Liar Liar Super Thin Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am a great liar. There is a similar skill set used for storytelling and for lying and I’d like to think my skills are in pretty good shape.  I’ve been thinking about lying a lot recently after reading Sue Shellenbarger’s column in The Wall Street Journal on “How to Handle Little Liars.” I learned that lying is a “milestone of child development.”  I had never thought of it that way and it turns out that fibbing can start as early as age two.  Who knew?

I knew.  I was a pretty active liar as a child, not in a creepy “my parents live in a castle” way (there was always some friendless kid who told ridiculous showoff-y stories that only confirmed her friendless status) but in a spare-myself-from-getting-in-trouble-way.  Usually the lies involved things like saying I’d used soap in the bath (I can’t believe I ever lied about cleanliness, but I did) or that I hadn’t been watching TV when I was home sick all day or that had finished my homework when I hadn’t.  But I couldn’t get away with anything.  All it took was one question from my parents about the plot of my reading assignment, and my lack of familiarity with the material, and therefore my lie, would reveal itself.  My TV lies were even more pathetic.  One night, when I should have been asleep, my father, upon hearing the familiar buzz of the black and white TV when he walked by my room, opened the door to find me an inch away from the set watching The Julie Andrews Hour. I turned around and saw him, switched off the TV, ran across the room, jumped in my bed, and denied the entire thing.  “Honey, I saw you.  Just tell the truth.”  I refused.  I’m sure I got some kind of punishment, and I’m sure it involved the same TV, but I wouldn’t change my Not Guilty plea.  I can’t imagine my parents saw my Pinocchio-esque tendency as a developmental milestone.

Ultimately, with the exception of pretending to be studying at a friend’s house rather than copping to watching General Hospital, I gave up using the protect-myself-from-punishment lie.  My life was so dull there wasn’t anything to hide.  That’s when I began honing my storytelling skills and learned to craft a different kind of protective lie, the how-to-say-no-without-saying-no lie.  This one I still use.

Here’s what you say:  Tell her that you can’t believe it, but you thought she meant dinner next week, not this week, and you’re so bummed because you have a meeting and the rest of the week is just nuts.  And actually you were thinking of postponing the dinner you thought was next week anyway because of this new really annoying project you’re been assigned to.  Then pepper in a little something about the person you’ll have to work with like, “you know that jerk I told you about?  He’s my partner on this. Ugh, he really bugs me.”  The key is to just keep talking and end with a “here comes my boss—I’ll call you next week can’t wait to find time to catch up!’”  End Scene.  Your friend will be so stunned by all the words thrown her way when all she’d asked was “Are we still on for tonight?” that she won’t know what hit her.  And, most importantly, you just got your night back.  You know how long it took me to come up with that scenario?  Less than 30 seconds.  And really, who am I hurting?

I think that question is the most important one to ask.  Obviously if you lie about real stuff, like say, your identity or your marital status, you are a bad person.  But a white lie?  Come on, what’s the big deal?  I also think that you can be a good liar and still be honest with yourself.  People who lie to themselves are dangerous because they believe their lies, and I’ve known way too many people like this.  I have one friend who’s been fired from every job he’s ever had, yet when he relays his verbal resume, he always says “When I left Acme Company…” as if it had been his choice to leave.  I guess he needs to lie to himself just to get out of bed in the morning and not feel like a failure, but doesn’t that kind of thing always get you in the end?  Your psyche usually finds a way to punch you in the nose and remind you that you are a fraud.  I don’t think you ever regret taking responsibility for your life, and, as they say, the truth will set you free.  

The WSJ article also said that the average adult lies once a day.  That seems really low to me.  How many times do you say, “Sorry” and not mean it?  You let the door to Starbucks slip and didn’t hold it for the woman behind you.  Do you really care?  No.  But you say “Sorry.”  And it’s only 8:30AM.  You have 14 more hours of your day left.  Really?  You won’t say another thing that isn’t true?  I think not.

