On the weekend, a friend and I went to visit an old friend in Bundanoon on the Southern Highlands. My friend spent a lot of time at the Tassajara Zen Centre in California in the early 2000s, so I thought I’d make these cookies from the Tassajara Cookbook as a nice nostalgic treat for us all to enjoy. Over countless cups of tea, we reminisced and cacked ourselves laughing about all the old food, health and philosophical fads we had lived through in our time, living in the Blue Mountains in the nineties. Zen meditation, shiatsu massage and macrobiotic food and all things Japanese were at the heart of alternative culture in those days. The macrobiotic diet, with it’s emphasis on grains, seems quaint and slightly dated now and its ratio of 40–60 percent grain would send anyone on a ‘paleo’ diet into conniptions.
Even at the height of macrobiotic fever, I was never a true macrobiotic believer: I’ve always preferred the ‘eat a rainbow’ colour and lavishness of Middle-Eastern food, and macrobiotic food can be very… well, brown. Despite this, whenever I’m feeling poorly and feel in need of re-balancing (a very nineties concept), one of the first things I think of to eat is a nice bowl of macrobiotic brown rice with some kind of simple topping. So, I must have some macrobiotic principles etched deep inside my food psyche and I still find myself at least once a month having a macroburger from Iku, as a nostalgic comfort food treat.
These jam drops from the Tassajara Cookbook wouldn’t be out of place in a nineties macrobiotic cookbook. They’re vegan, sweetened with maple syrup, nutrient dense with ground nuts and oats, and look very brown and wholesome in that macrobiotic way. Unless you’ve lived through the eighties and nineties macrobiotic craze, that may not sound very appealing but they really are very delicious – even my son loves these cookies. The only thing I’ve changed from the original recipe is the use of spelt flour instead of plain flour and, instead of canola oil, I use coconut oil or macadamia oil, which makes them even more wholesome and nutritious. The ingredient list isn’t long and with a cup of maple syrup and two cups of nuts, these are not an inexpensive cookie to bake, but this recipe makes a lot of jam drops and they keep exceptionally well for weeks. The other week, my son and I found four forgotten jam drops in a biscuit tin – they were at least month old and still tasted as good as the day they were baked. If you’re not baking for a crowd, halve the recipe – you will still have plenty of jam drops to scrounge out of your biscuit tin a week or two later.
In America, jam drops are known as thumbprints and while I started writing this post calling them ‘thumbprints’, it just felt too alien, so I’m calling them by their traditional Australian name: jam drops.
Vegan jam drops
From The Tassajara Cookbook: Lunches, Picnics and Appetizers by Karla Oliveira
Makes around 5 dozen cookies
- 1 cup of unbleached refined spelt or plain flour (plus half a cup of extra flour to be added, if needed)
- 2 cups almonds (or nut of your choice walnuts, macadamias, pecans or pistachios)
- 4 cups of rolled oats
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup of oil (macadamia, olive oil or coconut oil all work well)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup of maple syrup
- ½ cup of jam thinned with water
- Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan forced) or 350°F. In a large bowl of a food processor grind nuts until they are fine but still textured – you don’t want it them to be too fine or flour-like. Place ground nuts in a large bowl with the 1 cup of flour.
- Grind oats with ½ teaspoon of sea salt until fine but still slightly textured, add to nuts and flour and mix together.
- Mix together oil (heat coconut oil if using) and syrup and add to oats, flour and nut mixture and mix together well. If the dough is too runny, add extra flour of up to half a cup. Don’t worry if the dough seems a little soft, allow to sit for 15–30 minutes to stiffen up and allow for easier rolling.
- After the dough has rested for a while, roll into small walnut size balls and place on lined baking trays. Take a half teaspoon measuring spoon, and make deep indents in the centre of each ball of dough. If the dough cracks around the edges, mould back into shape so the jam doesn’t spill out when baking.
- Clean the teaspoon and place half a teaspoon of jam in each indent. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown (take care not to over bake). Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight tin.