The Confidence Cookie

November 2, 2009 at 5:23 pm 45 comments

A few weeks ago, my friend T- brought a container of homemade cookies to school. As people got up from around me to try them, I figured I should grab one before they all ran out. My fingers were inches from the box when T- covered the cookies with both hands and moved the whole container closer to her. “You can’t have one!” she said. I looked around and gestured at the cookies being devoured by half the table. She just looked at me, and I heard someone say, “Well, duh! Elissa bakes.”

While I wish I could have tried one (they looked great,) I understand where T- was coming from. I don’t have any reservations about bringing baked goods to school, to my volunteering sites, even to my SAT prep class – but there was one place I couldn’t touch, and that was Seastar, the restaurant where I intern. Somehow, I couldn’t make myself bring cookies to a professional kitchen full of chefs making excellent food. I didn’t want to disappoint, and I didn’t want to be embarrassed.

But a month or so into my internship, my boss J- uttered a few of the most frightening words I’d ever heard: “Why don’t you bake for us next week? I’d love to see your skills.” I nervously agreed, and spent the next few days agonizing over which cookies to make. I finally decided on two cookies I’ve made many times before, that are simple and always taste good… My Perfect Gingersnaps and my Tiny Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Buttons.

Baking in the Seastar kitchen was nothing like baking at home. One of the things I dislike about baking with other people is that they don’t know my kitchen inside and out, but here, it took me forever to find anything. Although I was working with familiar recipes, being in a new kitchen completely threw me off my game.

The Seastar pantry is amazing. It has every ingredient, even ones that don’t show up on their menu (like peanut butter!) Even though the pantry is small, it’s compact, and it took me as much time to find my ingredients as it did to bake the cookies. I stood there without moving my feet once, eyes scanning every shelf and still managing to overlook everything I needed.

I spent a good five minutes searching for the canola oil, looking in vain at the oversized plastic jugs, before I realized that the box I was standing next to on the floor was a giant container of it. The eggs came in packs of fifteen dozen but still took me a long time to find, hiding on the very top shelf in the walk-in. The butter came in huge, 32 ounce blocks that softened in mere minutes in the hazy heat of the Seastar kitchen.

After collecting my ingredients, I started looking for tools but even found those to be unfamiliar territory. I found a standard sized KitchenAid mixer and didn’t need to use the huge Hobart, but nearly everything else was oversize. I opened every drawer looking for a spatula until I realized that the giant rubber one I was holding was the only size on hand. I tried to find a whisk, but the smallest whisk at Seastar was the size of my largest at home.

When I bake in my own kitchen, it’s utter relaxation. I am usually alone, I always open the curtains and dim the artificial lights, and the kitchen starts out cool and slowly warms as the oven heats up. At Seastar, with the heat and the bright lights, and servers and chefs constantly walking behind me, it was hard to conjure up those feelings of serenity. Even if the kitchen hadn’t been so busy, the pressure to perform would have caused anxiety.

The one change that I fully welcomed was the dishes. At home I stop every few minutes to put tools away and hand wash bowls no longer in use. Here, I simply stacked my dirty dishes high and dropped them off in the dishwashing room. I’d go grab a few more ingredients, and on my way back I’d pick up the perfectly cleaned and dried dishes again. It’s the one thing I wish I could bring home!

The peanut butter dough came together without trouble, but the gingersnaps were more temperamental. Since Seastar doesn’t have small measuring cups, I had to use 4-cup liquid measuring pitchers and eyeball the proper amounts. My proportions were slightly off, and factoring in the humidity, my dough was much sticker than usual. I chilled it until it was workable, then returned to the prep kitchen and began rolling it into balls. After about five minutes, my hands were coated with gingery batter and the dough had begun to melt.

Frustrated, I grabbed all of my work and went to the walk-in fridge. I began to shape the cookies there, between the chilled chanterelle cream and the king crab legs. There were five dozen cookies to roll into even balls and toss in sugar. I usually do this slowly at home, listening to music or daydreaming as my hands work. Today, shivering in my shoes, I just wanted to be quick.

