Thin Air

I haven’t baked a decent chocolate chip cookie in 48 years.

When I was a child growing up in Columbus, one of my best friends’ housekeeper always kept their cookie jar full of cookies. We could stop over any time after school and there would be a cookie jar full of chocolate chip cookies. We could eat them until the jar was only a quarter full, and if we returned the next day, the jar would be full once again.

By the way, I recognize that I used the phrase “one of my best friends” and of course you can’t have several best friends. I had this conversation this weekend with Mylee, who told me she had three or four best friends. I tried to explain that, by definition, you can only have one best friend. She gave me a look just shy of disgust, and walked away. It is likely that she was thinking, “Well, Nana, perhaps YOU don’t have that many best friends. Your social calendar doesn’t seem to be full. Don’t lay that on ME because I have MANY.”

But back to the after-school chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were delicious. They were soft and full of gooey chocolatey goodness. I vowed at that point in my life that I would always have a jar full of chocolate chip cookies.

That promise to myself — not surprisingly — fell by the wayside. You might have noticed that I said that her HOUSEKEEPER kept the jar full. Well, I don’t have a housekeeper and I never did. What I did have for most of my life was a full-time job that precluded a great deal of baking.

Nevertheless, I gave it a try. Many tries, in fact. But my chocolate chip cookies were always flat and crunchy, though they, too, were full of chocolate chips. No one ever complained. Court never said, “Mom, thanks for the effort but your chocolate chip cookies continue to be epic fails.”

Despite the fact that my father was a professional baker and my mother was a tremendous home cook, most of what I learned and have carried into my dotage comes from my high school Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Eckert. I took Home Ec some 50 years ago, and I still do things the way she taught.

Yesterday morning I watched a video offered by Colorado State University Extension office on high-altitude baking. I learned quite a bit from the agent who was conducting the class. Most important, I realized that since moving to Colorado in 1974, I have neglected to compensate for the altitude while baking. As an aside, I also learned that there were no compensations for high altitude baking until 1950, when a woman CSU employee spent time in a cabin on Fall River Road outside of Estes Park with the sole purpose of testing recipes. She baked her ass off, keeping notes on what worked at the 11,000 foot level in which she currently resided compared to, say, New Jersey. It is entirely thanks to her that cake boxes now have the directions for high-altitude baking. Go C.S.U. Rams!

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve been making is not measuring my flour correctly. Mrs. Eckert told me to drag my cup into the flour and level it off with a knife. I have done exactly that for 50 years. HA! the extension agent told me. No wonder your cookies are flat. A cup of flour should weigh 4.25 ounces. Since the flour I have been scooping has been sitting in my canister, settling in, a cup likely weighs more than a cup of flour that has been spooned into the measuring cup.

She gave many suggestions, all of which I’m going to try. You’re not the boss of me Mrs. Eckert.

My brother told me that Dad had a heck of a time figuring out how to bake at Leadville’s 10,152 foot altitude when they bought the bakery in that mountain community. I don’t feel so bad. Less leavening agent and more liquid is the answer, according to CSU. Dave said Dad’s answer was mostly to add an extra egg. Same difference.

One thought on “Thin Air

  1. I, like Mylee, have several best friends. Each friend is in a separate category so the count is correct.
    Now I better understand why I’m a terrible baker. I’m looking at you, FC.

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