One of the great benefits of doing archival research in a place with family is, well, precisely that: family. Family you can catch up with after a long day in the archives, family you can chat with, reminisce with, laugh with, and commune with. And family that you can eat with, and that know the kinds of things that you like best.
So it was that when I arrived in Suriname in 2015 for the first time in over forty years, there was a whole basket of stuff waiting for me – all delivered to my apartment hotel by my aunt earlier in the evening.
In addition to homemade guava jelly and a mango from her tree, my aunt had also left a tub of maizena koekjes, a traditional Surinamese cookie made with corn starch (no picture, because I forgot and then I ate them!).
I hadn’t had maizena koekjes in years, likely not since spending a summer with that aunt and uncle, then living in Barbados, when I was 11. The cookies were both oddly familiar – as though I’d just had one the day before – and curiously new at the same time.
I’m not sure where maizena koekjes come from and why or how they developed in Suriname, of all places. They do share some similarities with other butter cookies, including shortbread, but the cornstarch makes them something altogether different.
In any event, last week I decided it was time to bake up a batch.
“Gluten free!” a friend with a celiac partner wrote, when she saw the recipe I posted online. “I’m bookmarking this one for sure.”
The recipe is super simple; really, it looks similar to my go-to shortbread recipe (highly recommended, by the way), but for the cornstarch and the egg. Butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and cornstarch.
Whip it all up until it makes a sticky ball. Roll into tiny balls. Use a fork to flatten them and then sprinkle with rainbow sprinkles. Toss in the oven for 15 minutes and you’re ready to go.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the cornstarch, the texture of the cookie dough is like a firmer version of goop, that fun cornstarch and water kid science trick that’s both solid and liquid at the same time. (We once thought about doing it in large scale for a kid birthday party – doesn’t it look like a blast?)
The teenagers were not entirely convinced by the recipe itself (cornstarch? no flour? this was dubious), but they’re usually game to try anything that has the word ‘cookie’ in it, so they were already hovering around the stove before the cookies were finished baking. It took some effort on their part to wait until they were cool enough.
“These are strange,” said teenager the elder, even as helped himself to a second cookie. By cookie #4, he’d changed his tune: “It’s not that I don’t like them, I do; they’re just weird.”
“They’re like cornstarch bombs,” said teenager the younger, reaching for his third cookie, “You take a bite and everything explodes and cakes itself around the inside of your mouth.”
By cookie #4, face scrunched up: “It’s an interesting experience. It’s like what I would think eating a bath bomb would be like.”
Cookie #5: “They taste so good, but I can’t eat another one at all.” (for the record, cookie #6 followed about ten minutes later).
Strangely addictive they definitely are. The texture is both comforting and alien, the melting experience simultaneously seductive and strange. There’s really no way to stop at one, or even, at two (or, if you’re my kids, at five or six), which is too bad because really, they’re better after a day or two.
My verdict? In the end, I’d say they turned out alright, especially for a first go. I didn’t have butter, which I imagine affected not only flavour but also texture. I suspect that I added too much cornstarch (the recipe says that the dough should be plakkerig– sticky – but not too plakkerig). I also didn’t quite bake them long enough. Although the recipe asks people to watch out that they don’t get too brown, mine were not quite brown enough, and lacked a bit of crispness. They aren’t as good as the ones I had four years ago, but I’ll get there. I know what to do next time, and given the kids’ responses, that will likely be soon!
© Sonja Boon, 2019.