The Two Most Dreaded Words in the English Language
You know what they are: “bake sale.”
As in, “Mom, the [choose one] band/choir/National Honor Society /field hockey team/student council/biology club is having a bake sale.” The next most-dreaded word is what follows: “Tomorrow.” And then: “Can you make something? Please?”
There’s really only one thing you can say to that request, which is “Yes.” Because, let’s face it, you want your kids to stay busy and involved in school and after-school activities so they don’t become drug-addled, computer-addicted zombies living in your basement for the next 20 years, so isn’t the hassle of having to make something for the bake sale worth it, in the long run?
Yes and no. If it were just a matter of making something, any old something, for the bake sale, that would be fine. You’d mix up a box of Betty Crocker yellow, pour it into cupcake papers, bake ’em, frost ’em, and—voilà! Mission accomplished. Maybe you’d go the extra mile and toss some jimmies on top.
But you’re not that kind of mom, are you? Boxed cake-mix cupcakes are for loser moms, low-expectation moms, those moms you see at pickup chain-smoking and chatting nonchalantly on cell phones while their kids dart between parked cars. Real moms bake madeleines from scratch, and whip up adorable gingerbread men fit for the cover of Martha Stewart Living. (Did you know her website has a cookie of the day? Like every single day you’re supposed to be baking cookies?) Real moms have Silpat cookie sheets and marble rolling pins and Scandinavian cookie presses. I hate real moms.
But there you are: Parenting’s just another form of competition. So the “There’s a bake sale” announcement is followed by a quick flip-through of my mental recipe box. What have I got in the pantry? (Eggs, flour, sugar, and a jar of olives.) What can I make for a bake sale with that? (Um. Martini Melts?) This is inevitably followed by a trip to the grocery store that takes longer than it should, the trip home, mixing, baking, assembling, decorating and wrapping, a process that if you’re lucky ends around 3 a.m.
I played this game for years. Then, one day, I was given a copy of The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It’s a gorgeous cookbook chock-full of recipes for and photographs of the most breathtaking cookies: molasses cookies, shortbread cookies, checkerboard cookies, bar cookies, langues-de-chat, brownies, blondies—you name it. I’m sure all of them are good. I wouldn’t know, though, because I stopped after I found the recipe for Italian-style biscotti. It forever solved my bake-sale woes. Biscotti are frightfully simple to make, wonderfully chic, and utterly adaptable to what you have on hand. Okay, maybe not olives, but just about anything else can go into the basic batter: coconut, chocolate chips, orange juice, almonds, dried cranberries … Dip one end of each biscotti in melted chocolate, and they—and you—will be the star of the sale.
Inspired by the book’s suggestions, I came up with my own favorite. Here it is.
Pistachio-White Chocolate Biscotti
2/3 c. sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. flour
1 c. shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
1 12-oz. bag white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350?.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt and extract, and beat until the mixture is thick and light yellow. Stir in the flour and pistachios and mix well. On a lightly greased cookie sheet, with your hands—butter them a little if you’re opposed to ick—shape the dough into a mounded log about 14 inches long, 3 inches wide and an inch and a half high. Wet your hands and smooth the top of the dough lightly. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove, and reduce oven temperature to 325?. Let dough cool for 15 minutes, then once again wet your hands and run them over the log, to soften crust. Wait 5 minutes. With a sharp, heavy knife, slice dough crosswise into ¾-inch slices. Stand the slices on the cookie sheet, return to oven, and bake 25 minutes more. Remove and let cool.
When biscotti are completely cool, pour chocolate chips into a microwave-proof bowl and microwave for 10 seconds. Remove, stir, and return to microwave for 5 more seconds at a time, being careful chocolate doesn’t burn, until it’s melted and you can stir it smooth. Use a broad-bladed knife to generously coat the bottom of each biscotti with chocolate; set them on their sides atop waxed paper until chocolate hardens. Makes about 18.
SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.