I can only be friends with people who share my feelings about lies, and the other night I had dinner with three of them.  I am sure we have each lied to each other to get out of or reschedule plans in exactly the way I outlined above, and we don’t care or take it personally.  We also used to work in a profession predicated on a little truth-twisting.  When you’re in the entertainment business, a certain level of B.S. is necessary to get the job done.  And this is where it gets sticky.  In that world there are lies and there are Lies.  Does it kill you to tell your actor client he did a great job in the play you just suffered through?  No.  Does it chip away at your integrity and sense of self to leverage one job offer for a client by claiming there is a (non-existent) competing one?  Yup, and that’s why all three of us have changed careers. 

When we did work together, I often shared the treats I baked with my colleagues and whenever we have dinner I try to bring them a little something from my red kitchen.  This time it was these ultra-thin and crispy chocolate chunk cookies.  They are wonderfully buttery, and if you flatten them enough, they bake up almost lacy.  They’re not at all like a thick, chewy, soft-batch.  The dark brown sugar caramelizes into a lovely deep toffee flavor.  Just be sure to use good chocolate since the pieces really stand out against the thinness of the cookie.  They were deemed “Delish” by one of my fellow fibbers, and, I promise, when it comes to sweets, I never tell a lie. 

Liar Liar Super Thin Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt in Your Mouth Cookies, Alice Medrich 2010
Printer friendly version
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup quick cook rolled oats (or old-fashioned oats buzzed briefly in the processor to break them up a bit)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 heaping cup good chocolate chips

Whisk the flour and baking soda together in a small bowl.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, oats, granulated and dark brown sugars, corn syrup, milk, and salt.


Stir in flour mixture

If the batter is still warm from the butter, let it cool to room temperature before adding the chocolate. Stir in the chocolate chunks/chips. 

Let the dough rest for at least several hours at room temperature or covered overnight in the fridge. (The resting time makes for an especially crisp and extra-flavorful cookie. If you refrigerate the dough, you may need to warm it to room temperature before you’re able to portion it into cookies.)
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. (These cookies will not spread as they should in a convection oven, so make them only if you have a conventional oven.)

Place 3 large sheets of aluminum foil, cut to fit your baking sheets, on the counter. Divide the dough into 15 equal blobs of about 2 tablespoons each. Arrange 5 blobs of dough well apart on each sheet of foil, situating 4 in a square and 1 in the center. Flatten each piece of dough until it is about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Slide two of the sheets of foil onto two baking sheets.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cookies are thin and very brown, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. 
If the finished cookies are too pale, they will not be crisp, although watch the cookies carefully as they turn brown quickly. Slide the cookies and foil onto wire racks to cool completely before removing the cookies from the foil. Repeat with the third batch—you can slide the last sheet of foil and cookie dough onto a hot baking sheet as long as you put the sheet in the oven immediately. Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. The cookies can be kept in an airtight container for at least 3 days.


