“Mom! Miranda wants a cookie!!!!”
Those five words still send a shiver up my spine, and not in a good way. They were the ultimate betrayal from the mouth of my play-date. My so-called friend selling me up the river and making me look like a greedy pig, embarrassing me by revealing my sweet tooth and my (still) insatiable lust for my favorite bite sized treat. But what was I supposed to do? I’d spot a box of Mallomars on a kitchen counter and wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about them as we ate crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after school. Or a mother would bring in a plate of four Oreos while we played house and I’d want more than my allotment. I’d silently strategize when voicing Ken in his wedding to Barbie. How could I finagle another Nutter Butter, Fudge Stripe, Vienna Finger? Then a subtle prompt about enjoying the “yummy cookies” would yield, “We have lots, want more?” and “Sure!” thinking we’d go into the kitchen like I did at my house but, no. A scream from her bedroom and the resulting mortifying exposure to a harried mother feeding a baby sister would make my stomach drop. I no longer wanted the cookie. Which was a good thing since the mother often said, “two was enough” or “I’m busy, you girls find something to do.” And I’d never want to go back to that house again.
As my nieces start having dates at other kids’ houses I’ve been wondering whether or not they’ll feel comfortable expressing any desire--to ask for a drink, a Kleenex, to use the bathroom. All stuff adults don’t even think about but treacherous terrain for a small child playing away from home. I remember once playing at the apartment of a girl in my first grade class who had a guinea pig in a cage in the living room. I thought that was amazing and for the first hour of our time together we just cuddled the little guy (the thought of which now makes me ill), laughing and playing. My friend’s mother was very tall and imposing with tautly pulled back hair and a bossy manner with the housekeeper.
“Girls, you need to have lunch. Do you want spaghetti and some Muenster cheese or rice with peas and carrots?”
First of all, what kind of choice is that?! Where was my grilled cheese? My friend whined, “I don’t want cheese or peas or carrots.” And I jokingly chimed in with, “We could have spaghetti and rice!” At which point her too-tall mother snapped, “No one eats spaghetti and rice together!” I hope Niece One and Two never have to feel the wave of anxiety that settled in my stomach that afternoon. Needless to say there were no cookies offered in that guinea pig house and I never returned.
But there was another house where the cookie supply was endless and we had free rein in the heavily populated kitchen. The cook, the nanny and the houseman would be chatting away in the long, narrow kitchen, sitting at the little table by the window in the back. My best friend was the youngest of two, and tiny and cute and the trio adored her, and by association, me. “Come, come!” they’d call to us and one would grab two glasses for milk and another would open a magical cabinet filled with what looked like the entire Pepperidge Farm product line, Milano cuddled between Lido and Nassau, Bordeaux between Pirouette and Orleans. The only stomach ache I ever got in that house was from eating too much.
Luckily my days of depending on others for a daily treat have long since passed. In fact, with few exceptions I haven’t had a cookie-free day since my mother first put a teething biscuit in my mouth over 40 years ago. Really. So last week when a stomach flu laid me up for three days the thing that upset me the most wasn’t that I was shivering under two comforters, it was that I wouldn’t be able to eat the cookies I’d just made. And if there were ever a season for cookies, ‘tis this one. For years I used to bake up assortments for friends and family, making sure to hit different flavors and textures. Raspberry hazelnut thumbprints, Mexican wedding cakes, brownies, lemon squares, and gingerbread men all packed in big boxes and left with doormen. After a few years of doing it I stopped kind of abruptly. Not because I don’t think my friends deserve a holiday treat or I’m no longer grateful to them for their support and generosity throughout the year. But because a lot of people don’t eat like I do and therefore their appreciation is tamped by circumstance. They’re watching their weight, or they’re planning on leaving for a Christmas vacation and won’t have time to finish everything or one of their kids developed a nut allergy. But I also realized that a lot of my motivation for spending weeks making cookies was because what I really wanted was for people to make cookies for me. Again, an occupational hazard when you’re the baker of record in your social circle. People think it would be like bringing coals to Newcastle. They’re wrong. I give away most of my coal and would be thrilled with a sweet surprise I didn’t have to make myself.
It’s for all these reasons that I yearn to be invited to a cookie swap. How great would it be to spend a few blissful days baking and then, rather than giving everything away and, to paraphrase Estelle Costanza, (click here for one of my favorite Seinfeld scenes) ending up sitting there like an idiot without a cookie, I’d get to trade my homemade treats for those made in someone else’s home! Unfortunately, just like the pink Mary Kay car and the cul de sac, the cookie swap has yet to take hold in the urban jungle. So my choice is either to move to the suburbs or plug in my red mixer, not really much of a choice. But I guess it’s okay. Miranda wants a cookie, and she’s baking them herself.
Miranda Wants a Cookie Mocha Toffee Bars
This recipe is from the December 1987 issue of Gourmet Magazine and can be found in their cookie book. Given the similarity of the state of our economy then to where it is today, the timing seemed right to bake these. Along with orange, chocolate loves coffee and this sweet, espresso tinged shortbread is the perfect base for an assertive, dark chocolate glaze and the mellow, salty crunch of cashews. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a cookie swap these would be a great contribution. Just make sure you save some for yourself.
From The Gourmet Cookie Book, Conde Nast Publications 2010
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2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons instant-espresso powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 oz dark chocolate chips or chopped bar (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao, the bars are sweet and the dark chocolate is a nice contrast)
3/4 cup salted roasted cashews (4 oz), chopped into smallish pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at moderately high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in yolk and vanilla, then gradually add espresso mixture, beating until combined well. Add flour and salt and mix at low speed until just combined.
Spread batter evenly (an offset spatula works well) in an ungreased 15 1/2- x 10 1/2 x 1-inch baking pan (I only had a 14 1/2x 9 1/2 x 1-inch pan and it was fine)
and bake in middle of oven until top puffs slightly and sides pull away from edge of pan, 16 to 22 minutes. (Watch carefully toward end of baking; base can burn easily.) Place pan on wire rack.
While base is baking, melt chocolate in a double boiler, metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, or microwave. Spread chocolate over warm base and immediately sprinkle with cashews.
Cool completely in pan on a rack, then cut into 48 bars. Chill until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes.
Yield: Makes about 4 dozen bars
Keep the bars in an airtight container in the fridge, layered between sheets of wax or parchment paper.