Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Than I Could Chew by Elizabeth McIntosh

I am not demanding when it comes to gifts. My list (when I go to the trouble to make one) can be summed up as practical verging on boring. For some time now I have been dropping hints to my family that I wanted a cake platter and dome. And not sly, subversive hints. In fact, lately they have been something more akin to, “Hey honey, look at this cake dome. It’s on sale for $12.99. It sure would be nice to have that for Christmas.” Seems like a simple, straight-forward request. Apparently not. Maybe the hubby thought he was doing my rear-end a favor since of course once I have a cake platter I will of course be compelled to bake something to go on it, and then of course I will be compelled to eat it. Whatever the reason—and I suspect the only reason has been lack of effort—up until a few weeks ago I still had no cake platter. But I do now.
I returned home from my annual Bunco Christmas party not with a ridiculous white-elephant gift destined to collect dust on a shelf until next year, but with a mighty-fine, shiny, glass cake platter and dome. That was a Sunday night. Monday and Tuesday were spent sifting through recipes to decide what cake should christen the new platter. The possibilities were overwhelming. There was always the new bundt pan to consider, sitting on the shelf itching to be baked in. In the end, however, I went for the two-layer poppy seed cake with lemon curd icing. Because, after all, our lemon tree had yielded an abundant harvest this winter. So, of course, the cake had to have lemons. Never mind the fact that I didn’t have two 8-inch cake pans. Let nothing stand in my way. After a few unsuccessful calls to my neighbors I was stuck using my one 9-inch cake pan, and my one 9-inch spring-form pan. So what if one was dark and one was light (I now know this boils down to different baking times), and sure the cake would be vertically less grand than it should be. Not about to be deterred now, I plowed on.
Despite the mismatched pans, the cake turned out beautiful, and it looked marvelous atop the new platter, so I was thrilled to share it with my neighbors that Wednesday evening. Everyone raved. Nobody even noticed that one layer was slightly more well done than the other. Fortunately no one was in any danger of a surprise drug test, because the quantity of poppy seeds would have guaranteed a failure. And that was only using two-thirds of the amount called for.
The recipe had also required six egg yolks. Not wanting to waste the whites (normally this somewhat pinchy tendency is seen in someone who has survived the Depression—ruling that out, it must be the repressed German in me), I naturally put them in the fridge until I could think of a use for them. Hopefully it wouldn’t involve some other dish that I did not yet possess. At first I thought I’d make a lemon meringue pie. Kill two birds with one stone, egg whites and lemons. And then I remembered my grandmother’s chocolate chip meringue cookies, aka “forgotten cookies.” My sister Amy had the recipe. I called her. She couldn’t find it. Call Mom. Five minutes later I had the recipe in hand. But no time to make the cookies. Thus, the whites sat peacefully in the fridge for a few days. Family members were warned not to throw them away. Would they go bad? I assured myself that no they would not, or at least no more so than the whole eggs sitting next to them still in their shells.
A few days later, with only three million other things to do, I set out to make the cookies. The recipe called for two egg whites, two cups of sugar, vanilla, one cup of pecans and a bag of chocolate chips. I had six egg whites. No problem, just triple it. Christmas was only a few days away; they would make great gifts. Mind you this meant using six cups of sugar as well, three cups of pecans, and three bags of chocolate chips! I decided that the sugar probably couldn’t be skimped on. It was bound to be crucial to the structure, but I drew the line at three cups of pecans and three bags of chips—that would get darned expensive. Never did I consider using only part of the egg whites. Nothing gets wasted around here.
Ingredients out and mixer at the ready and there I was beating the egg whites. I think at this point I was still in denial. I refused to believe that a single recipe would have been enough, and honestly how many cookies could six measly egg whites truly make? It is important to mention at this time also that I knew full well that all of these cookies had to go in the oven at the same time. It is the nature of the recipe that the cookies go into a 350 degree oven, the oven gets turned off, and then they sit there all day or overnight, forgotten—hence the name, until they cool and harden. I have one normal size oven, and three cookie sheets.
But there I was, whisking away. Time for the sugar, the six cups of sugar. I have never made anything, anything with even three cups of sugar. (Go fill a bowl with six cups of sugar and imagine putting all of it into one batch of cookies.) Gradually it went in, and gradually the batter began taking on the consistency of glue. I folded in the chocolate chips and pecans, gave it one last stir and began scooping teaspoonfuls onto my three cookie sheets. As you might imagine I had more than enough for my one oven. In fact, it only held two cookie sheets. Anyone else at this point would maybe have considered dumping the rest in the trash. Not me. I grabbed the phone. My neighbors are getting rather used to these frantic calls. I suspect Mark keeps an extra sack of onions on hand for my weekly onion emergency. Eventually they will have my number blocked but until then, what are neighbors for if not to rescue me from my cooking catastrophes?
There I was at 8 am on the Saturday before Christmas in my pajamas driving across the creek with a bowl full of what was quickly becoming the sweetest cement in the world, and two already filled trays of cookies. (I had resorted to using the top part of a broiling pan in the absence of another cookie sheet.) Neighbor number one’s oven was quickly at capacity, and lucky for me, neighbor number two also had an available oven. In the end, I had eight dozen cookies spread throughout three households.
Was it worth it? Here we are two weeks later and I still have over half of them sitting in a tin on my coffee table. When a cookie is that loaded with sugar the most any self-respecting person can tackle is generally, well, one. (I did the math, by the way, and the frightening truth is that each cookie contained one Tablespoon of sugar!) I’ve managed to force down two, but by then my teeth are aching in protestation. Even my boys are waving the white flag. Sweet little Ian (who has been known to consume an entire bag of Hershey kisses) said, “Can I just have a half?” Looking at the four dozen “forgotten cookies” now forgotten, I am almost willing to admit that possibly I bit off more than I could chew. Although, there is still time. They’re not bad yet. It would certainly be a shame to waste them after all that effort and teamwork. I wonder how well they will ship. If all else fails I bet they will make fine bait for the next animal that tries to take up residence in our garage. But that’s another story. To think, all of this started with a new cake platter. You know, my hubby just might have known what he was doing—or not doing--after all.

1 comment:

Diane LeBleu said...

I had never heard of forgotten cookies before coming to Texas. My mother in law makes them for my husband every Christmas (they were his favorite kind growing up) and even until this year, I did not know why they were called forgotten cookies. Thanks for the enlightenment. Even if the cookies were not!