Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Danish Salted Butter Cookies

There’s something about the dead of winter that brings me back here. It’s been a year since my last post, and this time I have little excuse for my extended absence; this time I can’t direct you to the modest chronicles of my adventures, both momentous and mundane, in a new city.

Nope, haven’t gone anywhere. I just haven’t done much baking, and when I did bake, I didn’t feel much like reflecting on it. (Sometimes you just want to make a thing and be done with it, you know?)

I have done a few things, though. In no particular order:

  1. I moved for the fifth time in two years. Woah. This is the first time I’ve bothered to do that math. But don’t worry: my current roommate and I went halfsies on an area rug, so you know I’ll be sticking around for a while.
  2. I started improv again! I loved it. It was terrifying and perfect.
  3. I quit improv again. Eh, I’ll be back. We’re not through, improv and me.
  4. I spent six months at an internship for which I have little to show, save for a few writing clips in the seatback pocket publication on all Delta flights and an unhappy habituation to the AP Style comma.
  5. I baked professionally. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. five days a week; I kneaded pounds and pounds of dough, scooped hundreds of cookies, got sweaty by the gigantic oven, and cleaned a whole lot of industrial baking equipment (discovering the amount of cleaning endemic to the daily running of a bakery was, I remember, truly jarring to me). I lasted two weeks. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m comfortable using the term “meltdown” without feeling hyperbolic. Thankfully, I was able to continue working at the bakery under less extreme hours. As for the matter of baking by trade vs. baking by hobby, I certainly have my answer.
  6. And a bunch of other stuff. I did standup for the first time. I phoned Norway to interview one of its bestselling crime novelists. I ate sweet potato tacos every night for roughly three months. I invited professionals in my field to networking “coffee dates” and then ordered hot chocolate. I slept with a cat. (Here’s how that one went down: I come home a little tipsy and my roommate’s cat follows me into my bedroom ‘cause she’s got a pitiful case of FOMO. I’m feeling benevolent. Come one, come all, I say, and give her unprecedented permission to curl up with me in my bed. I wake up around 4 a.m., fully sober and no longer interested in sharing my bed with any animal that isn’t made of nylon and stuffed with cotton. In fact, I’m a little repulsed. Fresh out of good will, I pull the cat from her self-satisfied nap and set her down on the floor outside my room. I mutter something along the lines of “Take a hike, sister,” and shut my door. My short stumble back into bed is probably the closest I’ll ever come to a walk of shame.*)

    *A “walk of shame,” for those who aren’t familiar, is the forlorn trip home after having spent the night with someone who, among other dubious qualities, lets you walk out their door the next morning without so much as a plate of sugar-dusted French toast.

Yep, I’d call it a successfully formative year. And as it came to a close, there were two takeaways—the impetus of which I cannot pinpoint exactly—that stood at the forefront of my mind:

  1. If you want something to happen—if you REALLY want something to happen—you better find a way to start doing it on your own. I know, this sounds a little obvious and a lot bleak, but I’ve met enough rejection and seeming dead ends this year to understand it on a level that’s both sobering and galvanizing, depending on my state of mind. I cannot wait for a personal champion. That person is me. Hi. I’m her.
  2. Bake more cookies. Really. Bake more cookies, even to the exclusion of other baked goods. Somewhere between the shock of working at a high-volume bakery and the tedium of piping frosting onto 150 cupcakes for my friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve (right, that happened, too), my already robust appreciation for cookies was renewed tenfold. During its most intense period, my cookie infatuation was comprehensive, spanning the chewy, gooey, crunchy, oat-y; cakey, crumbly, fudgy, blobby; jammy, chew—okay, I’ll stop.     (I could go on, though. Just know I could go on.) I think what struck me was the cookie’s versatility within what I consider a very soothing, familiar process. The creamy base of butter and sugar, the imperfect mounds of chunky dough dropped lazily on the pan…it all makes my heart content. Warm from the oven and dipped in milk, these self-contained, bite-size treats are quite possibly the single greatest antidote to a really awful, no-good day

Highlights of my cookie bender include chocolate gingers, peanut butter blossoms, oatmeal chocolate chips, cranberry white chocolates, and double chocolate mints.

*Deep, cleansing breath.*

They were good.

And after I ate them all, I took a break. Nothing drastic, just a small breather. It’s like when you just started dating someone really great, and you get so caught up in it that pretty soon you can’t remember the last time you went a whole morning without sugar-dusted French toast.

Once my blood sugar had returned to normal levels (maybe, I wouldn't know for sure), it was time to bake my first cookies of 2016. I chose these Danish salted butter cookies. They're a good fit for January in Minnesota, as they're rather austere, both in look and taste. But this is why I love them, you see. They're nearly identical to the four-ingredient punitions I made more than a year ago, only these are flecked with vanilla bean seeds and sprinkled with sanding sugar. Really, it's the perfect cookie for a month that almost invariably finds me listless, ambivalent, and in need of easy comfort.

I've never been able to roll out dough into a uniform thickness. In consequence, the thicker cookies bake to perfection as the thinner ones burn. I could've removed all the discolored ones from the shot so it'd look like I only make perfect cookies...but that would've been kind of a sad thing to do. On multiple fronts.
As much as I liked the conjoined heart/weird bat shape cookies, I simply didn't have the patience for more. And this--this!--is the beauty of the cookie. We'll take 'em fancy, and we'll take 'em blobby.

I recognize that you and I are different. Just as I cannot assume we share similar fears and ambitions, I also cannot assume that you, like me, use comestibles to fill emotional voids. But that's not going to stop me from urging you, my friend, to get your hands on a cookie. When the temps are subzero or professional efforts have proven fruitless or the thought of advocating for your tired, weary self day in and day out sounds too damn exhausting to reckon with—get your hands on a cookie. Bake it yourself, grab it from the nearest bakery, or, Christ, rip open a sack of Chips Ahoy.

Now sit down.

Pick up the cookie, dip it in milk, and eat it.

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