This is what my cousin said to me a couple times on our way to the 2014 Sunday edition of the Brooklyn Cookie Takedown I was not wholly optimistic. For me, baking is somewhat therapeutic. I couldn't imagine baking full-time as some of the love would be chipped away. Whereas writing is a passion, and something I consider work, baking is a hobby. And like any hobby why the heck not make over 200 cookies for people to consume and judge at the annual Cookie Takedown? Matt Timms organizes the slew of Takedowns that goes on, and not just in Brooklyn. The cookie version is the only one I've dared to enter because of my love for baking.
I found I was pretty uninspired for cookies. Wanting to do something different, and without chocolate, like in previous years. 2012 was maple cookie with a candied almond. 2013 brought a toasty coco-lime shortbread. This year...I was blank for a bit.
In the end I knew I wanted to try shortbread and perfect what I did last year in a way. Shortbread is a good try for several reasons. One of which is that it is so full of butter that it freezes well and is easy to roll so moisture and texture can retain if you make dough ahead of time.
But what to add to said shortbread? Who the heck knows? Time flew. Thanksgiving came and went. And I figured "The hell?!" I'll do shortbread dipped in chocolate with homemade caramel swirled on top. Perhaps there'll be a slew of chocolate items like the year prior. Perhaps there'd be a lot of caramel or bourbon items as well. I dunno. All I knew was that even though I was going through some personal issues and was not wholly invested that I'd make the best damn cookie I could.
Some things I learned in re-trying my hand at shortbread.
1. Use the BEST butter you can. And that meant Kerrygold Unsalted. Being part of the Kerrygold Food Blogger Network I knew I could utilize some coupons and found the texture and quality to be enhanced than with that of butter available in my local stores.
2. Confectioners over Granulated. Sugar matters when it comes to shortbread. Shortbread needs to be smooth and crisp, but buttery and not too sweet. Which is why it's important to have a good balance in that taste when you're adding items onto it. Don't just add stuff to shortbread! It has to work on all levels. So confectioners tones down the sweetness to not overpower while also being so fine that it works in the dough itself to get that crispness you want.
3. Watch. Your. Shortbread. I moved into a new place and so have a much more powerful oven. Which means I had to nurse and guard my shortbread until it turned a slight toasty on the bottom edges. Once that happens and the top is somewhat firm take it out and slip onto your wracks to cool and then seal up tight.
So I made all the cookies on Friday. And then it was time to melt the chocolate (use a pan!) and dip said cookies into chocolate. What did I find though after 2 hours of waiting for chocolate to set in my hot a** apartment? That I need to set these things in the fridge because my apartment was not having it. This meant the 200+ cookies I had spread throughout my small NYC apartment in Queens needed to go into my fridge in shifts over the course of another 2 hours so I could stack them up.
Sunday morning, right before heading out to Brooklyn, I made caramel complete with more butter, (light) brown sugar, heavy cream, and kosher salt. After making the caramel I put it into a squeeze bottle and wrapped that up in foil to retain the heat in the hopes it was not too cold out (since my apartment was Hades) to freeze the caramel and rushed off to the Takedown.
Well, after 3 years of doing this I was having fun. Eating the other participants' cookies. Friend and Takedown Queen (Ice Cream Champene) Daisy Bow was my table buddy and had my fave cookie of the day her Darth Tater potato chip shortbread with chocolate drizzle. Sooo good.
The judges tasted. One of them co-owner of Baked Renato Poliafito and a previous Takedown judge from Schnack. So, at the end of the competition you get up on stage, introduce yourself and your cookie and wait to hear the verdict. The judges choice came first and they announced the two Honorary mentions. Then came third place.
At this point one is hopeful to hear their name but not expecting it and by the time the second place was called I was waiting to hear whom I'd be congratulating for the first place prize while sweating under the Bell House lights on stage and smiling due to a sugar high and since you're being watched by many, many people.
And then, someone, Renato of Baked, calls #19 Chocolate dipped & caramel tipped shortbread and your mouth drops open and you stagger back into your friends Daisy and Emily in shock at having your name called. Then you, or I, walk slowly to gain your prizes and smile really big and goofily and when the mic is placed in front of you say "I've been in this competition three times and this is the first time I won. Yay!" And then you get a bunch of congratulations from many people with genuine smiles and must figure out how to carry a Kitchenaid mixer home from Brooklyn to Queens with your cousin.
Afterwards you eat Thai food for dinner to try and cancel out the sugar. :-)
So yay! Bridesmaid turned bride at the latest Brooklyn Cookie Takedown after a rough couple weeks and worrying about what I was making knowing I made something people enjoyed--even having Matt Timms dad Pete strike up convo about how much he liked my shortbread and the best he's had was by his wife who is English and they, you know, invented shortbread--can be enough. I really do simply like to feed people and have them enjoy it. But winning a Kitchenaid mixer and Baked cookbook is pretty damn awesome too.
Happy Baking peeps!