Monday, September 27, 2010

FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES

BLACK & WHITE


So many see the world in black and white, true and false, right and wrong. Maybe it is time to start thinking in shades of gray.

A very long time ago, out of college and working an utterly lousy job in New York City, I decided that it was time to pack my bags and head out. Tired of working for barely enough wages to pay a New York rent and the bills with nothing at all left over with which to enjoy the city, frustrated by the Reagan “Me Years” and the constant talk of money, money, money swirling around me, fed up by all of my wealthy classmates who could afford the interesting jobs that paid exactly zero dollars for the privilege of working at this gallery or that museum while those of us without the support of our parents had to settle for the less than interesting or simply low-paying jobs, angry by all of the social injustice I saw, and maybe even upset with myself for the string of bad career choices I had made, I knew that I had to find a new life. So I gave my month warning, quit my job, ripped up my rental contract, gave away as much of my furniture as I could, wrapped up bags of old clothing and dumped them on the sidewalk for whoever wanted to take them away, packed two suitcases, emptied my meager bank account and left. Ah, Paris awaited on the other side of the ocean, only the first leg of what has turned out to be a very long journey.


To many of my friends this appeared to be the ultimate in cool bohemian adventure, able to pick up and move on a whim, choose a new city, a new country, slip into a new life with ease and pleasure at will. Others, not so much. One conversation struck me so forcibly that it still lingers in my mind today: I remember a friend, upon learning that I was quitting my job in a New York art gallery, packing up my bags and leaving for Paris, declaring with a sigh “Ah, I wish I could leave everything behind and move to Paris….” and felt his thoughts “if only I didn’t have a serious job, a real job, responsibility and obligations” hanging in the air between us like some unspoken rebuke. The world as he saw it, in black and white.

A few years later, my young husband decided to change professions, leave behind one that was unsatisfying, unrewarding and often mind bogglingly crazy for another that he found more exciting and better suited to his character and to his dreams. One day, he came home from a dentist appointment and related how he had casually explained to the dentist that he was leaving his profession to start another and how the dentist actually turned on him, furiously screaming that it was impossible and irresponsible to change professions like that! My husband was stunned by the dentist’s absolute outrage! It was as if our ability to turn our back on society’s expectations of us and to grab at our dreams was a personal affront to him! That wistful voice from my past, my friend’s statement on the eve of my first trip to Paris, came back to join this other, angrier voice in a chorus of disapproval, of judgment! And we were found guilty! But guilty of what?


Both my husband and I have changed professions, jobs, homes, cities many times. Cool Bohemian adventure or irresponsible whim? Black or white or something in between? We often discuss the ways of life and what role we have to play in the scheme of things, our responsibility as adults, parents, citizens. Do we follow one path, choose a career, create a cozy, secure home, have children, never say die until the end of our days? We are surrounded by so many who think so, we live in a society, a culture that sets strict rules of behavior and expectations, yet there has always been something stronger at play from my first voyage to France and JP’s long ago choice to spend two years in Morocco in lieu of performing the traditional military service to our moves from country to country, city to city. People often ask me to tell them how I ended up in Paris, how I met my husband, and this is the rather simple story.

Maybe we have simply both been bitten by the same strain of wanderlust? But when the urge to move and change kicks in, maybe it is less out of a sense of adventure as it is a need. We seem, both of us, to be on a continuous search for ourselves, for a life that suits, a society that fulfills our wants and soothes our hunger for a better life. Maybe there is nothing wrong with defying expectations and bending the rules, refusing to buy the whole Black is Black ideology. Our sons have often vilified us, accusing us of “not being like the other parents!” Acquaintances often try and amuse us with understanding smiles, interested curiosity in this wanton life we have chosen, all the while treating us as children who know no better. But life is too short for misery or discontent. And life is too short to not go after one’s dreams. Why the heck not? Maybe rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent. Are we the Black Sheep of this otherwise White Society of people who surround us? Strangely enough, once I got involved with the fascinating world of food, first as a culinary tour guide and interpreter, now as a food blogger and writer, I see that we are not alone. The world is filled with people who choose to live their passions even if it is risky, people who change and evolve not with what is happening outside but responding to what is happening inside. I sound like a preacher, like I’m declaring only what is so obvious to so many, but life is full of so many interesting possibilities and, as they say, life is too short to stick to just one thing, to live by somebody else’s rules.


