Fig, Tahini and Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies
Not many of us saw it coming, certainly not me, way back in 1989 when La Brea Bakery opened, and I thought, “Who the heck is going to buy freshly baked bread in Los Angeles? That’ll never work…” And the rest, as they say, is history, as La Brea Bakery and Campanile restaurant, the adjacent restaurant in the same Spanish-style building (that Charlie Chaplin built), both became mega-hits.
Things change, and people move on. In the meanwhile, Los Angeles became a culinary destination, and Margarita Manzke and her husband Walter, rebooted the restaurant and the bakery for today, opening République, carrying on the tradition of making rustic breads, filling the showcases with Margarita’s fruit-topped brioche tartlets, croissants, Kouign aman, and a variety of other pastries.
One challenge for a professional baker is scaling your recipe that makes, say, 120 tartlets, down to a home kitchen-friendly eight, which Margarita did in Baking at République, Masterful Techniques and Recipes. The book teaches you professional techniques, as promised, then gives ways to turn the “master recipes” (like Pain au lait and Pâte sucrée) into a variety of desserts. In addition to French pastries, there are American favorites, like cookies, muffins, and brownies, because: 1) Not everyone wants to take on a multi-component baking challenge, and 2) Because they taste good.
I was particularly interested in her Fig-Tahini Cookies, because: 1) You don’t often see figs incorporated into cookies, and 2) I loved how tahini blew these Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies out of the ballpark. I was also into them because she said she was inspired by the cookies at Mokonuts in Paris, which are certainly inspiration-worthy.
The cookies turned out well, but I couldn’t help thinking about adding something else to them. Nothing wrong with a big, chewy cookie with bits and bites of crackly figs in them, moistened with sesame paste, but thought maybe a shot of anise liqueur in them, or some crushed anise seeds, would take them in a more Middle Eastern direction.
And then I remembered chocolate, and grabbed my chocolate bin off the shelf to get ready to chop some for a second go at them. But I reached for the milk chocolate instead of the dark, thinking the dark chocolate might overwhelm the tidbits of figs, and started chopping up a bar of chocolat au lait to add to the dough.
I know some of you probably don’t like milk chocolate, or you want to say something less-than-complimentary about it. Milk chocolate does get a lot of flak from ‘serious’ chocolate people. If that’s how you feel, no problem, you can use dark chocolate. Don’t mind my forty years of baking experience ; )
(And don’t worry, I once got my comeuppance when I went to Salt Lake City to teach a class on candy making. I didn’t get the memo that the city was located at high-altitude, which meant any temperature readings were going to be off. And, of course, most candy depends on accurate temperatures to work. Fortunately the participants were well-versed in high-altitude adjustments, but I was as red-faced as one of the fruit-flavored lollypops that we made.)
Honestly, though, milk chocolate does have its place (such as, in these cookies), and in Europe milk chocolate must have at least 30% cocoa solids, unlike in the US where the minimum is a paltry 10%. So search out a bar of darker milk chocolate, using one whose percentage hovers closer to, or above, the European standards.
Even though I veered from the original recipe, I would take the author’s advice and search out dried figs that are moist. I bring back Black Mission figs from the US because they’re my favorite to snack on, but I can find other types of dried figs pretty easily in the supermarket or at shops that specialize in Middle Eastern foods.
I also dialed down the size. Still, these cookies are pretty hefty so you’re only allowed to eat one at a time. It will be hard. But I trust you’ll manage.