Friday 24 February 2012

Cumin & Lemon Cookies

I have some news.

I’ve been avoiding telling you for a while. I’m not entirely sure why. I guess I’m worried that you will be disappointed.

The truth is that since I finished my finals – even as I was tucking away each folder as my exams progressed – I’ve been missing the topics I studied, missing the medieval world and words.

Though I always enjoyed my course, the bug only truly bit in those last few months as everything started to slot into place, to create a bigger picture. I actually enjoyed revising, happy in the knowledge that I was going to be a pastry chef and nobody would care what grade I got – so I could learn the topics I loved and take risks as I scrawled out essay after essay.

Then my results far exceeded my expectations and opened doors I hadn’t even noticed. And so, even before I started at Cordon Bleu, I started to think about possibly returning to university.

At first I wanted to study part-time (after I had finished at CB), while I set up a business selling wedding cakes. I'd been drawing up careful plans of the business I wanted to create for many months by then, looking at many of the practicalities and dreaming about designs. I had a lot of ideas. A lot of opinions.

Under 'Any plans for the future?' in my college yearbook, I wrote: "My dream at the moment is to set up a bespoke wedding cake business". Now I look back and note that even then I included 'at the moment'. Tellingly, I didn't mention it here.

On our very first day at Cordon Bleu the chef asked what we hoped to do when we left. I stood there in the then-unfamiliar kitchen, a strip of my back chilled by leaning on the frosty marble, surrounded by my new classmates (the infamous Group G), waiting my turn. When it came, I didn't mention anything about wedding cakes. I spoke about this blog and about writing, recipes and photography. Maybe it was the nerves, maybe I knew by then.

So I can comfortably say now that I have put that dream to one side. I would love to make a wedding cake one day - but I don't want to make my living out of it.

As the months ticked by and my wedding cake plans started to crumble, I became more and more serious about studying again. In January I sent in three applications to study full time – I recently received two unconditional offers (I’m waiting on the last result).

So now I know that when the leaves fall and autumn arrives, I will be studying again. I will get to immerse myself back in the bewitching world of medieval languages, culture, history, religion, art and above all, literature. I’m incredibly excited.

This all leads to the final choice I've recently made – this one is only a few weeks old. I have decided to not take the third certificate at Cordon Bleu. I’m therefore leaving at the end of this term (the end of March).

I'm really content with the choices I've made. I hope you will be happy for me too, even though it means stepping away from pastry for the moment. I don’t know where life will lead me, what paths I’ll take, so maybe I will still spend some of my time in a professional kitchen of some kind. I'd like to try it out. I have every intention of continuing to blog - my love of eating, cooking, writing and taking photographs hasn't changed.

I will always be grateful for the support, encouragement and enthusiasm you - my readers and friends - have shown towards me, the course and this blog.

These cookies taste incredibly familiar and unusual all at once. The timeworn sweet flavours of butter, sugar and lemon intermingle with cumin, the second most used spice in the world after black pepper (according to wiki, anyway...). I love the little stripy seeds in savoury dishes - particularly mixed with olive oil and salt then tossed with cauliflower florets and roasted.

When I saw the recipe I knew I had to try it - though I have to admit I was a little skeptical. I'm a convert. They're chewy while warm but crisp when cool - a buttery riot of flavour.

I didn't change anything major in the recipe (by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian) and as it's online I decided to not write it out - you can find it at the bottom of this article.

Make sure you cream the butter very well - I did mine for quite a while in the stand mixer. I then cut the flour in by hand to make sure it didn't toughen. I rolled mine into a sausage, chilled it, sliced it and pressed it onto a sheet (leaving the rim you can see) - another time I'll make it longer and thinner as these were a bit big. I think another time I'll also reduce the cumin to 2 teaspoons and put it all in the mix itself, though the seeds do look pretty on top. I only baked half the dough - I've frozen the other half in slices.


  1. Well, congratulations on your return to word-based learning. I'll miss being envious of the pictures of your Cordon Bleu creations on Twitter, but who knows, maybe you will find some literary or historical inspiration for future recipes.

  2. Emma, Wow. That's a big decision and from your writing, it sounds like you are doing what you really want to do. You can keep baking and incorporate that love into your life, no matter what!
    And I am intrigued by these cumin lemon cookies. I must try!
    Wishing you all the best,

  3. Sounds like you are happy with your decision and have given it good time, so congratulations! Just please keep telling us about what you do bake when you are taking a break from Chaucer & friends.

