Yesterday, Lévana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
We all think of cookies as a short-lived and vaguely illicit pleasure. Except I honestly don’t think, and you can ask anyone, there’s a cookie in the world more worshipped and more baked than my smart little chocolate chip cookie. I will attempt to give you an idea just how much mileage it gets.
The first time my daughter Bella went away to summer camp, I asked her what she would like me to bring her on visiting day, and she said with great glee: “Duh, chocolate chip cookies, mom, what else?” For her and her bunkmates. And, lots of them for the long hot summer ahead.
I made a gigantic batch, filled an oversized canister with (four hundred!) chocolate chip cookies and brought it along to camp. Bella called me the very next day, gushing: “Wow, thank you so much, Mommy. Everyone loved your cookies. Even the driver had some. They are all gone. The whole entire camp agrees: Your cookies rule!” My daughter couldn’t have known that, right there and then, she had become inadvertently responsible for something very important in my summer life: The abolition of the care package custom. They’ll all eat my cookies when they come home, period!
A couple years after this delicious fiasco, at a particularly painful period marked by multiple terror attacks in Israel (the year following the fateful events of 9/11), my children and I and a few dear friends put our heads together to come up with the best possible community fund-raiser project that would benefit the terror victims. The emerging idea was to do something fun. Something that could be an antidote to the prevailing somber mood, and would bring people of all ages and all walks of life together. There was no hesitation: Make a million cookies and sell them online, was the unanimous answer.
As soon as the idea took shape, we all got cracking. I asked the administrator of the JCC in Manhattan if she would let us bake in their kitchen, and I always remember her answer with a chuckle: “The Million Cookie Project! I don’t know what I was smoking when I agreed to this, but I know it will be lots of fun.” It took us a couple months to put everything in place: A giant mixer, mountains of ingredients, the perfect design for the cookie boxes, staffers in charge of scheduling the volunteer baking shifts, trucks for transport. The most wonderful — and wonderfully chaotic — summer followed, with busses full of camp children pouring into the kitchen for the morning shift, then other kids coming for the afternoon shift, followed by the dizzyingly cosmopolitan, multilingual and multi-denominational evening crowds: These included TV and newspaper crews, celebrities, aspiring actors, illustrators, story tellers. “We’re baking cookies to raise a lot of dough!” read one headline. “Your cookies are weapons of mass destruction!” said one volunteer. “You mean weapons of mass construction” replied another, pointing to her ample hips.
Little Tzipporah, now a beautiful young lady, refused to go to day camp, preferring to spend her mornings with me and other big people, and sat precariously perched on a high stool, straining to apply the hot seal on the little blue cookie boxes before she dropped them into cartons. We all baked, schmoozed, packaged, sealed, transported, filled orders and loaded trucks till we dropped. And dropped we finally did, at the end of that summer, with a little over a million chocolate chip cookies baked and sold, and all proceeds sent to Israel. This is why I am forever known as the cookie lady.
Just this year, a health site (www.HealthCastle.com) approached me to ask permission to use my chocolate chip cookie recipe, which would face off against a couple hundred other recipes: The goal was to try all recipes in a test kitchen over the course of three months, and determine which recipe tasted best within the most wholesome guidelines: Mine won!
I do have one bittersweet memory, just one, associated with my cookies: One very rainy day during summer camp in the mountains, Esther, who ran the camp, asked if I would mind spending the afternoon making cookies with the children. I arrived to find a hundred kids jumping up and down with excitement. Everything was laid out impeccably on a giant kitchen table, we just needed to make the batter, then shape and bake the cookies. With all the little helping hands we had, we made hundreds of cookies in no time, and they kept coming out of the oven, fast and furious. It’s all the kids could do to keep their hands from getting scorched while the cookies were cooling off. Wow, they would exclaim, delighted, each time a tray was pulled out of the oven: they rose like crazy! The children were right, I thought, puzzled: they look like cookies on steroids! One of the children spit out the cookie she had just tasted …. and made a disgusted face, causing total consternation. We soon found out why. While making the cookies, we ran short just half a cup sugar, and one of the girls ran to a kitchen cabinet and took out …. sea salt she found in a little sugar bowl, and measured half a cup into the batter. We had to throw all of them out; the children were inconsolable (and Esther’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, cried at the thought of throwing away food, no matter how flawed….), until the next day when we started a whole new giant batch. “We’re baking cookies again?” Esther asked with a wink. “Sure! With or without salt?”
My Famous Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
2 eggs (if you can’t have eggs: 2 tablespoons flax meal mixed with 1/3 cup warm water)
½ cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar or Sucanat
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2½ cups flour: all-purpose, whole wheat pastry, spelt (gluten-free—any GF flour, such as brown rice flour)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips, best quality
½ chopped nuts, optional
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Cream the eggs and sugars in a food processor or with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and mix in thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and pulse (or mix at low speed) until just combined. Fold in the chips and nuts (if using) by hand. Drop the cookies in heaping teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart.
Bake 10 minutes. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so do not be tempted to bake them longer, or they will harden. Bake only one tray at a time. Store at room temperature in tin boxes. Separate each layer of cookies with foil or wax paper so they don’t stick together. Makes about 4 dozen.
Lévana Kirschenbaum‘s most recent book, “The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple” will be available later this month. The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.
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