For the past few weeks I’ve been feeling like a chicken with my head cut off and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the days getting shorter and literally having less time in which to get things done before night falls. That is kind of a scary concept considering that daylight savings (I never know when it is actually considering ‘savings.’ Is it when we ‘spring ahead’ or ‘fall back?’) hasn’t even happened yet and we are soon going to be facing the 5pm darkness of a winter’s day. But I just feel like I’ve been doing a lot of rushing and over-committing. I know my life is less frantic than others, but my high-strung personality makes up for what my schedule lacks. I’d better start adapting or I’m going to have a breakdown or a heart attack by December.
Last weekend my sister and I planned a little Halloween baking with the nieces. Realizing the attention spans of Nieces One (5 ½) and Two (2 ½) would not allow for the required two pronged process inherent to the sandwich-y cookie we’d settled on, I took on the task of getting the various components as close to done as possible. That way ‘putting it together’ would be their contribution and as far as they were concerned they could say they ‘made’ them.
In preparation for their Sunday visit I figured I’d get as much done on Saturday as I could before I had to zoom downtown for an afternoon lecture and then back uptown for an evening movie and dinner. Plenty of time and it should have gone swimmingly—except it didn’t.
My task was to make the chocolate cookies for mini pumpkin whoopie pies. Since I’d made a different recipe in the past I thought I’d go Martha despite the fact that she calls for shortening. That is actually more traditionally whoopie anyway, plus I already had an organic non-hydrogenated version and the required regular (as opposed to Dutch-process) cocoa in the house. I set up shop, doing what I do so I can take photos along the way, ate breakfast, got the cookies in the oven and cleaned up the kitchen. I took the cookies out, changed into running clothes, took a bite of one of the cooled whoopies and almost spit. They were horrible! Metallic and bitter and now what? The clock was ticking and I knew I’d be more upset if I didn’t exercise so I ran out the door committed to figuring out how I’d rectify the catastrophe while I huffed and puffed through the park.
As I ran around the reservoir I thought, “Wait! When you use regular cocoa you have to neutralize the acidity with baking soda. I can’t believe Martha left that out!” And I was filled with righteous indignation. The woman who wrote the Baking Handbook had made such an elementary mistake?! What was the world coming to? And when was I going to find the time to buy more cocoa from a vendor other than the rip-off, clinical depression inducing market around the corner? Returning to my apartment I dramatically threw out all the disgusting cookies, assessed my pantry, confirmed I had no more cocoa, made lunch, ate lunch, and glanced at the recipe again. And I can humbly say it was all my fault; of course Martha had included the baking soda. I’d been so manic I simply didn’t see it.
What ensued was absurd. Interpreting the mishap as an omen I decided instead to make the whoopie pie recipe I’d baked in the past that calls for butter, no shortening, Dutch-process cocoa and buttermilk. My plan was to pick up the ingredients after the lecture, but before the movie, figuring I’d have time to do the cookies when I got home for good around 10pm. So I raced to the Gourmet Garage near the Christopher Street subway station, practically body checking the NYU students smoking on West 3rd Street, and, upon reading the cocoa’s $12.99 label, muttered under my breath, returned it to the shelf and ran to the train.
A 10 minute trip took 20 since track work eliminated express service. When I finally got to my stop I had no choice but to sprint to the clinical-depression inducing market where they had no Dutch-process cocoa at all but did have buttermilk. Ok, home, change clothes, run to theater. Friends not there yet run to Food Emporium across the street where they do have Dutch-process, buy it and smuggle it into the theater in my bag.
After a lovely evening I made it home at 11:15 (later than expected but who cares when you’re having fun with friends?) and, deciding I’d rather stay up late than wake up too early, I finished the cookies at 1AM. The next morning I made the drama-free filling and set up shop for the girls. Everything went smoothly, they were covered in pumpkin and cream cheese (as were mysterious spots in my apartment) and there were no tears. A good time had by all.
When I walked them back to their car Niece One showed me a small pile of gold and red fallen leaves she had stacked next to her car seat, “my leaf collection!” she said sweetly. Looking down at her little hands carefully displaying her autumnal treasures I realized I hadn’t even noticed the leaves beginning to change. What is wrong with me? I ran right through the park the day before obsessing about cocoa and baking soda instead of looking at what was all around me. In that one minute she taught me way more than my cookie fabricating lesson had taught her. On Monday I walked through the park to an appointment on the East Side but by the time I caught myself power-walking and preoccupied I was already across town. It may take more than five fallen leaves to change my ways but I made sure to stroll home slowly and mindfully, stopping to take in the trees and smell the flowers. For my efforts I rewarded myself with a pumpkin filled whoopie pie—I needed a treat to reinforce any new life lesson. Maybe I should have doubled the recipe.
Time to Smell the Pumpkin Filled Whoopie Pies
Cookies adapted from Gourmet, January 2003, filling adapted from The Martha Stewart Show
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2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup canned solid pack pumpkin
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (3-5 minutes)then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.
Using 1 tablespoon ice cream scoop or a tablespoon and the assistance of another spoon, drop mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 parchment paper lined large baking sheets. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together cream cheese, butter and confectioners' sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg; whip until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
Spoon about 2 teaspoons filling on the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies.
Yield: 20, 2 1/2-inch sandwich cookie-cakes