Biscuits with Bartok 2 – Soft-bake chocolate and fennel cookies

I must admit there’s been a bit of slippage this week on a number of fronts. I have, however, managed to produce my second biscuit for the musicians, a decadent soft cookie oozing with chocolate, complemented by the flavour of fennel seeds. However, a lag means I did this after the gathering. In fact, the visiting musicians sojourn turned out not to be Biscuits with Bartok but Biscuits with Linux. For some musicians, talents extend  beyond music and with help, after several attempts and considerable tenacity, my old laptop has Linux installed and the hamster in the hard drive is on steroids. I thought I had lost it forever after a de-fragmenting disaster.

No more am I chained to my desktop in the office.  I can now sit in comfort by the fire, using one or t’other of the dogs as a footstool and listen to selected vinyl or CDs, since I’m next to the stereo. What better way to blog? Tablet not required for the time being. I’ve been reliably informed by The Man Named Sous, my own personal techni-geek, that the time is not right to invest in a tablet and we will be better placed to buy in a couple of months as new products are on the cusp of release.  I have already decided that although I like my iPhone, the Android system will be the way to go and I have all but ruled out iPad, probably in favour of a Nexus 10. More on that another time.

Biscuit procrastinations

I am embarking on only my second biscuit-making event and I have already been overwhelmed by the choices out there.  Then I was gifted my biscuit epiphany when Cookies, Cakes and Bakes featured some enticing recipes from Annie Bell’s Baking Bible.  I was, of course, obliged to buy the book and although it hasn’t yet arrived, I found a very appealing recipe from it online for soft-bake chocolate and fennel cookies.

Mid-week entertainment

One reason for the slippage this week was the rare opportunity to see a tour by Scottish Opera performing at the village hall in Benbecula. Every year, Scottish Opera take their Opera Highlights tour to very small venues in rural and isolated communities around Scotland.  The tour visits Uist every 2 years, visiting Stornoway on alternate years. The troupe of 4 singers plus pianist offer a pared back performance with minimal props which showcases their vocal talents.

I love opera and regularly went to Scottish Opera performances at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh and I very much miss the opportunity to enjoy the live experience, so this concert was a very rare opportunity to hear opera excerpts and not to be missed.  We were very lucky the concert went ahead at all.  The singers were stranded on Barra after a performance there.  The weather closed in and ferries were cancelled.  Fortunately, they made it across in a weather window on the morning of the concert.

The weather had been tricky and perhaps unsurprisingly, the concert was reasonably well attended but not busy as people were reluctant to venture out.  This was no doubt exacerbated by the fact that our mobile cinema, The Screen Machine had set up for a couple of nights. Despite the weather, it had somehow made it through the storms.  This pop-up cinema is Britain’s only mobile cinema.  The theatre folds out from an articulated truck that tours the Highlands and Islands to bring new cinema releases to audiences and really is a fantastic innovation and a lot of fun to go to.  Sitting in the dark watching a blockbuster, possibly in 3D, one can get lost in the performance only occasionally being reminded that you are in a pop-up cinema in Uist when the wind rocks and sways the theatre.

Unfortunately, a clash of programmes such as the cinema and opera on the same night can deplete audiences significantly in such a small community as ours. This could discourage a return visit, for example, I have been to concerts where visiting musicians have had an audience of no more than a handful of people, which is discouraging for them and offers no incentive for a return visit.  It therefore pays for visitors/event organisers to check what else is on any given night and make sure there is not a clash. As residents, we certainly feel that we should attend anything of interest otherwise it could be the case of use it or lose it.

Had the opera not been on, we would have gone to the cinema, although the choices of The Hobbit and Quartet would have pushed it into second place as we saw The Hobbit in 3D in Glasgow before Christmas and Quartet is probably not to our taste.

The opera was thoroughly enjoyable with a programme of popular arias (from La Traviata, Cosi fan tutte and Carmen) and less familiar and intriguing pieces. My favourite was The Executioners Song from Ines de Castro by Scot James MacMillan, an opera commissioned by Scottish Opera in 1996.  The darkly humorous libretto was delivered with conviction by baritone Duncan Rock, his vocal and acting performance stealing the show for me.

The Middle Eight

Sitting next to my vinyl and CD collection brings the opportunity for a blogging soundtrack, not that I can’t do this by using iTunes on the desktop, but the experience isn’t the same.  It’s not as loud for one thing! I also don’t download for a number of reasons; sound quality, tangible enjoyment of holding a CD / record, ownership, for starters. Browsing and selecting music also served to remind me that as well as biscuits, I am procrastinating over gigs too.  Planning trips to the mainland including London and Glasgow over the next couple of months means we will try to tie in a few gigs with trips.  There are a lot of good options coming up.

