I’ve finally unraveled the mystery about why my friends don’t ask me to watch their kids more often. Despite my reputation among the wee ones as being “a really fun babysitter,” and my infinitely flexible stay-at-home-mom schedule, I just don’t get lots of requests to help out.
Now I know why:
Now I know why:
It’s the baking, stupid.
I’ve enlisted their children’s help for one too many baking adventures, it seems. And now I’m paying the price.
Yesterday, apparently in desperation, a friend asked me to hang out with her kids for the afternoon. With my own kids at camp and several long lonely hours of writer’s block staring me in the face, I gladly accepted. Feeling spontaneous and sugar-deprived, I thought a baking project would be a fun idea with which to entertain her troops until my own soldiers came home to relieve me.
At first, everything went swimmingly with these two adorable surrogate kids – we “measured” and cracked and stirred and poured and creamed and whisked. We dusted every available surface with flour and made a fantastic mess of the kitchen. Then it was time to taste the cookie dough.
As I pinched off a bit of the dough and popped it into my mouth, four terror-stricken young saucer-eyes confronted me.
Elder child to younger child: “Did she really just do that???”
Me: “Yup. It’s delicious. Want some?”
Younger child to elder, eager to break the rules: “Can I try it??”
Elder: “Yeah, if you want to DIE!”
Elder to me: “Aren’t you scared of getting salmonella and DYING?”
Me, shrugging: “Nah, not so much.”
Health risks be damned: I wasn’t going to bake chocolate chip cookies without tasting the dough. It’s a basic rule of mine: if I’m going to create something without a recipe, based merely on my feeble memory of what might go into the classic toll house cookie, I better darn well taste the stuff before it goes into the oven. Otherwise I’d never know if I missed an ingredient, and then I might commit an even more heinous crime than dying: I’d have to throw away the whole batch of cookies.
Tasting the dough is as much a part of the baking process as creaming the butter and sugar or stirring in the flour. It is a critical sensory test. I know there are plenty of home bakers and – heaven forbid – even moms out there who taste their dough before baking it. And I’m here to represent all those crazy bakers who are willing to take their lives into their own hands in the name of a great cookie. Just as my mother led me down the path of culinary evil, I freely admit that I encourage budding young bakers to do the same. And this is why other moms can't fully trust me to keep their kids alive.
The situation reminds me of an old Hallmark card that reads: “Good moms let you lick the batter” (Inside:) “Great mom’s turn off the beaters first.” While I’m not a huge fan of Hallmark, this particular bit resonates with me, simply because It underscores the point that baking should involve a little risk now and then. Otherwise what’s the point? Where’s the fun factor?
Still, I owed it to my poor terrified charges (and their parents) to do a little research into the matter. My preliminary inquiry reveals that while yes, it’s true that salmonella can be carried by unpasteurized, uncooked eggs and flour, homemade dough doesn’t seem to pose a tremendous risk. The raw cookie dough that made everyone sick last year was factory made. Now there’s a shocker. Eating uncooked processed dough would make me sick too, even without the salmonella. But I digress.
To be fair, the CDC does advise against eating raw cookie dough in any form (homemade or store bought) if you're pregnant or elderly. But as I told the horrified kids, I’ve been tasting homemade raw cookie dough for at least 37 years so far, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. I like to live on the edge. I'm as cool as Andrew Zimmern now, huh?
Meanwhile: Whoosh. Did you hear that? It’s the sound of my at-home childcare career whizzing away. Not that I wanted another career anyway. My sugar-addicted, freestyle-baker, intrepid-kitchen-warrior reputation precedes me.
But just for the official record, and just as I had predicted: the cookies were lovely. They had exactly the flavor and texture I was going for: sort of a pecan sandy meets chocolate chip cookie.
Once out of the oven, they were thoroughly enjoyed by our guests.
And nobody died. Bonus!
Pecan Sandyish Chocolate Chip "Tollhouse" Cookies
1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
at least 3 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup (heaping) chopped pecans
1/2 cup (heaping) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together.
- In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.Once butter is fully incorporated into sugar, slowly add eggs. Then add vanilla.
- Slowly incorporate flour mixture into sugar and butter, stopping to scrape down sides of the bowl as needed.
- Test dough with your fingers. It should be fairly thick -- tacky but not sticky. Add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until dough has a "playdough" consistency.
- With mixer off, add pecans and chocolate chips. Turn mixer on for just a minute or so, until the nuts and chips are incorporated.
- At this point, you can taste the dough, if you dare. See if you like it. If not, add something -- a few more nuts or chips, a little coconut, some raisins, a couple anchovies -- whatever inspires you! (just making sure you're still awake)
- Drop by rounded, flattened teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets (you'll need about 3).
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
- Let cool on the trays for a minute or so, then remove to a rack or plate to cool completely.