Last weekend, I helped my sister pack up her home of almost fifteen years. This wasn’t quite as bad as I expected: my sister’s house is due to be demolished in a couple of weeks and a new house built on the site, so everything left behind will just get bulldozed. There is something liberating about packing when you don’t have to clean and clear out house completely. During the weeks of sorting and packing through the years of family life, my sister found the long lost recipe for our mother’s famous prize-winning dark gingerbread cake. My mother wasn’t usually secretive about her recipes but she was always very cagey about this particular one. When I was a kid, I remember her showing me the red and white gingham covered book where the recipe was written down and extracting a promise from me not to reveal it to anybody outside the family. The competitive cake-baking circuit must have been a cut-throat business in small country towns in the 1970s!
On Saturday night, I had my sister’s Kitchenaid (on an extended loan while my sister is houseless) and I finally made this legendary prize winning gingerbread cake and took it over to my sister’s house for the Sunday packing session. I was lucky I had the additional horsepower of the Kitchenaid to make this cake because the mixture was so dense and sticky, it would have killed my Sunbeam handbeaters. The recipe was vague and poorly written and I veered into cake-disaster territory when I forgot to add the brown sugar. In a brilliant save, I pulled the cake mix out of the oven, dumped the mixture back in the KitchenAid, added an extra egg with the sugar, and beat it through. Given all of this, it was amazing the cake was even edible. Although it was a little tough and dense, it was pretty good when slathered with lashings of organic butter. But, then again, what isn’t delicious when slathered with organic butter.
Despite its prize-winning antecedents, it’s not something I would rush out and make again. But, to be truthful, I don’t really like cake that much. Given a choice, I would always choose cookies over boring old cake. This is all a pretty long-winded way of explaining why I am posting this cookie recipe, instead of my mother’s prize winning gingerbread cake. You can never ever have too many cookie recipes and gingerbread cake is a once-in-a-blue-moon nostalgic bake off.
This recipe come from Karla Oliveira’s book: Tassajara Cookbook – Lunches, picnics and appetisers. I’ve had this book for years but I’ve only recently started exploring the cookie recipes. Tassajara is a Zen Buddhist meditation centre in the Californian mountains, and is renowned for its vegetarian food. The cookies are all of that slightly healthy, hippy ilk, but in a good way. These cookies are perhaps too good for a meditation retreat: I would probably spend more time obsessing which cookies they were putting in my bag lunch, than meditating into a Zen state of detachment… but hey, maybe that’s just me.
The only thing I’ve changed from the original recipe is the use of refined spelt flour instead of plain flour, and macadamia oil instead of canola or vegetable oil. This is because I’m paranoid about vegetable oils, and ever since I discovered refined spelt flour has the same nutrients as wholemeal spelt, I’ve been using it a lot as a replacement for white flour.
Spelt flour, coconut and sesame cookies
Adapted from The Tassajara Cookbook – Lunches, picnics and appetizers by Karla Oliveira
Makes about 2½ dozen cookies
- ½ cup of oil (coconut, macadamia or light olive oil are all good) or you can use canola or another vegetable oil.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup of sesame seeds toasted
- 1 cup toasted shredded coconut
- 1¾ cups of refined spelt flour or 2 cups plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarb soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 175°C, or 160°C fan-forced (350°F).
- In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, bicarbonate soda, salt.
- In another bowl, beat oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla and lemon zest together. Stir in sesame seeds and coconut.
- Add flour to sugar and oil mixture and mix until just combined (be careful not to overwork the dough, or your cookies will be tough).
- Roll dough into walnut size balls. Place on an ungreased cookie tray and flatten with a fork or a spoon.
- Bake for 10–15 minutes until lightly brown on bottom. Cool on racks and store in an airtight tin.