The last time I remember baking a dessert from scratch was three years into marriage, now 26 years ago.
I’d invited the whole family over for Thanksgiving. The sun was pouring through the windows, the feast was complete with smiling expectant faces for the promising desserts, when I brought out the traditional pies plus one. The South African milk tart had become my favorite having lived and worked in that country a few years earlier, and I was eager to share it with everyone I loved back home.
In the midst of preparing everything needed for our Thanksgiving party, I’d singed the milk needed for the tart. “Oh, well,” I thought, “it won’t hurt much.” Quickly pouring it out of the over-heated pan, into the crust, I finished the milk tart.
But, it did matter. Quite a lot. Sampling the tart, the nervous hostess, who was me, was forced to alert everyone else to avoid it.
For some reason, this bitter fail colored all of my future baking interests. Oh, I’ve made meal after meal over my thirty years of marriage, but I never brought out the sugar and softened butter, the vanilla, or any of my other favorite ingredients. Besides, I was always on the plump side, and I hoped the discipline of avoiding home-cooked yummies would help the situation.
About two years ago, I found an interesting cookie cutter rolling pin at a Goodwill store and it inspired me to try to bake the sugar cookies that just can’t be imitated by store purchases. Maybe it was for candy cutting. Either way, it would be fun, I decided. When we cleaned out the house last year, my husband tried to toss these kinds of things he’d never seen me use, but he’d never seen my yearning for home-baked cookies either.
I salvaged the cookie cutter
Inside, stood my defiant self sticking out my tongue at the multi-billion weight-loss industry. I was going to bake something yummy.
Still, it wasn’t until two weeks before Christmas, when looking through the cupboards, that I rediscovered the quirky cookie cutter. It was the day before my husband’s birthday. I wanted to spoil him because his special day often gets swallowed up in the holidays.
Google came in handy as I looked up my favorite cookie recipes. I started with peanut butter kisses and substituted the chocolate kisses for miniature healthy peanut butter cups pressed into the middle.
Then, I went on to soft, traditional oatmeal raisin cookies. The writer of this recipe assumed I knew how much sugar and butter to whip together, how many eggs to add, how much cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda to use. Reaching deep into memories of girlish baking, I put the basics back together and decided to trust my intuition.
Thankfully, I still had some hard chunks of brown sugar in a bag at the top of the cupboard. I also found an inch of molasses left in a bottle.
The recipe that I invented included a few new essentials
- A magnifying glass to read the ingredients and the recipe
- An ice-cream scoop to pound the brown sugar lumps to smithereens
No fancy Kitchenaid mixer gets any credit
My hand-me-down, hand-held beaters worked fine after I softened our frozen butter in the microwave. Mixing my made-up portions of oats, eggs, vanilla, flour, butter and sugar together, butter and sugar first, of course, I threw in some old raisins. Raisins keep forever – just about. No harm done there.
Dipping into the oven, I traded the pan of hot peanut butter kiss cookies for a sheet of the oatmeal raisin drops.
Then, I went to look up the recipe for the highlight of the season, sugar cookies!
In the meantime, I found a recipe for Oatmeal raisin cookies with the proper amounts listed for the ingredients, so I added a little more flour and butter and sugar and oatmeal, and I decided to add a banana and walnuts to the last half of the dough. I lowered the oven temperature on those already baking.
Back to the sugar cookie recipe, it soon became clear that I needed to roll out the dough, let it sit in the refrigerator, then use the cookie cutter and finally, decorate the little images with icing or colored sugar.
My heart sank at the traditional rolling pin that would be needed. The last time I recalled seeing a rolling pin, I put it somewhere the-sun-don’t-shine that would insure I’d never happen upon it again.
The ingredients called for a bit of almond flavoring. My favorite. But, nope, I had removed the temptation of almond paste and almond flavoring from my kitchen long ago.
Sugar cookies were going to need a real baker. I mixed up the sugar and butter, measured out the flour and set it all aside.
The oatmeal raisin cookies were smelling a bit pungent. I swung open the oven and removed the pan of cookies now black around the edges. Quickly, I used the old-fashioned metal spatula to swoop up the cookies from the heated sheet and deposit them onto the cooling sheet.
A familiar bitterness taunted
Just then, my dog started barking alerting me to the fact that my husband was home from work. I opened the door to greet the birthday boy and I gave him a kiss wondering how long it would take for him to notice the air-filled sweetness. Would he ask about today’s kitchen episodes?
“Umm, what smells so good?”
“You made cookies?!”
“Yep. For you.”
“For your birthday.”
His hand started moving toward the cooling sheet. I steered it to the peanut butter kiss cookie adaption that I’d enjoyed tasting earlier. “You’ll probably like these better, Hon.”
He munched and smiled and said a few crazy nuthins as he pulled me close.
“What are the others?”
“Um, not your favorite. Oatmeal raisin.”
He gathered up a couple and began munching again as he reported on the occurrences in his day. Then, to my pleasure he was too distracted to continue. “Umm, these are great, Honey!”
“I love ‘em.”
“But, they’re a little burnt.” My admission colors the air.
“You know how you loved burnt toast when you were a kid?”
“Well, my favorite was having a bit of a burn on my oatmeal raisin cookies. That’s why I’m not fond of the regular kind. These are wonderful!”
Oh, gosh, his pre-birthday surprise is an unexpected win!
“You know what I want to do tomorrow on my birthday? I want to grab a stack of these with a cup of coffee and have them for breakfast. That’s all I really want. Well—and I want a little time to cuddle with you. That’d be my perfect birthday.”
I’ve never lost my cuddly appearance, even with the years of home baked abstinence. The older I get, the rounder I have become, but that just doesn’t seem to matter to the one who loves me.
It will be a fun experiment to try to make sugar cookies for Christmas since Santa himself is a jolly ol’ elf.
It will also be a great to try out the Goodwill roller cutter on something else, whether it be little pastries, or mini Swiss chocolates, or maybe some mint cream cheese sweets. That’s my sweet New Year’s resolution.
Lynn Byk is a memoir author with Capture Books. She is available to speak at book clubs or women’s events about practical ways to care for the elderly in one’s life.
She and her Father-in-law co-wrote the book, “Mister B: Living With a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist“.