Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baking in December

First, a scene from Stranger Than Fiction:

Kay Eiffel: As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick. (pilfered from

true, I love to bake. I adore sugar. I wish I had about 35 people ready and willing to eat gobs of rice pudding and handfuls of cake lined up right outside my door. But the fact of the matter is that I have a Child that would sooner eat just plain sugar than anything else (except PB&J or grilled cheese, or thankfully whole grains) and a Husband that would sooner eat more food than waste his appetites on sweets. I certainly can agree with the notion that a cookie is part of a nobler cause in life, and I'd like to think a cookie could save a life, even be it a romanticized film version of life.

You can then
, dear reader, imagine my unbridled excitement that begins as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes have cleared. Baking in December is one of my favorite times of the year. The time when I go to the store and buy 4 pounds of butter and do not feel the least bit bad about it. The time when I can bake with abandon under the presupposition of simply giving it all away.

I have a somewhat unorthodox approach to the December baking however. Instead of cramming all cookies and
sweets into a 2 or 3 day period, I like to just bake a batch a day. Granted, I do have this time that is so elusive to others since I stay at home, but I like it better this way. I actually HAVE to freeze cookies, or I eat them - so each batch cools and then is wrapped and parked in the freezer. The varietals that are not good frozen candidates are made closer to Christmas, and if I run out of freezer space (which may happen this year) packaged tins will be stored in the cold basement.

After a Monday spent cleaning out the spice/baking pantry, I unearthed this bowl. I have a set of 3, but this largest one was wasting away under the weight of too many partially full bags of bulk goods. Lentils, tapioca, sprout seeds and the like all were meticulously reorganized into proper glass storage (a.k.a. canning jars) and I was rewarded with this incredibly deep mixing bowl.

For my first cookie of the Christmas season, I chose Zingerman's Funky Chunky Dark Chocolate Cookies. I mentioned before than I am enamored of the Saveur emails I've been getting, and this was one of the recipes that was just waiting for this calorie laden time of year to be made. Instead of making the suggested proportion of 1/4 c. of batter to make monstrous sized cookies, I made 1/8 c. (2 T.) size, for more moderately monstrous sized cookies. Here is the (decadently delicious) batter waiting for the pans:

I also used 4 oz. of 70% cacao chocolate and 4 oz. 60% cacao chips since that was what I had on hand.

I have a feeling I needed to bake them about 13 minutes instead of the 7-10 because I left them fairly thick. I pressed my pre-made pucks of batter down to about a half inch using a glass.

They were worth it. Boy-O was asleep when they emerged from the oven. I thought to myself of one of my favorite on film cookie-eating scenes, from Stranger Than Fiction. When I first saw this movie (thanks to the wonders of DVR) I watched it, and immediately watched it a second time. Not often does that happen! I just loved it that much. Harold Crick is an IRS auditor that eventually meets a woman who owns a bakery (aptly named "The Uprising"). She takes her files and dumps them in box for Harold to cipher through, then feels bad, and gives him a plate of cookies.

I never sit down with a glass of milk and just eat a cookie like your Mom used to give you after school, or as in the film, Harold's Mom never did. So yesterday afternoon, I did. I sat at the kitchen table and ate one cookie with a glass of milk. It was worth every single calorie and butterfat gram it contained. It was delicious. Strangely, I didn't want more than one. One cookie at the table is worth 10 standing up while picking up endless toy trains strewn across the kitchen floor, I guess.

So, in the mindset of being more virtuous with my baked calories today, I made muffins from the back of a Bob's Red Mill bag. From time to time, I like their grain mixes, and have had nothing but the best of luck with their whole grain recipes. This particular mix was for 7-Grain Hot Cereal; I bought it specifically to make a Cook's Illustrated recipe for the best whole grain loaf bread. I haven't tried that yet, but the muffins on the back were great!

I am able to keep Boy-O's attention now by having him help make muffins. I think he was going to transfer each raisin to the bowl one by one, until I stopped him. I actually soaked them in boiling water for 15 minutes when he helped me assemble the rest of the ingredients. The original recipe called for fresh fruit, but golden raisins sounded better to us.

(If this photo seems unbalanced to you, it's because the computer sprites are messing about with my photo files again... If you turn your right ear horizontal with your keyboard, you will view it correctly.)

They were moist, and quite healthy. I made a half batch, and next time may cut the brown sugar just a bit. Boy-O ate 2 before lunch, and that reminds me to put the rest away now when he is still sleeping.

Every day is an adventure now. I have no plan, just a bunch of bookmarked things to make between now and December 25. I'm not sure I'll do any life-saving with my baked goods this year, but should that happen, I will be grateful for the opportunity to do my part.


  1. I like the "one batch a day" concept -- and that would certainly fit into my schedule far better than any marathon baking spree does!

    I approve wholeheartedly of Zingerman's. And their scrumptious cookies. Are these really as good as the real thing?

  2. These are awesome, and so rich they come with built-in calorie control, since just one really does suffice!


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