Cookie Love

So it’s been almost a week since my first Bouchon Bake.  I have endured a weekend of tortuous temperatures at a swim meet for my kid and now exhaustion requires me to bake to stay awake.  So I decided to start at the beginning (even though I will NOT be baking my way chronologically through this book).  Thomas Keller pays sweet homage to his mother by putting her recipe for these dandy little Pecan Sandies at the very front of his book.  Like Keller, my love of baking/cooking/all things kitchen-y came from my mom, so I can totally appreciate this shout-out.  And it is well deserved Mrs. Keller!


Let’s talk a minute about butter.  It gets a bad name. It’s just really heavily processed heavy cream.  But man, it’s good.  And there really is no substitute in baking.  Now don’t get me wrong, back when I was the “Mayonnaise Monitor”, an endearing nickname given me by hubby’s coworkers, I substituted weird things for butter: applesauce, fig paste, you name it, I tried it.  And did my cookies taste good?  Did they taste Bouchon? NOOOOOOOO.  How could they?  Butter is the very foundation of cookies.  Just look at this mountain!  I did double this recipe, so don’t worry, it was divided between many cookies.


And how about Pecans?  Talk about a beautiful creation.  I must admit I never bake with walnuts.  Once I found pecans, walnuts were literally a bitter memory.  Pecans are: (listen up!) buttery.  They are delicious raw, toasted, candied and mixed into just about any cookie you can think of.  Try them, you’ll never go back. Oh!  And don’t they look especially nice in my pretty vintage bowl?!


The line-up of ingredients.  No, nothing was left out of the picture; there are just four ingredients in these lovely treats: flour, powdered sugar, pecans and of course, butter.  Sometimes simple is beautiful (and delicious).


The mix-up. So incredibly easy.  In fact this is what I overheard during the preparation of these cookies (I am NOT making this up):

Boy 1 (perusing BIB): I can’t believe you’re going to make some of this stuff mom, it looks really hard!

Boy 2: Well, mom’s making it.  It can’t be that hard!

Thanks, Boy 2.  I’m hoping this is more of a “Mom is such a good baker, everything is easy for her!”


You might be asking yourself at this point: Did Mel really measure each ball to weight 30 grams?  Yes.  Yes, she did.  But only out of complete devotion to baking the Bouchon way.  I wanted uniform cookies and it was somewhat satisfying to know they were.  But for some reason, my cookie balls wanted to be 34 grams, so I had to keep correcting them. And again, how about my pretty bowl? There’s something to be said for pretty things, like blue vintage Pyrex.  Makes my baking even more fun.




So then there was the smooshing.  BIB said “using a spatula” , but I improvised with a glass (don’t tell), which worked fine.  Just goes to show you can improvise some things in baking….

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And then came the baking, the golden perfection, the dusting, the gorgeous, scrumptious simplicity of these little cookies.   They were perfect: tender, but crunchy short-bread-like dough bursting with chunks of toasty pecans.  They were gobbled by kids who had no idea how magnificent they were, whose heads readily and rapidly nodded when asked if they liked the cookies.  They were relished by my visiting friend and myself.  They will be enjoyed with coffee tomorrow.  There were a success.

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Stay tuned, it’s going to be a busy Bouchon week.  There will be cookies coming out of my ears (for a good cause) and some buttery breakfast banana muffins because bananas are ripening too quickly on my counter.


At Last….(insert Etta James singing soulfully)

Once there was a girl who bought a really big, intimidating cook book.  By a big wig chef.  Who had a big, uber-skilled pastry chef at his big, fancy-shmansy bakery.  Then there was a heat wave and equipment failure and a delay-of-game by her own invention of ginger-peach ice cream sandwiches.  Then, she manned-up (as it were) and began the baking.  She broke out the scale (genius!)


and then sat staring at the Big Intimidating Book thinking “Uhhhh, what do I bake first?”.  She decided one summer night that fried chicken was in order, in which case cornbread was in order, in which case there was no better place to start than there.


And you know what?  There was in fact a recipe for cornbread in the BIB (Big Intimidating Book).  And you know what?  The batter was supposed to rest “overnight”.  And you know what?  It was 9 am and the girl reasoned that since she only slept for 6 hours a night, then 9 am to 5 pm could certainly more than qualify as “overnight” resting.  So she weighed ingredients and she rested her batter and she thought all day about cornbread and then she baked it (while frying chicken and drinking a cocktail).


