Well, why not? I’m out of eggs, having used the last ones last night to make a birthday Grand Marnier soufflé for a dear friend. Soufflé is close to my usual breakfast of a soft boiled egg on wheat toast – eggs, flour, milk, orange (zest) – if you don’t count the sugar and Grand Marnier. But as I sit at the kitchen bar eating the leftover soufflé reflecting on the previous night’s dinner, I wonder, who did I really cook for? I planned the meal based on my friend’s likes, but nothing too complicated so we could chat while I cooked, well, except for maybe the soufflé. The simple meal of a braised pear and toasted pecan arugula salad and seafood risotto followed by the soufflé was a success. It was just one of those evenings where everything worked. This is probably my fourth soufflé and the first one that really was perfect which was more astounding considering that this vacation rental apartment lacked a mixer and I had to beat the egg whites by hand. Maybe it is self-centered, getting more satisfaction out of your accomplishments than from the enjoyment you bring to someone else. The truth is, when it comes to food the proper American response is always that the dish was great even when the cook knows otherwise. But to know that you cooked the perfect meal for someone, have them enjoy it and then eat the leftovers for breakfast is like winning the trifecta.
Still basking in my culinary achievements from the night before, I started my morning project of baking shortbread cookies to take to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. My grandmother’s recipe is simple; just three ingredients, flour, butter and powdered sugar. It’s been years since I’ve made a batch but, really, compared to a soufflé this is cake. Or so I thought. Forming the dough into our family traditional rectangle with a thumb sized indentation on top, I thought that the dough felt soft and wondered if I should chill it before baking. But I never remembered my grandmother, mother or aunt ever chilling the dough, so I didn’t. I put the first batch into a low 225° degree oven that my grandmother used to use – she liked the drama of baking things in a low oven for a really long time. But after an hour the cookies hadn’t done much more than melt; the traditional shape I had so carefully formed was barely recognizable. I turned turn the temperature up to the 275° my mother had given me for the quick- baking version of the recipe. Twenty minutes later the cookies were flattish and unfortunately a little too brown. In the process of ensuring that the centers were cooked through, I had left them in the oven too long. With the remaining dough, I carefully formed the second batch, but this time I chilled the pieces before baking them in the hotter 275° oven. They still melted, not as bad, and the color was better. Acceptable but not great. I decided to use the last stick of butter to make one mini batch to ensure that I had enough respectable cookies to fill the tin. These I chilled, but not as long and they didn’t melt as much as the first two batches. The difference? The butter. Not knowing whether to use salted or unsalted butter I had bought two different brands of butter. For the first batch I used half of each, Jana Valley and a salted 365 Whole Foods brand. The second mini batch I used only the salted 365 brand. The Jana Valley has a higher fat content which I suspect caused the cookies to melt. With my humility fully restored, I learned two valuable lesson, one, butter matters and two, baking is never simple.