*Editor's Note: There is just not another word for cookie. I would like to tell this story using some gracefully substituted synonyms, but they don't exist. If I called it the British "biscuit" you wouldn't know what I was talking about. Please just know that I know the word "cookie" gets used way too often in tonight's post, and my English teacher-daughter side is bristling at the uneven composition.
My dad is famous for his cookies. My whole life, this has been one of his true culinary masterpieces: the chocolate chip cookie. He's a great cook, fearless and inventive and kind of a maniac in the kitchen, spatulas flailing and garlic skins on the floor. But the cookie, it's his major achievement. He says he regularly gets invited to parties knowing full well that, really, only his cookies were invited, and his attendance is just tolerated. He has had friends write songs about his Cookie Man-hood.
A defining memory of my childhood, and certainly pertinent to my own baking/cooking/sweet tooth tendencies, is making cookie dough with Dad after we'd cleaned up the dinner dishes. It's basically the Toll House recipe on the back of the chocolate morsels package, with some key adjustments that are, obviously, top secret. We never thought far enough ahead to soften the butter, so he'd throw it in the microwave and a tiny bit would inevitably melt. A little shortening, brown and white sugars, eggs, vanilla, etc. all whirled together, then flour and baking soda, a little salt. I always campaigned to be the one to add the chocolate chips, and tried to sneak in more than we needed. As if that is possible. After the dough was assembled and the first batch was in the oven, it was time for "bocas," which is what we called the rolled up bite of dough that was popped into our mouths on command. We only got one boca each.*
I have Dad's recipe, of course, and have made his cookies occasionally in the years since I have become the Official Baker for the Masses. Casey makes them more often than I do. But it seemed like, lately, I couldn't make them the way I remembered from childhood. Specifically, they weren't chewy. So Dad and I have been talking about this, brainstorming, putting our combined baking science knowledge to the test. This is what we do, sometimes we try to catch up and I feel like I have nothing significant to say, and then sometimes he calls to check in and we end up on the phone for an hour and a half, talking about dessert. We threw around ideas like adding more eggs, less flour, the ratio of butter to shortening, brown sugar to white. I wondered if we should adjust the temperature, and he said, "Well, you don't want to cook them too hot, then the outside will get done and the inside will still be soft." BINGO. The proverbial light bulb went off. That is EXACTLY what we want to happen! So I tried it: added another egg to his original recipe, skimped on the flour, slightly more brown sugar, and cranked the oven up an extra 25 degrees, pulling the cookies out 2 minutes earlier. Eureka!
I called Dad in triumph and got his answering machine. "Dad, it's Delaney, I did it, call me back!"
My phone rings a minute later and it's him, I answer singing, "Hiiii," I'm skipping around the house with joy at my baking accomplishment. His voice is tense. He says, "What's happened?" I say, "I did it! I made the cookies chewy!"
He says, "You weren't just in a car accident?"
He sighs, sounds weary, beaten by a phantom terror. "I heard, 'Dad, it's Delaney, I need you, I was in a wreck.'"
"No, Dad. The cookies."
And here's my Dad: he shakes it off. He says, "Oh, great! What did you do?" and we make arrangements to transfer said cookies to him in the next few days for his own taste-testing approval.
I've made several batches since that first triumph, and I think I've still got some adjustments to make. They're very flat, and the last two batches have done a weird thing where the insides look layered when you bite into them. How can I make them not flat but still soft? That's going to involve leavening, right? Or having the dough cold before I bake? Hmm. It's a lifelong quest.
Oh, and I made cookies for book club, and had to make one tray without chocolate chips. At Austin's request. Because he is odd, and sometimes I am reminded that he and I are very different people.
*Another future-parent anxiety: am I going to let my kids eat raw cookie dough?