Friday, July 31, 2009

the biscuit jar test

I've been at my internship for two weeks now, and I've decided that the things I like best about my workplace are the coffee machine, the biscuit jar, and morning tea time. If you've been reading along, I expect that this bit of news will not be surprising in the least.

The coffee machine in the breakroom is big and fancy. It has a milk foamer and a little shaker of chocolate powder for dusting on cappuccinos. It makes espresso that is hot, dark and wonderfully bitter. The coffee machine is what makes me a functional human being in the mornings.

The biscuit jar in the breakroom is a plain glass jar with a wide mouth and a lift-off lid. Its contents are dictated by the whims of the person in charge of filling it, and each morning, right after I arrive, I peek into the breakroom to see where those whims have led. There have been lemon biscuits covered in hundreds and thousands, strawberry and vanilla creams, and - just twice so far - an assortment that includes my much-beloved Tim Tams.

Putting together the coffee machine and the biscuit jar gives you morning tea. There's no official time, but around ten-thirty or eleven, everyone seems to drift into the breakroom. Tea and coffee mugs are refilled, and we dip into the contents of the biscuit jar.

After two weeks of careful observation, I've decided that you could probably design a psychological test around morning tea, and the biscuit jar in particular. Do the subjects contemplate their selections before lifting the lid, or do they dive right in? Do they eat their selections immediately, or do they take them back to their offices to be slowly savored? Do they nibble? Do they dunk? The answers, I suspect, might tell you more than the traditional workplace personality assessments.

Of course, you can have morning tea without the workplace. And if you do it at home, you have the option of baking your own biscuits (or cookies.) I'm fond of checkerboard cookies, which are a butter dough variation closely related to jamprints. Creating the checkerboard pattern might seem like a fiddly process, but it's really quite simple, and they look quite impressive if you lay them out as part of an assortment. Or you could put them in a biscuit jar, and see what unfolds.

For the record, if any psychologists out there are curious: contemplate, savor, nibble, and if it's a Tim Tam, I dunk.

Checkerboard Cookies

(Makes enough for six dozen tiny cookies, but the dough freezes.)

Start by creaming together one stick of softened butter with a quarter-cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, and a half-teaspoon of salt. Using a fork, gradually work in one cup of flour until you have a soft, sandy mixture. Crack in one egg, and mix until everything comes together in a ball. Transfer the dough to wax paper. Set aside.

Get out another bowl and dump in four tablespoons of cocoa powder and one cup of flour. Stir or whisk well to combine. Set aside.

Using your original bowl, cream together another stick of softened butter with a quarter-cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, and a half-teaspoon of salt. Work in the cocoa-flour mixture, then add the egg. Transfer the dough to wax paper.

Clear a space on your counter, and lay out another sheet of wax paper.

Roll each ball of dough into a thick log, and cut each into four equal pieces, for a total of eight pieces.

Roll each piece into a log about a third of an inch in diameter. Make sure they're all roughly the same length.

Lay out another sheet of wax paper.

Take one of the vanilla-dough logs, and shape it until it's roughly squarish. Take one of the chocolate-dough logs, and do the same. Lay the two logs right next to each other on the wax paper, and apply a little pressure to make sure they stick together.

Take another of the vanilla-dough logs, shape it, and lay it atop the chocolate-dough log of the two that are already stuck together. Take another chocolate-dough log, shape it, and lay it atop the other vanilla-dough log. You should now have one log with a checkerboard pattern.

Fold the wax paper over the log and twist the ends to seal. Carefully transfer the log to the fridge. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Chill for at least one hour before baking.

To bake the cookies, begin by preheating the oven to 350F. Ready two baking trays.

Take the dough out of the fridge. If it's looking less than squarish, use gentle pressure to get it into shape. Cut the dough into thin slices and arrange them on the baking trays.

Bake for fifteen to eighteen minutes, or until faintly browned at the very edges. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve with morning tea.

Cookies will keep for up to one week in an airtight container.

Note: If you freeze the dough, cut slices while it's still frozen, and bake them without thawing.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

I can vouch for the fact that your checkerboards are very, very good.

adele said...

Thank you.

Lisa said...

Great story about the morning break and teatime. How lucky are you to have an espresso machine and the cookies and all that! Yikes, I'd give my left arm (and I'm left handed) to get a nice coffee machine at my workplace and be able to have an espresso any time I wanted one.

Your cookies look very nice, and they seem like something that even I, virtually a non-baker, could pull off.

adele said...

Lisa - It is a neat perk. Sadly, it doesn't change the nature of the work itself.

The cookies really are quite straightforward. If you want something even easier, try the jamprints (linked) first. :)

~~louise~~ said...

You're back!!! I need to catch up.

LOL, in my "morning break" days, I didn't have time to observe or participate. I usually spent that time of the day reassuring my little ones over the telephone. I did that until they started school and I started working nights. I now have some idea of what I missed. Thanks, Adele:)

I'm not much of a baker but I've actually made Checkerboard Cookies before. They make such as interesting presentation especially since they look more complicated than they actually are:)

P.S. Love the Novel entry, I'm going back.

adele said...

Louise - Indeed, I am. Hoping to get some interesting posts up while I'm in Perth.

I love the checkerboard pattern. You can actually make bigger cookies with a three-by-three grid, or even four-by-four if you're really ambitious, but two-by-two gives fast results. :)

~~louise~~ said...

In times past, one of my special presentations for card night on Saturdays was Checkerboard Cake with tiny Checkerboard Cookies quilting the chocolate icing. I think the other couples let us win so they had to come to our house to play:)

adele said...

Louise - That sounds spectacular. I'd let you win, too! ;)

Cakelaw said...

Hey, I'm with ya Adele - the coffee machine and biscuits are important. Those chequerboards are delightful - I have never made them, but yours look perfect. If you would like some Tim Tams all of your own, let me know your address - you can email me at gmiddle72 at gmail dot com. (I know you can buy them at Target or somewhere there now, but wouldn't they be fun from Oz??)

Cakelaw said...

LOL - just noticed you are in Perth anyway!

Alejandra said...

Those look so good, but what I really loved was your story. I want to get a cookie jar going in our company break room now. Although I fear that might be the only one who ever dips into it...

figtree said...

Your cookies are so beautiful. I know they would be very popular in my house.Figtreeapps

adele said...

Cakelaw - They've come out with so many new flavors since I left! Tiramisu Tim Tams... who would have thought?

Alejandra - I think that if you create it, they will come. ;)

figtree - Thank you!