I Thought of That Tie Dye Cake

“Why didn’t I think of that?!” Those are the frustrated words of every one of us who has gritted her teeth as an idea that seems at once so brilliant and so stupid brings the inventor millions. (Topsy Tail anyone?) But what is even worse is watching them hit the jackpot when you actually had thought of that; you just didn’t do anything about it. You have no one to blame but yourself but still, you have to hate the person who had the guts to bring your idea to life.
Since I was young I’ve had several ideas that stayed in my head and became a career for someone else. When I was a kid and wore a uniform to school, wearing “cool” socks was a way to add a little personality to our blue jumpers. What if there was a store that just sold tights and socks? We’d call it The Sock Hop (hey, Happy Days was big then) and it would be filled with great, fun socks! And here it is, only I don't own it.
When I used to actually go swimming I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if instead of regular rafts for your swimming pool there were floats that looked like they were part of a tropical island? Yup.
When getting ready to spend a semester abroad I wished there was a place where I could get everything I needed for my trip. I’d call it "Bon Voyage" and there’d be luggage, and little kits to bring on the airplane and convertible hairdryers and, cut to Flight 001 where you can find all those things and more.
I’ve been able to shrug off these various knocks to my inner Caracatus Potts (oh come on, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s hapless inventor!), probably because I didn’t have the required fire in my belly to follow any of my ideas to fruition. However, more recently there has been an insult to the passion said belly holds dearest.
I first read about Baked by Melissa in The Times three years ago. Like a lot of young bakers, this Melissa had left an unsatisfying career to follow her sweet bliss. At the time she was selling her teeny, tiny cupcakes out of the window of CafĂ© Bari downtown. Let’s review why I was resentful: 1) I’ve been making mini-cupcakes for years and have let the concept of “legal kitchen” and “insurance” scare me away from doing anything business-y with them. 2) She was in The New York Times and 3) she was 25. Done. But because her little window was all the way downtown I was able to forget her. Until now. Her business has taken off and she has free-standing stores all over town. One is just 10 blocks from my apartment. Truthfully, I rarely venture to that strip of Broadway, and I would have been able to continue to ignore her if my friends hadn’t been over the moon with the fabulousness of the fact that her cupcakes are only 50 calories each. This is surprising? They’re the size of a quarter! And I think we all know there is no way in hell you will eat just one. And by the way, if you took one bite of a normal size cupcake that would be 50 calories too! Ugh. Anyway, I kept hearing about how adorable these little treats were and they’re so good and the packaging is so perfect and blah, blah, blah.
It was just a matter of time before I tasted one at the home of a friend. Okay, I’ll give you that they are cute. Anything small is cute, except a bed bug or a mouse. But how did they taste? You probably think this is where I’ll have a big mea culpa moment and say they’re incredible and how could I have been so judgy?! Not going to happen. I’m giving them a “meh.” I tried a few and found the cake to wander between gummy and dry. The cream cheese frosting topping the red velvet was way too sweet and the chocolate chips on top of the mint chip had an off flavor. However, I will concede that when a whole platter of them is set out, they make a very pretty presentation. One in particular caught my eye, again in the “I’ve thought of that!” mode. It looked like it was tie-dyed and at that moment I reminded myself of the idea I’d had for Niece One’s birthday cake.
You may remember that last year’s cake almost sent me to the psych ward. I got myself so worked up in my pursuit of perfection that I wound up making the most ridiculous mistake. I was determined not to let that happen again and set off to research how I could bake an entire cake that had a hippie-by-way-of-a-7-year-old-with-a-pink-fetish vibe.
First and foremost I knew I was going to use India Tree food coloring. Its dyes are made from vegetable colorants and if I used the fake stuff my brother-in-law would kill me. Plus, “Melissa’s” tie-dye cake is very primary colors and my niece would never stand for that. I wanted to go for pretty and pastel. There were plenty of websites that offered advice and I’ve culled a bit from each of them in the instructions below. Now, although I never endorse using a mix, if the idea of this cake is appealing to you in terms of its look but you’re not up to also making a homemade cake, I will not judge thee.
Again, I worked myself into a frenzy wanting Niece One’s cake to be completely perfect. I tinted the bowls of cake batter and they looked so pretty in their pink, peach, light blue, pale green etc. And here is where I screwed up. Somehow I forgot that the baking process dims all but the brightest of hues. The results of my six-colored efforts were distilled to just two, yellow and blue.

Of course I didn’t learn this until we cut into the cake at the party and at that moment I realized how grateful I am that I’ve kept my sweet passion something I do for pleasure and not for sale. My paying customers would not have been satisfied with a dual color tie-dye but my nieces were thrilled. And most importantly, it tasted fabulous. This is my go-to birthday cake recipe and I highly recommend pairing it with a cream cheese frosting if your birthday girl or boy doesn’t want chocolate. The tang of the cream cheese really contrasts with the vanilla sweetness of the cake so nicely and of course, everything tastes better when it’s pink. But the best taste of all is the one that’s lovingly baked from the heart. I’m glad I thought of that.

