There’s nothing like squeezing dozens of key limes to make you extremely acquainted with your open wounds. It’s like a roll call for injuries. You’re suddenly very much aware of what you thought was just a small scratch, and any and all paper cuts take the chance to remind you that they still exist. And key limes are tiny, so you’ve got a long way to go. Let’s get started.
I like to believe these cookies are the ones Frog and Toad can’t stop eating in that children’s book Frog and Toad Together.
The Frog and Toad series, for the uninitiated, is a series of books, each one containing several short stories about Frog and Toad’s adventures. And their adventures are relatable. It’s none of this Curious George business, with a monkey flying away in a hot air balloon or working in a chocolate factory. Frog and Toad are too low-key for those shenanigans. Instead, the stories are about things so everyday that they’re almost dull. Toad loses a button from his jacket. Frog writes a letter to Toad so he has a reason to check the mail. Toad plants flowers and waits for them to grow. These are some chill amphibians.
In my favorite story (naturally, as food was involved), Frog and Toad can’t stop eating cookies.
I suggest going the Ina Garten route for this one.
You know, the whole meme about her preference for quality ingredients, that if you can’t get it flown in on a private jet fueled by children’s tears, “storebought is fine”?
In this case, storebought, run-of-the-mill olive oil was fine. The cake ended up tasting delicious. But maybe, had I gone with some olive oil I didn’t get from Trader Joe’s at the bargain price of $6.99 for a liter, I might have been able to taste the subtle notes of olive oil. I could taste it in the batter–in fact, I felt like I was eating a dessert salad dressing and feared I’d added too much–but like alcohol it seemed to have baked out during its time in the oven, leaving me with a moist, lemony cake. I like to think the quality of olive oil used was the reason I couldn’t taste it in the cake–I admittedly have a fairly unrefined palate, but I do remember standing at an olive oil booth at a farmer’s market one Saturday, dipping cubes of bread into shallow dishes of olive oil and actually being able to taste the differences, some smooth, some peppery, all distinct from one another. I bought a bottle of olive oil that day, though I’ve since used it all (I’d go back for more but I have a standing appointment with my pillow on Saturday mornings. And afternoons).
I don’t decorate.
Part of it relates to my utter lack of artistic ability, and part of it stems from my philosophy that food is there to taste good, not look pretty. Many people are capable of doing both, but I’d rather focus on the thing I can actually do. What really perplexes me is when presentation seems to take precedence over taste, which I imagine is how fondant came into being.
But if I’m baking something for someone else, I feel a need to at least try. In this case, I got a little ambitious.
I am not from the South. As a result, the only cornbread I’ve had is closer to cake than actual, southern cornbread. Actually, I’ve had southern cornbread; I just try to push the memories of bitter, crumbly cornbread out of my mind because it’s not the cornbread I know and love.
I’ve tried a few recipes, and I’ve found I most like those that call for equal amounts of flour and cornmeal. And, of course, the ones that call for lots of sugar. My bag of cornmeal tried to convince me that 1 tablespoon of sugar would be sufficient. Even more insultingly, it added in parentheses that the tablespoon of sugar was “optional.” How dare you, Bob’s Red Mill. Sugar is never optional. I laughed in Bob’s face as I added a heaping half-cup of sugar to the batter. Shauna 1, Bob 0.
It took me a while to find this recipe–which is kind of sad, considering it came out when I was five years old. But since the age of seven when I first began baking these cookies, I always used the Nestle Tollhouse recipe. It never occurred to me to try another until the New York Times article came out in 2008. Reading such a detailed breakdown of the chocolate chip cookie was an eye-opener. I tried its suggestion of refrigerating the dough for 36 hours, but I don’t have the patience for that. The article did, however, teach me to (a) sprinkle sea salt over the cookies before baking, and (b) switch to a better quality chocolate chip going forward (Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips has been my go-to chocolate chip ever since). The recipe was good, but what I really wanted was a chewy chocolate chip cookie–and so began a five-year process of trying out different chocolate chip cookie recipes.
People can go a little overboard with the “Once you make X, you’ll never want to buy it from stores again!” guarantee. Because no matter how delicious that bread I baked was, I can promise you that I’m still going to buy sliced bread for my sandwiches. The same goes for many things, especially anything involving a large vat of oil, like donuts.
But it is true of some things, at least for me. For most of my life, the only cinnamon rolls I had came from a Pillsbury tube, or from a Cinnabon store at the mall. And I was content with those. But then one day, in the summer of 2009, my friend Kate and I had some leftover yeast after making pizza dough and we used it to make cinnamon rolls from scratch–and nothing was ever the same. Homemade cinnamon rolls have ruined me, to the extent that I have no interest in the Pillsbury or storebought ones, even if presented to me on a platter (which is really quite rude of me, to reject something I’ve been offered. I told you they ruined me).
The bun is just so soft–not flaky like the Pillsbury ones, but soft in the way that freshly baked bread is meant to be. The bottoms are slightly chewy after absorbing the brown sugar-cinnamon-butter mixture that melts to the bottom of the pan as the rolls bake. And the cream cheese frosting has an actual cream cheese-y tang to it because it hasn’t been smothered with too much sugar. Once I tried that combination of deliciousness, there was no going back.
I first encountered this biscuit recipe in the fall of 2009. It was my sophomore year of college and after a year of living in the dorms, I finally had a kitchen. It wasn’t mine, as I did still technically live in the dorms, but I now had a boyfriend who had an apartment, which meant… I had access to a kitchen. And I had a lot of baking to catch up on.
So one Friday evening found me browsing allrecipes.com for biscuit recipes. I wrote down one that looked alright (read: uncomplicated) on a tiny pink Post-It and set about baking. The first bite I took of those biscuits was nothing short of magical. Before this, the only biscuits I had baked were from a scone recipe from one of my mother’s Australian cookbooks. It required three tablespoons of butter.
This recipe required eight.
The biscuits it produced were soft, buttery, and perfect. Due to the four teaspoons of baking powder, they baked tall, and they had a natural split line in the middle, giving them the ability to split perfectly in two, no knife necessary.
And so I remained loyal to this recipe. Occasionally I tried others–biscuits made with melted butter, with cream, with buttermilk–but nothing was quite so buttery and fluffy as this recipe. I’d return to that tiny pink Post-It every time… as evidenced by the way it’s aged over the years in comparison to my other recipe Post-Its.