The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ah... a cookie delight

I always thought that 'cookie' was simply the American word for biscuit ' usually the sweet variety. And biscuits, as far as they go, well, how many kinds are there, really' Hundreds and hundreds, actually, if not thousands. This boggles the mind, because having spent most of your life with a simplistic notion of something in your head, you delve a little deeper and realise that the sky is the limit.

Noun 1. biscuit ' small round bread leavened with baking powder or soda. Quick bread ' rolled biscuit ' drop biscuit ' buttermilk biscuit ' hardtack or pilot bread (Very hard unsalted biscuit, a former ship's staple).

Noun 2. biscuit ' any of various small flat sweet cakes (this is getting interesting' biscuits can mean cakes!) ' cookie, cooky ' tea biscuit, teacake ' butter cookie ' spice cookie ' almond crescent ' brownie ' ginger nut ' macaroon ' lady finger ' oreo, oreo cookie ' refrigerator cookie ' wafer ' granola bar ' fruit bar'

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, the length and breadth of the subject being hard to fathom. Just how vast this has grown, and how much creative scope it offers, came home to us about three weeks ago when the ITC Sonar Bangla Sheraton & Towers organised an event devoted entirely to the search for the perfect cookie.

Six of the best chefs from this hotel chain, who specialise in confectionery, were in the city between June 19 and 21 and they put their collective skills together to produce 72 varieties of these can't-stop-at-one delicacies. These were shortlisted down to 15 by an internal panel of judges and then on June 21 the best of the best were again presented before guests and a panel of judges from the city who decided that the perfect cookie, this time around, was Choco Fudge, followed runner-up Biscotti.

June 21 was also World Music Day and there were quite a few things happening so unfortunately I could not be there, but subsequently I got to try as many as eight varieties of these treats and was quite carried away by the range of flavours and textures, subtlety and inventiveness that came through.

There were Lemon Fingers, Biscotti, Rice Crispy Cookies, Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies, Oat and Honey Snaps, Anise Cookies and Choco Fudge.

It was not hard to understand why Choco Fudge got the nod from the judges, who must have felt a shade of guilt for this indulgence. The ingredients are chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, flour, chocolate chips, walnuts and macadamia nuts. (Originally from eastern Australia, these are grown extensively in Hawaii and exported). Vanilla essence, salt and cocoa powder are also used.

Butter and sugar are creamed together first. Melted chocolate (not hot) is added and mixed in; then come the vanilla essence and eggs, followed by flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. The walnuts, macadamia nuts and chocolate chips come last. The mixture is rolled into cylinders and refrigerated, and before preparing, one centimetre broad slices are cut and baked at 180O C.

The Rice Crispy Cookies did not win second prize, but they were a favourite with me. Castor sugar and unsalted butter are creamed together first, eggs are added gradually until the mixture is smooth. Then flour, baking soda, chocolate ribs and rice crispies are folded in, the mixture is set in small moulds and baked at 150O C. Somehow these struck me as a western version of the Joynagarer Moa, those delicious rounds of sweet dehydrated milk, date palm gur, raisins, powdered cinnamon and cardamom and puffed rice. Moa doesn't involve flour or baking, but they are Indian cookies for sure. Just like peanut brittle, made with caramelised sugar and peanuts.

I also always thought that caked were baked. I was always hovering around when my sisters decided to bake cakes; when the mixture went out of the glass or ceramic bowl into the baking tin, I was the official licker of the leftovers in the bowl. When the butter-icing mixture was prepared for post-baking decoration, I was the self-appointed taster. And trust me. The cakes were baked.

But if you go down to Mama Mia!, the gelateria with two branches in the city ' 19/S Block A New Alipore and 59 Ballygunge Circular Road, you will have a choice of six varieties of frozen cake ' made by putting substantial layers of gelato (ice cream made following the Italian tradition ' small quantities home-made freshly each day like the neighbourhood gelaterias all over Italy) in between layers of sponge cake.

This is a 'first' in the city. Ice cold cakes, kept at '18O C, served by the slice accompanied by dollops of cream, 100 per cent vegetarian (even the sponge cakes used are egg-less), with all-natural fruit pulp for every flavour from strawberry to kiwi fruit, creamy and smooth.

If you take them away, there are thermocole boxes to prevent the gelato from melting, and they are becoming increasingly popular as gift items for special occasions. Some of the varieties on offer are Cookie Crumble Cake ' dark fudge and cookie crumble gelato between gooey chocolate cookies and chocolate sponge cakes.

Then there is Wildberries Cake, a personal favourite, which is a combination of fresh strawberry gelato and forest berries gelato between layers of vanilla sponge cake. There is Nutty Nirvana Cake ' vanilla gelato with swirls of fresh caramel and roasted almonds in between layers of vanilla sponge and fresh caramel, covered with whipped cream and roasted almonds. And for coffee lovers, Caffe Italiano Cake ' Irish Coffee and Caf' Mocha Gelato in between layers of vanilla sponge.

Mama Mia!, from the start committed to doing new flavours and innovative items (like their Sizzling Brownies), began as one outlet in New Alipore and now has become a chain of gelaterias in four other cities ' Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, with 10 outlets. It's nice that a chain started in Calcutta, and then went elsewhere, for a change.

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