On The Subject of Cookies
Posted on March 30th, 2011
These are my dad’s favorite. I know just how my mom uses her finger as a spatula so she can lick it clean. Unless it’s got fruit, sweets were never my sister’s thing, but my best friend and I make a mean batch every time we’re together. I even found a man who, on our first date, whipped out a recipe.
No matter where I am in the world, cookies bring me home. Chocolate chip, to be exact. I just ate six of them. I still check my recipe, but it’s only for comfort. Setting out the ingredients on the table or the counter, my heart beats more slowly and I feel calm. This is familiar. This feels good. Whatever kitchen I find myself in, I know that cookies will be made, and I’ve recently been in cookie-virgin kitchens. How exciting, this de-flouring!
I close my eyes, take one deep breath, a smile of anticipation spreads through my whole body and… go! Open the bag of flour, powder floats to the floor, onto my shoe, my shirt. Smile again. Pour 2 ¼ cups flour into bowl and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Mix. Don’t sift. I don’t believe in sifting. Set aside.
Now, if the dry ingredients are the body, the wet ingredients are the soul of these cookies. Get the butter. Get the best butter you can find and make sure it’s real butter. None of that margarine crap. This next part is important: make sure the butter is softened not melted. For years I melted my butter for ease of stirring, but oh, was I mistaken. A melted butter makes for a cookie batter that is too gooey, dissolving the crystals, absorbing the flour, flattening the cookie and increasing density. Meanwhile, softened butter keeps the cookies fluffy and prevents the sugar crystals from melting immediately. Ever tasted butter and sugar? This is your cookie. Add 1 and a little bit cups of dark brown sugar to 1 cup of butter. Try molasses instead of some of that sugar. The bold, black viscous sweetener is far too overlooked and may be honored in these cookies, if you dare. Finally, add your two eggs, your dash of vanilla extract and mix with a wooden spoon.
In college I experimented with electric mixers. You know… just to see what it felt like. But pretty soon I realized that they moved too fast, and that my heart always belonged to the wooden mixing spoon. Especially when paired with my mom’s ceramic mixing bowl. Oh, the harmonious union!
Have you ever looked deeply into someone’s eyes and melted into their being, feeling as though your two bodies are too cumbersome, too tangible, keeping your essences apart, preventing you from becoming the one inextricable spirit of energy and love and sensuality you were always meant to be? Well, this is exactly how your flour mixture feels as it is slowly stirred into your butter mixture. Pour the flour little by little into the butter, stirring each time. Remember, this love is not a crash or an explosion. It’s a careful melding of beings.
Look at your dough as you are pouring the flour in. It should become thick and lightly sticky, but not wet. At the end it should be difficult to stir quickly, it should almost collect into a large ball of sorts, and it should grab the extra flour off the sides of the bowl. If it’s too wet add a little extra flour. If it’s too dry, hold off on the rest of your flour mixture. I don’t believe in following even my own recipes. Now for the chocolate. For some reason, Europe doesn’t value chocolate chips. No matter, because as long as you’ve got a knife and dark chocolate, you’ve got what it takes. Pour the chocolate bits – however many you desire – into the batter, mix judiciously and voila! You are so close to inner peace of mind and mouth.
This final moment is when I forget where I am, why I’m here, all the apprehension, all the obstacles, and I can do anything, be anyone: it’s just me and the chocolate chip cookie dough taste-test. Multiple data points must be collected for accurate assessment of the subject. Take index finger, dip into dough, use thumb to help dough adhere, cross distance between bowl to mouth, ingest, repeat. Hopefully, your self-control kicks in and the oven receives a first tray of dough lumps and perhaps even a second at 375˚F. While the tasting ensues during a cook time of 9 to 10 minutes, you will smell the most reassuring ambrosia for which your nose will thank you. Remember to vigilantly check those baking cookies and to take them out only when the bottom edge of your cookies browns. Then let them cool out of the oven, a bit on the tray, a bit on a wooden cutting board or plate. This will keep them fantastically gooey in the middle; some might say, undercooked.
We all have moments of doubt. We all wonder sometimes, “What the hell am I doing? Who am I?” A British flatmate of mine once told me that a cup of tea helps clear the mind. Well, friend, chocolate chip cookies do, too. Creating something from scratch can be harmonizing: the process and the food will nourish and comfort and it will always taste like home – a home in your past or a home you are creating now. It can come in any form, be it cookies, or anything else. As for me, while in Spain learning to make cheese, I was recently struck by a severe case of homesickness. But by baking these chocolate chip cookies and calling to the very heart of who I am, my child-self full of dreams and goals and fears, I let go of everything excessive, everything I had accumulated. I remember that I choose to be here, in Spain, to pursue my dream of having a farm, to help build community, to create my own home. And I can do this because I am focused, I am listening, and I am eating cookies.