When I am tired, when it has been raining all day, when it feels more like October than June, I find solace in baking cookies.
Rain. Depression. Happiness. Low blood sugar. A diversion for the children. Birthday parties. Picnics. Holidays. Boredom. These are all good reasons to make cookies.
Yesterday, as I was tutoring, the small boy in my care piped up: "You ALWAYS have cookies at your house." It was clear, from the expression on his face, not to mention the crumbs on it, that he thoroughly approved of this consistency. I'm not ashamed to admit that I know the "bribing" (shall we just say encouraging) power of a warm, homemade cookie.
A cookie is intrinsically cheerful; and the good vibes are at least doubled if it is a homemade cookie. (But that is just my bias, and I don't actually have any scientific data to prove it.)
A crazy cookie maker like myself will even manufacture events -- in order to justify making LOTS of cookies. This Friday, I am hosting an all-day "tea" (for want of a better word) to raise funds for the "Walk the Walk" charity. This event has provided me with the perfect excuse to bake lots of cookies . . . not that I needed one! Next month, I will make hundreds of roll-out sugar cookies for the 4G booth for the Summer Fete. (A cookie decorating booth: My idea, of course.) In the last two days I've made sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies and cashew cookies. The latter are only for my family, as Walking Partner thinks that I should pay homage to the ubiquitous nut allergy that plagues us. Therefore, I need at least one more kind of cookie! Hmmmm . . . what could be more delicious than thinking about what kind of cookie to bake next?
I realize that there are people who don't bake/can't bake/won't bake . . . but I "comprehend" this imperviousness to the charms of baking without actually understanding it. Just like I know that there are people who don't like dessert . . . or people who don't comfort eat . . . and I don't really get that, either. I can admire these people for their abstinence; I can respect them; but in my secret, innermost self I tend to think that they are either (1) LYING, (2) strange, or (3) sad people who are missing out on one of life's best and most consistent pleasures.
For me, cookies are the most perfect baked good because they are (generally) really easy and (usually) provide instant gratification. Some people don't even wait to cook them before sampling their charms. (I'm not naming names, but let's just say I regularly stare the threat of salmonella in the face -- and so do my children.) In fact, cookie dough is to sushi as cookies are to baked fish: for those who love it, better "raw." I have been know to make chocolate chip cookie dough just to mix it into vanilla ice cream. I'm not alone in this strange behavior, either: I once knew a woman who claimed that the "secret ingredient" in her chocolate chip cookies was her own spit! (I know, you might be saying "eeww" or "ick," but I thought that it was pretty funny!)
(There are exceptions to the instant gratification angle: gingerbread cookie dough, for one example, needs to be chilled overnight. This can be either a positive or a negative -- depending on one's organizational skills.)
Unlike baked goods that require yeast (bread) or whipped egg whites (meringue) or kneading (bread) or gentle handling and cold butter (pastry) or precise cooking temperatures (cake), cookies are really forgiving. In fact, I believe that if you have good equipment -- meaning a decent mixer, proper baking sheets, and silicone mats -- you can hardly go wrong with cookies. You just have to figure out if you are a "chewy" cookie person or a "crisp" one, and judge your cooking time accordingly. Some people like a brown cookie; others prefer a paler, underdone version. It is also helpful to have someone around who likes the opposite of what you like -- because even with a good timer, cookies aren't always perfectly predictable. They are, however, almost always edible.
Recently, a dear friend asked me to contribute to a cookbook that she is putting together for her daughter's 21st birthday. After wracking my brains over the PERFECT recipe, I realized that I should just go with something that my family has made over and over again . . . something that is easy, always delicious, and part of the history of our family life. It is just a very simple sugar cookie -- cheap to make, and containing "standard" ingredients. (Okay, "standard" if you bake maybe . . . but still, certainly nothing fancy!) When I got married, my mother put a cookbook together for me -- and of course this recipe was in it. We can't have Christmas without these cookies -- and I make them even more than my mother did. Anyone who has ever attended one of my children's birthday parties has probably eaten these cookies. In fact, when I moved back to England I had a Christmas lunch for some old friends, and one of them said, "I remember these cookies!"
4 oz butter
4 oz Crisco (or similar veg shortening; this is necessary!)
1 cup sugar
When creamy and fluffy add:
1 large egg
Sift together (or just add if you’re feeling lazy or time-pressed)
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
And then mix with butter mixture.
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp milk
Drop by spoonfuls (about walnut size) onto greased cookie sheet. (Silpat nonstick mats are very helpful, if you have them.)
Flatten (gently) the cookies with a glass dipped in sugar. (Dip the glass into the cookie mix first, to make it sticky enough for the sugar to cling.) Then decorate the cookies with sprinkles of your choice – OR, a whole pecan (my favorite).
Bake at 400 f./200 c. for 8 – 10 minutes. They should be barely brown at the edges, but I also like them slightly underdone.
My family almost always doubles this recipe – as they freeze beautifully, and also keep nicely in a tin for at least a week or two. (They are actually delicious straight out of the freezer!)
They are perfect with a cup of tea, coffee, or milk! They are sweet, but slightly salty; not too plain, but not too rich. For me, they are "just right" . . . especially if there is just too much rain, and some small comfort is needed.