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I've just finished reading Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. What a fun book this was! It's funny, down-to-earth, and packed with personality. It's also up-to-date and relevant to its audience, not sounding like it was written by an adult trying to identify with Kids These Days. I loved it.

Goodreads blurb:
“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…
Time Travelling with a Hamster is a really funny book, and quite action-packed. Even though I knew from the beginning that it was going to happen, I was on the edge of my seat when I came to the scene where Al's dad dies the second time.

One thing that stood out to me in this book is how distinctly Al's voice can be heard and how believable he is as a character. Al's personality comes through clearly in first-person narrative as he makes small observations and lists the things he knows about the people in his life. His handling of difficult situations and grief also felt authentic for a twelve year old - mixing in humor and avoidance with sadness and regrets. The other characters are also very memorable: wise and quirky Grandpa Byron; boring and slightly too-into-football Steve; Carly, the goth stepsister from hell; uncool but sweet young Pye.

I loved the ending. Without spoiling it (much) I'll just say that I think if this were for an older audience it probably would have ended on a more realistic note about learning to accept circumstances etc. and while that wouldn't have been a bad thing, it's also sometimes nice to just have a fun adventure with a happy and unrealistic ending. This one was perfect.

I really liked the character of Grandpa Byron, and the idea that he constantly smelled of sweet spices (my goal in life is to constantly smell like a cookie). So for this baking/book pairing I wanted to do something with spice that was south Asian inspired. Masala chai cookies seemed to be the answer. I toyed with trying to invent my own recipe, but decided it had the potential to be Too Disastrous.

I used this wonderfully spicy recipe for Chai Spiced Sugar Cookies by My Baking Addiction. I changed very little other than the order of ingredient mixing.

  • 1 3/4 cups (350g) white sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups (abt 350g) all-purpose white flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb of soda)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350F / 175C.
My first mistake with this recipe (well, my only mistake, I think...) was buying whole cardamom. Now, I know it calls for ground cardamom, and I know that's a very different thing. However, I thought that, like nutmeg, it might not be too difficult to make my own ground cardamom from the seeds. Also, let's be honest, I bought it because the shop only had whole cardamom and I just didn't feel like going to another shop to try to find it ground. I can now say that this method is Not Recommended.

I've never worked with cardamom before. It turns out these tiny seed pods contain even tinier rows of seeds and look a little like micro cocoa pods. Ew.

Nail color brought to you by Essie
They're a bit difficult to open up, and once you get the TINY seeds out, you then have to find a way to grind them (not being a 16th century apothecary, I don't own a mortar and pestle). I opted for trying to use a knife to chop them as finely as possible. This was Not Easy. After about 20 pods I gave up and decided that this recipe probably doesn't need *that* much cardamom - half a teaspoon will do.  

The view of my chopped cardamom, through a microscope.
(not really)
Once the cardamom conundrum was sorted, I could get down to baking. First mix together the spices (sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, allspice, pepper) in their own bowl. Measure out 1/4 cup (50g) of this spice mixture and set it aside (you'll roll the cookies in it later). Then beat the spice mixture into the butter until it is light and fluffy. This takes a couple minutes with a stand mixer because even though the ingredients will be incorporated pretty quickly, you need to let the mixer beat some fluffiness and air into it so it gets creamy.

Isn't this beautiful? I love spices. (Except for cardamom, that bastard)
Then beat in the egg and vanilla extract until well mixed. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. I actually often mix the dry ingredients in my measuring cup rather than a separate bowl, to save on washing up (lazy, or efficient? You decide). Whatever you use, you DO have to make sure the dry ingredients are mixed together into the flour before you add them to the spice/butter/egg mixture - this avoids any opportunity to end up with a patch of baking soda all mixed into just one part of your dough. Sifting them together is one of the best ways to do this.
Next slowly mix the dry ingredients into the spices/butter/egg mixture until everything is combined nicely. 
To form the cookies, grab bits of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls with your hands (it might take a little practice to know how much dough to pinch off each time) Roll each ball into the previously set-aside spice/sugar mixture and place on a cookie sheet about 1.5 inches apart.

The recipe calls for parchment paper on the baking trays, but even though I sometimes use it, I've never baked cookies where parchment paper was actually necessary, not when using a non-stock cookie sheet anyway.

Pop the tray into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. These tend to get very hard and crunchy after cooling, so unless you want that, take them out just as soon as you can see a little color on them. 

Let them cool on the tray for a minute or two before removing to a wire rack. This recipe makes 3-4 dozen cookies.
Enjoy with a good book (as recommended above) and a cup of tea or coffee (for dipping, obviously).

Curse you, cardamom!


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