spreading on toast, etc., is “butter spread“, which is a soft product made from soy, corn, etc., with “butter flavor”. This is cheaper than dairy butter. There are many, many varieties of butter spread sold everywhere. There are even a few flavored ones, with garlic or something like that.

Cake margarine (unsalted)

Cake margarine (unsalted)

Margarine is also available in stick form. I discovered something called ケーキ用マーガリン (keeki-you maagarin) or “margarine for cakes”. This can be used in baking, and is what I have used the majority of the time. I’m used to it now, and it’s not bad at all. Of course, butter will taste better, but if you plan to do a lot of baking, it is a good choice (unless you have a large budget for groceries). One important difference is that the margarine stays softer than butter even when cold. This means that it’s easier to mix into doughs, but also that if you chill a cookie dough, it will NOT get as hard as a cookie dough made with butter. This means that roll-out cookies are going to be softer and more difficult to work with. You can add a little extra flour to help make up for it, or chill the dough in the freezer instead of fridge to get it colder.

IMG_7800Vegetable shortening is not as common in Japan as in the U.S., and more expensive as well. However, if you look around you can definitely find it (usually with the baking supplies or cake-decorating stuff). The most common brands are about the same price as butter (around $10/lb), but I found one brand that is sold at about half that price in grocery stores, and you can also buy a larger tub (about 500g, a little over a pound) at import stores at a similar price.

Oils I usually keep around: olive, sesame, canola.

Oils I usually keep around: olive, sesame, canola.

Several oils are commonly sold in stores: canola oil, vegetable oil (called サラダオイル, sarada oiru or salad oil in Japan), olive oil (both light and extra virgin), and sesame oil, or ごま油 (gomaabura). Vegetable/canola oils are sold in large jugs for pretty cheap prices, usually about 300 yen per liter (around $3 a quart). Olive oil is more expensive, of course, but not excessive – prices are similar to what I saw in the U.S., if memory serves. I’m Italian, so I always have extra virgin olive oil in the house, but when my bottle starts getting low I start looking around for a sale or a good price, and can usually find a decent deal. Sesame oil is more expensive than canola oil, but probably cheaper than in the U.S. It is often located in the Chinese food aisle.

Other oils can be found, but not in the regular grocery store. If you check out fancy grocery stores or import stores, you can find many different oils, ranging from avocado oil to walnut oil. As expected, they are small bottles for high prices, and availability varies depending on the store. My advice on these would be to plan ahead and either buy online or hunt around at different import stores to make sure you can find them – don’t plan on making a recipe using one of these oils assuming you can get it easily.

Yuzu Black Tea Cookies

yuzu cookiesI generally don’t like citrus flavor in cookies, but the exception is yuzu. If you get a chance to try yuzu, definitely go for it! It’s hard to describe, but really tasty in both sweet and savory dishes. I adapted a black tea cookie recipe to make these. You will need a whole fresh yuzu, which are commonly available in Japan in the winter, but I’m not sure about the U.S.

Ingredients
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp black tea leaves (about 1 teabag)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
113g (1/2 cup) butter
1 medium yuzu (for juice and zest)
6 tbsp powdered sugar

Instructions

First, zest the yuzu, then squeeze out the juice (use a strainer – they have a large number of seeds). My medium-sized yuzu produced about 1-1/2 tsp zest and 1 tbsp juice. For this recipe we will use 2-1/2 tsp juice and 1-1/2 tsp zest.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugars, tea leaves, and salt. Pulse to combine.

Add the vanilla, butter, and 1 tsp yuzu juice, and pulse several times to combine.

Remove the dough from the food processor and place onto plastic wrap. Form into a log shape and wrap up in the plastic. Let chill in the fridge or freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

Slice into 1/4 inch slices and place on a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes until light brown around the edges.

While the cookies cool, make the glaze by combining the powdered sugar, 1-1/2 tsp yuzu juice, and 1 tsp yuzu zest.

Walnut Jam Thumbprints

thumbprintThese cookies are great in winter. You can use any kind of jam in them, but I think a tart flavor is better to contrast with the sweet cookie. Favorites are raspberry and cassis jam. I got this recipe from my mom, but you can find it all over on the Internet.

Ingredients
113g (1/2 cup) butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup jam

Instructions

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

Beat butter and sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour and salt and mix to combine.

Beat the reserved egg white. Roll cookie dough into 1-inch (2.5cm) balls. Dip the cookies into the egg white, and roll in the chopped walnuts.

With one finger or a small spoon, make an indentation in the top of each ball. Fill with about 1/4 tsp of jam.

Bake cookies for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.