Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Taking the cake

While we're on a Van Der Leun roll, see this (otherwise, the following may not make a whole lot of sense).

Gerard, I envy you. Not only did my mother not bake the Holy Cookies, she didn't even bake. But I can still identify with the Quest. My brother and I easily found my mother's hiding places for sweets--in her case, candy. She was nowhere near as creative as your mother at stowing the stuff away.

But in our house the real prize was cake. My parents entertained a lot, and they liked to have impromptu gatherings--a few good friends coming over for the four c's of cards, cake, coffee, and conversation--lively talk and laughter that made it hard for me to do my homework as the sounds drifted up the stairs and straight into my room. I was usually allowed to come down and join them for at least little while (and a little cake).

The cake came in a variety of classic flavors--chocolate, lemon, coconut--always with thick frosting. It was purchased by my mother in quantity at a special bakery in Brooklyn and brought home in stacks of boxes, each box tied with string and then several tied together in a great pyramid-like structure. There were typically three stacks, for a total of fifteen cakes at a time, enough for a couple of months of guests, and stored in a large freezer that sat in our basement next to the washing machine (the dryer didn't come till many years later).

There they sat, frozen but nevertheless burning large holes of desire in our brains. Until one evening when our parents were out and, maddened by greed, we decided we just had to eat one of the cakes. Like most thieves, we knew we needed to be quick about our work (who could predict the hour of their return?), and so we couldn't take the time to defrost it. But we found, much to our astonishment, that frozen cake is really good. Really, really, really good.

After that, we had our m.o. down. Over the course of a couple of weeks, we would eat just a few of each batch, disposing of the boxy evidence by ripping it up and taking it to the outside garbage cans. My mother, I'm sad (or happy) to report, was none the wiser. She didn't seem to keep count. When she noticed the stack in the freezer had dwindled, she just figured it was time to go back to the bakery to replenish it.

As for cooking, I ended up teaching myself, since my mother--although she had many other wonderful qualities--was not going to be any sort of guide in the kitchen, except for what not to do. And, having gone the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie route (and sorry, Gerard, but Crisco is heresy in my book), I am here to report that the right way, the only way, to eat them is warm from the oven, with the chips still slightly soft and oozy, and the cookies retaining a slight give, crunchy on the outside but tender on the inside.


At 12:35 PM, May 18, 2005, Blogger 74 (William Powell) said...

I agree, that is the ONLY way to eat a Tollhouse!

At 12:39 PM, May 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no expert, but in my experience, all forms of baking are nigh impossible without Crisco. The only suitable replacement I've ever found is lard; since I'm a bit more comfortable with rendered vegetable oil to rendered pig fat, I'm going to have to go with the Crisco. I can always spend an extra hour at the gym every week, but there's just no cure for a dry and crumbly cookie.

At 1:20 PM, May 18, 2005, Blogger vanderleun said...

George is, I fear, utterly correct. You've been brainwashed by the anti-Crisco set (Who voted for John Kerry to a pern.). Crisco and lard are what makes crisp pie crust and crisp cookies possible. A close analysis of the text of the Holy Cookie recipe will reveal that I did allow for some butter to be added to the Crisco for a richer batter but that the proportions are problematical.

I do agree that one of the ways to eat a Tollhouse is warm (not hot lest thy tongue smite thee) from the oven. But that is only possible for awhile. It also has the disadvantage of warming any cold milk into which the cookie is dunked and the Holy Cookie must be dunked.

The fully cooled Holy Cookie has many crisp cells within it to absorb the cold milk and deliver the deep inner transmogrification that is only given by the grace of the Holy Cookie. The existence of these cells is only possible due to Crisco. Bow down before it and worship its soul reviving and crisp qualities!

At 2:38 PM, May 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think, Gerard, I know what's behind this dispute: those who dunk are the Crisco defenders; those who don't dunk consider Crisco a heresy. I am a non-dunker. I never could stand milk, so cookies and milk just don't do it for me.

At 2:45 PM, May 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, darn, now the frozen red grapes I'm so virtuously eating while reading don't taste nearly so there's the embarrassment and inconvenience of saliva drooling down over the keyboard.I actually have crisco hanging around from a long ago pie crust attempt (I wonder if it has an expiration date?) but I never thought to use it as an ingredient in chocolate chip cookies. I know there's a man in my house (out putting up hay at the moment and is a few hours away from being ravenously hungry) who would be pathetically grateful if I was inspired to give this recipe a try. Thanks from both of us.

At 4:02 PM, May 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gerard - perhaps the better word for what you are describing is transubstantiation - for when the cookie meets the milk, does it not change to the form of the divine?

And even in the case of the minor blasphemy of not dunking, I am unable to let slide the major blasphemy of a cookie without Crisco. I cannot even comprehend the idea of pie crusts or biscuits without Crisco. But cookies - COOKIES! The dry, brittle, textureless cardboard which forms in the absence of Crisco is an abomination which must be condemned to the depths of Heck. It is surely these false cookies that the prophet Cookie Monster has relegated to a mere 'sometimes food'.

At 11:46 PM, December 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crisco => Partially hydrogenated oil => crap


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