Friday, July 1, 2011

Five o'clock mustache

This is a story about the business of baking. It is a small tale of great toil, tribulation, and ultimate success.

Early this week my housemate called me at work: the ad agency she works at was planning a mini ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Skyway Museum and they wanted cookies for the celebration. She asked if I would be up for making them. I said yes.

I was to make two dozen cookies of my choosing. The only requirement: mustaches.

There was no question about it - I would make my sugar cut-outs, cover them in vanilla butter cream, and pipe on the black mustaches. Right then.

On Wednesday night I commit myself to the kitchen. I mix up the dough right after work and put it in the fridge to chill. Then I mix up the icing and put that in the fridge. A couple hours later I take the dough out.

Too soft. Much too soft. Maybe I didn't add enough flour?

So I work some more flour into the dough...a bit more...okay, one more handful - good - then pop it into the freezer to harden it up a bit. When Caitlin and Josh arrive, it is time to roll out the dough.

I pull it out of the freezer and flour the work surface. Twenty seconds later, the dough is soft and sticky. More flour!

But that's not doing the trick. It's just too hot in here. The dough can't hold its own, and the cut-outs are a floppy mess. Caitlin suggests rolling the dough into balls and then flattening them on the pan. Yes!

And it works beautifully. Hooray for us, we have overcome. We make 30-some cookies that way, and they don't look bad at all.

Ah, but then we taste them.

Flour. They taste like flour. And they are dry as a bone. Oh, what fresh hell.

But oh well, we think, the icing will save the day. And the mustaches! They will be charming little cookies no matter what. So I practice piping the mustache on a cookie, and after one flub, I perfect it. Whoopie, we did it, it's smooth sailing from here! My sister leaves and we begin to clean up.

But I'm not feeling good about it. There is a growing knot in my stomach. I am feeling more and more devastated by the minute. I say to Josh, "Maybe I'll just tell them they don't have to pay me."

But that doesn't help. I take another bite of the sandy little cookies and my heart sinks. I can't be proud of these cookies, no matter how much icing I load on top. I float around in a daze for fifteen minutes before accepting my brand new task: I must make another batch.

10:30 p.m. and I re-enter the recently cleaned kitchen. It doesn't take long before the dough is mixed and wrapped up (with NO extra flour) and in the fridge for the night. That was easy. My dismay is in the five a.m. alarm.

I go to bed and sleep lightly until 3 a.m. I toss and turn from there. What if the second batch doesn't turn out? What if I'm forced to serve the first? What if I don't have enough black frosting for the mustaches?

The stress!

I am relieved when my alarm goes off.

The kitchen is cool and silent when I turn on the lights. I flour the work surface and take the dough from the fridge. It is cold, solid, and ready to be rolled out.

A minute in, however, the same thing happens. It turns soft and sticky. There will be no cutting cookies. I resort to the method of the previous night and get those cookies baking.

They look gorgeous out of the oven: light, thin, perfect circles. I let them cool. I take a taste.

YYYYES! Bingo! Yahtzee!

All that's left is frosting and decorating. I am judicious with the butter cream, and I have just enough to drape each cookie with a smooth layer.

Now, the 'staches. I pipe the outlines only, thinking that if I don't have enough icing, I will at least have the shape of a mustache. But all my worrying is for naught. I have plenty to go around, and I make those mustaches sing.

Sweet relief comes, and this time it stays. As I help pack the trays into Sara's car, I feel proud of what I've done. A few hours of sleep is a small price to pay in exchange for a product I can stand behind.

And you: you stuck with me through this harrowing account. Here's what you've been waiting for:

Was it worth it?

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