Lost in translation, found in the joy of baking: A recipe for decadent double dark chocolate cookies
The story behind the baking
The rich smell of chocolate decadence arose from the oven, the timer sounded, and I opened the door to a smiling tray of darkened aphrodisiac gems. Serving the warm magic, the corners of my lips grew higher upward as I watched the break from the slightly crunchy corners to the soft inside to the gooey, melted centerpiece that dripped into itself with slow separation. My heart fluttered wildly to see the change of expression on a customer’s face, from boredom to beaming, as she popped the gift into her mouth. If my creative passion in baking could make just one person’s day, I could be satisfied knowing that I had succeeded.
Yet I cannot take credit for my chocolate thumbprint creation. These vegan beauties were a work of artistic serendipity and collaborative resilience. During my summer internship at Yangon Yoga House and their vegan Nourish Café, in addition to teaching yoga, my major task was to pilot the tastiest possible baked goods for their menu within the reality of finance, feasibility, and local ingredient availability. Warm, homemade, oven-fresh chocolate chip cookies are my ultimate weakness, and thus I had tried for years to replicate a vegan version that is equally as desirable as my childhood comfort food. If I’m baking at Nourish, of course my signature love needs to make it to the menu. I started my quest by adapting a version of Vegan Richa’s mouthwatering vegan chocolate chip cookies with coconut oil recipe. But recipes are not static, and this one evolved instantly before my wondering eyes.
The day before making my first batch of chocolate chip cookies, I searched all corners of Nourish’s kitchen to track down vegan chocolate chips. I hunted from the highest shelf of chia seeds to the lowest container of butterfly pea petals, but found no evidence of my essential ingredient. However, I did know that the current menu included wonderful circular discs of chocolate topped with goji berries, sultanas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt, otherwise known as Chocolate Florentines. If we crafted these chocolates, I reasoned, there must be hope for obtaining vegan chocolate for my cookies.
“Wal Lin, how do you make these?” I asked our dedicated Burmese kitchen cook, who speaks English slightly better than my three-phrase Burmese vocabulary.
“Make…?” Wal Lin repeated, chewing deliberately on the word. “Make!” A lightbulb flickered in his eyes, and he was ignited into action. He snatched a bar of vegan dark chocolate from its secret stash behind the fresh mint leaves and chilled rum in the fridge and quickly proceeded to unravel the bar from its foil and cardboard shell.
“Oh no, may I please just take the chocolate bar?” I begged, but there was no stopping his artful momentum. He rapidly turned the bar into a smooth melted elixir and began molding its softened beauty into geometrically precise circles. “No toppings please? I’ll just use the chocolate,” I pressed on, hoping to break his perfect spheres into flakes for my cookies.
“Topping?” He said, pondering and this time digesting my words.
“No, no toppings please. Chi zu tin ba deh. Thank you.” And with that, he gracefully transported his pan-full of goodness to the freezer for an overnight chill.
The next day, I formed my cookie dough ingredients into a smooth batter. I stood in the meditation of my baking, testing the dough’s sweet perfection by pressing my fingertips into its soft exterior. “Wal Lin, we’re ready for the chocolate,” I affirmed to my sous-chef, who stood at the ready with a spatula in hand.
“Chocolate!” He said and with a spark, he retrieved his frozen wonder. I began breaking the paper-thin bark into skinny chips and incorporating the flakes into the batter. Yet upon mixing in the monsoon-season heat of our kitchen, our chips quickly re-melted and the dough took on a consistent, tree-bark brown. My heart sunk with the realization that my batch of dreams was ruined. My beautiful dough was no longer pristine. Nonetheless, rather than letting the batch go to waste, I pressed on, pressing the dough into small rounds on our baking sheet and instructing Way Lin to do the same. As he mimicked my hand motion, his thumb pressed into the top of his brown snowball mold. And simple as this serendipitous mudra, a new recipe was born.
Thumbprint cookies they would be, topped with melted chocolate, sea salt, and cacao nibs after their oven incubation. The entire kitchen of cooks became involved with the decoration. Each of the eager Burmese girls humbly pushed her way to the pan to dress the cookies with flair. “Teach-ah, like this?” One girl grinned, delicately making invisible designs of the sea salt.
Our thumbprint cookies were a creation of fortuitous, innovative teamwork. I was freed from the constraints of a set-in-stone recipe by the circumstances of my new kitchen and by the bright ideas of fresh faces with whom I co-created. The Burmese cooks and I were hopelessly lost in translation, but found in the joy that baking brings. We were connected through the unexpected taste of our final product and through the raving praise that our smiling customers bestowed upon our gems.
In the spirit of it origin, I challenge you to try your hand at this recipe without expectation. Allow the text on this page to be dynamic. Fit the cookies to your sweet tooth rather than placing them into a strict mold. Allow your baking to be an exercise of unwavering appreciation, of non-attachment, and of resilient adaptability. And most importantly, savor the sanctity of your final one-of-a-kind, imperfect beauty with upturned lips as you bite firmly into an evolving creation of life.
Ingredients (makes 14)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt + extra for topping
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder (can substitute with cocoa powder)
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flaxseed
4 tablespoons coconut milk
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 bar dark chocolate (My favorite is Taza Chocolate)
¼ cup cacao nibs
Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, sea salt, and raw cacao powder together in a large mixing bowl.
Prepare flax eggs by adding coconut milk to flaxseed in a mixing cup. Stir the flax egg gently with a fork and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture becomes gelatinous.
In a small mixing bowl, mix brown sugar, flax eggs, oils, and vanilla extract until fully blended. Take care to crush any hardened bits of brown sugar in this phase to incorporate them into the liquid mix.
Mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until the batter takes on a cookie dough consistency. Melt the dark chocolate bar in a bowl atop boiling water on the stove. Pour ¾ of the melted chocolate into the dough and mix until the color of dough is uniform.
Scoop the dough into palm-sized balls. Roll each ball in your hand, and form a thumbprint shape on the top of each sphere before placing them onto the baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 minutes or until the outside of the cookies just starts to become solid. Top warm cookies with the remains of the melted dark chocolate by scooping a spoonful of dark chocolate into each thumbprint. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt and cacao nibs on top of the melted dark chocolate on each cookie before it hardens. Cool for 5 minutes, and serve while still warm and gooey from the oven. These cookies are best fresh within the day that they are made. If you made too many and plan to serve anytime later, place them in an airtight container immediately after cooling to freeze. To defrost, heat in the microwave for 30 seconds or until the chocolate center begins to melt.