Saturday, August 3, 2013

Like Butter, Sugar, and Eggs

It is easier said than lived out -- embracing the positivity of the notion that a measure of heartache is good because it signifies that something genuinely good has been experienced and its season has simply slipped away to be replaced by a new one.

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I say this to myself often, actually, trying to wring the gratitude out of experiences for all that they are worth. It helps me stay hopeful for what's in my present, and, rather than springing up a fresh bout of tears, it keeps a smile behind my lips as my thoughts trail through the past.

I find myself in this place of reflection and hope as I begin each day in a world that I could not have visualized a month ago. I wake up to a sun ready to heat the cement earth all around me by midday. I find respite from this concrete-covered land by heading out my front door to a nearby running trail, though the fact that it is framed by straw-like, brittle foliage and postings of rattlesnake warnings reminds me I am indeed on a new adventure.

In mid-June I intentionally set these changes into motion by accepting a job in the Bay Area of California and within two weeks was on a solo road trip south on Interstate 5. I unloaded my car but kept in mind that was the easiest, most straightforward part of the process of making a new home. There would surely be a thousand more steps to come which would comprise the "settling in" process -- a process with its own agenda, independent of my preferred time frames and expectations.

I mentioned heartache at the beginning because I am indeed missing friends, family, favorite spots, and so much of life that came to comprise my three years in Bellingham, WA. But so much that is new is also good, and it is sweet to find the ways that bright, encouraging pieces are falling into place. It is also invaluable to learn to recognize the bits of familiar in all this newness.

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For me, familiar can be as simple as compiling a grocery list with words like butter, sugar, and eggs on it. It can then flow into setting up a KitchenAid on the kitchen counter and watching the familiar sight of butter creaming, walking in and out of the room to the whirr of the machine as sugar is beaten in to the point of becoming pale fluffy sweet cream. Opening a bottle of wine and turning on music I have known for a while helps tremendously at this point, too.

Even though I am no longer required to come up with recipes for work, I have to steer my thoughts away from flavor combinations and schemes for new baking projects at least half of my day. My morning run has become the easiest time to let my mind mentally thumb through favorite cookbooks and new ideas as my stomach rumbles and looks forward to breakfast.

Thankfully, I am finding another essential part of any baking endeavor in this new place: people to enjoy eating it. Already, I have found occasion to bake two batches of cookies, ricotta-filled muffins, and I have a spelt-zucchini loaf cake in the works.

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One of these cookies is hardly a new flavor combination, but it is tried and true. For those who love chocolate and peanut butter together, I don't believe we ever tire of dreaming of any ol' wonderful form to eat it in. The other day when I was passing the Newman O's in the grocery aisle at Whole Foods I took a second glance at the peanut butter-filled ones, and with that, I knew I would be making my own soon.

I've played with a few different chocolate wafer recipes in the past year in search of one that I love that stays crisp, is deeply cocoa-y, and only barely sweet. I made Thomas Keller's TKO white chocolate filling this spring but went with a different cookie that had already intrigued me. This time around, I wanted to try his chocolate shortbread and trade in my own well-salted peanut butter frosting. By the time I flicked the last bits of Maldon sea salt from my finger tips to the frosted cookie and lifted it to my mouth, I knew this cookie was a winner. It's a rich little treat, of course, but just the sort that I know would be a hit at a wide range of occasions -- welcome at barbecues, birthday parties, picnics, afternoon tea, or paired with homemade crème fraîche ice cream when you want a special dessert at home. (Though, between writing that sentence and this one, I found this semifreddo recipe that I would eagerly pair with these cookies. Doesn't Salted Butter Ice Cream sound perfectly lovely?)

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting

The Cookie:
Thomas Keller's TKO recipe from Bouchon Bakery. The recipe can be found HERE.

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The Frosting:
(Adapted from Ashley Rodriguez at Not Without Salt)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter (I used Whole Food's 365 brand unsweetened creamy peanut butter -- the one with palm oil in it)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Maldon salt, plus more for topping

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and whip with the paddle attachment until fluffy, 4-5 minutes at medium speed. Scrape down sides and add peanut butter, vanilla, and salt. Continue beating until well incorporated. Taste for salt and sugar balance.

Fill piping bag or use a knife or small offset spatula to spread on base cookies (which must be cooled completely). Sprinkle frosting with additional Maldon salt, and sandwich with top cookie.

I baked the cookies the day before the frosting step and they held up wonderfully, as shortbreads often do. Once they were frosted and shared, they didn't last long enough to determine their life, but they should be at their prime for another day if kept in a sealed container (from there, they will be just as delicious but the cookies will likely soften).

2 comments:

Rachael said...

Oh how I miss you too!! Thanks for writing--it's just one more way I can keep you close from a distance.
I love your writing, I love your thoughts, I love your recipes...I love you my sweet,sweet daughter!

Elise Meidal said...

Lovely. I now have my very own kitchen complete with a dishwasher - come back and bake your heart out sister!