Thursday, February 01, 2007

Cookie Monster

Just a short entry today, since I'm up late waiting for a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies to bake. I'm making them for my colleagues. In the US bringing baked goods to work for no particular reason is almost a tradition, but here I think it's considered eccentric. So far, everyone's been appreciative enough not to make fun of me.

I started bringing chocolate chip cookies to work a couple years ago and they were an astonishing hit, so much so that I ended up translating into French and the metric system the recipe on the back of the Ghiradelli's semisweet chocolate chip bag. They were just plain old cookies, like mom used to bake, and I was showered with praise. This is the land of Proust, where the mere whiff of a madeleine is supposed to bring a flood of dear childhood memories to the mind of any self-respecting Frenchman, so all the appreciation seemed like treason, somehow. If it were an generations-old American family recipe I could understand, or at least something from the venerable Joy of Cooking, but I simply followed a recipe off the back of a plastic bag.

It shouldn't surprise me, though, because American desserts are gaining on French patisseries everywhere. No self-respecting chic Parisian lunch spot fails to offer brownies, and entire cookbooks with recipes for crumbles (of all things!) are turning up in bookstores. My cookies were a hit because they were exotic while at the same time quite fashionable.

I've had much less success when I've tried to make French desserts. I spent hours trying to perfect my madeleine recipe only to get a half-appreciative nod from my father-in-law. Nice effort, he seemed to imply, but stick with what you know. My husband explained to me that madeleines are simply too commonplace. Everyone's grown up eating perfect storebought specimens, so anything homemade inevitably seems lacking. Or superfluous. (For the record, my husband just reminded me that he personally loves my madeleines.)

American classics that ask too much of the French palate have been similar flops. No one at work was terribly enthusiastic about my oatmeal cranberry cookies and, aside from my husband and my father-in-law, no one's been too keen on my pumpkin pie.

So, I keep making chocolate chip cookies, and I plan on bringing in some brownies one of these days. I may even try my hand at a crumble, which I've never attempted in my life, but it can't be that hard, can it? I would be so worth it to hear my colleagues all say "creum-BEL."

There's one French cookie recipe that's always a success for me, however: sablés. I love them because they're easy to prepare in advance and bake up at the last minute and they lend themselves to ingredient improvisation. They're very French, but I make them to acclaim anyway... but shhhh, don't tell, they're really just refrigerator butter cookies with a petit accent.