Thursday, December 15, 2011

How To Bake A Cookie

-- Adrienne Miller

It's kinda funny that I started baking as an antidote to the stress of life. Looking back, I can see my reasons. Baking seems like it would be the antithesis of writing. There's a clear plan. No reasoning is required. Just follow the step-by-step guide and--Presto!--you've got yourself a cake. Or a pie. Or a cookie.

When I first started out, I imagined that there would be a zen-like quality to working with the ingredients--carefully measuring them, mixing them together, meticulously decorating the finished product.

Maybe that's the way it works out if you're Martha Stewart, but not if you're anything like me. Now, don't get me wrong. I love to bake. Deep down, crazy love it. And it does help me reduce stress, just not the way I thought it would.

Instead of being the polar opposite of my writing experiences, it turned out that baking is like a condensed version of them, going from pie-to-the-sky optimism, to gut-wrenching doubt, to resolution. Usually in just under an hour.

Here's how it usually goes:

Decide to make something. How about French Macaroons? They're delicious. There's a lot of choices for fillings, so I can really make them my own. And hell, they're as adorable as something can be and still be edible.

Put together the mis en place. I'm at my happiest. How could I be any other way? I have all the ingredients, all in the right proportion and order. It's a thing of beauty. All will be well. I can feel it. I can do this thing.

Start making the meringue. Crap. My hand mixer starts making a strange clanking sound. The gears start slipping every few rounds. I should have seen this coming. I bought the damn thing over ten years ago on super sale at Target. It's amazing that it's lasted this long. I start praying that it can hold out just a little longer. Just a few more minutes. Just until I get this mess to stiff peaks. Do you hear me god? Just until stiff peaks.

Whew. It made it. Creaking and clanging the whole way, but the ol' beast had just enough magic left in her to make those egg whites and superfine sugar into a smooth, glossy froth. Now to make it pretty. And nothing says pretty like pink. See? Yeah, everything is going to be fine. Just fine.

Now to fold in the dry goods. Okay. Folding always makes me a little nervous. It's not my strongest skill. But I can do this. I can.

Dear God! What is that monstrosity? It looks like gritty, chewed bubble gum. Seriously, what was I thinking? This is a horrible mess. I'm a terrible baker. Why didn't I just buy the pack of perfect macaroons they had at La Boulange when I had the chance?

But I've gone to far to turn back now. I might as well just press on and see how this disaster turns out. I mean, if it's total crap--and how could it be anything else?--then I just won't give them to anyone. No one has to know.  I'll just pipe out the circles and see. No harm in that.

Shit. Even my piping skill suck. Why do I even pretend that I know what I'm doing in a kitchen?

But at least there's fillings to make up for my craptastic efforts. Nutella can at least cover some of my suckage.

Put them in the oven and try my best not to think about them for a while. Not long, just a little distance. In this case, ten minutes of watching That Mitchell and Webb Look goes a long way to reviving my spirits. The timer goes off and--low and behold!--they don't suck.

It all came together fine. They're crisp on the top and chewy in the middle, just like they should be. The color is perfect, and I even managed to get that little frill on the bottom of each cookie just right.

Yeah, they're not all perfectly symmetrical, but who the hell wants that anyway. I'll leave perfection to the Martha Stewarts of the world. I like mine with a little personality anyway.


Tates said...

The baking cookies information which you provided is very nice and good. Thanks for sharing great information with us.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh good heavens, they're gorgeous! thanks for sharing the process. makes me think i could do it...might see if junior is up for it!

Rachael Herron said...

Oh, god, that's why I don't bake that much. SO HARD. And I love how you capture that beginning feeling -- everything is going to be GREAT. and then the kitchen explodes. Much like writing that way!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Those came out beautifully. I've never made them. Because I would eat them ALL.

When I'm cooking and baking, I manage the stress really well. I feel it. And I tell myself to wait, be patient, see what happens. If it doesn't work, no big deal. It's probably the only part of my life where I manage stress well. Lessons, lessons. Great post, A.

Unknown said...

Cooking as analogy for it. :) I look at the recipe and then start changing things. Maybe that's why outlines never work for me ;)

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