I always keep a package (or two) of Nestlé’s semi-sweet morsels in my pantry. You never know when the urge to bake chocolate chip cookies will overcome you. In my case, that desire to bake comes on sudden and strong. I may put it off for a few days if I am really busy, or as is the case these days, until I find a morning cool enough to turn on the oven (alas, no air conditioning). But I must bake the cookies once I have it in my mind to do so.
As much as anything else I consider myself to be—psychologist, researcher, romantic, writer—I am a cookie baker. I love to bake cookies, all kinds of cookies. It started out when I was very young, about 4 or so years old. I began baking Christmas cookies with my mom. I’m not certain when the desire morphed to baking mostly chocolate chip cookies. What I do remember very well is that I have always had an almost desperate need to bake.
As a girl I would scour the Joy (The Joy of Cooking, of course) for any kind of cookie recipe that used whatever we had in the house. And what we had in the house was never all that much—in the eyes of a baker, anyway. We didn’t stock nuts or chips or other baking accouterments, but we always had margarine (Fleishman’s, I believe), eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, baking soda and baking powder. If I was really lucky we might have an old box of brown sugar at the back of the cupboard that was solid as a rock. With determination, I would pulverize the sugar and manage to make do.
Sometimes in a pinch I would pull together bar cookies from whatever cereal we had on hand like Special K (never Rice Krispies) or Cocoa Krispies glued together with corn syrup and peanut butter. To this day I really love Rice Krispy marshmallow bars—though I have never stocked marshmallows, there is always an old jar of corn syrup available because no recipe ever uses very much.
One of my fondest memories of baking as a little girl started out with great frustration by the lack of ingredients—but the outcome was wonderful. The only items in the kitchen that day were brown sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and baking powder. Of course we didn’t have any of the optional items like nuts or coconut or figs or dates so I remember being a bit disappointed that they were so thin—but they were sweet and golden and buttery (well, as buttery as margarine is) and they really didn’t need anything else.
Butterscotch Brownies from The Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition
About 16 Thin 2¼-Inch Squares
An all-time favorite, easily made.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Melt in a saucepan:
¼ cup butter
Stir into it until dissolved:
1 cup brown sugar
Cool these ingredients slightly, then beat in well:
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift, then measure:
½ cup all-purpose flour
Resift it with:
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Stir these ingredients into the butter mixture. Add:
½ to 1 cup finely chopped nuts or
¾ cup grated coconut
Chopped dates and figs may be substituted for the nuts. Use a little of the flour over them. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 9-inch pan. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes. Cut into bars when cool.
I made the occasional cake when I was young (though I imagine what is “occasional” to me is probably “often” to non-bakers), but that required other items like chocolate or powdered sugar and more margarine if I was going to frost. We usually had a box of unsweetened cocoa in the house and if it wasn’t too much after Christmas I might hit the jackpot and find Baker’s squares of unsweetened chocolate.
My mom was a goddess at making something from nothing like jellyrolls or my favorite, mocha rolls. I am not much of a jam or jelly person so it didn’t register to me to try to do something with whatever jam we had around. Nor was I ever any good at making the sponge cake for a jelly roll so add that to my reasons for sticking with cookies!
In hindsight, I have no doubt that had I asked my mom 45 years ago to keep other baking ingredients on hand including the almighty Nestlé’s morsels, she would have gladly done so—but it never dawned on me to ask. These days I always keep chips on hand (butterscotch, peanut butter and milk, dark, semi-sweet) and a ton of butter, flour, sweeteners of all kinds and anything else you can imagine is useful for baking. If you find me with a large bowl in hand and a wooden spoon (preferable to an electric mixer), I will most likely be making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You will notice a big grin on my face because I am a cookie baker—echoing the words of a baker Andy and I met very early one morning at his bakery in Silver Plume, Colorado. When we asked him, “How are you?” he responded with a smile, “I am a baker!” And that is a very happy thing indeed.