24 November 2007

Baker's Dozen

I read cookbooks as if they were novels. (Funny how they all end the same, no? Those gripping indices!) One shelf of my library is solely cookbooks. Several Swedish cookbooks in both English and Swedish, several ethnic cookbooks, including Greek, Thai, Indian, more than ten about eating and cooking healthy, tasty food. But the preponderance of cookbooks on the shelf are dessert cookbooks. Cookies, cakes, one dedicated only to chocolate, half a dozen that contain recipes for "celebration desserts" for any sort of themed party you would ever care to throw.

With so many of them, you'd think I'd never notice if one were missing. And were it any other time of year, you'd probably be right unless I was searching for a specific recipe. This time of year, however, the cookie cookbooks get pulled off the shelf and scattered about the kitchen and sometimes around the entire house as I attempt to decide which cookies to bake for the holiday gift-giving madness.

I give cookies to people that I want to give a gift to, but don't want to get into the habit of buying something for. My friend who does my nails. My hairdresser. Co-workers. Business colleagues. That makes it sound as if I give them away casually, but such is not the case. My hairdresser has been my hairdresser for more than a decade. My manicurist friend is as close as if she were family. I bake between 12 and 16 dozen cookies annually. Last year, I didn't think I'd be able to resist the urge to eat the dough and hundreds of baked cookies if they were in my house, so I didn't bake at all. This year, I've tasted one of each of the three varieties I've made thus far, and don't want any more. I suppose it helps that I've got a stuffy head and everything tastes "off" due to that, but I don't think I'd want more than that in any case.

For the first time ever, I'm participating in a cookie exchange this year. When the invitations went out, I told the hostess that I'd be bringing Coffee Spice Cookies and Pumpkin Cookies, two standbys on my holiday list. The pumpkin cookies are so easy that I could recite the recipe from memory; I usually bake them throughout the fall in addition to Christmastime. They're so evocative of the season, being made primarily of pumpkin, that I can't resist. Plus, bonus, they're egg-free, so my nine-year-old nephew who is allergic can make and eat them with me. The coffee spice cookies, on the other hand, are more complex and time-consuming. But they make the whole house smell like Christmas, with their allspice and cinnamon and nutmeg.

Unfortunately, the cookbook that contains the coffee spice cookies (and the almond crescents, and the molasses crinkle cookies and about 6 other kinds that I like to make) is missing.


Where could it have gone?

I called a friend and asked if I'd lent it to her; no. I searched the house, even our room dedicated to storage. It isn't on the bookshelf in the bedroom, nor in any of the drawers under the end tables I inherited from my maternal grandparents, the cubbyholes in which turn up the most unlikely things. Every likely hiding place was sussed out, and I even enlisted DH's help, showing him a picture of the cover from Amazon. "Oh, I remember that one," he said. "Do you remember seeing it recently?" I asked, hopefully. "No," he said, looking crestfallen. Then he got a crafty look on his face and disappeared for a few minutes; he admitted to stashing several of my books in cabinets in the library when picking up around the house. Unfortunately, Cookies: A Cookie Lover's Collection was not among the books he hid away.

Amazon and eBay both have the out-of-print book available. Talk about adding insult to injury, I can't just walk in to any of the area's mega-bookstores and replace it. Yes, I've placed an order, but it won't come in time for the cookie exchange.

No one would be the least bit upset if I didn't bring the coffee spice cookies to the exchange; but I want to make them. A search of the rest of the cookie cookbooks turned up a kinda-sorta-not-exactly similar recipe, or at least the picture looks alike. I read the recipe, and thought, "That could work." and set to making it.

Experimentation in the kitchen is one of my greatest pleasures. But you can't mess too terribly much with the recipes for baked goods unless you're prepared for unusual results. See Pie Crust, whole wheat for an example. Baking is chemistry. Mix the wrong stuff and, well, you could end up looking like Wylie Coyote after an explosion.

I didn't alter the chemical parts; kept the sugar/flour/butter ratios the same. But I added a whole lot of spices and flavors, doing my best to re-create the original. There are two minor problems with this. One, we're supposed to bring the recipes of the cookies we bake to the exchange. Two, the base recipe came from the 1963 edition of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. (That isn't a typo, that's the title on the cover. Google it yourself.)

The first is a problem because for the first time in forever when tinkering, I didn't keep detailed notes. What? Yes, I'm that anal. I'm a Capricorn; we practically come out of the womb as organized, mature little adults. I'm also the oldest of three children; if you tell me that birth order doesn't matter, I'll....I'll...I'll tell you that you're wrong, that's what.

The second is a problem because apparently any baker worth her or his salt in 1963 must have had homemade cookies by the bazillions on hand at any given time. Even halving the recipe after noting the ridiculous yield in the initial read-through of the recipe, I've got about 20,000 of these things. If no one likes them...I'll be stuck with thousands of them. They taste fine to me; but that aforementioned head cold might be helping me fool myself.

So, anyone for a cuppa and a few hundred cookies?


s.j.simon said...

lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this

John said...

Cookies? Anytime! If only O-HI-O and The Heart of Dixie were geographically closer...Ah well, I suppose I will muddle through with another batch of Ms. Irene's famous Sugar Cookies. (Picture little grey haired lady who would easily out work you, me, and any 10 other people you can choose). She's got 49 years of perfect attendance in Sunday School and makes a killer Sugar Cookie. People are disappointed if they don't show at our events.

Happy baking!