  4. Woah! I wasn't expecting this after our conversation today! No matter - I'm pleased to hear that you're following your heart, even if the pesky little thing keeps changing its mind ;)

  5. Every learning experience in life is valuable. You will look back on your time at CB and be proud of what you accomplished. Best of luck in your future endeavors; I'll be following with great interest.

  6. Congratulations on your decision and good luck with your new studies, Emma!

    I love cumin seed and when I saw your title: lemon & cumin cookies I thought it's going to be savoury cookies or crackers recipe. I like it but I think I would omit sugar and make these as savoury crackers. :)

  7. Following your heart is best. One day you might return to CB or start your wedding cake business but for now, your other passion awaits!

  8. Good luck with your change in direction Emma - I'm sure your heart has told you to make the right decision :-) I had noticed since you started at Cordon Bleu that the posts on this blog have become simpler, more natural, not fussy - perhaps a response to such controlled structure in the classroom? Maybe not, but it does feel like a wedding cake business might have been too constricted for your cooking style.

    As for these biscuits, they look lovely. I absolutely trust any recipe of Hugh F-W's and am loving adding herbs and spices to sweet dishes at the moment.

  9. Congratulations, it sounds like you've made the best possible choice for yourself. I wish you lots of luck with your studies.

  10. It looks delicious and I wish you the best of luck with your studies!

  11. Congrats, my dear! So often in life, the path that we imagine and envision for our lives turns out to be a little more winding than we initially thought. And at times, we need to try things out before finally realizing what makes us most passionate. I can't wait to see what is in store for you!

  12. Emma, I think that's what life is here for, to teach us and for us to learn who we are. The way we learn, i think, is by doing what we feel we need to be doing in that moment. We learn from it, continue doing it, or move on from it, but always try to with no regrets. Nothing is a waste in life, just a lesson. So be where and do what makes you happy :)
    I recently read something that said when asked about life, people most regret the things they didn't do.. not the things they did.
    We are behind you! x

  13. Wow big decisions and choices for you. If you enjoy learning then it's great that you have decided to continue your studies. My Mother always said that no one can take an education away from you. Who knows where you will be in the future or what opportunities will arise but I'm sure you can't go far wrong if you follow your heart and use all your potential to the full. Study while you have the chance, work and your weddings cake dream will come one day :-)

  14. Congratulations on your plans which sound exciting - I watched a BBC documentary a few weeks ago about illuminated manuscripts presented by a wonderfully enthusiastic and knowledgeable young woman who brought alive medieval history, art, culture and religion in the most captivating way. I was fascinated and wanted to know more. I really admire the fact you are following your heart, trying things out and allowing yourself to explore options. Good luck....

  15. What a wonderful, honest, well written post Emma- many, many congratulations on your offers, what lovely, lovely news. Really pleased you're continuing the blog- it is such a pleasure to drop by and read all about your recipes and enjoy the beautiful photos!

  16. Congratulations on this big decision. Wow. Kudos to you for taking the time to figure it out and make a well thought out choice. You have time for all your dreams to come true. Good luck!
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful gift. :)

  17. Happy that you've found peace in this decision and excited for you and this new adventure for knowledge that you seek. Best of luck, love. Really. And these cookies? On the list. Immediately.

  18. Bravo for making these decisions and having the courage to admit a change of mind. It's actually much easier to keep going down the same path even though you have doubts than to change tack sometimes. Do keep blogging though - it wouldn't be the same without you. Best of luck.

  19. Emma, life is full of these detours. If we stayed on the same road throughout life, the scenery would get dull. Congratulations for having the courage to make a change. I'm just relieved you'll still be blogging because I love your recipes and photos. You have a genuine talent.

  20. the best feeling is when you discover what you love and what you want to do in life! it gives you all the motivation you need! congratulations! :)

  21. I so admire you for this decision. I made so many wrong decisions when I was young, always choosing the wrong path each time I came to a fork in the road and was faced with two roads. So kudos to you to realize what your real dream was (ah, I was on my way to graduate studies in Art History...). The cakes will always be there. Perfect little cookies.

