I didn’t always like that I liked to bake. Ever since that one fateful day when I disastrously attempted baking blueberry muffins, I’ve been attracted to the idea of making something from nothing, and then sharing it with people.
Maybe that’s why I love writing so much; I can take a blank page and turn it into something that makes me smile, or cry, or brings back a memory that I’d forgotten. If I’m really lucky, that story does the same for someone else.
But baking used to be a sore spot for me. I was never very good at it, and my baking screw-ups tended to outweigh the few times I made something that actually got eaten.
Baking was, and still is, volatile: it’s unpredictable, and following the rules doesn’t fix everything. You need to wing it most of the time, and you need to accept failure and work past it. Neither of those things are my strong suits. I like routine and planning, but in the trenches of the kitchen, even the best planning won’t save crusty dough or watery gravy. You need to deal with the trauma, and honestly, that freaks me out.
I didn’t latch on to the idea of cooking or baking; even though in the moment I loved the serenity and repetition, I couldn’t get over the possibility of failure. After finally succeeding with the muffin recipe, I stuck to it, and didn’t bother trying to make anything else. I made them at least once a month, never straying from the recipe. They were good muffins, mind you, and my family certainly appreciated them, but the fact that I never dared to venture outside of that recipe was emblematic of my own self-esteem issues. I was afraid of failing again, so I didn’t bother trying anything else.
Except at Christmas – there was this one recipe for sugar cookies that came in a kid’s book someone gave me, and for whatever reason, I insisted on making them every December. Truth be told, they were awful. I always burned the bottoms and they were hard as rocks. Everyone knew they were dreadful, too, and they sat in the tin for weeks after I made them, until eventually someone would throw them out sometime after New Years. The only ones that ever left the tin were the few that I dug out and put on a plate beside the fireplace for Santa every Christmas Eve.
The only reason I made them was because I loved to bake, always had, but never had a reason to, other than those blueberry muffins. Christmas was the perfect excuse, because I knew that I had to make those cookies for Santa.
As I grew older, I still baked sugar cookies every Christmas, but I got a little more confident in my baking abilities. Rather than sticking to the recipe book, I played around a little bit, adding more or less ingredients depending on the consistency of the dough. And rather than sticking them in the oven for the prescribed amount of minutes, I watched them obsessively, pulling them out of the oven the minute I sensed they were done.
Just like the muffins, the sugar cookies improved. I no longer need my mom to help me knead the dough because I mixed it all wrong or didn’t add enough liquid, and I only really use the recipe notes for guidelines; for the most part, I go by what looks and feels right. And best of all, people actually eat them.
Once I got over the sting of my original failure, I was okay. I think I realized that one failure doesn’t mean I’m doomed forever. It just means I have to work harder the next time, and the success will be even sweeter.
two mixing bowls (medium and large)
wooden cutting board
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
In a medium size bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until soft, either with a wooden spoon or a mixer. Slowly beat in sugar, egg, vanilla, and milk. When well combined, stir in dry mix, a little at a time. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour, just until the dough is stiff enough to roll into a firm ball.
Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. Once dough is chilled, let sit at room temperature until it softens up a bit to the touch.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out dough on a floured board until 1/2 inch thick. Cut dough with cookie cutters and place on ungreased baking pan. Top with sprinkles and bake for 6-8 minutes, until bottoms start to turn golden.
Let cookies sit on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.