After only two dozen in, my cheeks reddened, goosebumps rose on my arms, and I could see my breath every time I exhaled. I try to dress light under my chef’s jacket because of the warmth on the line, but here in the fridge, I was shivering – hard. My fingers began to stiffen, but I was determined to get it done. Fifteen minutes later I walked out with the tray of ready-to-bake cookies, flushed but defiant and proud of my adaptability.

I knew the gingersnap batter was irregular and wasn’t sure how they would taste. I pulled out the first batch and noted how thin and flat they were, unlike my usual gingersnaps, but they were still sparkly with sugar and perfectly round. A waitress walked by and lifted one right off the warm sheet. I waited with my breath held as she chewed with a thoughtful look on her face. She looked me dead in the eye and said, “This is the best gingersnap I’ve ever had.”

I left the kitchen with a familiar feeling, for the first time that night – downright glowy with happiness at sharing my baked goods.

After the success of my first baking day, I was asked to bake again a few weeks later. Having baked in the Seastar kitchen before, I was much quicker to assemble ingredients and tools. With my new confidence I decided to attempt a much more difficult cookie (I’ll be sharing the recipe once I make it again at home!) Unlike last time, when S- preheated the oven for me, I had to set up the oven myself. I adjusted the temperature and noticed a switch for the fan. Since I don’t bake convection at home, I turned the fan off.

When 25 minutes passed and the cookies were mostly baked, but undercooked in the centers, I knew something was up. The cooking time was only supposed to be 10 minutes. I removed those cookies to cool, put the rest of the batches in, and was about to leave when I noticed the fan switch. Curious, I switched it on, then left to go find somebody to explain this unfamiliar oven to me.

When I returned ten minutes later, I saw to my horror that the fan had most certainly done the job. The cookies were dark brown, burned to an absolute crisp, not a single one salvageable. When J- walked by and I explained the situation, he smiled and said, “The fan helps everything bake evenly. Without it, the oven turns itself off.” Oh, boy, did I feel dumb. Half the cookies were underbaked, and half were overbaked.

More than anything I felt embarrassed as people walked by and asked to try a cookie. After the last successful time, they were calling me “the cookie intern” and praising my skills. I didn’t want to say no, but I didn’t want these cookies to represent me.

I can’t remember the last time in my life I’ve burned anything, and I’ve never burned anything that people liked. But people only had nice things to say about my awful cookies. One waiter told me that they didn’t only taste good, they were “texturally profound!”

I managed to walk to my car feeling just as glowy as last time. After all, mistakes happen, some failure is inevitable, and I am sure to embarrass myself more than a few times. But it doesn’t say anything about me as a person, or even as a baker. If anything, it’s good for me.

This week, I made shortbread cookies. They’re buttery yellow, melt-in-your-mouth, and ridiculously quick to make. I piped them with a large star tip and dipped them in melted dark chocolate. I brought them into work feeling nothing but happy to be there. I set them down and got to work, and when I came back, not a single one was left. It’s good to stand back up and be fearless, and this much is true – no matter what your skill level is and who you’re baking for, a cookie is always appreciated.

[On a totally unrelated note, happy November! And if you tweet, check out Chef John Howie’s twitter – he’s the owner of Seastar, along with some other great restaurants, and just made an account.]

I’m coming to love the well-stocked pantry and big ovens at Seastar, but I still
love my two pound bags of powdered sugar and little measuring cups best.

I wanted something to bring in, especially since it was one of the staff members’ birthdays (happy birthday S-!) Between college apps and school itself, I didn’t have much time before my internship and knew I wanted to bake something quickly. I made these cookies and dipped them in chocolate in less than an hour.

The recipe promised melt-in-your-mouth shortbread, and it definitely was. The butter gets whipped for a long time and cornstarch is included, helping give these cookies a distinct texture. In my opinion, they were lacking a little in the flavor department, so I dipped them in melted chocolate. I’ll admit this type of cookie is not my favorite, but my mom loved them, and so did the Seastar staff.

I’m sure you could add zest or extract to brighten the cookies themselves. I used dark chocolate, but white would make a pretty cookie too. I especially liked the look of these cookies. I piped them with a large star tip and they ended up looking like pretty ruffled flowers. I’m a sucker for cute cookies, but you could also cut them into squares or roll them into balls for round cookies.

