My mother does not approve of sweets.
In her eyes, sugar is dangerous. Cake is suspicious; candy is a menace. Special occasions aside, dessert is unthinkable.
As you might imagine, it had rather predictable effects on me and my sister. We each developed a sweet tooth (sweet teeth?) with a vengeance.
We grew up delighting in classmates' birthdays; we were masters of the art of smuggling candy from bowls and dishes at banks and doctors' offices when our mother's back was turned.* Despite, or perhaps because of our mother's policies, sweets were the one thing my sister and I never squabbled about. Our unexpected windfalls were always shared.
When I went off to boarding school, I returned on holidays with American confections: maple sugar candy and Jelly Belly jelly beans. (She hid them in her jewelry box.) She went to Europe on a school-sponsored trip, and brought me a tin of Baci truffles. (I kept them in my sock drawer.)
The summer I spent as an apprentice in the hotel kitchens was also the summer Lucille was stressing about college applications. I took the bus to work each day, and the quickest way to get from the stop to the hotel was to walk through a shopping mall. The most direct route took me past Mrs Field's Cookies. Because Lucille was stressed and unhappy, whenever they had them, I'd buy toffee walnut cookies, her favorite. I'd smuggle them home, and we'd bond over not telling our mother.
It wasn't until after I'd brought home toffee walnut cookies several times that Lucille told me I was only half right: her favorites are plain toffee. She doesn't like walnuts at all. (She had been picking them out.) Unfortunately, Mrs. Fields never seemed to have plain toffee cookies, and so I switched to picking up boxes of Maltesers from the newsagency next door instead.
Now that we're both living away from home, Lucille and I can each indulge our sugar cravings to our hearts' content. She keeps a stash of gummi bears in her room; I sometimes eat chocolate cake for dinner. But when I was sketching out my baking list for my latest trip to New York, I thought of those toffee walnut cookies, and picked up a few Skor bars to test out the idea.
These are decidedly American cookies - very sweet, rather chewy, and possibly more appealing when they're baking than they are when baked.** They're richly buttery, and the toffee adds a satisfying crunch. I'd say that you can't eat more than one in a single sitting, but Lucille has proved me quite wrong.
The last time our parents called, they were delighted to hear that we'd had an nice visit. But as far as the cookies are concerned, we're still not telling our mother.
English Toffee Cookies (With or Without Walnuts)
I maintain that these are better with walnuts, but if you're of the same mind as Lucille, they'll work fine without. Cookie base is loosely modeled on this recipe from the New York Times.
(Makes two dozen. Dough will freeze.)
Get out a big mixing bowl. Cream together one-and-a-quarter sticks of softened butter, one cup of white sugar and two-thirds of a cup of brown sugar until evenly blended.
Beat in one egg, one teaspoon vanilla extract, and half a teaspoon of coarse salt.
Stir in half a teaspoon of baking powder and half a teaspoon of baking soda.
Fold in one-and-three-quarters of a cup plus one tablespoon of flour until just combined.
Fold in five ounces (roughly three-quarters of a cup) of Skor bits, or four bashed-up regular-size Skor bars. If you've opted for cookies with nuts, fold in three-quarters of a cup of chopped walnuts.
Cover the bowl with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for several hours.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Line several baking trays with parchment paper. (Avoid wax paper - the toffee will stick.)
Scoop the dough into lumps a little smaller than golf balls; arrange them on the baking tray at least two inches apart. (Dough may be shaped into lumps and frozen.)
Bake for fifteen to eighteen minutes, or until cookies are golden at the edges but still a little pale in the middle. Allow to cool on baking trays for five minutes or so, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container.
*I still do this as an automatic habit, which is why I'll inevitably find stray mints or Jolly Ranchers whenever I clean out my purse.
**I like the aroma of baking chocolate chip cookies, though I don't particularly care for the cookies themselves.