Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Meditation On Peanut Butter Cookies ...

Once again, I was in the mood to bake.

It was a late-October fall day yesterday, grey and rainy with spots of sun. Not the kind of weather that beckons anyone outside.

But at the store two nights before, I'd forgotten to pick up a couple of baking staples on which I'd run low, so my options were limited unless I wanted to venture out into the weather to go to the store. Which I did not.

So the recipe I chose was based on the ingredients I had on hand.

Happily, the ingredients I had on hand were exactly what I needed to make peanut butter cookies.

I love peanut butter cookies. The sandy edges, the chewier center, the criss then the cross.

I do not smoosh my peanut butter cookies indiscriminately. I apply the fork vertically and then again horizontally, at as close as I can get to a perfect 90 degrees.

The dough, appropriately, is unfussy. A peanut butter cookie is not a fancy cookie. It is a homey cookie, a cookie-jar cookie, an after-school snack. So with a double batch of dough prepared – the recipe I make yields three dozen, and what's the point in that? – I set to rolling spoonfuls of dough into little balls and spacing them on the cookie sheets in advance of their smooshings, then baking them one sheet at a time.

For the first time ever, I do believe, I hit the yield almost exactly. I baked six sheets of a dozen each, save for the last sheet that had 10 and a half. A half, I say, because there was just a wee bit of dough left, but I shaped it and baked it just the same. I love the wee cookie from the last bit of dough.

So I had nearly six dozen cookies.

I handed two dozen to my mom when she stopped by with dinner, and I was glad to be able to hand her hers as she was handing me mine. Mom is incapable of cooking for two people, and she likes to share, and I liked to be shared with. Win-win.

I took somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen to my neighbors. I didn't count, I just made two rows of cookies on end in a large Ziploc bag and sealed it shut.

The other day, the wife neighbor called to let me know that the husband neighbor was going to come over and do some work in my back yard. My back yard needed a lot of work. And the husband neighbor loves to work outside. The neighbors' yard is stunning, always ready for its closeup (if any gardening magazines would like to drop by), and mine is, well, not. I've never been the gardening sort. I try to keep the grass mowed at a respectable height so as not to be a total horticultural embarrassment. And some weeks, even that doesn't get done.

"Just tell him to leave the really big trees," I said. "He can cut down everything else."

So I was in my office for a moment and he was on the other side of the window, weed whacking and raking, and I opened the casement to offer my thanks.

"You're welcome," he said.

"What can I bake for you?" I asked.

Nothing, he said. The yard work was good exercise for him and he liked to be outside. (And he'd done all he could do in his yard, so he'd moved on to mine, which was very much appreciated.)

But it was a substantial effort, and I like to bake for them anyway, so I was happy to spend the grey day making cookies.

Making cookies takes me out of my own head. Any and all stresses melt away and I focus on the task at hand. I like the precision of baking. Cooking can be improvisational, but baking is exact. Add too little flour or too much and things just don't turn out the same.

So I enjoyed a couple of hours of mixing and shaping and baking. I learned that I have six cookie sheets. (Why did I think that I only had five? Perhaps I've only ever used five.) And I shared, which is the best part of all.

As I mentioned to a friend the other day to whom I'd shipped snickerdoodles, I love baking because "it's something so simple that brings a disproportionate amount of joy into the world."

And who can't use more joy?


Blogger Tom Erdman said...

Hi Beth,
Three things. Do you have any cookies left? Can I borrow your neighbor? Would you be unhappy if I smushed chocolate kisses in your peanut butter cookies (assuming you would give me some)?
Have a good Sunday.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Hi Tom,

Three answers:

- I do have cookies left, though they're not going to last long. But I can always make more. Where shall I send them?

- You can absolutely borrow my neighbor. He comes highly recommended.

- As for making the peanut butter blossom cookies, yes, I would object. But only because when I've had those, the cookies strike me as nearly gritty from all the sugar, whereas these are such a lovely crumbly yet slightly chewy texture experience. So, Baker Beth would advise you to make these to appreciate for their simplicity, and then make the sturdier, sugarier version to support the chocolate kisses.

And a good Sunday to you, too.


8:38 AM  

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