FULTON — It has been so much fun spending time in our new teaching kitchen, baking up my favorite cookie recipes and sharing them for a small price to help support the Arts Center. We had a ‘soft’ opening last week which simply means, I had cookies that needed to get sold whether they were perfect or not… and whether I was ready for the world to taste my cookies or not!
I’m a visual person which means the look of something is what gets my attention. When it comes to food, the look of deliciousness is directly related to how excited my taste buds get. Chocolate chip cookies need just the right balance of chocolate peeking through the top of a golden mound of sweet dough, just the right height and golden brown on the bottom with a slight crunch.
I can tell by looking when a cookie doesn’t make the cut and will be dry or cakey and if chocolate chips don’t make their way to the top of the cookie, it has no appeal! I’m looking for a serious party in my mouth to take place and there are certain criteria to meet.
Chocolate in general is my go-to flavor so naturally I’ve had more practice getting a good chocolate chip cookie, until I met my match with our commercial ovens. I don’t have experience as a commercial baker but it’s always been on my bucket list to open a little bakery. Arty’s Cookie Jar was the perfect excuse for my adventure and baking the perfect cookie was the challenge.
Our new kitchen is equipped with a fabulous 10 burner commercial stove with side-by-side ovens. It’s not new but it’s a beautiful stove and more than adequate for our needs – until it’s time to bake the cookies! It’s taken quite a while to get bake times adjusted with one oven running about 25 degrees hotter and its neighbor on the right running almost 50 degrees hotter. If I start with a 300-degree oven, then turn up the left oven to 325, I should get the perfect 350 for baking most kinds of cookies. But then the right oven rises to match the left and then pushes 50 degrees beyond that. Now I have a 375-400-degree oven on the right. Cookies bake too fast, get too brown, or spread out like a pancake and quickly become a disappointment.
Or was it the recipe? We have an amazing big mixer too – one of those industrial kind that is so heavy it takes two burly men to lift it onto a cart. It’s so big, I can make a batch of seven dozen chocolate chip cookies at one time. This also means, it’s doesn’t do well making small batches of 2-3 dozen so the challenge is to scale up that favorite recipe to fill the mixer and get a good mix.
This of course requires adding fractions and multiplying and converting everything from ounces to cups to grams and more. If a recipe calls for three eggs and you double or triple, now you need six or nine eggs but that changes the ratio of other things too! Do you know what nine eggs looks like when you’re adding it to 11 ¼ cups of flour? Like I might be making a terrible mistake!
Did I triple the baking powder correctly? Or was it baking soda I needed? Cream of Tartar, who has that? I can use lemon juice to substitute but I don’t have lemon juice. Baking powder substitutes for Cream of Tartar but what is the ratio of B. Powder to Cream T?
They say it’s all about the science in baking and there is far more math than anyone is ever prepared for, at least when you’re making big batches. The big mixer won’t let me make small ones, remember?
And then there are the different flavors and cookie types. I know not everyone likes chocolate as much as I do. I would have opened Arty’s Chocolate Bar if they did so I’ve made a real effort to go outside my comfort zone and make classic cookies that are all favorites to somebody. Snickerdoodles, salted caramel, oatmeal raisin, and oatmeal Scotchies are just a few to pass through the new mixer and into the oven.
As many varieties of cookies as you can make you will find that many varied opinions on what makes the perfect cookie and this I’ve also learned about making cookies. Visually I look at that flat pancake shaped caramel cookie and think about the epic fail that just occurred. But then taste wins out over looks and people seem to really like them. Same with the Snickerdoodles although I’ve had better luck with those, marginally.
So I’ve learned a lot about the baking business and I cringe when I see some cookies leave the shop because they don’t measure up to my visual appeal. I’ve also been guilty of some over-baked and dry cookies escaping the boundaries. I’m truly sorry! Sometimes it’s the oven, sometimes It’s the math or science but then I remember I majored in theatre. I don’t do math and science! I can only say perfection is highly overrated and one person’s epic fail is another person’s perfect cookie!
But it’s all a labor of love so maybe that will help them taste good at least. And it’s to benefit the Arts Center anyway so we’ll just be the home of the not-so-perfect cookie. After all no two cookies are alike, just like no two paintings are alike. That’s what makes it art! What’s your favorite cookie?
For more information about CNY Arts Center programming and activities, visit www.CNYArtsCenter.com or call 315-598-ARTS(2787).
— Nancy Fox, executive director at CNY Arts Center, Inc.