The gift of giving… cookies

by piecurious

One of the ways working in a professional bakery differs from baking at home is that you do not get to choose what it is you bake.  If you’re a lowly prep baker, like myself, you simply prepare the recipes you’re given.  You’re not eating the product, so you don’t have to like it.  And this is neither the time nor the place for experimentation.  The benefit of such a seemingly restrictive environment is it forces you to learn techniques you might otherwise miss.  I can guarantee I never would’ve learned as much as I have about lemon meringue if I hadn’t worked in a bakery.  The thought of lemon meringue sets my teeth on edge.

But even the owner of the bakery is restricted in the types of goods that they bake.  Ultimately, the customer base is going to determine what is made and how.  If you cringe at the amount of icing on your cinnamon rolls, but your customers complain and stop buying them when it is reduced, you’re probably going to have to start drenching those rolls in icing again.

The benefit here comes in the form of the sense of satisfaction you get from knowing you have brought enjoyment to others.  The marvelous thing about baked goods is they are often a treat, a reward—an eagerly anticipated indulgence or a consolation.  A flaky croissant can be that moment of stillness on a Sunday morning.  A slice of pie can be the satisfaction of a recent triumph.  A warm brownie can be the comfort you need during a stressful or dark time.

And then there is the community.  Food builds friendship.  It starts conversations; it builds bridges.  It’s an immediate commonality—a shared experience.  A sweet treat can bring people together like conspirators, as if they share a secret, a secret between strangers.

All of this is wrapped up in the act of giving.  Baking (or making food) for others establishes a connection between yourself and the recipient that is mired in human compassion and sympathy.  Even the apathetic line cook in a cheap restaurant at the very least takes the care to ensure the meal is prepared in a safe manner (or so I would hope!).

Participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap turned out to be an even more enjoyable experience than I initially imagined.  The community that developed out of it through Twitter and Facebook was heartwarming.  The care with which I prepared the cookies and the eager hope and anticipation that the recipients would enjoy them delighted me.

I sent three participating bloggers a dozen toasted sesame tahini cookies—a recipe that was inspired by the many breads rolled in sesame seeds that I prepared as a bread baker.  I found the scent of the sesame seeds tantalizing, and I wanted to create something that would generate a sense of warmth and comfort.

The cookies are similar to a peanut butter cookie.  They’re fragrant, moist and creamy, with an added chewiness provided by the oats, and a delightful crunchiness provided by the toasted sesame seeds.  They have a lemony undertone, which is complemented by the salty and mildly sweet characteristics of the cookie.  They can also be baked longer for a crispier finish, which serves to highlight the fragrance of the sesame even more.

Toasted Sesame and Tahini Cookies
(makes 20-21 cookies using a size 24 cookie scoop)

3oz (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
3oz (3/4 cup) pastry flour
5oz (1 1/3 cup) rolled oats, processed semi-fine
1 ½ tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

4oz (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
4oz (2/3 cup) brown sugar
4oz (1/4 cup) honey
2oz (1 large) egg
6oz (2/3 cup) tahini

grated zest of one lemon
4 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
untoasted sesame seeds for garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Toast the 4 tbsp of sesame seeds in a dry skillet or on a baking sheet, being careful not to burn them. Process the oats with the toasted sesame seeds until semi-fine.  It should be floury but still with some oat bits.  Cream together the butter and brown sugar.  Add the egg & mix until well combined.  Add the honey, lemon zest and tahini. Mix the oats & sesame seeds in another bowl with the other dry ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients just until combined, being careful not to overmix.  Scoop cookies onto baking sheet.  Sprinkle with untoasted sesame seeds.

For softer, chewier cookies, bake for 11 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through.  For crispier cookies, bake for approximately 15 minutes.

Receiving cookies also made me reflect on the kindness and generosity of those who prepared a treat for me.  This was truly a moment in which the saying “it’s the thought that counts” rang incontrovertibly true.  For I am sure that there were situations where people received cookies they were not overly fond of.  But no matter.  Cookies are for sharing and it was the thought, the care, the time that counted.

Thank you Sarah from West Wellington Veggie for the perfectly bite-sized oatmeal cookies.

Thank you Laura for the festive and colourful swirl sugar cookies.

Thank you Heather from New House, New Home, New Life for these absolutely stunning and delicious cinnamon stars.

Thank you for your thought, time and effort in preparing these lovely treats.

And thank you to Lindsay from Love and Olive Oil and Julie from The Little Kitchen for the thought, time and effort they put into organizing the cookie swap.

We may have devoured the cookies, but we built a community!