I was talking with a co-worker* yesterday who has a daughter the same age as my son. She said that she had decided last year to start a Christmas tradition with her daughter of decorating cookies. She is way more brave than I--there is no way I would have done kitchen play with my kid before about six months ago, but now that they are doing some things like that at school, I'm more excited about it. It's not that he can't handle it--it's me. I am sooo uptight and nervous, and I have been known to be, as has been previously noted here, a bit of a symphonic cook--tons of ingredients, multiple methods--which doesn't really lend itself to cooperative cooking with a toddler.
But yesterday, inspired by my co-worker's sunny enthusiasm, I told my son that he and I were going to do something special today. He got a choice: children's museum or making cookies. It is clear that these were not evenly matched alternatives, and I had stacked the deck in favor of empty caloric consumption. Obviously, he chose making cookies.
We got a very late start this morning (thanks, husband's holiday office party!), but eventually our list was made, our pajamas were retired, our shoes were laced, and we made our way to the grocery store. My list reflected a grand vision for three types of cookies (chocolate chip, sugar, wedding) all whipped up in one morning. By the time we got home it was after 11 AM. Since the whole family had to be at a party at 1 PM, I had to revise my expansive plans. As I was pulling out all the ingredients, I decided to chuck all the other recipes and make a jam thumbprint cookie recipe from Cooks Illustrated.
I spent an entire summer overseeing and preparing a dessert menu at a well-regarded Los Angeles restaurant. Which is shocking, given that I have an almost constitutional opposition to measuring ingredients. See where this is going?
Okay, so Mr. Kid and I got started. I measured (!) the dry ingredients and he stirred them with his mini-whisk. I creamed the butter (cold, not room temp as indicated by the recipe) and the sugar. Just as I'm getting ready to add the egg, I look back at the recipe and, it says "cream cheese." Yeah. I don't have any cream cheese. Because I never planned to make this recipe. And also, I didn't read it before I started. (Life metaphor, anyone?) So. We improvised. I found some whole milk greek yogurt in the back of the fridge with a March '08 expiration date. So that's, like practically cheese, right? The recipe called for 6 T of cream cheese, so I just sort of eyeballed half the container of yogurt, dumped it in, flipped the switch and hoped for the best.
While all of this is going on, Mr. Kid is getting more and more enthusiastic in his stirring, and I am admonishing him on a roughly second-by-second basis not to spray flour all over the kitchen. Finally, realizing that the combination of cold butter and weird, wet yogurt products is never going to result in a smooth, "creamed" texture, I let Mr. Kid start pouring the flour into the mixing bowl, and it came together surprisingly well.
The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tsp balls of dough per cookie. Ok. Why can't the ball be the size of a spoon I actually have? Screw that. So I eyeballed it (shock), and we made balls about 1 inch in diameter. I think I need to do more clay play, because Mr. Kid was pretty flummoxed by whole notion of shaping the dough into balls. But he didn't seem offended when I reshaped them for him, so disaster was averted there.
Now, for the thumbprints, the recipe eschews, you know, thumbs, in favor of the back of a measuring spoon. I have to say, I kind of liked that part of the recipe, so after some power struggles over who was going to do the smashing of the balls and who was going to do the ineffectual "helping," we ended up with 16 pretty good looking dough balls. These cook for 10 minutes before you pipe the jam in. Did I mention that I didn't have any raspberry jam or preserves? You know, kinda the sine qua non for jam cookies? No worries, I had some strawberry preserves. I don't even really like raspberries, so this was one of those happy accidents.
During the first 10 minutes, we plopped down in front of the oven to watch the cooking. Which was a lot of fun--we talked about how there's a fire in the bottom of the oven, and Mr. Kid explained to me that the cookies were getting big because of "da bakin powdah." Did I mention that the cookies were getting REALLY big? Yeah, these are the biggest thumbprint cookies I've ever seen. Like more than 2 1/2 inches across. After I filled the thumbprints, the kiddo sort of lost interest and began acting out a drama with his dinosaurs in the living room. By the time they came out of the oven, he had completely forgotten we were making cookies. Which, if you think about it, is the ideal cookie baking situation, because you get time to let them cool without a crazed two-year-old begging and wailing for a cookie that would burn the roof of his mouth off.
For all the absurd missteps, I have good news: these cookies taste awesome! And the texture is crispy at the edge and cakey in the center. We will definitely make these again. Not sure if I'll try to make them the right way or my wackadoo way next time.
When he finally got around to eating one of the cookies, Mr. Kid was duly impressed with his handiwork, but he explained to me that next time "we must" go to the museum before we make cookies. Kid drives a hard bargain.
*Technically, we do not work together--she is a county solicitor (i.e., prosecutor) and I am a county public defender, but we all work in the same building and spend our days working opposite each other as adversaries. So we're not co-workers, but I thought typing "opposing counsel" made me sound like a law twit.
17 hours ago