Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Doubleplusgood Choco Chip Biscuits
There are some foodstuffs the English do very well. Beer, for example. And roast lamb. They have an amazing variety of potato chips, too, imbuing the humble "crisp" (as they call it) with all sorts of exotic flavors. Then there are the things the English don't do very well, or don't do at all. I'm talking about the cookie.
The English don't even have cookies. They have biscuits, which aren't really the same thing at all. There is a place for a biscuit--dipped in a mug of milky tea, for example--but it doesn't satisfy the longing, the craving, that an American feels for a cookie. I hope I will get no argument if I suggest that the king of the cookie is the mighty chocolate chip.
You never notice how ubiquitous the chocolate chip cookie is in the United States until you are denied it. It has become such a part of the landscape that you can purchase one literally almost anywhere. I guarantee you that eight out of 10 cash registers in America have a stack of chocolate chip cookies next to them, wrapped up in plastic and awaiting that impulse buyer. We Americans consider the chocolate chip cookie a birthright, like potable water and easy access to firearms.
That isn't the case in Britain. This isn't to say that chocolate chip cookies are completely unknown. There's a stand called Ben's Cookies in Oxford's historic Covered Market that sells something it calls a chocolate chip cookie. But it has a disappointingly cakey mouthfeel, not the satisfyingly granular mouthfeel of a true CCC. And you can buy factory-made chocolate chip cookies at the grocery store. The brand names they go by suggest that the Brits are trying to capture some of that American magic, even if they are a bit misguided:
Funny, I don't really think of Maryland (or "Merry-land," as an English person would say) when I think of chocolate chip cookies. Then again, nor do I think of Tennessee:
The Tennessee High Quality Chocolate Chunk Cookies are actually made in Germany, where they apparently have less of a grasp of that particular baked good than in England. (I love that little picture of the antebellum mansion.) I suppose I should be thankful I'm not shopping in Japan, where the brand name would probably be something like HomeRun Armadillo Cookie Chip.
How do Maryland and Tennessee chocolate chip cookies taste? Not that good, though you will notice that both those packages are empty, so they must be good enough. Luckily, My Lovely Wife, after much experimentation, has successfully baked real, American-style chocolate chip cookies in our idiosyncratic little cooker. Hopefully we can get through the next five months without withdrawal symptoms kicking in.
I Heart My Heart
Of course, I shouldn't be eating these things at all given that they aren't the healthiest of choices. But I strive for moderation in all things, which is sort of the point of a little piece I have in today's Washington Post Health section. It's about how my life has changed since having a heart attack in 2001. I'll be chatting live with web readers toay at noon Eastern Standard Time (5 p.m. here in Britain). If you want to join us, just go here.
I Don't Know the Muffin, Man
We Americans are no better when it comes to geographically mis-named food. "English" muffins, anyone? A British person would look at you blankly if you asked for one. Not that I recommend the English tea cake, a baked good beloved of little old ladies in tea shops. It resembles nothing so much as the bottom half of a toasted hamburger bun. That's pretty much what it tastes like, too.
For sheer breakfast grotesquery, nothing can compete with the American Cinnabon. Talk about a heart attack on a plate....