We have been swithering over whether or not we should get tickets to see Neil Young in June. The fantastic Jeremy Deller conceptual art work below sums this up. This was a phrase borne out of the procrastinations by Neil Young over work commitments when he would regularly ask his manager ‘What would Bob Dylan do?’ Bob Dylan later had the same manager and similarly asked him ‘What would Neil Young do?’ Deller, Jeremy - What Would Neil Young Do? - Conceptual art - Computer print - Other/Unknown theme

We have seen Old Shaky twice before, in 1992 with Booker T and the MGs and again in 1997 (I think) with Crazy Horse.  The venue is off-putting as it is the aircraft hangar that is the SECC in Glasgow.  We have experienced a few less than intimate gigs at this venue and on occasion, poor sound quality.  It’s just too big, as are the ticket prices.  Over the last few years, we have tended to prefer gigs in smaller venues with more sane ticket prices.  The atmosphere is always better with the artist connecting better with the crowd in a smaller setting and vice versa.

That aside and unresolved, the decision will likely be taken out of our hands when the gig sells out. Then came the news that Wilco Johnson, original guitarist with the great Canvey Island blues outfit, Dr Feelgood,  has announced he is terminally ill and is to go on a final blast of gigs across the UK.  Of course, I would love to go, but knew these would sell out quickly and they have, regrettably. Dr Feelgood had a reputation as an engaging live act in the early 70’s thanks largely to Wilco’s stage presence and choppy distinctive blues guitar style. Dr Feelgood have been credited as one of the founders of British Punk, discussed in the excellent film Oil City Confidential which captures the early days of the band’s history.

I listened to a very uplifting and moving interview on Radio Four a couple of weeks ago when Wilco spoke candidly about his illness and his desire to give this last tour while he was still well enough to give his best and thank his fans.  He was so positive and grateful for the life he has lived, tinged with no regret or sadness that he will soon leave this mortal coil.

Smaller venues such as the excellent King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow offers a chance to see contemporary proggers Amplifier. We saw Arch Drude and forward-thinking Mofo Julian Cope there in a memorably intimidating performance. Strikingly tall and thin, he was wearing 6 inch crepe heeled boots and sported face paint, wandered into the audience and stared various people in the audience out.  We hid well away from the front and it was a great gig. We were also very lucky to see another of our favourite songwriters, the thought-provoking Warren Zevon at a small venue in Glasgow not too long before his passing.

To the current, a Richard Thompson gig in Edinburgh is another possibility as well as seeing Polish metal band Riverside.  Devin Townsend has also announced another short UK tour.  That is a given.  Finally, sadly nothing on the horizon from Tool who, after 7 years still can’t seem to decide if they will release an album this year or not.  The band’s enigmatic singer Maynard James Keenan appears to be focussing more on growing award-winning wine at his California vineyard.  Rock and Roll!

Blogging soundtrack:  Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse

Devin Townsend: Epicloud, from the track ‘Grace’;

‘Laugh! Love! Live! Learn!!’

Soft-bake chocolate and fennel biscuits

chocolate and fennel biscuits 055

These were delightful and would not be half as good without the revelatory addition of the crushed fennel seeds, and, to some extent, the apricots.  Genuinely one of the  best cookies I have eaten, really unusual and very chocolatey with the 81% cocoa solids chocolate I used. I’m really getting into the biscuit-baking and don’t really know why anyone would, other than for convenience, buy biscuits from the shops.  Home-made are simple to make, free from the usual additives/preservatives and are considerably cheaper.  I got 36 out of this recipe which was allegedly for 20.  Although they were a bit more expensive to make than last week’s peanut butter cookies, they still worked out at about 10p per biscuit.  That for a real luxury bite of deliciousness.

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, diced

200g golden caster sugar

1 medium egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g ground almonds

75g plain flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder, sifted

1 heaped tsp fennel seeds

100g dried apricots, chopped

200g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 200C (fan)


Method

  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer then beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Add the ground almonds, flour and baking powder and process to a soft dough.
  • Coarsely grind the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar and stir into the cookie batter with the apricots and chocolate.
  • Put a big heaped teaspoon of the mixture onto greased baking trays, spacing them well apart and cook them in batches.
  • Bake for 8–10 minutes until golden around the edges but pale within. Leave the cookies to cool for 3 minutes, then loosen them with a palette knife and leave to cool completely.

Enjoy when barely cool and the chocolate is still gooey with a wee cup of tea (as my gran would have said).

chocolate and fennel biscuits 4

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34 thoughts on “Biscuits with Bartok 2 – Soft-bake chocolate and fennel cookies

  1. These cookies look perfect! Very unusual combination that I will have to try. I hope you enjoy the book when it arrives 🙂 I’ve heard about the mobile cinema, sounds like fun! I’ll look out for it.