I Thought of That Tie Dye Cake
Cake only from Food & Wine, June 2007
Printer friendly version of project
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Food Coloring of your choice

Directions-Cake. For prep photos click here
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper; butter and dust with flour.
In a bowl, mix the 3 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. In a cup, mix the milk with the vanilla. Set aside.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter at medium speed until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl. Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the milk mixture and scraping down the bowl.

OR--not that I would endorse this but, you could use your favorite boxed white cake mix and proceed up until the point when you are about to scrape the batter into the pan. Then switch to directions for tinting below.

Divide the batter evenly into six bowls. Add food coloring of your choice to each bowl, mixing to make different colors as directed on the box etc. Mix thoroughly with a spoon after each addition of food coloring in order to gauge how much more coloring you might need to use. Mix using a different spoon for each different color. Keep in mind the color will fade as it bakes. Of the below colors only the bright yellow and the blue made it through the baking process. Colors should look very bold.
Here is where you can get creative. Either use three colors for each layer or use all six colors for both layers, dividing the batter of each of the six bowls in half. Scrape each color of batter into the pan in concentric circles, starting at the outer edge of the pan and working your way to the middle. Invariably you will drag some color through as you smooth the top but do not do that with aggressive purpose.

Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 35 minutes, until springy. Let cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and invert onto a rack. Peel off the paper, turn the cakes upright and cool completely.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ina Garten, 2001
3/4 pound (12 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
Food coloring of your choice

Cream the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
Add the sugar and beat until smooth. You want the frosting to make a thwapping sound, indicating it has gotten really whippy and light. Tint frosting the color of your choice.
Follow directions for basic frosting as indicated in this past post.

Note: because my cake seemed a bit crumbly on the sides I decided to do a quick "crumb coat." Meaning I frosted the top of the bottom layer normally, placed the top layer on top of the bottom, used just a thin coating of the icing on the sides and the top of the top layer, put it in the fridge to firm up for 10 minutes, and then proceeded to frost normally. That way I was able to get a nice smooth finish and not drag crumbs through the frosting.

If you want to pipe some decorations in a contrasting, darker color, reserve about 1/2 cup of frosting for that purpose and tint to your preference. Fill a pastry bag with your preferred tip and get your fancy on. I had some extra so used it to make a dark pink/light pink chambray effect on the sides of the cake.


Squeaky Wheel Flourless Chocolate Cake

Sometimes I’m jealous of the squeaky wheel. Not that I want to be known as a complaining difficult person who somehow manages to monopolize the attention of others, but it would be nice to feel like you didn’t have to speak up, loudly, to get what you want. I know psychologically that’s a fantasy a lot of people don’t give up as they move from childhood to adulthood—that just like their mother, the world will know how to satisfy their needs before they even say a word. And I don’t think I have those regressive expectations, it’s just that so often I realize all it takes is one squeaker to change the behavior of an entire group.

