Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Cookie Story ...

I remember churning out a ridiculous number of cookies from the oven of my apartment-sized stove in my little studio on Waveland. Maybe that was the year all this started.

Or maybe it wasn't. But somewhere along the line, cookies became my thing.

One of my editors dubbed me The Cookie Queen. I liked it. CQ, for short. Which is also shorthand, in the world of newspaper editing, for "I checked this. It's correct." Familiarity breeds contentment.

So, I baked. Each year, the holidays would roll around and I'd plot my list of cookies, which grew to somewhat ridiculous proportions. No one needs a selection of 14 varieties, but, well, I may have a bit of a problem with shelving an idea once it worms its way into my brain. And each year, I would make a list of recipients, and that swelled, too.

And I would bake. And somehow, I would manage to stash them all in my freezer, Tetris style, and then I would package them and dole them out as the calendar wended its way toward Christmas, and people were happy.

Really happy.

Which is why I bake.

Baking means never having to say you're jaded.

There have been days over the years when I have been more than a little loathe to begin and there have been days over the years when I am more than happy to wash the last cookie sheet, tuck the KitchenAid back into the corner where it rests, and bid my equipment goodnight.

But the joy they bring, those humble offerings of butter and sugar and flour and love. Amazing. Every time.

And so, over the years, people have told me I should open a bakery, I should sell cookies online, I should do something more.

And I've thought about it. And that was it.

I am very good at talking myself out of many things.

A bakery wouldn't work, I decided, because:

a) I cannot make every cookie myself. There are only so many hours in a day.

b) What makes my cookies special is that I make them.

c) I do not want to hand over a recipe to a commercial baker and say, "I need 10,000 of these today, please."

d) I do not want to bake every day. Some days, I'm inspired. Other days, I'm not. I told myself I didn't want to lose my love for it.

e) (You get the idea.)

But for all the things I've decided not to do in life – become a doctor, persist with online dating, camp – the notion of baking for more than just family and friends hasn't gone away.

Always, there are little nudges, suggestions, hints.

Some, come to think of it, have not been so little. But they all add up.

The encouragement of family and friends is valuable and yet easy to discount. Of course they say those things, I tell myself. They're my family and friends.

But more and bigger pieces are starting to slot into place.

Last year, I started contributing to Angelo's blog, knowing full well that he wasn't asking me to provide content so much as he was challenging me to think more creatively and pursue this path. His blog provides an outlet beyond my own.

And then a few months ago, a friend asked me to bake for him for his clients for the holidays.

And around that same time, someone who has enjoyed my baked goods in the past asked me if I would consider baking for her for events at her home.

And somewhere along the line, I became a more avid reader of Leite's Culinaria and became cyber pals with its namesake. I do not believe David could be more delightful and charming if he tried.

And for Christmas, my brother's family gave me a gift card to Williams-Sonoma (tucked inside a very awesome oven mitt) and I wandered around the store and while I found many things I would like, I settled on Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours. (Which, oddly, doesn't appear in the cookbook offerings on Williams-Sonoma's site, hence the link to Amazon.) I thought I might not need another baking book, but it was beautiful, and Angelo loves Sarabeth's chocolate shortbread (and other treats), so it came home with me. And I sat and read it. Not every word of every recipe – not yet – but all of the text upfront and at least part of every page.

And then, on Thursday, Leite's Culinaria featured a post by Sarabeth and the recipe for her croissants.

And this is where the story gets interesting. Or maybe more interesting. I hope it's been interesting all along.

I commented on the post: "I bought her book recently. I’m in love with it. Easily one of the best baking books I own. I’ve never attempted croissants, but this recipe (along with the scene playing in my head of Meryl Streep making chocolate croissants for Steve Martin in “It’s Complicated”) make me want to try!"

And the next comment to post was from Sarabeth: "I remember it like it was yesterday when Meryl Streeep learned from me to roll the croissant for the movie. She picked up the technique quickly… a natural at everthing. The scenes inside the bakery were shot at Sarabeth’s Bakery. There is a quick moment when you see someone sheeting the dough through our sheeting machine. It’s in slo-mo….that someone is me!"

I had no idea!

Meanwhile, I discovered (via Renee Schettler, if memory serves) that Sarabeth has an account on Twitter. So I followed her. (She's @goddessobakedom, FYI.) And she, much to my delight, followed me back. I tweeted Angelo into the mix, presuming that he would like to follow her, too. And she followed him back. So now we were all connected in a happy Twitter loop.

And then later that day, I saw this:

Um, wait. What?

Sarabeth just plugged my cookies?

Sarabeth, she of the jam-making, café-opening, pastry-empire-building, Meryl-Streep-croissant-tutoring, gorgeous-baking-book-authoring genius, just plugged my cookies?!


The next day, I relayed the story to some friends.

"You have to get on a plane to New York! You have to meet her!"

Well, yes, I do. Someday. That would be lovely.

In the meantime, I sent a note to her. Told her it would be my pleasure to bake for her. Asked if she had a favorite.

She replied with her favorite.

I asked where I might send them.

And she sent me an address.

So, I shall bake for Sarabeth. And I hope she enjoys what I send.

Food people seem to like when other people do the cooking. Or the baking. I know I do.

I love the path she's taken, from cooking jam – well, marmalade first – in her apartment to the success she enjoys today. I can relate to the early part of her story. Perhaps someday I will be able to relate to more.

Last week, I wrote a post about my concern that too much of my life was frivolous. I've long felt like I should be doing something "important." Whatever that means.

And I included a photo of a rock from my friend Patti's site. "Do what you love."

Recently, I asked Angelo about the best part of his day. "Hmmmmm," he mused. "I had a chocolate shortbread cookie from Sarabeth's at Lord & Taylor." He cited other things, too, but I love that he led with a chocolate shortbread cookie from Sarabeth's.

There is a lot of joy to be found in a chocolate shortbread cookie.

There is lot of love that goes into baking for others.

It is a simple act. But it is profound.

It is, most definitely not, frivolous.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies ...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Good Times, January Edition ...

The January cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Coconut Chocolate Almond Biscotti, a biscotti of my own creation, inspired by an Almond Joy.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year, New Cookie ...

These little beauties are Cream Cheese Shortbread with Toasted Walnuts from the forthcoming One Girl Cookies: Recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Whoopie Pies, and Cookies from Brooklyn's Beloved Bakery which you should pre-order right now, because, trust me, you're going to want a copy.

I made a batch yesterday and thought they were a smidgen too salty, so I made another batch today and cut the teaspoon of salt back to 3/4 teaspoon, and yup, they're perfect for my palate now.

They're delightful little cookies: crumbly, sandy, nutty goodness, the perfect beginning to baking in the new year. (You'll note that they dressed for the occasion in the sparkly, cut-glass dish and had a flute of Champagne nearby.)