For now, we are content. I am undertaking what I hope will be an entirely new career, absolutely committed to having fun while pursuing a passion. We pat ourselves on the back and suppress a grin as we watch our sons embark on their voyage into adulthood in the most unlikely, unexpected ways, following their passions rather than following the crowd. All four of us have learned that life is not merely black and white, rather it is full of a rainbow of bright, intriguing colors.


The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. In real life I am as colorful as the rainbow yet I dress the world around me in black and white. And what goes better with vanilla than chocolate? Perfect, buttery sugar cookies frosted in pure white decorated with a luscious Rorschach of chocolate squiggles. Kind of like what it looks like inside of my head.


FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES IN BLACK & WHITE

½ cup + 6 Tbs (200 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 cups + 3 Tbs (400 g) flour


In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Do not overbeat; incorporating too much air into the batter may lead to the dough spreading in the oven thus losing their shape.
Beat in the egg until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually sift the flour onto the butter/sugar mixture, beating it in on low speed. If you add it all at once it may fly out all over the counter. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly just until you have a smooth ball of dough.

Divide the dough into two or three even pieces. Gently sandwich each ball of dough between baking sheets of parchment paper until it is about 1/5- to 1/8-inch thick. Slide the parchment onto baking trays and refrigerate the sheets of dough for about 30 minutes.

Once chilled, peel off the top layer of parchment and use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out shapes of dough, carefully transferring the shapes to a baking or cookie sheet. Reroll dough scraps, roll out again and cut, using up all of the dough. Chill the trays of shapes for an additional 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Bake the cookies for 8 – 15 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the cookies, until golden around the edges. If your oven bakes unevenly (as does mine) rotate the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven, gently slide or lift off the baked cookies onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely before frosting.

The quantities given for both the white and the chocolate icings are good to frost all of the cookies. Feel free to cut either or both recipes in half.

WHITE ROYAL ICING

3 cups (375 g) Powdered/Icing/Confectioner’s Sugar, or more as needed
2 large fresh egg whites
2 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp either vanilla or almond extract, optional

Whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice just until foamy. Sift the powdered sugar over the egg whites and beat on low speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the flavoring if using. Add more sugar if the frosting is too thin and runs. It should be spreadable.

CHOCOLATE ROYAL ICING

2 cups (125 g) Powdered/Icing/Confectioner’s Sugar, or more as needed
1/6 to ¼ cup (40 - 60 ml) boiling water
1 oz (30 g) unsweetened or very bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt’s Dessert 99%)

Gradually add enough of the boiling water to the powdered sugar, stirring, until the mixture is thick but smooth and speradable. Chop up the chocolate and add it to the icing and stir (over very low heat if needed) until the chocolate is melted and the icing is smooth.


48 comments:

Sarah said...

Marvelous take on sugar cookies, so sophiscated!

LoveFeast Table said...

Ahhhh! To our sister across the pond...We knew we were kindred spirits!! Truly, life is a feast to explore, savor, & quite possibly devour!! Love your passion, love your words, love your view of life! ~Chris Ann & Kristin

Jennifurla said...

Gorgeous!

Tracy said...

Beautiful post, and cookies too! Great job on the challenge!

Cecilia said...

Love your cookies! It is so creative to use chocolate instead of royal icing. I must confess I don't love royal icing, will definitely try chocolate next time I decorate sugar cookies.

SMITH BITES said...

Beautifully done - both cookies and the post. Chase the dream, always the dream and never the paycheck.

Happy Cook said...

I am in love with you decorated cookies, they looks so so beautiful.

Aparna said...

