Jul 21, 2014

Even more cookies for the Portuguese

Diabetes seems to be a rather common affliction in Portugal, which is no great wonder given the sweet tooth so many people here have. This is expressed in a great variety of cookies one finds offered in markets of every kind, most of which are quite different from the cookies familiar to me in the American and German baking traditions. As I have made batch after batch of American cookies for my friends and neighbors in Portugal, I've had a little nagging sense of guilt at what damage I might be doing contributing to their diabetic state, but the thought that cutting down their consumption of cerveja to, perhaps, a dozen bottles a day might also help with the diabetes does assuage my guilt somewhat so I can keep the grandchildren in my neighborhood supplied with a better fix than some offer in Bairro da Câmara.

Sourcing ingredients is often difficult here, partly because I'm still learning the local names of things but also because many things are simply not available. Take sheep butter, for example. As far as I know, it's only found around here at Intermarche, and the other day it was sold out, so I had to settle for goat butter. Life can be rough. If you want something really exotic like chocolate chips or cream of tartar, you just have to substitute creatively. I do a lot of that. And because I'm in Portugal, it never hurts to add garlic. It adds a new dimension to Spätzle, Portuguese-style for example.

It's actually hard to get the sugars I want here in the heart of the country. White granulated sugar? No problem, though I prefer its common yellow cousin here. But the darker stuff, açúcar moreno, isn't so easy, particularly if you like it really dark. So when I discovered a bag of deep brown sugar with a satisfying molasses whiff to it, I was delighted and snatched it up for the next batch of cookies. These were good, but turned out to be a little strange.

Not that sweet, really. Since I had tweaked other things in what was once a chocolate chip cookie recipe (goat butter, whole wheat flour, Toblerone dark chocolate bars with almond nougat), I dumbed down the other stuff and just tweaked the sugar. These cookies were even better, but still not overpoweringly sweet, then I noticed that the package bore the words "brown rice sugar". For real. I thought it was a translation error, but there really is a sugar substitute made from brown rice. And it's not bad. So I offer you this variation on the new trending cookie of Évora, chipped chocolate:
100 g brown rice sugar
125 g (
½ cup) butter (cow, goat, sheep - do what thou wilt)
Cream these together, then add
1 egg
1 tablespoon amèndoa amarga (I was out of vanilla extract)
2 teaspoons orange zest (this is the killer cookie ingredient)
Whip it some more, then add
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
225 grams flour (usually wheat of some kind, but if the spirit moves you, substitute rye, corn or oat flour as much as you like)
Mix until all the flour is evenly distributed in the wet dough, then add  
 200 g chipped baking chocolate (dark)
Drop on parchment and bake at 175°C (350°F) for something like 10 minutes.

I told my friend with diabetes that these were better for her. That might not be true, but given the response I think I'll keep lying.

And now for something completely different. I decided it was time to introduce the local Catholics to some good Chanukah tradition: sweet potato latkes served with Greek yogurt and pureed mangos. That seems to be a hit as well (with extra portions set aside for grandchildren), but afterward I was faced with the problem of half a bowl of mango puree and no idea what to do with it. So I did a little research and improvised these mango cookies, which are perhaps the best thing I've made this month:

½ cup butter
1 cup yellow sugar
¼ cup brown rice sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup mango puree
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 cups wheat flour
1.5 cups corn flour
½ cup of milk
Cream the butter and sugars, then add egg, mango and vanilla. After the mixture is creamed, add 2 cups of flour, the baking soda and cinnamon
Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
I suppose you can mess around with the sugars any way you like; I like substituting corn flours for wheat in recipes where gluten isn't needed, and I think it usually improves the character of a cookie. I may try a batch of these using just corn flour. And maybe drop the milk and use more mango puree. And a bunch of other little adjustments, because while lazy translators may crave repetitions, I find that boring in recipes, which I consider to be like German laws: there to be flouted as long as it's a victimless crime. I only make an exception with phenolphthaelin as an additive on special occasions for those on the run.

In the batch I made, it seems that the brown rice sugar was not perfectly mixed in and formed interesting little pockets, which produced a surprising effect when baked. I can't describe it; it needs to be experienced. And it is a delight!


  1. Thank you for the new word, Kevin - and also for the revelation that you enjoy baking! How ironic that the absence of artificial sugar from one's diet greatly improves digestion. I had a good laugh about your search for ingredients which are difficult to find in Portugal. My experience when first landing here was the same. I share your impression of the relatively high incidence of diabetes here, too. By the way, quite by chance, I found vanilla essence (aroma de baunhilla) last week in Pingo Doce. Country of origin: UK. I think, as a matter of urgency (I have about a fortnight until the figs will be too ripe and it is too late for another year) I should try to find "lime" - a white powder I need for a green fig preserve recipe. I have no idea where to start! If you happen to come across it in your explorations in the food aisles...

    1. Vanilla extract was never a problem here, Allison, certainly less so than in Germany where the stuff is sold in silly little foil packets. Still, I would prefer buying it by the quart at least, not in small bottles that get used up in a few days. That I enjoy baking isn't much of a revelation; I've mentioned on numerous occasions that baking projects were one of the things that got me started in translation some 38 years ago. Probably the first thing, though after all these years I can't recall whether I might not have done a bit for pyrotechnics, explosives and poison gas first or at about the same time. The 8th floor of Millikan Library was a great place to practice one's German and Russian skills with old texts.

      I'll ask around about the lime; I think I can improve the nutritional value of things I make with corn if I use it too. I seem to recall that it's one of those things which, if left out in a diet heavy with corn, can lead to the four D's: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and death. When I had an excess of figs years ago on a Greek vacation I just made up a fresh jam with honey every morning, which provided a rather nice breakfast for a week; you could probably do that as a freezer jam.

  2. I reformulated the mango cookie recipe last night; the result was rather satisfying:

    1/4 cup (60 g) butter
    1/2 cup (100 g) brown rice sugar
    1 small chicken egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 cup (60 ml) mango puree
    1 cup (190 g) fine corn (maize) flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda

    Cream the butter and sugar well, then add the vanilla and egg, beat more and then add the mango finally, ensuring a thorough, smooth mixture. Then add the flour and baking soda, mix well but not too long (though with corn flour you have no gluten, so this may not be an issue like it is with wheat).

    Drop onto a baking sheet and bake at 375°C (190°C) for 10 to 12 minutes. I got 2 dozen cookies for this quantity.

    Note that brown rice sugar is *not* the sugar you usually use. It is less sweet among other things.



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