For the Masses

by Sandra

It’s been a few weeks now, but I recently had my first experience making food to feed a large group of people. Two-hundred and fifty people, to be exact. NightLight, an anti-human trafficking, non-profit organization, were holding a fund-raising dinner at the L.A. River Center. My friend Ernae was in charge of the food, and at a certain point, after one of our morning hikes, I told her that if she needed any help, I would be willing to offer my cooking services. It was one of those offers were the one making the offer doesn’t really know what they’re in for when they ask, “so what can I do?”

My assignment:  sesame noodles. Easy, I thought, until the day of the event arrived and I found myself struggling to get all eleven packages of soba cooked and cooled in time to schlep it over to Highland Park, and this was after—by some divinely appointed providence—having started cooking at about six in the morning. Despite the harriedness of the day, everything did of course, come together. But not without a lot of sweat and worry.

In light of a slightly traumatic experience, you’d think that my initial reaction to a second request for large-scale feedings would be “no.” Hmm, well if you guessed that you’d be wrong, ’cause my friend Sarah recently asked if I would be willing to bake cookies for her and her fiancé’s wedding receptions in November. Two-hundred cookies, no less. And of course I said yes, because friendship makes you do funny things sometimes.

Sarah had originally asked me to make cookies based on the strength of those buttermilk lemon zest cookies she’d tried. Naturally, I wasn’t content to simply make several batches of those. No, instead I offered to do a “cookie tasting” for them, just in case something else tickled their fancy. And of course she said yes, because really, who in their right mind wouldn’t want a boxful of four different types of cookies?

And of course, for me it was kind of a dream, getting to make four little batches of cookies. It’s true, I haven’t been baking much lately, but I liked the industriousness required to get some many recipes turned around in such a short few days. For the tasting, I decided to go with three I’ve made and one brand new to me. The buttermilk cookies and the ginger-molasses cookies I’ve mentioned here before.

But not these. These are brown butter spoon cookies with jam. They’re from Orangette, a site I get a lot of my recipes from, since Molly, the proprietress, has such impeccable taste. I made these the first time last Christmas, before I decided to chronicle my baking here. Getting that perfect spoon-shape for each cookie requires the arduous pressing of brown butter dough into a deep-bowled spoon, the gentle push of the dough onto the pan and and willingness to repeat, ad-nausea, until the dough is all fully formed. Once finished, the flavor of these is at once luscious yet delicate, the brown butter coating smoothly across the tongue and mouth, creating a wonderful taste/texture sensation. I sandwiched mine with strawberry preserves, but I’d imagine apricot would work well, or even chocolate ganache or—gasp—Nutella, for those of you who like your chocolate fix.

Or, speaking of chocolate fix, you could just scarf down a pan of these little things. These are spicy brownies, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I had never made these before, but I couldn’t quite resist the thought of a dark, dense chocolate brownie laced with the spicy hint of chipotle powder, cardamom and cinnamon. Upon first bite of these, all you taste is pure chocolate, but the kick comes in at the end—a slight heat at the back of the throat, the sensation of “whoa, what’s in this?” and the inability to say no to the next bite, for fear that your taste investigation will be ruined.

Sarah ended up choosing the buttermilk cookies after-all, redubbing them “life changing cookies.” I don’t about life changing, exactly, but they are tasty, and come November I will be neck deep in them as I prepare, yet again, to feed the hungry masses.