You’ve experienced one. A conversation in which you realize that, about half way through, the other person has stopped listening. You’ve been uttering words that you thought quite important – worth hearing, at the very least – and they have, well, zoned you out. So you stop talking. Silence settles and it is typically then that your companion’s eyes re-focus. They shift their head slightly realizing that the ambient noise – or your voice, as you think of it – has died. They look at you a bit sheepishly. And you know it isn’t even worth asking the question “did you hear anything I just said?”.
Well, when baking, I am that other person. Beat butter and sugar. Dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another. Pan into oven. Rotate pan. Pan out of oven. Cool cookies. Ice cookies. Don’t break cookies. Those are the words running on a constant loop in my head; others not welcome. When elbow deep in dough there are only a few words you can utter that will really catch my attention; “oven,” “fire,” and “oh shit” quickly come to mind. But that is a pretty tragic conversation, particularly for a pastime that can consume hour after hour after consecutive hour. But a friend of mine has landed on a solution: two bakers, one kitchen, and several mimosas.
When I stopped mid-sentence to explain to the kitchen timer that, yes, I heard it, it could stop beeping now, she barely noticed. When she waved me from the kitchen so we didn’t collide over hot cookie sheets, I just sat down and took another sip. Pause all conversation to cram both of our heads in the space in front of the oven, peeking at its contents? Absolutely and without complaint. Hours of catch-up, cocktails, and a vast array of cookies; can’t say that is a bad way to spend a December afternoon.
Keeping to the theme of collaboration, here’s one of the recipes cooked up that day. It has lived in my mother’s kitchen cabinet for years. In hard copy. She didn’t type it up and email it to me. Or scan it. She read it to me over the phone. See, baking isn’t so isolating after all.
Gingerbread cookies, adapted from a 1979 issue of Better Homes & Gardens
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup light molasses
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (from that orange you just zested)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1. Cream butter and sugar in a standing mixer. Add egg and beat until the batter is light and fluffy.
2. Add molasses, orange zest, orange juice. Mix well.
3. In a separate bowl mix all dry ingredients: salt, flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and clove.
4. Gradually add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients, mixing well to ensure fully incorporated.
5. Turn out dough and divide it into two disks. Wrap disks in waxed paper and chill in fridge overnight.
6. When ready to bake heat oven to 375 degrees.
7. Lightly flour counter or pastry cloth and roll out dough until 1/8-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
8. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack and let cool fully before decorating.
If you want to use a royal icing for decoration (like seen here) check out this post from last holiday season.