  22. Emma - the best of luck with returning to University, I am sure you will be great and have made the right choice! I must say on a selfish note I am very sad as I have only just come across your blog / website and I love it! I have a qualification in patisserie and it has reminded me how much I enjoy it and your blog has made me rethink my career to see if I could use it somehow. I really hope you carry on with this if you have the time!

  23. I've been reading your blog in the past few months. I came across it just as I was making the transition from the academy into pastry school. The way in which you talk about how your heart and ambition can be torn into two disparate directions is so helpful. Your blog is inspirational in your dialogue (and your photos!).

  24. I just i finis to bake an Italian cumin seed bread and now looking your recipe i know very well what to bake with my remaining cumin seeds. I had before cookies with thyme or fennel seeds and were very tasty as well

  25. Congrats on the University decision. I do hope you will continue to write and post here, I've been reading your blog for a while now and absolutely love it.

  26. talesofpiglingbland- Thank you. I love looking at historical recipes and the general history of food so I'm sure there'll be more along those lines in the future!

    Erin - Exactly, it will always be a huge part of my life - it's just working out which part and how to not lose that joy. Do try the cookies, they're quite unusual!

    Sara- I will of course take a break from Chaucer & friends (I love the way you put that!) to tell you all about my latest ventures - I can't imagine life without it now. Thanks for your support :)

    Nic - They're really interesting - I love trying different things but this one really worked.

    Kaitlin - I'm so sorry about that, I didn't quite know what to say in 120 when I hadn't finished writing this yet and so on. It's been such a complex experience, hopefully one day I'll work out how to explain it properly!

    The Devil's Food Advocate - Thank you Donna - what a lovely way to put things. I'm bad for thinking of life as destinations rather than as a journey (to paraphrase the quote) - thinking of the goal, not beyond it. The learning experience is so often more important anyway.

    Zita - Thanks Zita! I imagine you'd have to do a few changes to take out the sugar as it's fairly central to the structure - but I love the idea of the two flavours in a savoury cracker. Do tell me if you try!

    PickYin - You're right - once you're heart is not in something like this it just doesn't work. I doubt I would ever return to CB or end up making wedding cakes but I can see myself always involved in food in some way - through blogging/writing/photography or practically.

    thelittleloaf - I think it is a reaction, yes - I have more to say on the topic but I'll keep quiet till I've organized my thoughts. But very perceptive of you to notice! Herbs and spices can be so interesting - such hit and miss but can go so right when it works!

  27. london bakes - Thank you, I really appreciate your support :)

    Regula - Thank you so much for the kind wishes Regula, it means a lot!

    Madison - Life is definitely a winding path! But all the better for it. No shame in trying different things - you can never tell what it is really like until you're experiencing it. Thanks for your support lovely :)

    Liz B - What a beautiful comment - thank you so much for your words. I think you're right about regretting what you don't do/say/experience - I think I might have read the same article too. I've certainly learnt a lot of things in the past six months - about patisserie but also about myself, living alone and all sorts of other things.

    Ren - Nothing like a big decision to make you feel alive :) I doubt I will ever end up making wedding cakes for a living - though I would like to try my hand once or twice for friends/family - but that's fine. Dreams come and pass - we learn so much in the pursuit of each one.

    Domestic Executive - I love those programs by Dr Janina Ramirez. There's a truly wonderful exhibition (if you like manuscripts, which I very much do!) at the British Library - including many of the ones she spoke about - I think it is still on & it's well worth a visit. Seeing the gold sparkling down the centuries is quite an experience.

    Kate - Of course I'll continue to blog! I love it too much. Thank you so much for your congratulations and support - it all means more than I can say.

    Amy C - Thank you! I have spent a lot of time thinking through all of my options and trying to work out what I really truly want. It's wonderful to make that choice and feel the rush of joy that confirms that it was the right one.

    Kels - I have found peace. And a lot of joy. Thank you Kels, you're a star!

  28. Sally - I know what you mean - sometimes it can be a lot easier to think that it will get better or change in a few months and keep going. You can waste so much time and life like that. I will definitely keep blogging - I can't imagine life without it and it is such a positive force forward in my cooking/photography/writing/life.

