Cookie Party: Volume 5

Monday, November 19, 2012
Normally, I'd try to get a few different types of entries posted between Cookie Party ones, but I'm anxious to have all the old entries transferred over so I can move on to new and exciting recipes. One has already taken place! So, let's get the last of the old ones out of the way. It was originally posted on December 7, 2009, and as with all the others, some of the personal life details no longer apply. I am, however, going to be attempting my first full-sized pecan pie this week for Thanksgiving dinner, so this seems at least tangentially applicable.


Holy crap, is winter upon us already? I'm wearing four layers today, so I'm guessing so. The approach of the holiday season meant that I had to get cracking on coming up with something for this year's cookie exchange party. First on my list was deciding on a recipe. I wanted something impressive, but that wouldn't take hours and hours of preparation like last year. An idea struck when I remembered something that Panny made for a party once. They're little pecan pies in phyllo cups, and their pure deliciousness has made me forget every other detail of the evening. Was it an Oscar party or New Year's Eve? Who else was there? I have no earthly idea, because those pies turned me into a drooling idiot. When I asked her for the recipe, she said it was the pecan pie recipe from The Joy of Cooking. That sounded straightforward enough.

Second on the list was pulling things together for a test batch. This would be a test not only of the pies themselves, but of the kitchen. I really love the new apartment's kitchen. There's a back door onto a deck, lots of natural light, counter space, a dishwasher, a disposal... Basically everything the old apartment was lacking. I'd be thrilled with just the dishwasher; the view from the above-sink window of the St. Louis skyline -- complete with Arch -- is pure bonus. I've naturally cooked a fair amount of dinner since we moved in, but this would be the first time I took on a big project in this kitchen. Getting photos of the process was yet more new territory. My camera met its end during the New York trip, so the only thing I have to take pictures with is the hand-me-down cell phone I'm still getting used to. The picture quality isn't the best, but at least it's portable, which means that I can capture opportune moments, such as weird things I might happen to see on my walk home from work:


So, filled with a pioneering spirit of adventure and the comfort of knowing it wouldn't take me an hour to clean up afterward, I dove into:

Mini Pecan Pies
The non-cookie cookie

As I said, I wanted to do a test batch to run by coworkers and resident sweet-tooth LabRat before the party itself. The ingredients are easy enough: Eggs, vanilla, butter, salt, sugar, corn syrup, and naturally, pecans. Instead of putting the batter into a pie plate, you fill store-bought phyllo cups, then bake. Tah dah! Oh, if only it were that simple. You see, the phyllo cups have baking directions that are vastly different from the recipe's baking directions. If the cups are too full, they tend to overflow and scorch, then gloriously self-destruct.


The pies burned easily if I didn't keep a fairly close eye on them, but I managed to turn out a serviceable batch. The tribunal at work gave positive reviews, but they're happy to stroke my ego for free baked goods. I knew I could count on the discerning dessert palate of LabRat for some honest feedback. "Hmm. There's kind of a lot of batter. They're a bit chewy. Could you put more nuts in?" I agreed with his assessment, and made some adjustments for the big push on Saturday. Instead of a cup of pecan halves, I threw in a cup of chopped pecans, then topped each cup with one full pecan half.


I popped the first cookie sheet in at 450 degrees, set the timer for a modest fifteen minutes, and left them alone. Mistake. The new kitchen's oven runs a lot hotter than my old one, and with less batter to cook in each cup, they got burned. Not so much that they were ruined, but they were definitely more well-done than they should have been. More adjustments were made; I turned the oven down a full 75 degrees, and baked for ten minutes, babysitting them towards the end. That hit the sweet spot, and I was soon cranking out perfect pies. I had bought five boxes of fifteen-cup phyllo, figuring I'd easily use up one pie's worth of batter. As I filled the last cups, I saw that I had more than enough batter for more pies. The new place is literally behind a grocery store, so I popped the last cups in, told LabRat to keep an eye on them, and dashed out the door.

I made it a little game to see if I could jog to the store, buy a couple boxes of phyllo cups, and get home in ten minutes. I would have made it, too, if it weren't for the dill-holes at the ghetto Shop 'n Save in my neighborhood. Three people in front of me in the express line was Senile Sally, who couldn't remember the PIN for her debit card. After three attempts (with another customer's help), it locked her out, and the cashier had to pull all her groceries to the side so she could go home and look up the number. Tell me again how much faster debit cards are than cash, Visa. Sigh. The next lady was only buying cat food and wine, but managed to waste yet more time by sending the cashier to fetch some cigarettes. The guy behind her was getting margarita mix, turkey slices, and Hershey's bars. Man, there were some interesting evenings ahead for these folks. I finally got checked out and went home, where the pies were long since done. Boo! Still, I was happy with how they had come out, and with the fact that it took about a fifth of the time that last year's almond-jelly sandwich cookies took.


It was a snap to pack them up, bundle the dishes into the dishwasher, and settle in with LabRat for the evening to watch a Lifetime movie starring Kristin Chenowith and a bunch of shirtless guys, then the World's Ugliest Dog competition. Sunday morning, I went over to my Dad's house for brunch and an early Hanukkah gift exchange, then straight to the cookie party. It turns out that I wasn't the only male invited this time. Granted, the only other dude was three years old, but still. Progress! I headed straight for the mimosas. A few of those, and I wandered around with a dopey grin, earnestly pestering the woman who made carrot cookies about precisely how carroty they were. She was rescued by the arrival of Tiffany and Gnat, who distracted me with sugar cookies and caramel-covered marshmallows.

Last year, we drew numbers to see who would get first crack at the cookie spread, but the hostess didn't feel like messing with it this year. A few other mischievous souls and I waited until nobody was looking, then snuck downstairs and began filling our Tupperware containers from the platters, rearranging them afterwards to make it look like they hadn't been touched.


We stashed our ill-gotten gains, then walked back upstairs, lying through our teeth to a curious woman who asked us what we were up to. "Just looking at what people have brought!" I said brightly. "Hey, have you tried the cheddar soup up here? It's amazing!" Having gotten away with my crime spree, I chatted with a woman who told me that the pumpkin maple cookies she made this year were quite time-consuming, just like the recipe she had made last year. My brain, which cannot retain what I did six minutes ago, but files away other minutiae for decades, and cross-references everything it hears, raised a red flag. "Wait a minute," I said to this lady I've exchanged a grand total of twenty sentences with. "You said last year that your cookies had three ingredients, and took, like, half an hour." She grinned. "Okay, you caught me. I was totally lying about the time these took." Heh. There's all sorts of nefarious goings-on at this ostensibly innocent cookie party.

After everyone else had gone down to the basement, I went back down for another round of scavenging and squirreled away what I could, including several varieties of chocolate chip cookies, which I knew would make LabRat happy. I don't care what he says, though -- chocolate chip isn't a holiday cookie! The pecan pies were well-received, and I'm happy to add something relatively simple to my dessert arsenal. I'm also pleased with the variety I brought home. Sweets are LabRat's catnip, and with enough cookies to last us to Christmas, I've earned all sorts of brownie points, ironically without a single brownie.