The first thing I baked in the new house was a batch of “vintage” chocolate chip cookies. It sounds like something from a 1950s Andy Warhol painting: the glamorous housewife with whisk, immaculate coiffure and frilly apron, queen of her domain. In reality, I made them in thermal leggings and pink socks, hair askance, and I was accompanied by the human equivalent of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, who was determined to eat all the chocolate and scoop all remaining batter into his mouth without me noticing.
“Could you put this in the sink for me?” I asked, handing him what I considered to be a dough-free wooden spoon.
“Get lost” he laughed, turning away and scraping it clean with his tongue.
If I were trying to bake something truly meaningful in a new house, I would undoubtedly go for bread — the great sustainer, and well-known symbol of home. But, given that this is a short-term, COVID-induced let for two people with no idea what’s coming next, a batch of sticky chocolate cookies seemed the best option for minimal effort and maximum value.
Maybe as I move through life and into different flats or houses I’ll develop a go-to “the first thing I make when I move into a new place” recipe, something that says “I’ve arrived, this is my home now”, and provides the necessary comfort and sense of security we all crave when looking at four new walls. I’ll unpack the box marked “Kitchen” and take out a trusty, chipped mixing bowl, brandish my favourite wooden spoon and puff clouds of flour into the air as I open up the scrunched-up paper packets. In the meantime, I’ve got my cheap, student-era weighing scales, a fish-slice for a spatula (with a dubiously sticky handle) and an overturned oven shelf as a cooling rack.
As anyone who’s ever turned on the oven knows, the concept of a “fool-proof” recipe is a total fallacy, especially when you have to fight with your equipment. In this instance, the scales stubbornly refused to tare, opening the pot of bicarbonate of soda took significantly more time than it has ever taken anyone to open a pot of bicarbonate of soda ever and the electric whisk broke for no apparent reason mid-beat, meaning we had to take it in turns to pound the butter and sugar by hand. (“What do you mean it has to change colour?!” the Cookie Monster cried, wiping his sweaty brow.) Our good fortune continued when we misread the recipe and spooned out tablespoons of mixture onto the baking tray, rather than teaspoons, thus leaving an inadequate distance between dough-lumps. The result: one gigantic, wobbly mass of cookie.
On removing the tray from the oven, I gingerly separated the ginormous, conjoined lumps before attempting to prise a single cookie from the tray and transfer it to the cooling “rack”. Another mistake. A dollop of liquid chocolate fell straight through the centre of the biscuit as I lifted it and the rest of it started to drip between the bars like molten wax. There followed multiple expletives and a swift return to the oven.
Five minutes later, I surveyed a tray of what can only be described as the most misshapen, aesthetically challenged chocolate cookies I had ever made. (Not like the ones you can see pictured in this article, I was dead proud of those.) Brutish and unrefined, they were a far cry from the perfectly spherical rounds produced by one of Warhol’s domestic goddesses. If the success of the first thing baked in a new house is an augury of things to come, I would say our chances aren’t looking good. Thankfully I’ve learnt to care little about appearances, so I got down to business and tried a forlorn-looking chunk. To my surprise, it was actually rather good: the crumb had an excellent squidge about it, with a just-perceptible, nostalgic thread of vanilla running through it. The dark chocolate pieces were generous, still warm on the tongue and rich. The resident Muppet let out a happy sigh, and I couldn’t help but join in. They were visually imperfect and totally lacking in grace, but these cookies were truly delicious to eat. And as an omen, well, I think that will do just fine.