I cannot bake. I can cook. I can whip up a gourmet meal at a moment’s notice. But baking leaves me frustrated and in a foul mood. So generally, I don’t do it. I leave the baking for the Martha Stewarts in my family.
So why did I find myself standing in my kitchen one December many years ago, elbow deep in flour and frosting? I’ll tell you why. It was my best friend’s fault.
I worked with my best friend. She was the social butterfly to my anti-social maggot. And sometimes she dragged me kicking and screaming into her little circle of work gathering hell. That particular year, it was the cookie trade-off lunch.
This is where a bunch of women get together for a holiday lunch and bring a dozen home-baked cookies for each person attending. This was my second Christmas at the job, and I had successfully avoided the cookie exchange the year before. My friend would have none of that this year. She enthusiastically signed me up without asking. Why? Because she is a sadist. She knew I would now have to combine my hatred of baking with my loathing of my co-workers all in one day. I suppose I could have e-mailed the head cookie cutter and offered my apologies, but I decided I would give in instead. Maybe if I did it one year, they will leave me alone for the next three.
But how the hell was I going to pull this off? Baking is a foreign concept to me. Well, not totally foreign. I’ve tried it. But never with any results that could be fed to actual, living human beings. And even when I did manage to bake something edible, it always came out looking decidedly unedible.
I had options in regards to the cookies. I could cheat. There are various ways one could cheat when it comes to cookie baking:
First degree cheating: Go to bakery, buy fresh made, gorgeous, incredibly delicious cookies. Put them on a throw-away Christmas plate, wrap in something festive and pretend like you slaved over a hot oven all night making them.
Second degree cheating: Buy a pre-made cookie mix, follow same method as above for wrapping and lying.
Third degree cheating: Buy the Pillsbury slice and bake cookie rolls. No fuss, no mess. Just chop the roll up, stick in oven and proceed with festive wrapping and lying about the recipe.
I opted for third degree cheating, sugar cookie style.
Have I mentioned I suck at baking? Even when the cookies are almost made for me?
First, I followed the directions carefully. One rounded teaspoon of dough per cookie. I only made six, to see how they would come out. I carefully rounded out that teaspoon size dough and dropped them on the baking sheet. The cookies came out the size of a baby’s toenail. Six cookies wasted.
So I made them a little bigger; somewhere between a tablespoon and a scoop. Apparently they weren’t rounded enough this time and turned out looking like lumps of brown coal. Which is great to stick in a kid’s stocking as a joke, but not great for actually eating. Six more cookies wasted.
Finally, I decided to throw some flour into the mix and roll out the dough. This was brilliant because it would feel more like really baking, and I wouldn’t feel as guilty. I had no cookie cutters, but I found the cover to one of my nephew’s bottles and used that to cut the dough into large circles. They came out the perfect size and shape. I was on my way to Martha-ness.
But…..I couldn’t just give plain sugar cookies, could I? That would be lame. Even though I did not like these women and I did not want to be in their little cookie club, as long as I was forced to participate I was going to make sure no one would talk shit about me after the party. Plain old sugar cookies would certainly be talked about. They had to be decorated. They had to reek of Christmas. I was ready with green and red colored sugar and some Christmas tree shaped sprinkles. I was prepared to go all out for this.
When the cookies were a bit cooled, I sprinkled the colored sugar on them. The sugar rolled off. There was a rainbow of Christmas all over the cookie tray, but not on the cookies. So I put more sugar on and pressed the sugar down on the cookie to get it to stay. The cookie broke.
I poured myself a glass of gin. No, not a martini. Just the gin. Not even an olive. This called for clearheadedness and olives just get in the way of that.
I put a fresh batch in the oven and a light bulb – a teeny tiny light bulb just like the one in an EZ Bake Oven – went off in my head. I’ll sprinkle the sugar on before they bake! That must be how Martha does it!
Six more cookies in. I drink, I wait.
The cookies came out looking like an elf puked in my oven. Six more cookies wasted. Good thing I planned ahead for failure and bought a few rolls.
I baked a fresh batch and came up with a new idea, which was partly hatched with the help of my second glass of gin. I needed to find something to put on top of the cookies when they are cooled that will make the sugar stick to them.
Frosting! God, I am a genius.
I only had pink frosting. I mixed some red food coloring into the frosting until it looked a Christmas sort of red. I stirred and poured and stirred and poured and finally the frosting was red, but the consistency of water. Like thin blood. At this point I didn’t care. I reminded myself over and over that I don’t even like the people who will be eating these cookies.I took each cookie, smeared it in blood red frosting and then poured the colored sugar over them. They ended up looking like a kindergarten craft project, if the kindergarten was for blind, stupid children.
Six more cookies shot to hell. More gin.
I decided to give it one more try. What is wet enough yet not distasteful that I could put on top of the cookies to make the damn sugar stick? Because at this point, it wasn’t about the cookies. It wasn’t about the party or the women or my friend or even Christmas. It was about the sugar. I was going to make it stick to those damn cookies even if I died of alcohol poisoning while trying.
And then I saw it, right there in my cabinet. The answer to my sugar dilemma. Pam no-stick spray. Buttered flavor. Of course.I sprayed each cookie with a little Pam, hysterically laughing to myself that I had reached so low a point. I took each non-stick coated cookie and drunkenly turn it upside down in a pile of red and green, yelling BOOYA! as I spiked those cookies like a football into their decorative sugar.I had Christmas cookies. I was ecstatic. I was elated. I was also very drunk and almost wept with joy at the sight of those hideous cookies because, well, I made them. I persevered through some horrible moments and I never, ever gave up, I just kept climbing that mountain, I
….I needed to go lie down.
I woke up the next morning and had a vague recollection of having baked the night before. When I walked into the kitchen it looked like Martha Stewart and Christmas got into a drunken brawl in my house and the product of their make up sex were the ugliest, most revolting, hideous, worst tasting cookies this side of dog biscuits. I didn’t care. I made them. I made freaking cookies. I baked.
I went to work that morning despite my raging hangover. I went through hell for those cookies and I was going to make damn sure that I got some decent cookies in return. I popped about two dozen Excedrin and walked into that party with my head held high.
Oh, I saw the looks. I heard the gasps as my pitiful cookies were unwrapped. I knew that I would be workplace gossip fodder for the next week. But that was ok, because only I knew those women were eating cookies whose main ingredient was no-stick spray, and which may or may not have fallen on my kitchen floor.
Don’t ever ask me to bake.