I have a small group of girlfriends whom I love. We drink together, we laugh together, we commiserate and rant together. We do not, however, bake together, and that's likely what has kept our friendship so stable.
You hear about women who congregate annually and form group baking coalitions in someone's kitchen. Dough and hilarity ensue. Dozens upon dozens of different cookies are baked, and then shared amongst the group. Everyone goes home and smugly fills their freezers to the brim with holiday baking.
In theory, this sounds very nice. Sometimes I sigh and wish my sisters and friends lived closer so we could have our own bake-bonding session. Then I attempt to bake something on my own and the burning smell snaps me back into reality: I am not a kitchen-sharing kinda gal. Nor am I a baker.
These simple facts were reinforced last week when I roped my mother-in-law into helping me make shortbread cookies. She is a kitchen goddess - she bakes, she stews, she cans, she preserves, she roasts, she does it all. So I figured with her help, I couldn't possibly screw up the sacred shortbread recipe bequeathed to me (after much coaxing) by an older colleauge. Boy, was I wrong.
My aforesaid girlfriends are not without a sense of humour. A few Christmasses ago, they gave me a cookie press. They know I don't bake very well, but they also know I love to try. They also know about my weird obsession with Martha Stewart. She's a bit wacko and her projects are often astronomically unattainable, but I love her anyway. I'd enjoy being her for a day (sans the prison record and scary smile). A cookie press is the ultimate in Martha-ness: it's a beautiful concept, but mere mortals don't have much of a chance of making the damn thing work.
My mother-in-law is used to being the master of her kitchen domain. Unfortunately, I am used to being the master of my kitchen domain. This does not bode well for an evening of community baking. But we like each other and both of us made an effort not to assert any kitchen-nazi tendencies. We unpacked the cookie press, took it apart, admired the different patterns. We read and re-read the recipe, measured the ingredients for the dough and mashed everything together with our hands.
Things were going swimmingly until we jammed the dough into the press and attempted to mould our first cookie in the shape of a wreath. I clicked the trigger of the press three times and looked down at the cookie sheet. Nothing. My mother-in-law tried. Still nothing. I shook it, smacked it around a little and tried again. Nada.
Upon further examination, the instructions on the cookie-press box warned us not to use a cold cookie sheet (not a problem, as my MIL's house is always 80 degrees), and not to use a non-stick surface. Well, who the hell owns a cookie sheet these days that isn't non-stick? We looked at each other in disgust.
Finally, after taking out all the dough, adding a little water to the mix and stuffing it back in again, we got our first cookie out. It looked like it had been a victim of radiation poisoning. We changed the pattern to the tree and tried a few more. They looked like little Charlie Brown Christmas trees. And so it went.
Three dozen cookies laster, I discovered that the worst part of all this baking humiliation was not that we burned the cookies (we had trouble getting the oven to heat up, so overcooking wasn't a problem) or even that we never got the hang of the press (eventually, the cookies kind of resembled the shapes they were meant to). It was that they tasted AWFUL. Kind of like butter mixed with sawdust. Even the cute little mini-m&ms and candied cherries we used to decorate the tops couldn't save the flavour. My husband tasted one; he chewed, and chewed, and chewed, then fled to the fridge for some milk to wash the cookie down. "Gahhh," he said after a mighty swallow, "not my favourite.
So now I have 3 dozen nasty tasting shortbread cookies in my freezer. And a cookie press that is going back where it belongs, in the dark forbidding far corner of my least-used cupboard. And I know exactly what I'm giving my girlfriends for Christmas.