Black currant and bittersweet chocolate bakewell bars & cardamom ginger chocolate chip cookies

Bakewell bars

Bakewell bars

Our house was built in 1850, or thereabouts. This June, we’ll have been here a decade. In that time, for every part of the house we’ve repaired or prettied up, another has fallen apart. We’ve got cracking plaster, peeling paint, rickety railings. We’ve got brick dust and spider guests and inexplicably leaky ceilings. Seen from without or within, no two lines of this house are parallel. It’s a mad mess of slants and angles. Originally, it was probably only a few rooms, and parts have been added on over the years, with well-meaning foolishness. The middle of the house is held up by a piece of railway track over a cistern. At one time this was a two-family house, and the boys’ bedroom was a kitchen, as the linoleum tacked over pumpkin pine floors attests. It’s a ridiculous ramble, but I love it. During storms and blizzards, I always think about how crumbling it seems, and then I think about how long it has lasted, how many fierce winds have rattled its bones, with people inside huddled by candlelight, talking and playing games, trying to keep out the storm with the force of their bright cheer. People must have been born in this house, and died here, too. Couples must have fallen in love. Malcolm and Isaac learned to walk here, and dozens of other babies must have done so, too. When David was fixing up the house, before we moved in, he found lots of lovely artifacts. Toys that had been dropped through holes in the floor boards – jacks and doll parts and bits of clothes – just as Malcolm and Isaac drop their toys through today! He found newspapers from 1850, with little bits of news about people in the area – words on brittle brown paper to us now, but fully lived with warmth and emotion at the time. In the time that we’ve been here, we’ve left our mark. There’s a smudgy line at the height of a boy’s hand, that traces their progress through the house – up the stairs and down the hall. Nearly every wall has mad scribbles in crayon or marker. The floors and doors are forever scratched with dog’s claws, first Steenbeck’s and now Clio’s, and a dog’s life is such a time capsule, such a reminder that time is passing. It’s got personality, our house. It’s not perfect, but I love it.

black-board-tableIn an attempt to channel the creative efforts of our little artists off the walls and onto a more acceptable surface, David painted an entire table with black chalkboard paint. It’s a massive and handsome table that runs the length of our kitchen. It’s got drawers for paper and crayons and chalk. We can doodle while we dine! It’s been a lot of fun, over the years, watching the boys tell stories with their chalk. And I love the look of the rich, matte, black paint. This year David had the genius idea to apply chalkboard paint to some tins we had leftover from cookies and chocolates. chalkboard-tinThey’re beautiful! They’re crafty! They’re repurposed! And useful! You can write the name of the contents, and erase it when you put something new in. You have to sand the metal first, and then spray an even coat of paint on. I think they’d make nice packaging for a gift of food, because they’d be reusable.

Chalkboard tins

Chalkboard tins

bakewell bars

bakewell bars

In honor of my lovely new cookie tins, I made some cookies. (Who am I kidding, I always make cookies!) I made some bakewell bars, a simpler version of a bakewell tart. They have a shortbread layer, a jam layer, and an almond frangipane layer. I made mine with black currant jam and bittersweet chocolate chips, because I love the tart-sweet combination of the two. But you could use any sort of jam you like, and omit the chocolate chips if you don’t want chocolate. (Who doesn’t want chocolate?) These were quite soft and flavorful. The other cookies are cardamom ginger chocolate chip cookies with just a hint of coconut. I think ginger and cardamom, which are mysterious and have a bit of bite, are very nice with chocolate, which is familiar and has just a hint of bitterness. I only used a small amount of chips and coconut, which made these cookies seem elegant to me!
Cardamom ginger chocolate chip cookies

Cardamom ginger chocolate chip cookies

Here’s Our House, by Madness, of course. What other song could I have chosen?

Bakewell bars

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
6 T butter, chopped in small pieces
1 t vanilla

1 cup black currant jam
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup sliced almonds
3 T flour
1/2 cup milk
4 T soft butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt

preheat the oven to 400

Mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Cut in the butter till you have a coarse, crumbly texture. Add the eggs and vanilla, and knead until you have a workable dough. Lightly butter and flour a brownie pan. Roll the dough to be about the size of the pan. Don’t worry if it’s uneven or if it tears, you can piece it altogether in the pan. Press it into the pan to make an even layer.

Spread the jam evenly over the dough layer. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the jam.

In a food processor or blender, process everything else till smooth. Pour this over the chocolate chips and jam.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes till the top is puffed and golden.

Let cool, and the cut into bars.

Cardamom ginger chocolate chip cookies

1 stick unsalted butter, softened (1/2 cup)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup coconut
1 t baking powder
1 t cardamom
1 t powdered ginger
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter some cookie sheets.

Cream the butter till light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar, egg and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by scant teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, leaving some room around each cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes, till the bottom is just starting to be golden, and the top is less shiny and slightly cracked. Lift to a cooling rack.

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