HOw can life be black or white only? The shades of grey make life interesting.
The difference lies in what decisions we make and then learning to live with the consequences, good or bad. Life has to be about adventure too, not just duties and responsibilities.

Go out there, Jamie and keep living life like you've been doing so far. And Good Luck too. :)

Your cookies, though "black and white", are beautiful.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for sharing your journey. It's encouraging for me to read your story, since I'm currently trying to discover what my next "career" will be. Your cookies are so beautifully decorated!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

An awesome story! Your cookies are very pretty and I love your idea! They turned out perfect, congrats.

Cheers,

Rosa

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

A toast to shades of gray, and to black and white cookies too. A lovely post, Jamie!

lara dunston said...

Fantastic story! Love the connection between travel and food! Loving your blog!

Do check out our food blogging contest - I think you'll like it - just 5 days left to enter though! All you need to do is post (to your own site) on a quintessential dish of a place.

We've got some great prizes including a vacation rental stay anywhere in the world, Olympus camera, tours with Context and Viator, private guide to take you on your own personal tour with Our Explorer, and an Afar magazine subscription.

Hope to see you entry, and if not, nice to read you!

best,
Lara

Heavenly Housewife said...

Oh my goodness, aren't these just gorgeous! Like little works of art!
*kisses* HH

My Man's Belly said...

Having changed careers a couple of times myself I can totally relate to your story. People who question this can never fully appreciate the intricacies of life.

These black & white cookies look divine! I spent a few days last week, in NYC, eating black & white's for breakfast every morning (can't get a good one in LA). I think yours would make the perfect breakfast treat.

Congrats on raising your boys to be open to new opportunities and not just following the herd.

Deeba PAB said...

Black & White is my fave combination Jamie, and yours are great! Chocolate looks ever so GOOD! Must must try these soon ... Was waiting to read your DB post! xo

Ann said...

I'm intrigued by how you manage to write so eloquently and perceptively to form a backdrop to your recipes. A beautiful post, some of us fear the black and white lines and so refuse to step out of our comfort zones, even if comfort is an ironic way of describing our stoic, daily lives. More power to you!

Juls @ Juls' Kitchen said...

life is not merely black and white, rather it is full of a rainbow of bright, intriguing colors.

I DO AGREE AGREE AGREE!
today's post on my blog is the proof! :P

natalia said...

How wonderful ! They look really so elegant and special !

elra said...

Absolutely love the theme color your chose for this challenge. Exquisite I must say !

tasteofbeirut said...

I am not surprised that your husband's dentist was mad; he probably had some suppressed anger because he felt frustrated for being in such a structured and stifling life. Jealousy, that is my take on it.
I admire you both for doing whatever your passion dictates, and that despite your kids not liking it sometimes.
Great idea for the cookies; did not know about this Lindt chocolate, have never seen it.

Julia Parsons said...

Wow, these are incredible; so artistic x

Reeni said...

I love hearing of your adventures Jamie! I wish you luck in your new endeavors! Your cookies are so perfect - and how you decorated them to match your words - you're so clever.

Asha @ FSK said...

What a beautiful post! I don't have words to say how much I loved it and how much I admire you for doing what you did and moving to Paris. I still can't find the courage to do it!!

browniegirl said...

Jamie such an elegant eloquent post accompanied by the most elegant of little cookies. Love them! Love you! Thank you for sharing....as you always do. So love coming here and reading...xx

Sara @ OneTribeGouremt said...

Elegant & Beautiful cookies!!! :)

Cake Duchess said...

Love this story Jamie. Why be like all the rest? What is "normal"? Love the cookies.They are almost too beautiful to eat (almost!). And am particularly drawn to the pretty palm tree one!;0) besos!

Dina said...

you made beautiful cookies!

faithy, the baker said...

black & white cookies definitely stands out! I love the contrast!

shaz said...

Fabulous post Jamie. So many choices are open to those who are brave enough to grab the opportunity with both hands. You are one of the brave, and perhaps the friends who rebuked, and tut-tutted, perhaps they wish they had had your confidence? Whatever the case, I enjoyed your story and the beautiful cookies. Bravo.

