Beating the Bakers
My father is a very competitive person. When I was younger, we would be out sailing in Biscayne Bay, and he would choose a boat off in the distance to race. Perhaps some of this comes from being a litigator. Maybe it is just his personality.
But you can’t grow up around that without at least a little bit wearing off.
So when the San Francisco outpost of Foote Cone & Belding (now unthinkably called Draft FCB) announced there would be a bake-off when it moved into its fancy new office, I started thinking about how to win. There was some stiff competition, especially from within my department. They were the bakers – let’s call them junior and senior.
The junior baker made the best snickerdoodles I have ever tasted. To call them cookies does them an injustice. Somehow I managed to get the recipe out of her, but only if I swore never to reveal it. So the only way to experience these cookies is to compel me to make up a batch.
The senior baker was crazy about pies and took classes on cake making. She once made this cake that was decorated with a beautiful lattice of icing, which looked like it was painstakingly hard to execute.
And then there was me, who made desserts but didn’t bake at all.
As you now may know, I made the butter fried cookies, which are indeed more commonly known as Florentines. Given the initial interest in the very mention of fried cookies, I do have to say that I was disappointed by the dearth of comments attached to the post that revealed the recipe. C’est la vie.
What you do not know is how I made them extra special.
The recipe was for almond orange lace cookies. Almond and orange are a classic flavor combination, much like blueberry and lemon, or pear and rosemary. But almond and orange also go brilliantly with chocolate. One of my favorite treats is a good dark chocolate covered orange peel.
So I whipped up a dark chocolate and orange ganache. (It’s really the easiest thing in the world, and just so good—a recipe and dedicated post on the subject will appear in the weeks to come.) This made my lacey almond orange cookies into decadent lacey almond-orange chocolate sandwich cookies.
Each of these little bundles of butter, sugar, nuts, orange zest, chocolate, cream, and orange brandy were tucked into individual hand-folded parchment-paper envelopes. They were really quite precious, with their lacy edges peeking up from within. With a carefully worded description, they proved to be very popular at the bakeoff.
Here is how the bakeoff was judged. Everyone was given three gold stars, and was told to put them beside their favorite desserts.
The senior baker, the overachiever, actually had multiple entries. One completely pandered to the crowd with Foote Cone & Belding themed cookies. But those cookies were more about style than substance. If I recall correctly, her other entry was a more seriously crafted cake. But she may have inadvertently split the vote, as neither entry could compete with my star totals.
The junior baker also did very well. I think she came in just beneath me. You have to remember this was about eight years ago, and the memory fades. What does not fade was that despite beating the two most accomplished bakers at the agency I still came in second place.
How can I forget when it still gets me so worked up?
First prize went to someone’s Snickers trifle. No joke. They got a beautiful trifle dish, and filled it with store bought crap. Snickers bars, pound cake, Cool Whip, Hershey’s syrup, etc. It was a sweet and sticky mess that required no baking or any sort of culinary talent. It looked handsome all layered in its bowl, but how it won is still beyond me.
While I may not have won, I still did what I set out to do. I beat the bakers.