    Gretchen - I like that idea! The scenery would get boring, you're right. I'm really looking forward to finding out where my blog will go after this, with the new skills being set free. Thank you for your support my friend :)

    Mondomulia - Thank you! The best motivation is fueled by a love of what you're doing :)

    Jamie - But you wouldn't be where you are or who you are without the detours and wrong turns! Don't regret them, you will have learnt something every time. Thank you for your support Jamie, it's much appreciated :)

    Georgina - I still love it very much, I'm just taking a slightly different turn - it may well be the right path for you! Go for it if it's what you really want! I will definitely carry on blogging :)

    Bri - I'm so glad it has been helpful - it's important to talk about these sorts of things and to admit and own your choices. Thank you for your support and I hope you find the right choice for you!

    German - Thyme and fennel seeds sound like a really interesting addition to a cookie! Hope you enjoy the recipe if you try it, it's a good one.

    A Brown Table - Thank you! I will definitely continue, it's a big part of my life and I'd feel lost without it.

  29. I'm sorry Emma just saw this post ~ I'm very happy for you that you have decided to follow your heart and your dreams! I know I will continue to read your blog no matter what and where you are doing it ;)

    All the best with your new adventures!

  30. Dear Emma,

    I have been following you for ages, however this is the first time I'm leaving a comment here (and congrats for all the wonderful things you make!).
    To make it very short, I know exactly how you feel- last year I took a year off because I couldn't decide whether I wanted to study or bake. I worked for a bit in a café in the Himalayas (it's a very exciting story, if you want I can send you an email about it, but I couldn't see why would you care!), then ended up with some offers to do a PhD, and here I am, back in London, completing a PhD in Philosophy.
    I bake at home a lot and I read your blog and feel both inspired and sad. I keep telling people as a joke that the PhD is the back-up plan in case that the bakery I intend to open fails, but at times I don't even know if that's a joke or not- I'm completely torn! Before coming accross this blog I had already contemplated taking the exact same degree you're taking in Le Cordon Bleu, and the only reason I haven't gone for it by now is as plain as that I don't have money. As much as I love the academic life, I still think that I need to try the pastry thing on a professional before deciding- or I'll regret it all my life.
    So the bottomline is- I think you have made the right decision. Now you can go back to University, try it knowing what the pastry thing is like, and then maybe turn back to it if you find that's what makes you happy. Or do something else, who knows. Life is long and beautiful and there is always a moment for everything! The only thing is that you'd better keep baking all these wonderful things and share them with the world. You wouldn't believe how many times you've rescued me from a horrible day while in the PhD room when I've checked your blog and it has set me daydreaming... you're such an inspiring girl!

  31. Dear Emma,

    I'm an academic (at Glasgow) who loves your blog and has enjoyed several of your recipes. I somehow missed this post (busy at work of late, doing the other end of what you'll still be doing, ie, marking!) and so read the more recent one and thought, hmmm, what is Emma up to, and read on to catch up!
    This is such an exciting decision you've made, but as so many others have said, the beauty of it is that it is really not either/or...and the main reason I wanted to write to you was to say that the best way to navigate academia is to have other things (and people, of course!) in your life that you love to help you maintain balance...

    All best wishes,


  32. strawberriesinparis - Thanks - I will!

    Daisy@Nevertoosweet - I'm glad you'll continue reading - it's so wonderful to have all this support even though I'm moving away from baking slightly :)

    Paula - Thank you for coming out of the depths of the internet to leave such a wonderful comment! It's so lovely to hear from someone with such an interesting and similar story - I'd definitely be up for hearing about working in a cafe in the Himalayas, do email me! I'd love to chat more.

    Marina - It definitely helped me to keep balanced through my undergrad, so I can't imagine doing postgrad without baking and blogging - but it's great to have reassurance from someone further on that it's a good idea! Glad you like the blog :)

  33. Hello from Seoul! I'm so glad I found your blog over the weekend while I looking for some inspiration. I just had to make a gut-wrenching decision about going to law school or following my dreams of doing something else. Your post reminds me it's ok to take risks and that at 22, we can still change our mind along the way.

    Thank you!

  34. As a librarian who studies food on the side, I'm glad to see you are committed to both of your passions. It's been great reading through your culinary journey, but I'm also still interested in reading about all the literary scholarship!

  35. Sad to hear that I may not be able to regularly buy your delicious cakes in the future... but fantastic that you have (re)discovered a true passion. When you find that path the feeling is so freeing! However I wouldn't put a business in pastry on the backburner completely with a talent like yours... maybe a Medieval patisserie?

    Brilliant blog. I've been reading it for a year and have tried to tackle quite a few of the recipes.

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