30 November 2016

Tell more

'Code yellow' is beginning with a bunch of dry leaves blowing across the bike path and rolling over the glistening sidewalk. The scratching sound they leave behind is the only chord the first badass storm of the season is offering right now. It's 4.30 am. At 4 am, midst my half-burnt toast and coffee for breakfast, I got a warning on my phone of the imminent severe wind – and that users of 'fragile' means of transportation such as bicycles, scooters and caravans may be at risk.

Another duo of leaves perform a circus stunt. A synchronized, uninterrupted somersault from one side of the bike path to the other. At 4.45 am I'm their sole spectator, albeit in a rush to get to work on time. I feel annoyed with my bike – it's stuck on the lowest gear. I take it out on the pedals, push harder on them. A block further it's starting to drizzle, a soft infrequent drizzle for now, and even quite pleasant on the skin.

I take a turn, and suddenly – a loud, low bang of thunder, the next chord in line. I'm about fifteen minutes away from work and the risen loaves of bread (plump and soft, and not unlike a young woman's breast), and the warmth of the bread oven. I push the pedals harder, I can make it, past the light installation that says in tall red electric letters MEMORIES ARE SOUVENIRS, just go go, fast fast.

4 pm. 'Code yellow' ends with a phone call from my parents.

Are you safe? We read on the internet about the storm, worried now, my mother says.

Yes, we are fine. I just got back home from work. It's calming down now. I'm making cookies.

What cookies? Tell more.

Nutbutter Cookies

Adapted from Sourdough, by Sarah Owens
Makes about 60-65 cookies

You know Lebkuchen, that old-fashioned German gingerbread? I bet these nutbutter cookies will remind you of it. And possibly of oatmeal cookies. And most certainly of spice cookies. And if that's not enough, here is more: they are sourdough cookies. Sourdough nutbutter cookies!

I understand that to make and keep alive your own sourdough starter for cookies alone, however delicious, is a big ask. But if you already have one, wouldn't you then want a great breakfast cookie – because it's great for breakfast, crumbled over a bowl of thick yogurt, or along with coffee and a cold tangerine on the side – for winter months at least?

What nut butter to use is the subject of taste. I myself gravitate towards milder nut butters – such as almond or cashew – for these cookies. This way all elements at play are more noticeable in the outcome: earthy rye flour; nutty, nearly milky oats; deep, smoky maple syrup; soothing cinnamon and exotic nutmeg.

By the way, if the presence of sourdough in the cookie evokes the notions of acidity, I'll hasten to say this is really not the case here. The sourdough starter is first mixed with water and rye flour to form such a pre-ferment that leaves no traces of acidity in the cookie dough.

For the leaven (pre-ferment)

20 g sourdough starter
50 g very warm water (40 C)
70 g rye flour

For the cookie dough

140 g leaven (pre-ferment)
2 large eggs
60 g maple syrup
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
480 g good-quality nut butter of choice (almond, cashew, hazelnut, etc)
120 g unrefined cane sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds only
30 g rolled oats

To make the leaven (pre-ferment):

Eight hours before making the cookies, mix together the starter and water in a medium non-reactive bowl (wooden, plastic or stainless steel). Add the rye flour, mix with your hand until hydrated and stiff then cover with plastic. Leave to ferment at room temperature. Once it's puffy and smelling of honeyed fruit, you can mix it into the dough or keep refrigerated up to several days before using.

To make the cookie dough:

Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Add the eggs and maple syrup to the leaven and mix well with your hand. The mixture will look split, but it will come together once the remaining ingredients have been added. Sprinkle the baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg over the top, stir to incorporate. Mash in the nut butter, sugar and vanilla seeds, and then fold in the oats. If the dough feels a little runny, refrigerate it for about an hour.

Form the dough, about a teaspoon's worth, into small balls, and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Don't overcrowd it, bake about 12-15 cookies at a time. (At this point you can also refrigerate the dough, covered with plastic, for up to two days.) Using a fork, press the balls gently to flatten into 4-cm disks. Dip your fork in (rye) flour before each cookie to prevent it from sticking to the dough.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the edges just begin to appear firm. Do not overbake. Let cool on a wire rack. These will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 to 5 days.