09 Feb


Yesterday, we made chocolate chip cookies. It was one of the more labor-intensive chocolate chip cookie experiences I’ve ever taken part in because they don’t sell chocolate chips here. We had to buy a bar of good-tasting baking chocolate and chop it into pieces. Eileen took the first shift of 20 minutes, and I took the second shift of equal time. After our chocolate chopping, we ended up with approximately one 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips. We borrowed a wooden spoon from our landlords, who also brought us lunch, and after our brief lunch break, we labored on.

Though Eileen’s rare pies always turn out great, our baking experiences in the past have been largely unsuccessful. Last spring, I went through a brownie stage. We found this wonderful “Organic Valley” brownie mix, or some such thing, and I probably averaged a batch per week. They were phenomenal. Then one day, Eileen was making them. Luckily, I came into the kitchen for a brief assessment of the procedure: Eileen had only used half a stick of butter! I patiently explained that the recipe calls for a full stick of butter. (Eileen claims I “freaked out,” but I don’t recall that part). However, when we looked at the back of the brownie mix box, it turned out Eileen was right. Go figure. No wonder the brownies I had been making for the past five weeks were so good. I had used twice the amount of butter. Despite Eileen’s baking right-of-way, I took over and added another half a stick to brownie mix. They were wonderful as usual.

Such has not been the case with our attempts at chocolate chip cookies. We attributed our first several failures to the gas oven in our house. The thing threw off a lot of heat, and we jumped onboard when someone suggested that it was an old oven and it probably didn’t have the proper insulation anymore. But then we attempted a baking session at Eileen’s parents’ house. The oven there is accurate with its temperature reading; or at the very least, it has housed several successful cookie creations. With our crappy-oven excuse gone, we forged on, but the cookies were only slightly better than those we had made at home.

We sought advice. Eileen’s mom always succeeds; unfortunately, her “just do it” attitude isn’t always helpful for the less competent. Her advice was something along the lines of “just follow the directions.” Ted’s girlfriend Amber usually succeeded. We witnessed her process, but could find no significant differences. Heck, she had even accomplished the feat with our gas oven at home. We tried new baking soda. No luck.

So we went to my sister Jamie. I don’t actually know, but I’m guessing Jamie must have failed before because she was full of promising new ideas. Past failure is present failure’s best friend. She told us to be careful about the butter. It shouldn’t be microwaved liquid (of course, Eileen already knew this, she claims), nor should it be cold from the fridge; and at the very least, you should substitute margarine for half of the butter if not all. And don’t use a mixer. Use a wooden spoon and do it all by hand.

We took Jamie’s suggestions and attempted the baking at Eileen’s parents’ house again, just to minimize the potential failure-inducing factors. We used half margarine and half butter. We even had Eileen’s mom oversee. Actually, she may have done most of the work. Still, the darn things failed. They were crisp little flat discs. They looked like anorexic versions of real cookies. We mentally reviewed all of our past failures and Eileen came up with the difference: organic butter. We had always used organic butter, but neither Amber nor Eileen’s mom had. Sure enough, the last time we tried cookies this past summer, they turned out great.

When we were attempting the cookie project here yesterday, we were worried because our oven doesn’t give actual temperature readings. It only says “alto,” “medio,” and “bajo.” We estimated a little above “medio” and went about making our mixture while the oven preheated. We used room temp. margarine and a wooden spoon, put the cookies on an ungreased sheet, and nine to eleven minutes later, took one of our most successful batch of cookies out of the oven. I ate six of them immediately.