The other day, I ran into my friend Andie at the supermarket. I always run into Andie at the supermarket. “So, what’s up?” She asked as our carts kissed hello. We paused to chat at our favorite hangout, halfway between the lightbulbs and the refrigerated pasta and basically in the way of anyone trying to pass by.
“Nothing,” I said, scanning my shopping list.
“Ooo! You made a list. You’re so good.”
I shrugged. “Not usually, but tonight I’m actually cooking!” I said, pleased with my own initiative. “I told Brett that, every week, I’m going to try a different recipe from this new cookbook I got. These are the ingredients I need.”
She asked what the cookbook was, and I told her: Ina Garten’s How Easy is That? “Only, I already tried one of the recipes and, I gotta say, it wasn’t that easy.”
“I smell a column!” She sang, smiling and pushing her cart towards the dairy aisle.
And so, here we are again. You and me and a random story from my life that’s just begging to be told.
And we have Andie to thank.
Just about a year ago, Andie and I decided that it would be fun to flex our culinary muscles together, and so we signed up for a baking class through the Scarsdale Adult School.
Now, neither one of us is what you’d call a baker. Shoppers, yes. Eaters, perhaps. Fans of reality television, definitely. But bakers? Not so much. Luckily, that first class called for a good deal of watching and a bit of eating. Not to mention the potential for shopping.
“You see these lovely cookies?” The instructor asked, showing off several iterations of the finished product. “With this one dough, you will be able to create a few different cookies. All you need are linzer cutouts – both fluted and plain, in a variety of sizes — as well as several dowels from the hardware store.”
Andie and I nodded. We both wrote buy cookie cutouts and dowels on the back of our recipe sheets.
“In order to ensure that your ingredients are measured correctly, you really should use a food scale,” the instructor advised while measuring the butter.
Andie and I nodded. We both wrote “buy food scale” underneath the other items.
“You can use any kind of flour and any kind of raspberry jam, but I really like the ones from Fairway the best.”
Andie and I nodded and wrote “go to Fairway for best flour and jam” under the food scale.
This is about the point in the class when my head started to hurt.
“Now, once you’ve attached the correct paddle to your mixer, you really have to let the dough go for a good three minutes.”
“Mixer?” Andie gasped.
“You don’t have a mixer?” I whispered under the hum of the mixer.
“NO!” She barked. “Why would I have a mixer?”
“Because we’re baking!” I snapped back.
“So, fine, I’ll get a mixer!” She declared.
“I think I have a coupon for Chef Central,” I said, trying to placate her.
“Yeah, yeah,” she sighed, just as the teacher told us what kind of baking sheets, sieve, and parchment paper we needed.
“Bring your cookies in next week so that I can taste them and make you feel bad in front of everyone if they suck,” the teacher said.
Fine. He didn’t say that.
But we all knew that’s what he meant by saying there would be a taste test.
Now Andie might not be much of a baker, but she has what I’d call a nice competitive spirit, and so, once she had bought the requisite equipment and ingredients, she went to work preparing the perfect cookie.
I got a call from her two nights before we were to present our homework to the class. “The first batch was too flaky,” She said. “So were the next three. They all taste fine, but I can’t bring them in looking like this. I’m making another batch.”
I, preferring to write about my experiences rather than perfect them, decided that one mediocre bunch was more than sufficient. I saved four very good-ish cookies in a plastic container and let my kids have the rest.
Then I went over to Andie’s and helped her get rid of all that imperfect evidence.
The classes continued. We graduated from cookies and made our way to cakes. The first was a classic seven-layer cake, which required its own treasure-hunt shopping list, including a certain kind of foreign cocoa powder, an offset spatula, and a perfectly sized cardboard box top with which to measure the layers.
Andie had missed the class pertaining to the assemblage of said cake and thus decided to forego any attempt of accomplishing the task. We both agreed that she had gone above and beyond for the cookies and that she could take a bye for cake week.
I, however, was kind of looking forward to the assignment. I read over the two pages of single-spaced directions and my hand-written additional tips scribbled in the margins, getting myself prepared until I was what you might call stoked. Stoked for seven layers.
I put on my (new, cute, French) apron and began measuring. A few hours later, I was done. I had ganashed the ganache until it shined like silken silk. I had cut off the uneven parts so that the cake was not leaning like the tower of Pisa. I had so totally and completely dominated this cake.
How I wish you had seen it! How I wish you had tasted it! It was delish. It was pretty.
And, for some reason, it had only six layers.
It was my almost perfect six-layer seven-layer cake.
Not sure how that happened, thinking back. But when I cut into it that night, Brett and I cocked our heads sideways and paused. Then we counted and recounted, tasted and re-tasted until we were sure: this cake was short one layer.
Brett tried to cheer me up. “Have you ever counted the layers on a seven layer cake before?” He asked. “Just to make sure they are all there?”
“Maybe they all have six layers!” He reasoned. “Maybe the seventh is like a phantom layer, a tall-tale layer, the whale that got away layer. Maybe it just doesn’t exist.”
“Or, maybe,” I added, “When I bring it to class, I can tell the teacher that you and I ate the seventh layer!”
“Like the way Andrew eats only the green layer from the rainbow cookies.”
Thanks to my husband, I was all set to completely lie my way through the next session of class, only a snowstorm came along and allowed me to miss the class for real.
And so that was pretty much the last time I baked.
Because now, when I feel the need for linzers or any amount of layers, I just head to my favorite bakery.
In less than 10 minutes, I am face-to-face with a plethora of perfect cakes and cookies smiling at me from behind a glass display case. And in less than 11 minutes, I am eating them.
So, I ask you, Scarsdale, how easy is that?