Cherine said...

A great post, loved reading it!!
The cookies are gorgeous!!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

Gorgeous Jamie - très français if I do say myself! They elevate the sugar cookie to new heights of elegance! I was just happy to have *something* to post. That darned icing was a pain with my hand but I think I caught the bug - now I *really* want to learn how to decorate cookies properly!!!

Chef Chuck said...

Up and Down ~ Black And White!
The patterns are beauitful, not to say the cookies must taste the same!

Barbara Bakes said...

I think it takes more courage than most people have to just pick up and leave their comfort zone. I know people who are amazed that I'll travel to another country where I don't speak the language.

Love the cookies, such a fun idea. I don't think I've seen chocolate royal icing before.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Jamie, I knew you'd do some brilliant cookies! I used to see things in black and white but now my world is pleasantly shaded in tones of grey :)

Sophie said...

Hello dear Jamie!

Your cookies look nearly to beautiful to savour!!

Waw!! Very delectable!

Kisses from Brussels to you!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Mmm they look scrummy. I can't believe the dentist's reaction? Maybe he was a bit bitter and twisted about spending his life looking in people's mouths instead of their souls?!

Eliana said...

These cookies are so gorgeous! You are incredibly talented.

The Betz Family said...

Wow, who knew that kind of story could accompany a simple sugar cookie! You did a great job! I love the sophisticated black and white, but the palm tree was cute too. Nice job on the challenge!

Sasa said...

Rorschach cookies! This story comes at JUST the right time for me - I've lived in 29 houses/flats in 6 different countries (I'm 29) and sometimes I worry that I'm frittering my life away by not walking a straight path but it's so heartening to read your story and see that you've landed on your feet despite being a wanderer.

lisaiscooking said...

Clearly your choices have brought about a fantastic life! Making changes and learning new things is what it's all about.

Love the black and white swirls, and I want the palm tree cookie. So cute!

UrMomCooks said...

Tres chic... Thinking engagement party goodies!!! Lovely post, lovely sentiment!

Lisa said...

I'm sure many have said this, but this conjures up a fun and sophisticated NY black and white cookie. They look amazing - perfect swirlies!

That said, you and your hubby took chances and you live life to the fullest in lieu of playing it safe to according society's 'norm'. I think the world would be a happier place if more people took chances, but then again..I'm guilty of playing it safe..lol

Beautiful cookies and fantastic, thought provoking write up! BTW..now that the weather is cooling down, I'm definitely getting back to mac soon! *hugs*

Ellen said...

Beautiful post and close to my heart because I think my fiance (!!) and I are about to have to make some big decisions like you and your husband have. It's exciting and scary all at once.

That said, your cookies are gorgeous! (I still haven't perfected royal icing, although, I own all the gadgets to do it...)

And, thank you so much for your sweet words of congratulations on my engagement. I'm still giddy, and I'm hoping for just as many happy years as you have had :)

Pat Sloan said...

what a fabulous post ... this is really making me think... thank you so much for sharing...

Sue said...

Jamie, There's nothing wrong with pursuing your dreams. You can still be a responsible parent why doing so:) I think when people chastise you for your decisions it's because they are envious! Go for it!
Love the cookies too! :)

Lora said...

Beautiful post Jamie. I understand very well pursuing ones passion. Gorgeous cookies!

Heather Davis said...

Great post Jamie! Your story sounds so captivating. It's great that you have followed your passions. We only get one go at it right? I think other people are really afraid to follow theirs and that's what makes them so judgemental. Just reading this has reminded me why I need to keep going with the things that are important to me and not just others. Thanks!

asiangrrl said...

Any time you challenge the status quo, Jamie, you will be met with a myriad of reactions ranging from envy to anger to disapproval. For people who base their worth on following the rules (spoken or implicit), anyone who disregards these rules is a threat to their very core.

Wow. You touched a nerve with this entry. Wonderful cookies.

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