I made about five dozen cookies today. I didn’t mean to make so many, but once I started, I forgot how to stop. I am exhausted to the point of confusion, and my body feels like a collapsing well, but these cookies poured out of me without much conscious understanding on my part. I just kept making them, made them for hours while I talked to a patient friend, made them until the making was done.
I opened my pantry with the idea that I would unravel some spare ingredients into a bowl and cookies would result, and I can’t help but feel that I put something essential into that bowl along with those ingredients. I don’t have that essential thing anymore. I have baked it away. I don’t know if I’ve done well or not, but maybe that’s immaterial; what matters is that there are two huge bowls of cookies on my kitchen counter, and that’s the way the world is now.
Here’s how these cookies are made: you mix up a base dough, and then you add whatever Ingredients keep falling out of your pantry whenever you try to get to the baking powder. I’ll tell you my base dough recipe at the bottom of this page. The recipe is adapted from the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate chip cookies. It looks fussy when you read it through, but actually it’s devastatingly easy to make. Trust me, even though you don’t necessarily have a reason to. Trust me because I have all these cookies in my home.
I had to knead the dough at the end to get all the ingredients to mix in. It isn’t because the dough is difficult — it isn’t the dough’s fault, it isn’t a flaw, it’s just that I wanted to add so much into the dough and there was so little time, and the spatula wasn’t strong enough to force all that Addition into the substance that defines a cookie. We tried, the spatula and I, but it came down to this: my fingers digging into the flesh of the cookie dough to massage an excess of life into something that was already fine as-is.
Death doesn’t attend funerals, I don’t think. I had cause to reflect on this yesterday, at the service for a friend who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. The service was beautiful, but I had the same thought there that I’ve had at every other funeral and memorial service I’ve attended: something is missing. At first, I thought the obvious: the person being celebrated is missing. It is strange, isn’t it, to talk so much about someone who can’t reply?
But I don’t think that’s it. I think the thing that is absent from the funeral is Death, Death personified, a cowl and a scythe and a somber commitment to duty. We grieve together in an attempt to summon Death, so that there can be an accounting: why have you done this? Why can’t it be undone? What right do you have to come between us and this person we have known?
We want Death to come and stand in front of us so that we can ask our angry questions, so that someone with power can witness the consequences of their actions. Maybe there can’t be resolution, maybe there can’t be repair, but at the very least, we’d like to be listened to.
But Death doesn’t accept the invitation, so we talk to each other instead; we carry each other’s grief as best we can, and we never quite feel like we’re doing it right, but we are doing the best we can with the people who we endlessly are.
This doesn’t have anything to do with cookies. Sorry; I’m distractable today.
The base dough for these cookies is simple and perfect. Melt 12 tablespoons of butter — that’s a stick and a half — and set it aside to cool.
Combine 2 cups + 2 tablespoons of flour. The extra tablespoons are necessary for the reason a soul is necessary to the proper function of a body; I can’t explain the why of it, but I know that without those tablespoons, nothing seems right. Add half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda. These quantities seem laughably small when you see them in the bowl, but then, you wouldn’t be the person you are without the small things that have shaped you. Set this bowl aside and forget about it for a while.
Combine a cup of brown sugar with half a cup of white sugar. Add the cooled melted butter and stir thoroughly. The sugar will vanish into the butter, and the butter will vanish into the sugar; everything you recognized will be gone, and something new will be in its place. Beat an egg, plus a second egg yolk; add them to the sugar and butter. You will not be able to see the difference they make, but you’ll feel it.
Add vanilla extract. I will not tell you to measure it. Add as much as you please. No one can stop you from living a life that is vibrant with the flavor of the seed pods of a pollinated orchid.
Remember the dry ingredients you’d set aside earlier. Add them into the wet ingredients in the bowl. It will seem like too much — you’ll think that the wet ingredients cannot possibly support the dry — but keep stirring. Don’t give up. It will turn out differently than you fear. I promise.
Keep going. It’ll work out in the end.
That’s it. That’s the base dough. Easy as falling down. Add whatever ingredients you like (today, I added many sweet things plus one salty thing to each batch of cookies). Knead the ingredients in with your hands if you have to.
To bake the cookies: Take a quarter-cup of dough and roll it into a ball, then break the ball in half and place the halves a couple of inches apart on a lined or greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325F for seven minutes. Rotate the pan. Bake for another seven minutes. The cookies will come out soft and golden brown. You will feel great tenderness toward them. Let them cool on the still-hot pan for seven minutes, then move them to a cooling rack to free the pan up for the next batch.
Do this again and again and again until the soles of your feet are numb. Keep the kitchen clean as you can; these kinds of messes tend to pile up when you aren’t looking. Cry if you need to, or don’t; your emotions were not made to be predicted.
2 C + 2 tbsp flour
.5 tsp baking soda
.5 tsp salt
12 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 C brown sugar
.5 C white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tsps vanilla extract
Whatever you like: pretzels, chocolate chips, walnuts, coconut shreds, breakfast cereal.
Combine part 1 and set aside.
Combine part 2.
Add part 3 to part 2; stir in part 1.
Stir, fold, or knead in part 4.
Roll .25 C into a ball. Split the ball in half with your fingers. Place 2” apart on a lined or greased cookie sheet. Bake for 7 minutes at 325°, then rotate the pan and bake for another 7 minutes. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for 7 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Share them unabashedly with someone you love.