I’ve talked about my pushy birthday problem before, but it recently reared its ugly head and in an effort to stop my annoying behavior, I think I need to confess again. Last fall my brother moved back to Brooklyn after being away for a few years. Oh, that sounds like he was in prison or rehab. He wasn’t. He was in grad school living in a roomy house and now he, his girlfriend, and their two cats are back in his apartment. Because of the transition from spacious to less so he renovated his kitchen in order to maximize space and give his place a little face-lift.
Since his birthday was coming up I proclaimed, I mean suggested, that my sister, the nieces and I would be paying our little brother a visit to see the polished digs and do some celebrating. “Um, sure.” he said as I announced the intended day of our visit and our plan to stop by his apartment, critique, I mean view, the renovation, take him out for a local pizza lunch and return to his living room for a little “Happy Birthday” candle blowing.
What my brother didn’t realize was that, during his absence, I’ve commandeered all family birthday desserts. If I don’t already know the favorite cake of the celebrant I decide what it is and I bake it and present it. My success rate is middling. Niece One and my parents have all been very happy with their annual treats. However, Niece Two hasn’t been so cheerful—spitting out her strawberry cupcake one year and completely ignoring her vanilla cake with chocolate frosting the next. But at least I didn’t try to poison her. That distinction belongs to my sister who received her favorite devil’s food cupcake filled with completely rancid peanut butter cream. And the thing is I kind of thought the Skippy smelled a little off but used it anyway because it was raining and I didn’t want to run out to the store.
Now it was my brother’s special day and I had a certain cake in mind. I’ve been on a nostalgia kick since I discovered a new channel on my cable box, Antenna TV (channel 166 for Time Warner NYC subscribers). Devoted to shows of days gone by, the line-up on a given day includes everything from Father Knows Best, to Hazel to The Partridge Family to many other hits. Take it from me, baking on a rainy Sunday listening to “Come on Get Happy!” is pretty, well, happy. Then there’s Maude who makes me love Bea Arthur even more and reminds me of my maternal grandmother. Nana was exactly like her, except with a deeper voice. And Good Times is a whole other story. When we were really little we had just one TV. One Tuesday our favorite babysitter introduced us to the Evans family and we were hooked. “Right on Willona!” and “Dyn-o-mite!” were our catch phrases and broke us up weekly. The only snag was the next day at school. All the other kids were saying “Sit on it Potsie!” and doing this double thumbs up thing while going, “Aaaayyyyyy!” Whoever “The Fonz” was he seemed to be a popular guy. But we stuck with JJ, Florida and the rest of the folks in the Chicago projects and watching it now I can see why: that show was hilarious.
With all this video pushing me back in time I’ve been craving one of the store- bought desserts deemed good enough to serve at our dining table back in the day. Sara Lee was considered to be of better quality and my favorite was the banana cake with orange cream cheese frosting. I can still remember that foil pan coming out of the freezer, peeling back the wax paper covering the frosting and cutting into the ice cold cake. It kills me that they don’t sell them in retail markets anymore (they make jumbo sized for restaurants) so I thought I’d push my brother into feeling as warm and fuzzy about the cake as I do by offering to make a version for him myself. Yeah, my plan didn’t quite work out.
“Remember that great banana cake we used to have? Wouldn’t that be perfect for your birthday?” I offered excitedly.
“What banana cake?” my brother replied with an indulgent sigh.
“You know, the one with the orangey cream cheese frosting, it was Sara Lee and…”
“That sounds disgusting.”
“Disgusting? It was great! You loved it!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t want that. Can’t you make cookies? I like your cookies.”
“Oh, okay,” I relented. “How about the Cook’s Illustrated browned butter chocolate chip cookies?”
“Are they crispy?” he asked.
“No, they’re soft. But they’re really, really good!” I pushed.
“I want a nice, thin, crisp, chocolate chip cookie. What’s your problem? Why can’t you make something crispy?”
He had me. I prefer soft cookies to crisp and so of course I put my own preferences first. But he is too smart to let me manipulate him. I also shouldn’t have been surprised since he is more of a salty, crispy chip guy than a sweet anything. While watching that one TV he could often be found snacking on a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, leaning back precariously on a kitchen chair and changing the channels with his big toe. (Nope, no remote.)
So I gave up and gave in. And you know what? The cookies were great. They’re made with way more brown sugar than white, which adds both stronger toffee notes and crispiness. The nieces went to town on them too all while I stared longingly at his new kitchen. It’s gorgeous and his oven looks professional and fabulous. If only he’d let me bake a banana cake in it, I bet it would be “Dyn-o-mite!”
Brother's Birthday Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook: Better Home Cooking by Bruce Bromberg, Eric Bromberg & Melissa Clark, 2010
Printer friendly version
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips (1 11.5oz bag)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy, 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla; beat to combine.
In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Mix until just combined and then stir in the chocolate chips.
Using your two teaspoon ice cream scoop (or two teaspoons) portion out the dough and place on the baking sheets. Leave at least 2 inches of space around each cookie. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown and just set (they will crisp up as they cool). Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Yield: 6 dozen cookies