Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
If you’ve been on Instagram or Twitter in the past couple of months, you’ve probably seen cookbook ingénue Alison Roman’s Salted Butter Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies. They’re dense, golden-brown rounds of dough with crunchy sugar around the edges, stuffed with chunks of dark chocolate, and sprinkled with big flakes of sea salt. They look like the chocolate chip cookie’s older, more sophisticated cousin — the one who studied abroad for a semester and now rolls her own cigarettes and says things like, “Actually, it’s pronounced Barthelona.”
As I scrolled through picture after picture of these fancy cookies, I became overwhelmed with envy. I too wanted to post a picture of my beautiful, salt-flaked creations with some self-effacing caption like “All aboard the shortbread cookie bandwagon!” or whatever. But the thing is, I dread baking: It requires a degree of patience and precision I simply don’t seem to have. The last time I baked, I was 12 years old and set out to make meringues for my mom’s birthday. I carefully measured the sugar, separated the egg whites, then one thing led to another, a carpet was ruined, and I was grounded for a week.
On the other hand, I absolutely love succumbing to peer pressure. I love it! How else would I have known to start smoking in high school? It is with this same impulse that I buy Roman’s cookbook, Dining In, and start planning cookie captions in my head.
Upon first skimming the recipe, I am mortified. Roman says she’s always found chocolate-chip cookies to be “deeply flawed”: “Too sweet, or too soft, or with too much chocolate, there’s a lot of room for improvement, if you ask me.” She says that cutting chocolate into chunks prevents “chip congregation,” and that rolling dough into cylinders that then get rolled in Demerara sugar (a light-brown sugar originally from Guyana, Google informs me) gives the cookies “the crispiest-ever edges.” It turns out I’ve spent my life ignorantly munching on subpar cookies with soft edges and congregated chips. How embarrassing!
I hope Roman’s cookies can right my past wrongs, but things start to veer off the rails almost immediately. When I start cooking, I realize that I own neither “an electric mixer with a medium bowl” nor “a stand mixer fixed with a paddle attachment,” which Roman recommends for mixing. This means I have to mix everything by hand, a task I — as someone with the upper body strength of a toddler — find daunting. I begin to regret my culinary undertaking, but at this point I’ve already posted an Instagram story of all my ingredients and like 12 people have watched it. There’s no turning back now.
Roman says the butter, sugar, and vanilla should be beaten together until “super light and fluffy,” but when my hand starts to cramp after 15 excruciating minutes of wrestling the mixture around with a wooden spoon, I decide that “dense and sludge-like” will have to do. I mix in the flour and chunks (not chips!) of dark chocolate, roll it into logs, and then I see a very annoying sentence that is buried at the bottom of step 3. It says, “Chill until totally firm, about 2 hours.”
Two hours! That’s SO much waiting. That’s one hour of waiting, and then another whole hour of waiting after that. Who has the time?! Well, I do, but that’s not the point. Fortunately, my roommate Caroline and her friend Noah show up with wine and cheese, and we spend the next two hours drinking and debating which six celebrities we’d like to have be our pallbearers. (John Stamos and Lady Gaga are early favorites, and everyone agrees that, sadly, Beyoncé would be too much of a scene-stealer.)
Finally, it’s time. I slice up the logs, put 12 rounds of dough in the oven, and 13 minutes later, they come out — 12 solid, greasy hockey pucks that look like they could easily fracture an adult human’s skull if dropped from the right height. I take a bite of one, half-expecting it to crack a molar. Instead, it feels like chewing a handful of damp sand someone dropped a stale chocolate bar into two weeks ago. As I try to swallow the heavy, grainy mixture, I wonder if maybe all of the wine has dulled my palate. Perhaps the cookies are, in fact, very good? My friends make it clear they are not.
“Well, just right off the bat, I would like less hair in mine,” Caroline says, pulling so much of my hair out of her mouth that I have to check to make sure I still have some left on my head. “And maybe a different chocolate?”
“Or a different dough,” Noah suggests helpfully.
The cookies are left untouched for the rest of the night, and I am forced to admit that I have failed. I didn’t have the right equipment, my dough wasn’t mixed properly, and the cheap dark chocolate I bought tasted like old socks. I failed Alison Roman, I failed Instagram, and I failed the institution of baking.
With the right filter, though, they didn’t look too bad on my Instagram story.
Taste: F (for Full of Hair)
Final grade: D-
Try the recipe yourself here.