  2. Gosh, that was like two posts in one. I’m quite intrigued by the taste of your biscuits. I’ve got a friend who’s a huge fan of fennel pollen.
    The mini opera sounds fantastic, as does the travelling cinema – I bet the cinema goers around you are a lot better behaved than in London.
    I’d jump at the chance to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but like you prefer small venues. Wilco Johnson’s impending demise is quite sad and his tour is something I’d also love to see.
    Give me a shout if you fancy a coffee when you come down to London 😉

  3. How amazing to be in such an intimate auditorium to listen to live opera. That’s something I’ve never experienced.
    As for the cookies – seriously, fennel seeds with apricots? Wow oh wow, would never have thought of that combo. And I love both! With the inclusion of ground almonds these would be almost healthy, if not for the sugar. I’m trying to cut back – piglet just might return and all!

    • Thank you so much! As you can see from my post they are interchangeable to me 🙂 A web search reveals the definition of each is quite complex. To my mind because these are soft, I consider them to be cookies … But I may be incorrect…

  4. Love fennel in cooking. Always like to consider new combinations and the biscuits look good. It’s great that you get the chance of a bit of winter culture, but I do agree that it all hinges on getting the dates correct. Fancy having that brilliant little cinema side by side with Scottish Opera in freaky weather! Oh, ‘Quartet’ was a complete gem in every way. Maybe see you when you’re down next?

  5. From local community opera tours to Dr. Feelgood – made a good read (although sad news on Wilco Johnston – I hadn’t heard. Another cornerstone of British music soon to be gone). Those cookies/biscuits look good – i’m intrigued by the fennel. Also, and you’re no doubt busy but…..I’m still waiting on that venison sausages post….. 🙂

  6. I’ve never tried fennel in biscuits but imagine they’d be lovely. I’m so jealous of your dog footstool… cats are no way near compliant enough 😉

  7. I heard the interview with Wilco Johnson and vowed to myself to try and get some of his music, his attitude to his impending death and life past was very moving indeed.
    Loving your musical references as ever, not sure about the biscuits 🙂

  8. Chocolate and fennel – an interesting sounding combination, I’ll have to give these a try! I used your recipe for broa bread the other day. It makes a great flavoured and hearty loaf, perfect for with soup – I can see it becoming a regular bake here, thanks for the recipe!

  9. an easy one for the band … I think it is Mennonite heritage….

    1/2 cup melted butter, 1 c brown sugar, 2 cups regular rolled oats or oatmeal, 1/2 tsp baking powder,1 tsp vanilla….

    mix together and lay it all down on a greased and floured cookie sheet with sides. Press the crumbs down to smooth it all out .Bake in a preheated 400 F degree oven” just a few minutes” so they all melt together, all golden. Don’t leave them unwatched !….Take from the oven all bubbly and cut into squares right away. let them cool…. Best if made thin.

    sorry, not in metric measurement but you get the idea…hope they work for you, they work for me!

    Enjoying your mixed media food/ entertainment blog!

  10. The cookies sound unusual and delicious, and I enjoyed your writing as well. We have been talking about a holiday to Scotland to visit the castles, and have been instructed by the mother-in-law to visit the Outer Hebrides – apparently family connections from way back. (!)
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  11. I second the idea of making biscuits at home – cheaper, tastier, fun activity with a toddler(but have to watch so he does not eat all the mixture:-), but extraordinarily moreish… We make at least one batch a week, plus occasionally flapjacks (in the oven as I write) and oatcakes – still have not found the right recipe for those with the ingredients we get here… I will try this recipe and also the peanut one.

    I loved the opera performance in Liniclate school I went to, and miss the Screen machine – I don’t think I missed one time while they were on Uist.

    Can I ask, what can a tablet do a laptop and iPhone can’t? I always wonder what they are good for. Perhaps the convenient size for taking them with you while travelling?

    And what did you thing of The Hobbit? I really want to go to see it!

    • Thanks, enjoy the recipes. Re-iPhone v laptop v tablet. This is quite complex in so much my laptop is a desktop replacement, so heavy, 10 years old and slow – not enough RAM for current multimedia use in truth, it’s barely hanging on. It can only just cope with Linux. Tablet – portable, good interface, I can attach/link a keyboard without being chained to my desktop so I can blog anywhere – my phone is too small for that, and watching films, etc but good for calls, GPS (running), camera, maps to find my way round in strange places and quick comments/messaging. The Hobbit was good fun. Although I’m not a Tolkien fan, Peter Jackson makes the stories palatable to me:)

      • I understand now – my laptop is fairly light and portable so I don’t need a tablet. But I am thinking about getting the Kindle…

        I like Peter Jackson films too. His take on LOTR is very different from Tolkien but I loved both versions and will look forward to seeing the Hobbit – when we can get a babysitter.

      • If we go to see it it will be a relax-without-Timmy kind of event. Not just because the film is not for kids – it is nice to get away now and again even though he is a sweet boy.

  12. These look delicious! I have never tried putting fennel seeds in my cookie dough! Maybe next time I’ll have to give it a try. I’m sure the ground almonds give wonderful flavor and texture.

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