I think if you were to rank foods in order of how intimidating they are to cook, at the bottom of the list would be stuff you throw together any night of the week without a recipe, the top would be basically anything Grant Achatz has ever made and then maybe, just barely a notch below would be a dish that someone you love and respect makes so perfectly that you consider it to be “their” recipe. It feels almost wrong to make someone else’s signature dish, to meddle. It’s their thing, not yours, thus there’s clearly no way you could do it justice. I mean, sure there’s something else you could contribute to the holiday baking curriculum, maybe one of your favorites instead?
Today, because we don’t have enough bronzed and crisp, sugary, buttery thoughts already circling our heads, we’re going to talk about two recipes in one, a thin and lacy nut-caramel cookie known as a florentine and a filling that tastes exactly like eggnog, as if either of these things alone weren’t enough reason to gallop into the kitchen with your mask, cape and sense of urgency.
Six years ago, I attempted to shift my existing pretzel obsession into the cookie category, with only moderate success. The chocolate pretzel cookies I made were shiny, twisted and gorgeous, but tasted so mediocre — dry, flat in flavor, basically meh. I concluded that the firmness we’d want from a pretzel-shape was probably not something we wanted in a cookie. But silly me, I was just looking in the wrong place.
Last week, guys, last week… Wait, no. We cannot start a week as dreary as this one already looks from my Monday perch (this view, plus ten thousand loose toys and dark gray rain outside) with a complaint, it would not be good. But I have to tell you where I was most of last week because it’s so traumatizing, I cannot keep it on the inside any longer: I was touring kindergartens. Like, school, big old public schools with lots of kids. School for five year-old giants. School that my “baby” will require next fall. It was terrifying. It was all-consuming. I tried to swim off my anxiety in the middle of each day, only to return home to find that the sun had basically set at 2:30 p.m. rending that whole cooking-and-natural-light-photography thing I love so much impossible. It was not my favorite week.
A couple months ago, someone requested that I try my hand at caramel brownies. Amazingly, this person was not my husband, but he endorsed this idea so wholeheartedly that I suspect he might have paid this person off. Then again, in most people’s minds, who doesn’t want to make caramel brownies? What kind of strange person considers what would happen when sea salt-flecked deeply copper-colored homemade caramel meets a chewy, rich homemade brownie and then shrugs it off, “Eh, I’ll pass.” Guys, it’s me. It’s not that I didn’t think that a salted caramel brownie could be delicious, it’s just that I imagine it’s well-trodden territory, which to me translates as “people who want to make this already know how to” and then I figure my time would be better spent making other things, like weird egg salads and silky hummus.
Although I would hardly say that having a kid has made me wiser — there have been just too many incidents like the one this morning, when not a single of the following clues piqued my concern: 3 year-old going into bathroom to bring his step-stool into another room; the sound of a cabinet opening, a fridge opening followed by a banging sound on the counter, until it was too late and a once-clean child in a once-clean kitchen was making “skwambled” eggs — I can’t help but have come to a few salient conclusions about children/life itself over the last few years that I find infinitely applicable. One, there are few things wrong that a good night’s sleep cannot fix. Two, sometimes you really just need to scream and yell and have a great big noisy fuss for a few minutes and get it all out — pounding your tiny, dimpled fists on the carpet is optional, but this is no time to hold back feeling all the feelings, you know? — so that you can resume being sweet and awesome for the remaining minutes of the day. Finally, there’s not a single person in this universe who does not need a cookie at 4 p.m. each day, like clockwork. Nobody. Not even you. Even in the month of Resolutions.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Book Tour ended its 2012 run on Monday evening at the New York Public Library in Midtown, as fine of a place to call a finish line as any, and with great company to boot. I know I should say something here that sums up this sprawling, incredible last couple months in one neat paragraph. There’s so much we haven’t had time to talk about! But, it feels too soon to get my head around all of it and I’d rather talk about this here site because as overwhelmingly grand the last few weeks have been, once I got reunited with my kid/husband/bed, it’s this place I’ve missed the most — fiddling in the kitchen, sharing things we’re excited about and chatting in the comments. So thank you for being part of it. I can’t wait to catch up.