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literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

José Saramago's "The Cave" & Peanut Butter-Filled Chocolate Cookies

The-Cave

Published back in 2000, The Cave is not Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago’s most well-known work (that distinction probably goes to Blindness). I myself would never have thought to pick it up had I not stopped for coffee at a bookstore café in Kinsale, Ireland, an hour before my hair trial and two days before my wedding. I took it as a good omen that The Cave is one of those rare stories that feature a young, happily married couple that stays happily married by the end.

On the surface, The Cave is a fairly simple story. The protagonist is Cipriano Algor, an elderly potter, who lives with his daughter Marta in an unidentified country lorded over by the immense and portentous Center. When the Center decides it will no longer be purchasing the crockery that the Algors have been creating for generations, Cipriano finds himself struggling to find purpose in a world that is becoming fixated on the cheap and convenient.

Cipriano’s son-in-law Marçal works as a security guard at the Center and his impending promotion will move the family from their house to a fully-furnished apartment in this condominium/amusement park/mall hybrid. Nevertheless, Marta suggests in the meantime that they create a new product to sell — clay dolls — and the Center expresses interest, unexpectedly placing an order for several hundred. But just as quickly the order is recanted and the three of them have no choice but to move to the Center, where they uncover a secret that shakes the foundation of their lives.

Though little seems to happen during the course of the novel, the themes explored are only growing more relevant in our modern era. How do we value something if everything we own is mass-produced? What do we lose by taking the easy route? Where do we find purpose in a world of leisure? How does Plato fit into all this?

Saramago’s winding and pensive writing is not for everyone. I actually abandoned Blindness several years ago as I was too impatient to settle into the author’s stream-of-consciousness style of prose. Paragraph breaks are few and far between. Even dialogue is simply woven sans quotation marks into the full pages of text. But when you settle into the rhythm, you’ll find the narrow, deep narrative to be a rewarding one.

Peanut Butter-filled Chocolate Cookies

Reading The Cave is a very tactile experience. Since pottery is a key centerpiece of the novel, I wanted to tackle a recipe that involved molding and sculpting material with my hands. I also wanted something with layers, as the modest appearance of the story cloaks a more complex exploration of humanity.

These peanut butter-filled chocolate cookies fit the bill. Much like the art of clay pottery and Saramago’s prose, this recipe requires patience and sometimes one or two tries to get down. But it’s hard to deny the satisfaction you feel upon completion. Be warned that these cookies are very rich; you will need a glass of milk to wash them down.


PEANUT-BUTTER FILLED CHOCOLATE COOKIES

Yields 25

Ingredients

For the chocolate cookie dough

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup Dutch or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup granulated white sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk (or water)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the peanut butter filling

  • ¾ cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • ¾ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

For the cookie dough: sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Mix until well blended.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, ½ cup of granulated white sugar, ½ cup of brown sugar, and ¼ cup peanut butter until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla extract. Beat well. Gently fold in the flour mixture (about ¼ cup at a time) until fully incorporated. Set aside.

For the filling: combine the confectioners’ sugar and ¾ cup peanut butter in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. With your hands, form the mixture into balls a little less than 1 inch in diameter.

For each cookie, shape about 1 tablespoon of dough around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely. Be careful not to make the outer layer too thick. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Using a flat-bottomed glass dipped in white sugar, lightly flatten the chocolate dough balls.

Bake at 375°F for 7-10 minutes. When the cookies are done, they should be set and slightly cracked.

Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and allow them to cool.

Enjoy with a big glass of cold milk!

Adapted from AllRecipes.com


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