Looking at how inept I am today around the grocers, it must be surprising to hear that I had been quite the company for my mother as a child, traipsing around wet markets, listening to her getting great bargains over the day’s catch, requesting for the specific concoction of spice blends, all these after having rolled up my pants so it won’t get wet as we walk by the butchers.
I must admit, however, that I wasn’t that big a fan of the wet market. Many mornings on the way to the market, I’d ask if we were going to the wet part. Some days she would give a reassuring ‘no’, while others she would reply with a vague ‘maybe’, leaving the 5-year old me with a scrunched up face.
Fortunately for my mother, though, it doesn’t take long (nor much, come to think of it) to bring the glimmer back into my eyes again, denoting a seemingly non-verbal promise of my best behaviour.
You see, the journey to the market involved us crossing a tiny road (where the mother had taught me to recite my bismillah loudly over and over again upon crossing till we get to the ‘safe’ side) facing a housing estate, and the market (along with my kindergarten/pre-school the next two years) lies behind that block of apartments. Now that particular block was nothing short of amazing wonderment to the younger me. We fondly called it ‘rumah tinggi’ meaning ‘tall house’, for reasons unfathomable to the older me, since all the housing estates (including ours) in the vicinity were tall.
But what made this particular block different from others was the enchanting smell of fresh bakes that would greet me every morning we went by. There was a small bakery there that offered a myriad of breads, doughnuts, cookies and other sweet treats that seemed much too magical to have come out of the dimly-lit humid kitchen at the back of the store. Each time we were there, I would secretly be hoping that one of the bakers came out of the kitchen with a fresh tray, just so that I could get a glimpse of the big machines residing at the back. But most times, I would just be elated holding a packet of my favourite checkerboard cookies (we call it biskut dam), which had been my only choice of snack from the whole bakery for many years to come.
Seeing how nostalgic those cookies are for me (mind you, they were my choice of afternoon snack to bring to kindergarten every single day), I still have fond memories of its taste. There was something wholesome about it. Not overly sweet, the chocolate flavour was deep with a tinge of warmth to the palate, a grainy somewhat sandy texture, firm on the exterior, moist with every bite, leaving you with the most comforting aftertaste. And while I may have never found the taste replicated in any checkerboard cookies, these chocolate shortbread cookies literally brought tears to my eyes after having had my first piece.
And after 20 years of last having biskut dam (I just turned 27 last week!), I’ve finally found my own version that would’ve only made my younger self smile with glimmer in her eyes.
Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
(adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts)
2 cups flour
1⁄2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 sticks (226g) butter
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
- Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F).
- Cream butter. Add in sugar, salt and vanilla essence.
- On low speed, add the flour and cocoa powder until the dough holds together.
- Form the mixture into a ball, and flatten slightly.
- Flour a pastry cloth or your work surface, along with your rolling pin. Place the dough on the floured surface, turning it to coat both sides of the dough with flour. Roll the dough into a square of about 1⁄2 inch thick. Cut the dough into 1 1⁄2 inch squares. Prick the surface with a fork.
- Bake for 25 – 30mins.