Kitchn Love Letters

Impossibly Difficult Times Call for Impossibly Easy Cookies

updated May 6, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I was lucky enough to grow up with a stay-at-home mom who loved to bake. When I arrived home from school, I would often walk in the door to the smell of a freshly baked treat — there were bars, quick breads, cakes, and pies, but most often my mom made cookies. She would bake dozens of them at a time, then freeze whatever was left over. (Of the two freezers in her basement, one is devoted to her baked goods.)

While my mom occasionally made cut-out cookies or fancier hand-shaped confections, what she really specialized in was the simple drop cookie — one in which you drop spoonfuls of the dough directly onto the cookie sheet and let the oven do the rest. Every once in a while a little extra work was involved, like when she used the tines of a fork to give peanut butter cookies their signature cross-hatch, or rolled the dough in cinnamon-sugar for snickerdoodles. But in my opinion, her most reliable cookies were the simplest ones, like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin

Despite the fact that I happily ate everything my mom made, I grew up to be a rather lazy baker. It doesn’t matter that I work from home most days and could probably sneak in a batch of cookies. When there’s no deadline and my son’s in school, I’m a free agent to do or cook what I please. But it’s the mere idea of having to gather all the ingredients — and the cleanup at the end — that holds me back. That, and the time involved (even if it’s minimal!).

Credit: Izy Hossack

Time is short now that I’m homeschooling my 4th grader due to the pandemic. My days are now measured in increments of video classrooms, deciphering all manner of online learning platforms, virtual band practice, and long dog walks in order to “air out” a bit. But it’s because my child is home all day now that baking has become more important than ever. It’s imperative that we do something fun together every day — something that doesn’t involve a screen or cajoling or schoolwork. 

I’m not one of those creative-mom types who can come up with a dozen different fun things to do in the house, so instead I bake with him. He gets to choose the recipe, and he helps measure and mix and scoop — just like I used to do with my mom. It’s in these minutes that we can tune out the news, or the fact that he can’t play in his treehouse with the neighbor kids, or the questions we both have about when our lives will return to normal again.

We focus on the ingredients, me explaining the rationale of using each one, or coming up with creative ways to use math. We get our hands dirty, and he learns to properly crack an egg. He sniffs each spice — a holdover from his toddler days — and describes the scent, how it makes him feel. And as the cookies morph into something magical, they also fill the house with the enticing sweet smells I grew up with. I want him to know that no matter what kind of noise we face in the world, a few disparate ingredients can come together and become something harmonious and delicious.

Baking with my son is the small connection he and I need right now. It brings me closer to my own mother, who is undoubtedly baking her way through the pandemic, stocking her freezer for when she can once again have company. It’s comforting that she’s only a phone call (or video chat) away when I crave a childhood recipe that I know she has pasted or written into an old spiral-bound notebook. And while I might alter the recipes, adding a bit of whole-wheat flour or swapping white sugar for brown or oil for applesauce, my son and I always pull our cookies from the oven a minute early, to keep them extra-soft — something my mom always did. We all agree that soft cookies are better than crispy ones.

My 9-year-old usually loses interest once that first batch is in the oven, so I sometimes pop the remaining dough balls of oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip into the freezer to save for another day. A day, hopefully soon, when my son will be coming off the school bus again, and I can welcome him home to those safe, sweet scents, as if I had been baking all day.

Read More About Freezing Cookies

This story is part of our Staying Home series, in which Kitchn editors and contributors share the recipes, tools, and habits that are helping them through the pandemic. As we work to flatten the curve, we’re cooking more, shopping less frequently, and looking for the good and the bright as much as we can. In this very disorienting time, here’s what’s keeping us going.