Chocolate-Dipped, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from All Recipes
Makes 5 dozen 1.5″ piped cookies

1 cup (two 8 oz sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 oz dark chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment.

Whip butter on high speed in an electric mixer for 10 minutes, until white and very fluffy. In the meantime, sift together the sugar, cornstarch, and flour. Beat them in on low speed for one minute, then on high speed for 3-4 minutes until well combined.

Transfer to a piping bag fit with a large star tip. Pipe cookies 2″ apart into 1.5″ “stars” and bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Cookies might be crumbly, so let them cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack.

Once completely cool, dip cookies halfway in melted chocolate and let harden on wax paper or a wire rack.

Printer Friendly Version – Chocolate-Dipped, Melt-In-Your-Mouth Shortbread Cookies

Entry filed under: Cookies, Eating Out, Seastar. Tags: , , , , .

The Daring Bakers Practice Their French Kissing – Cinnamon and Cream Cheese Macarons Cream Cheese Rippled Pumpkin Bread

45 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wendy  |  November 2, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Mmm I love shortbread cookies! I like mine with melted chocolate in the dough, piped into fingers then dipped into more melted chocolate. Your internship sounds very fun and rewarding…good luck with the college apps – I’m going through mine too!

  • 2. Monica H  |  November 2, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    What an amazing experience albeit intimidating. You did a great job and your hard work will pay off. I like your new title as Cookie Intern too :-)

    BTW, these look delicious dunked into that deep dark shiny chocolate!

  • 3. Celine  |  November 3, 2009 at 5:49 am

    I keep your recipe, I love shortbread cookies!

    How cool to cook in a such big restaurant!
    About whisks, last year there was a kind of party at school, and I was in charge to make crepes and waffles batters. The school lent me stuff from their kitchen, I was so impressed by the size.

    and btw, I’m curious (and envious :D) how did you become a intern in Seastar whereas you aren’t pursuing a culinary career?

    • 4. Elissa  |  November 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm

      Celine – Even though I’m not interested in a culinary career, I love to bake. I thought it would be a great experience to be in the kitchen while I’m still young, especially since I’ll probably never get this opportunity once I’m an adult. Seastar agreed to take on an intern, I interviewed for the job, and got it! :)

  • 5. Valérie  |  November 3, 2009 at 7:55 am

    I can see how baking for pros would be intimidating, but I’m not at all surprised that they loved your cookies!

  • 6. linda  |  November 3, 2009 at 9:13 am

    as i was reading this post i knew that your baking efforts would be rewarded with wonderful comments from colleagues @ seastar.
    those tiny peanut butter chocolate chip buttons had me @ the photo of your may 19th post & i am going to bake them this w/e!

  • 7. Jessica Whittenberg  |  November 3, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I couldn’t find any email address so I am leaving a comment:
    I have awarded you with the honest scrap award. You can find the details here

    By the way, those cookies look amazing!!!


  • 8. Dolce  |  November 3, 2009 at 11:39 am

    This is such an adorable story. I can feel the fear you were in when first asked to bake cookies and relief at the end :)

  • 9. Baking Monster  |  November 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Thats so exciting Elissa, and cool that there letting you bake in there awesome kitchen!

  • 10. nutmegnanny  |  November 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Mmmmm chocolate dipped shortbread…super delicious!

  • 11. Chris  |  November 4, 2009 at 2:22 am

    The shortbread looks yummiful and so pretty, but I’m more interested in the story behind these cookies. You’re an inspiration to this 20-year-old blogger. I’m so amazed at your dedication and guts – i don’t think i’d ever be brave enough to bring something to a professional kitchen, let alone bake in one!

  • 12. bluejeangourmet  |  November 4, 2009 at 8:16 am

    so thoughtfully written. I’m always half disappointed & half flattered when friends are “afraid” to cook for me!

    really loving your photographs as well–the light perfectly captures that feeling of being in one’s own kitchen, in charge, not in a rush, happy.

