Sweat isn’t exactly running into my eyes or anything, but I’m a little fatigued. After all, I’ve been up since around 4:30 a.m., prepping and then cooking breakfast for a hundred or so guests at the restaurant, the standards, home fries, omelets, eggs anyway you like, bacon, ham, sausage, French Toast, Pancakes, coffee encrusted cheeseburgers for those in the know, cheesy scrambled eggs. Oatmeal with molasses and brown sugar, grits with cheddar and hot sauce – fruit cups, strawberries, cranberries – you get the drift. I had then cleaned, tore down my line, prepped breakfast for the next day, placed that away and attempted to set up a lunch mise en place for a very grumpy and very hung-over lunch cook who seemed to have nothing more in mind that day than criticizing my every move, look and attempt to do what he needed. After the third attempt of communication, which main involved responses in the form of grunts as he sullenly stared at his smart phone (did he expect it to cook for him?), I fled the kitchen for home, remembering this time to clock out. Snow was falling heavily as I sang Christmas Carols along with the radio and grinned to myself. This season is awesome.
The holidays are a strange time to be a cook. If you are a home cook, then you are solely occupied with Christmas dinners, brunches, breakfasts, cakes, cookies, more cookies and foods that you generally don’t tackle all year long until this season. The days are shorter, colder and busier and you are driven indoors for the most part, thankful at first to be challenged by your favorite hobby. You can deliver your present’s gift wrapped in boxes, tins and jars, confident that they will be appreciated and enjoyed by all and sundry. It is truly a wonderful time to know your way around a kitchen.
If you are also a professional cook, in that you get paid to do so, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you are any better at it, then the holidays are a double edged sword. You are praying for business to boom, which is good for paychecks, which is in turn good for presents and for job security throughout the leaner post-holiday months.
So it was, with these thoughts and about three more running through my head that I picked up our physical mail, and traversed our disaster of a driveway up to our house, where our tree was blinking merrily, a wreath was on the door, presents covered the bed and both my wife and son were waiting by the door! That’s the best part of coming home, the air redolent of homemade stews that my wife has made, playing with the baby – splitting firewood, watching flames eat the ricks of oak and hickory and listening to the popping sounds of us not paying the electric company as all our hard work from years previous gets loaded into our wood stove, piece by piece, keeping us warm and comfortable.
I slog into the kitchen and take a look at my email. There is something about a cookie exchange the next day and I remember that I am supposed to go. Laura has already baked our allotment, but there was a message, more of a challenge, that I bake a cookie called an “Egg Nog Florentine.” It seems simple enough.
Four hours later, I’ve built my caramel, mixed the dough, made the filling, dropped the cookies onto greased baking sheets, watched TV, played with my son, helped Laura with dinner, drank too much coffee and I pop five cookie sheets into the oven, merrily heated to 350 degrees, and set the timer for eight minutes. I walk away.
Thanks to Susan Whetzel with Doughmesstic and Mary Wendel with McCormick, I’d received a creativity kit from a wonderful conference, Mixed, at Mountain Lake Lodge. The kit was FULL, I mean STUFFED with everything I needed for baking, which I rarely do, including coffee and rum extract, saving me a trip to the store! I’m no baker, only a cook, so I was feeling pretty good about myself.
I burned all the cookies. All of them. I took a deep breath, scraped them into the trash and tasted one. Tastes pretty good. I look at the recipe again. Hmmmm. I make another batch, rather irritably this time, getting out all ingredients again and Kitchen-Aid mixer and food processor, set the timer for seven minutes this time and bake them again. They stick. Growl. I mix the ingredients again, eating some of the dough in the process and, at the advice of our pastry chef, make a single, solitary test cookie.
Eureka! It worked. Five hours in, I now have one cookie – which I promptly eat. Laura wanders in to try the filling, which is delicious! I try the filling again, yummmm. Maybe I should just take a bowl of this and some spoons. The timer beckons and I remove the trays. They’re not exactly right, but it works. I load the pans again and we try a few of the filled, cooled cookies. Delicious! I make more filling and we share some of the raw dough with Nolan. There’s no raw eggs, so I’m not worried, not that I would be anyway, they’re local eggs from our farmer friends.
I pull the cookies out again and we try a couple more, deeming them even better than the others. I make up more dough and double the filling, wondering where everything is going. Laura grins and grabs another cookie and makes her way to put Nolan to bed. I look at the clock, realizing that I’ve spent the entire evening making cookies and I have TWO!
Panicked, I make the rest of my dough and end up with seventeen semi-presentable cookies, decide that is enough and flop into bed. All that was totally worth it the following evening when the delicate little wafers of flour, butter, honey and sugar were devoured and appreciated during the cookie exchange party.
I want to thank everyone for the ingredients, suggestions, challenge, recipe and most of all, for eating the cookies!
(The recipe is here: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2013/12/eggnog-florentines/)