And you know what?  The well-measured-long-anticipated-from-a-fancy-shmansy-pastry-baker-guy-cornbread WAS NOT PERFECT!.  At first the girl stood dumbfounded.  This was supposed to be the holy grail of baked goods.  There was weighing of ingredients and careful folding of corn kernels.  The girl just knew it must be because she used 1% milk instead of whole; that she used coarse ground cornmeal instead of fine; that she made it in (gasp!) a 9×13 pan instead of muffin tins!  But alas, the crowd gathered disagreed and declared it tremendous.  The girl herself had to admit the crumb was superb, the texture fluffy but with brawn, the corn providing juicy pops of flavor.  And there it was: Mel baked Bouchon.  And it was not scary or too big.  It was fine and delicious and imperfect and it was an outstanding partner to her fried chicken.




I was so excited when my kitchen scale arrived Tuesday.  Well, I would have more excited had I not been in bed sick with a fever….but I digress.  Anyway, it was here!  I could begin my Bouchon journey!  Or so I thought.  Next morning, feeling more human, I excitedly opened the box fresh from Amazon.  Then I realized my mistake.  This was no .1 g increment scale!  Either it had been wrongly advertised or in my zeal I had mis-read the product information.  Either way, it was WRONG!  Now I realize .1 g is a very minute measurement, but if I’m going to do this thing, darn it, I’m going to do it RIGHT!  If Thomas Keller says I should measure out 1.7 g of baking powder, then there will be no measuring 1 or 2, but precisely 1.7!  So back to my computer I went (because if I have learned nothing else, it is that here in this general middle-of-california-valley-area there are no kitchen stores specialized enough to carry a .1 g increment kitchen scale, believe me, I’ve tried).  Sorry for the run-on parenthetical sentence….So search I did.  What did I find?  Most scales measuring down to .1 g increments were “pocket” scales that were not large enough to measure my larger weight ingredients.  And accurate as I want to be, there is not enough room in my full kitchen for two separate scales.

So after almost swallowing my tongue at some of the prices of large-range kitchen scales (those with small increment measurements which could also hold large weights), I found it.  On my trusty Amazon!  A scale that weighed up to 3000 g (roughly 6.6 pounds) in as small as .1 g increments.  A scale that didn’t cost as much as a small car!  In fact, in some crazy Amazon fluke, the 3000 g scale cost half what the 1000 g scale did.  So into my virtual cart it went and then I was asked “would you like to receive this item tomorrow for $3.99?”.  Absolutely!  So today it will arrive, and I will be waiting with bated breath.  Even better?  My mom is visiting.  It’s the cherry on my Bouchon Sundae.  It’s the icing on my Bouchon Cake.  She’s the woman who taught me to bake.  The woman who showed me how to turn black bananas into glorious tender “bread” (read: cake).  The woman who taught me you should always have softened butter on hand.  Now she’s here to celebrate the launch of my Bouchon journey.  How fitting.  How RIGHT.

If you can’t take the heat…….


So, you might be wondering: has she baked something?  Was it great?  Delicious?  Everything she hoped it would be?  No, no, no, no.  Because for the last seven days, there has been a heat wave here in Cali.  7 days of 110 degree temps and no overnight relief (in other words, no late night baking to avoid the heat!).  So I wait.  For the temperatures to break, for my fun baking dreams to materialize.  But I sure have done some reading.  Talk about thinking you know about something (baking) and realizing you know next to nothing (me).  Apparently a food scale that measures down to 1/10 of a gram is going to revolutionize my baking.  Apparently there are names for all the different stages of softened butter.  Apparently I shouldn’t be improvising as much as I do when I bake…..But you know what?  For the sake of this book, I’ll follow the letter of the baking law.  For the sake of Bouchon re-creation, I will do what Thomas Keller’s baking gurus do.  I’ll stop my flippant heaping teaspoons and shoddy flour measurements and use a scale, down to the gnat’s you-know-what.  Because that’s the point, right?  To bake the Bouchon way?  Tomorrow there’s supposed to be a break in the super-heated spell cast over Cali and I pray it lasts so I can get this show on the road!