  • 13. Margarita  |  November 4, 2009 at 8:18 am

    They were beautiful!!!!!!!!!!! They look magical. I like your use of glowy to describe your feeling. This blog made me think of the holidays with the stars and the glowy feeling. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us all. :)

  • 14. Tania  |  November 4, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Hahaha! Yesss, one day I’ll find the courage to let you try some cookies I make…. but those were really mess-ups.
    This was the recipe I attempted: Don’t they look delicious? But mine flattened and I didn’t have the large granulated sugar (though I asked my mom to bring some back from France!) and so they turned out dry and bland. There’s no way I could let YOU try them!

    A professional kitchen, though… that’s intimidating too! I’m impressed and not at all surprised that it turned out to be a success! And I think I’ll have to try out this recipe…

  • 15. mallory elise  |  November 4, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    hey hello!! seattle baker! i am in seattle (well bainbridge) at least for a few more months, but i grew up here. i’m a food photographer and travel writer – and i have to say your photos are amazing. where are you looking into college? CIA? :P i love finding seattle blogs.

  • 16. Deborah Dowd  |  November 4, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    What a wonderful blog you have- and you are clearly as talented a photographer as you are a baker! How great that you find relaxation in the kitchen- I feel the same way- it is an escape from daily life and a chance to really be creative!

  • 17. Mrs Ergül  |  November 4, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    I had a great time reading this post about how daunting a professional kitchen feels in the hands of a home baker! You did well no doubt! Good job! This cookie looks very pretty!

  • 18. jami  |  November 5, 2009 at 12:16 am

    What a great post – beautifully written! I have baked for years, but only recently (when I was laid off) did I become a volunteer intern at a local bakery. It’s totally different from baking at home – and I love it! Sounds like you are having a great experience.

    I’m going to try these shortbread cookies – I’m a sucker for good, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread! – but I’d love to try the other two “go to” recipes you mentioned! Are they posted elsewhere on your site?

  • 20. elana  |  November 5, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    hi! i just found your blog and i thought it was so cool, because i realized how much we have in common! i’m 16 and work cooking in a restaurant, and they’re also always asking for me to bake also :]

  • 21. Making my Mark  |  November 7, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Mmm, I love shortbread cookies. I’ll have to file this away in my recipe stash of things to bake when I’m physically able.

  • 22. Tammy  |  November 9, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Wow this looks incredible! Makes me just want to reach into my screen and take one! You have a really cool blog!

  • 23. Connie  |  November 9, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    The idea of piping the cookies is a really good one, and makes them look beautiful! I have an imperfection in almost everything I bake; that’s what my name of my blog is based on! Clearly you’re a bit more experienced than me, but it’s interesting to find that even your mistakes can be appreciated. When I made the Daring Baker’s macaroon they came out nothing like a macaroon, but my friends liked them anyways. =] Your job sounds like a lot of fun! And good luck with all your college apps.

  • 24. cookeaze  |  November 10, 2009 at 7:13 am

    I was really flattered by that gesture of yours….Really touched… Such a shortbread cookies, and I loved seeing your technique and it was beautifully written.Thank you so much..

  • 25. Hillary  |  November 10, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Hi Readers!

    Here is a new food/health blog for you:

    Enjoy : )

  • 26. Eliana  |  November 11, 2009 at 11:45 am

    They must really love you at the restaurant because these cookies look amazing.

  • 27. Fey  |  November 12, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I just wanted to thank you for this timely entry.
    I have been learning to bake for the last month and finally met up with my first catastrophe this weekend. We’re talking doughnuts that were burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.

    I thought about giving up – because after all, if I was meant to do this I would be perfect right? Then I read this and frankly if you can mess up – then it can happen to anyone… so your story gave me the courage to keep going… thank you.

  • 28. betchacanteatjustone  |  November 15, 2009 at 7:39 am

    What a fantastic story! I just recently said to someone that owns a bakery “it’s your birthday, and you can’t bake for a baker!” Maybe I should re think it!


  • 29. dodo_baba  |  November 15, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    thanks elissa for the recipe. i tried it over the weekend and my aunt love it!!!! but i had a hard time dipping the chocolate cos the cookies are very fragile.. this is a keeper for chinese new year cookies

  • 30. efrain  |  December 6, 2009 at 3:03 am

    shortbread cookies are one of my faves, and i’d been wanting to make some among my baking ventures. i tried this recipe with a slight modification – very awesome.

    so true that they melt in your mouth. like light airy cookies, great taste. good with chocolate too. my presentation wasn’t that great because I didn’t have the proper tip, and i’d never worked with a pastry bag before.

    but overall, total coolness.

