Be still my lightly beaten heart! Valentine’s Day massively appeals to my kitsch sensibilities (“If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitschen” ho ho ho). Also my enduring love of any national holiday (being English was in no way an impediment to my celebrating Thanksgiving).
So with that in mind, I started thinking about what tooth-ache inducing, heart-melting treats I could conjure up for the festival devoted to Eros. A trip to the splendid Jane Asher Sugarcraft shop in South Kensington and years of collecting have culminated in an impressive selection of heart-shaped baking accoutrements. The dilemma of what to bake was solved when I happened across Bakerella’s recipe for pillow cookies.
Pillow cookies are as comforting and sumptuous as the name suggests. A pillow cookie is essentially a cookie giving a brownie a big hug. A pillow cookie is perfect for Valentine’s Day because once you bite into the chocolate-chip cookie exterior, you meet the melting heart of a brownie.
Taking inspiration from Bakerella, I adapted the recipe and used a combination of my favourite, fool-proof recipes for both cookies and brownies. I daresay that using packet-mix brownies will work but that may be because you’ve never tried Nigel Slater’s brownies yet.
I have never made anything which meets with such universal approval and sighs of joy as Nigel Slater’s best brownie. It is fudgey and dense and just oozes on the tongue. When you look at the ingredient list, you’ll see why – it’s all eggs (4 of them! Count them!), melted chocolate and sugar. I seem to never have golden caster sugar in the house and a trip to my local Londis furnishes me with only Bourneville chocolate but despite this, the recipe never suffers. I can only imagine what this would be like with more sophisticated ingredients.
As for the cookie mixture which cloudily envelopes the chocolate squidge within, use your favourite recipe. I plumped for the basic cookie dough recipe from 1 Dough, 50 Cookies with added chopped chocolate. Were I to make this again, I’d opt for a recipe with brown sugar which makes for a chewier cookie. But really, chewy or doughy, this cookie tastes sweeter when it’s shared.
for the cookie dough
225g softened butter
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
280g plain flour
pinch of salt
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
for the brownies
300g caster sugar
250g softened butter
200g dark chocolate
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Start by making your brownies as these will need to cool down and set before you can easily cut them up into petite chunks, ready to be pillowed. Preheat your oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and then set aside. Melt your chocolate (lazy cook that I am, I find the microwave is perfectly fine, no need to fiddle about with a bain marie. If your chocolate gets a bit scorched, worry not, give it a vigorous stir and proceed as normal.)
Add a third of the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Repeat until the eggs are completely combined. Sift all the remaining dry ingredients (flour, cocoa and baking powder) together and beat into the butter, sugar and eggs. Finally, add in the melted chocolate and stir. Your brownie batter should be thick, glossy and irresistible to any stray bowl-lickers in the vicinity. Pour into a greased and lined baking tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.
An inserted fork, knife or skewer should still not come out completely cleanly – remember that your brownies will continue baking with residual heat once they come out of the oven and you want them to be underbaked to retain that fudginess. (Also note that you will be rebaking these inside the cookie as well, so better to underbake than overbake!) Leave the tray to cool completely, for approximately an hour, before cutting into small squares approximately 2.5cm x 2.5cm.
Whilst you are waiting for your brownies to cool, you can get on with making your cookie dough. Start by creaming together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the egg yolk and keep beating until smooth and fully combined. Sift in the flour and mix until it forms a soft and pliable dough. Finally, add in your chopped chocolate (don’t worry about chopping it too uniformly, the combination of shards and chunks makes for a more interesting texture). Chill the cookie dough until you are ready to assemble your pillow cookies.
To assemble a pillow cookie, start by scooping out a walnut-sized lump of dough. Roll into a ball and flatten out into a small, thickish disc. Place a small square of brownie in the middle and pull up the sides of the dough, making a cup-shape around the brownie. Seal the brownie in with another scoop of dough, pressing the edges down and pinching so that the cookie dough completely envelopes the brownie. (Your completed raw pillow cookie should be roughly the size of a large egg – bear in mind that these will rapidly expand in the oven!) Place on a non-stick baking sheet, making sure to space the cookies at least 5cm apart. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden in a preheated oven at 180c/gas mark 4. If you wish to indulge your shamelessly kitsch side, leave the cookies to cool for about 15 minutes before using a large heart-shaped cookie cutter to turn these into sweetheart cookies.