For example, take my apartment building. Since I moved in 10 years ago I have never needed to turn on my radiator because the place runs so hot. But every time the subject of adjusting the boiler comes up the response by management is always, “everyone is cold.” Yet in my casual chit-chats with neighbors no one is shivering and most are sweating. So recently we distributed a building-wide survey and guess what? Of the residents who responded only three were chilly! That is three apartments out of 250! But those three had driven the superintendent so nuts, what with incessant phone calls and threats to call “the city” (whatever that means), that the staff relented just to keep them quiet. If only we hotties had squeaked as loudly as the coldies we might have gotten what we wanted: less (heating) oil!
The same thing is going on with our elevators. The doors stay open for what seems like forever and the “Door Close” button doesn’t work for civilians, only for the Fire Department during a please-don’t-ever-happen emergency. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in holding an elevator door open for anyone in a building that has four working at all times. I also don’t expect anyone to hold it open for me. But in our situation you don’t ever need to because the stupid door is timed to stay ajar long enough to accommodate the slower paced residents. Again, out of 250 apartments (and upwards of probably 400 actual people), there are only three who would be considered slower paced (read very old). I know I sound heartless, but these people are not sweet and thoughtful. They are all mean and no, they are not the ones who are cold. Why does everyone else have to be inconvenienced when by the time they shuffle to the elevator bank another one will have become available? Here’s why. Because one woman claimed the door almost shut on her hand and thus the timer was adjusted to suit her. Here’s an idea: don’t stick your hand into the path of a closing elevator door!
The squeaky wheel issue gets particularly heated when one is dealing with parents because the squeak is passive aggressive. It doesn’t need to be loud because it is always implied. Oh, and by parents I mean people who are about to become them, or just became them or have been them for many years. How about the pregnant women who act like they are the first ever to have gestated—from the details of each bodily change and food aversion to blaming every time they are late, lose something and forget something on their “insane hormones.” Or the new parents whose schedules of eating and sleeping mimic those of their kids. “Want to have lunch with us? The pizza place at 11:30am?” or “We can totally have dinner on the later side if you don’t mind coming to our house. At six. In Connecticut.” Far be it for childless me to say a word. It’s my job to be a good sport and accommodate. That really is the fate of the person dealing with the squeaker—making adjustments on behalf of the circumstances of the other.

I know I sound cranky about being (in)flexible and I’m not completely squeaky clean. I ask for accommodation when my sister has to drive me to Target because I don’t have a license and I expect patience from my dining companions when I grill a waiter on the garlic content of every item on the menu. But I don’t think I would ever be comfortable inconveniencing large groups of people when I’m just one.
But there are certain situations in which I am happy to accommodate the squeakiest wheel, especially when not doing so could result in the person literally squeaking for air. Yes we’re back to the Nutless Niece Two. My job as Passover dessert provider was adversely affected in that I had to forgo the traditional Nana Jose’s Chocolate Pecan Flourless Cake. But I would do anything for my nieces and I didn’t mind bringing back the cake I’d made before I discovered Nana Jose, courtesy of Nigella Lawson. Ironically, it is sometimes called an Easter Cake but that’s not my problem. It is flourless, rich, dense with great chocolate and in my version, topped with strawberries and cream. As far as I’m concerned, it’s completely appropriate for Passover. The only problem was that about 30 minutes into the Seder, Niece Two— who was sitting next to me so sweetly, turning the pages of her Haggadah when everyone else turned theirs (even though she can’t yet read) and placing the book on her lap just as I did when it came time to take the first sip of wine/grape juice—fell asleep in her chair. She missed her Grandma-made nut-free haroset and the chocolate cake, not to mention the search for the afikomen.

The next morning she insisted on getting back into her Seder duds, a solo matzoh hunt was constructed for her and she dug into her cake with abandon. After her rejection of last week’s Chocolate Caramel Matzoh Crunch my heart was as full as her belly. In the meantime I have squeaked to building management regarding the elevator door timers. My advice? Watch out for your hands.
Squeaky Wheel Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from Nigella Bites, Nigella Lawson 2002
Printer Friendly Version
9 ounces dark chocolate, preferably 70% cacao, rough chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs (2 whole, 4 separated)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur, optional
Zest of one orange

Ingredients-cream topping
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur, optional
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, for sprinkling (optional)
Two cups berries of your choice (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9" springform cake pan with parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or a microwave, add the butter and let melt in the warm chocolate.

Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 cup of the sugar, then whisk in add the chocolate mixture, the orange-flavored liqueur (optional) and the orange zest.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until the whites hold their shape but are not too stiff.
Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the center is no long wobbly. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.
Shortly before serving, place the still pan-bound cake on a cake stand or plate and carefully remove the sides of the pan from the cake. The cake will look slightly ragged and sunken. It's supposed to. Whip the cream until it makes very soft peaks and then add the vanilla and orange-flavored liqueur and continue whipping until the cream is firm but not too stiff. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, lightly spreading it out to near the edges. Top with either a dusting of cocoa or fresh berries.

Yield: 8-10 slices