  • 31. Christmas Baking « Nellia Baking  |  December 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    […] I’m broke, I’ll make cookies for friends as a Christmas gift. Last week I baked some Chocolate Dipped, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Shortbread Cookies and they were a difficult task for me! Piping cookies was new to me and I thought it would be easy, […]

  • 32. Corynn  |  December 12, 2009 at 1:04 am

    I just tried this today. They were really good! I love the texture and the taste of it. I did have trouble piping the dough, though. Not sure what made that part so difficult.

    Btw, I really like your blog. I get excited every time I see a new post here. I enjoy looking at the pictures and reading your stories. It inspires me to start writing more.

    • 33. Elissa  |  December 12, 2009 at 1:13 am

      Corynn – I think you’re the second person who has said they had trouble piping the dough. When I made these cookies, I didn’t have any issues whatsoever. I wonder if you guys didn’t whip the butter as long as me? I really let it go, and the dough was very soft. But I’m so glad you liked the cookies and my blog :)

  • 34. Dianne  |  December 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Can I re-bake undercooked shortbread? I baked them exactly as the recipe said, but find they are not cooked enough. Can I re-bake them for a few minutes or will they be hard as a rock?

    • 35. Elissa  |  December 15, 2009 at 9:55 pm

      Dianne – I am not 100% sure about rebaking the undercooked cookies, but I’m inclined to say no. You could always try a few cookies and give it a shot. Let me know how they turn out!

  • 36. Dianne  |  December 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you Elissa for responding to my question. Believe it or not, you CAN re-bake undercooked shortbread! I thought what the hell – might as well – either that or throw them out. I baked them at 300 degrees for at least 12 – 15 minutes, just as they started to turn a little brown, and they are delicious. Now they taste like they should have in the first place.

    • 37. Elissa  |  December 16, 2009 at 2:28 pm

      Dianne – Who knew? That’s good to know! :) I’m so glad they worked out for you!

  • 38. Laura  |  February 17, 2010 at 8:07 am

    hi Elissa, really enjoy ur blog..and the recipes!
    i think i once did bake same texture cookies as yours called Coffee Butter Cookies. it tastes so good and everybody love it, especially my mom :D but the problem is the cookies came out flat, i can’t even saw the “petal” on those cookies..

    should i just use shortening to maintain its shape?because butter does melt quicker than u have the solution for me? :)

  • 39. Shortbread Cookies « The Bento Baker  |  March 3, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    […] cookies but had finished my girl scout cookies a long time ago, I found this sweet little recipe on 17 and baking, it only has 4 ingredients! (I would suggest that this would probably be one of the recipes that […]

  • 40. Maria  |  April 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    “After all, mistakes happen, some failure is inevitable, and I am sure to embarrass myself more than a few times. But it doesn’t say anything about me as a person, or even as a baker. If anything, it’s good for me.”
    Thank you! Reading it really made me feel better today… I’ll try to remember it.

    Although you’re younger you seem to be a lot wiser than me.

  • 41. Tarnia  |  December 23, 2010 at 4:45 am

    I am so glad that your sharing your experience. I had lost a shortbread recipe that my mom found in France. She probably knew it off by heart regardless. Mom passed away a few years ago and missing her I relented and with great lament sat down to search and found you! My sons are your age and love to cook too.
    thank you for sharing.
    We look forward to more.

  • 42. Rachel  |  May 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    These cookies came out SO great! They were extremely addictive. The original plan was to give tins of them to all of my professors as end of the year gifts…but by the time my roommate and I got done snacking on them, I only had enough cookies left to give them to one professor! I guess next time I will just have to double (or triple) the recipe!!! :)

  • 43. Bobette Salloum  |  August 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    After I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any means you possibly can take away me from that service? Thanks!

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  • 45. Earlene  |  January 7, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Hi, all is going nicely here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s
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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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