Can I share a cool, exciting, and a bit embarrassing moment with you?
I know, you're mostly tuning in for for the embarrassing part, but this isn't the story about when I walked through a graduation party with the back of my skirt stuck in the back of my panties, or the time I got my teacup confused with a finger bowl at Benihana (both true, by the way); but more about not knowing how to gracefully deal with being considered “famous.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was working at the Baking Education Center as Jeff Hamelman's assistant in a professional baker's class. Geographically speaking, the BEC is across the parking lot from our retail store, and it's not uncommon for folks to peek in to find out what's in the building, or to see the classroom. So, when a nice smiling lady showed up in the back of the room, I left off doing dishes (AH, the glamor) and went to see if I could help her out or answer any questions.
She was very curious about the classroom and our schedule, and wanted to return with several friends to take a class together. The bakers were busily shaping loaves, so she and I had a very pleasant little chat about baking and all things KAF. She asked how long I'd been working here, and about my job. When I got to the part about being the cookie decorator for the catalogue, she gave a squeal of excitement and promptly pulled out a camera and asked to take my picture.
I was a quite surprised and yes, a little embarrassed. Don't get me wrong, I've taken plenty of photos for students during classes and have posed with students after class so they can take pictures for their scrapbooks to remember the class by, but I've never had someone want to take my picture over cookies.
I've never been a big fan of having my picture taken, and avoided it for many years. One day I ran across an article about a woman who felt the same way until her own mother passed away. When looking through family photos, she noticed just how few of them her mother was in, and realized how sad she felt about that. “I'm robbing my family of memories,” was her epiphany; and I've embraced that philosophy regarding my own family photos.
This dear lady wanted to be able to show me off to her friends, and say that she'd met the gal who made the beautiful cookies. It was very sweet, and of course I said yes. I hope her picture does come out and that I didn't look too grubby after having my head in the sink all morning.
When I was at home that evening talking with my husband, David, I said it was hard for me and I didn't quite know what to do when something like this happened. I'm the last person in the world to think I'm anything special. I have the self esteem of a banana slug sometimes. On my last performance review I crossed out the word “outstanding” and wrote in “pretty darn good.” So, how does one come to terms with being admired for one's skills?
Hopefully gracefully. I could hem and haw and hide behind a towel, making the meeting awkward for myself and for my visitor. Or just dig deep, man up, and smile for the camera, being thankful that a small talent I have makes people happy.
It tickles me pink when people leave comments for me, or say they're fans. I think of you as friends, some I've met and some I haven't met yet. Your comments keep me energized and enthused about baking, and drive me on to find new, fun, delicious, zany, beautiful recipes to share. You rock my world!
If you think any of this goes to my head, rest easy. I'm still in awe of my test kitchen buddies. They've probably forgotten more baking info than I'll ever know, and I'm really lucky to be able to work with them.
So, give me a shout if you're in the area, I'd love to make a new friend. Until then, let's share a few tips and tricks about making your cutout cookies they best that they can be. And remember, while I can make some pretty darn good-looking cookies, I can't make good meatloaf to save my soul – and that makes me a humble gal every time!
What's the first step towards cutting out perfect cookies? A well chilled dough including a minimum of leavener (baking powder or baking soda). My favorite recipe is our Holiday Butter Cookies. It has no leavener at all, so the cookies bake up thin and crisp and keep their shape.
Don't skimp on the chill time either; warm dough is not the way to go, as it won't hold its shape well. Refrigerate the portion of dough you aren't using to prevent it from getting warm and dried out.
When rolling the dough, be sure to occasionally lift it to ensure that it isn't sticking to your work surface. Dust more flour underneath if needed, and use a well floured pin. I like our silicone handled pin a lot. It has the right heft, and the ball bearings roll like a dream.
When you're ready to cut your shapes, don't be shy about really flouring your cutter well. I like to have a pile of flour on the work surface that I can keep dipping the cutter into. I've recently heard about dipping the cutter in cooking oil instead of flour, but haven't given it a try yet. Anyone out there use that method? I'd love to hear your results.
Before you begin cutting, plan out where you'll place the cutter to make the most of your dough space. The less scraps between cuts, the better. If you do need to re-roll scraps, be sure to chill the dough again for best results.
Press the cutter down firmly over all of the edges, paying special attention to the nooks, crannies, and detailed areas.
When you remove the cutter from the dough, it's helpful to use a small tool such as a dowel or chopstick to press on the more detailed parts of the cutter to help release the dough. For this lizard, the feet and the tail can be tricky so I paid those areas a little extra attention.
Darn. Even the best laid plans don't always work out and sometimes you lose a part of the cookie. While some lizards can re-grow body parts, I don't think that's going to happen here, so we're going to need to make some repairs.
First, we need to find the missing foot. Use a small butter knife or other narrow, thin spatula to remove the small piece from the rest of the dough.
Place the broken pieces together and gently press with your fingers to bind them together again. If the edges have dried out a bit, just a drop of water on your fingertip will solve the problem.
When baked, the patch is hardly noticeable. Once iced, your guests will never know the difference.
When baking, be sure to place your cookies on cool baking sheets. Warm sheets will cause your cookies to spread more, and you may lose detail.
The patch is strong enough to not break off when the cookie is handled. This technique works great for small breaks and tears. For larger breaks, such as a missing head, you would need to re-cut the cookie for best results.
Another great way to avoid losing detailed parts of your cookies is to cut directly on parchment paper and pull the excess dough away from the design in small pieces. Depending on the size of your cutter, it can be a faster way to go with no worries about transferring from the work surface to the baking surface.
Another common issue is an uneven or cracked surface on the cookies, especially if they're not going to be iced or decorated. To avoid having your dough crack, be sure you don't add too much flour. Dry dough will crack more readily.
Roll the dough from the center to the edges, and be careful that you don't run the pin off the edge of the dough and flatten the edges too much. Running a hand lightly across the rolled-out dough will help you feel any bumps or divots, too.
Sometimes you get cracks or rough spots and just can't get them completely out of the dough. What next?
One easy fix is to dimple the surface of the dough on purpose. Use the rounded end of a dowel or chopstick and press gently into the dough to create an impression.
Cover the entire cookie, and any cracks or unevenness will just become part of the design rather then showing up as an error. Aren't you clever now with your spotted gecko?
I know, you've always been clever, that's one thing I like about you. I hope these tips help you on your cookie journey and oh yeah, when someone asks to snap your picture, just say "Cookies!".