My favorite city in the world is London. It reminds me of New York, but with an infinitely cleaner and more comfortable subway. London is damp and cool, and, dictated by my Western European genes, is the kind of weather I favor. I was 15 when I went to London for first time. My younger brother, Robbie, and I were meeting my dad, who was working in Saudi Arabia, for a few weeks of R&R. I know London has climbed out of the basement as far as cuisine goes, but when I was there in 1978 the food was pretty bad. Robbie and I subsisted on shrimp cocktail; fish and chips; and sweet, creamy tea and scones. Good bread was even hard to come by. Every restaurant we went into served rolls that were harder than rocks. Robbie and I started calling them enemy rolls, because we were convinced they had been dropped by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz.
Robbie and I made an amazing culinary discovery that sustained us through the hard times: Cadbury Whole Nut bars, made of creamy milk chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts. I had never had a hazelnut before that, and I was hooked. These didn’t come in the same one-and-a-half-ounce size as our paltry American Hershey bars. These suckers were twice the size of our candy bars back home, and there was never a morsel left. That summer, I think Robbie and I ate our weights in Whole Nutters, as my dad called them. In fact, Robbie was nicknamed Chocolate by a kind, older gentleman we met in our travels around the country. Whenever I think back to that trip, Robbie’s 11-year-old face is never free of chocolate smears.
When I returned home to New York, I was stricken to discover the Whole Nut bar was nowhere to be found. I grieved and didn’t eat chocolate for a long time. When I went back to England again four years later, I stocked up. I was able to coax various friends and family members into bringing them back for me when they hopped across the pond, but I wasn’t getting them with nearly enough regularity. I conceived these cookies one day when I was missing London and really wanted a Whole Nutter. I sent my chocolate-loving mom a few dozen of these cookies last year for Mother’s Day, and I am happy to report she enjoyed them immensely. I think this gesture may have eased some of the pain I caused her as a child by always refusing to eat what she put in front of me.
There are still days when I miss London intensely, and I am hoping to get back there this summer. I have already purchased an extra suitcase that I will bring as an empty vessel for transporting my Whole Nutters back to the USA. And, rest assured, I will seek out and photograph those rock-hard enemy rolls in all their glory.
Lonely for London Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
This was originally a vegan recipe. I used Earth Balance for the butter and applesauce for the eggs. Though this recipe uses unsalted butter, I kept the applesauce because I like the flavor and texture so much. If you want to go vegan, make sure your chocolate chips have no milk fat. I used bittersweet chocolate chips here, but feel free to use semisweet. I added coconut because I think coconut enhances everything. Try tossing a fistful of coconut at your significant other and see if your relationship isn’t a thousand times better.
½ cup hazelnuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
½ cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ cup all-natural, unsweetened applesauce
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli)
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast until you can smell them, 8-10 minutes. Let cool, then remove the brown papery skins by rubbing the nuts in your hands or a dish towel. It’s kind of messy, so I usually do this over the sink. You need to get rid of the skins. They don’t taste good. Chop the nuts coarsely and set aside.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, espresso powder, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk in applesauce until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir together until combined. Stir in coconut, chocolate chips, and hazelnuts.
3. Place a piece of parchment paper onto an ungreased baking sheet. If you don’t want to use parchment, no worries, just don’t grease the baking sheet. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheet. These spread out, so make sure you leave enough room on the baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes. When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, bang it against the counter to “deflate” the cookies. I usually just drop it kind of hard, and that does the trick. Let cool on baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely. When completely cool, transfer to an airtight container, where they’ll keep for about three days.
Update: I'm very proud that my Lonely for London Cookies have been included in Foodista's Best of the Food Blogs Cookbook: 100 Great Recipes, Photos and Voices, which is being published by Andrews McNeel for release on October 19. You can order it here.