When I first began to bake with my grandmother I had little patience. From my perspective, there was no need to draw things out — just tell me what the ingredients are and in what order they go in a bowl and then get out of the way, man.
Grandma would tell me there was a right way, a technique, a method that could be carried from one recipe to the next. She tried to explain that learning the chemistry (though she would never use a word like that, as she didn’t think of cooking as science) and taking time with each step was paramount. She tried to impart that the pleasure is derived by fully realizing each step, being in the moment and focusing on the work.
My child self wanted fast, easy, make'em, bake'em and eat'em.
Chocolate pinwheel cookies were the vehicles that brought the lesson home. The basics are that you make a dough, flavor half with chocolate, roll out two identically sized rectangles, place one on top of another, roll tightly, cut slices that reveal tight spirals of chocolate and vanilla dough, bake and eat.
The trick is to have your dough well chilled and to flour your board with just the right amount so that things don’t stick, but not so much that the dough, when baked, tastes like cardboard. Seemed easy. Grandma and I made the dough, and put it in the refrigerator to chill before rolling it out. This would be a respite where we could play a game, take a walk, read the jokes in the latest "Reader’s Digest." I couldn’t wait the requisite time. Grandma explained repeatedly why the wait was necessary. I was not buying it.
Finally, Grandma relented, and in her “Curse of the Cat People” voice, said, “Go ahead. See what happens.”
I grabbed the bowl from the refrigerator, brought it to the baking table, and plopped the still-too-warm and sticky vanilla dough onto the floured board. I started to roll it out. Sticky. More flour is needed, and flour on the rolling pin. Rolling. Still too sticky. More flour. Grandma shakes her head, starts to say something, but stops. Still more flour, and finally, I am able to make a rectangle from the now-chalky dough.
I repeat the process with the chocolate dough, which, because of the grand proportion of flour on the table, is more white than brown. I place this rectangle on top of the first. I crudely roll the dough the long way to form a tube. I cut the slices. The ends of the roll are a squishy mess. The middle, well let’s just say there was a faint suggestion of a spiral.
Grandma helps me put the pieces on the baking sheet, and get them in and out of the oven. When the cookies were done, I could hardly wait to taste them. Not a memorable moment.
I leave you this: Revel in each step of baking. You can make time stop if you are fully present as you work.
Here is grandma’s recipe for chocolate pinwheel cookies. Take your time. It’s worth it.
CHOCOLATE PINWHEEL COOKIES
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk
1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, melted
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, mix until combined.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and mix until combined. Add 1 teaspoon of the milk, mix, then add another 1/3 of the flour mix, and mix. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk, mix, add the remaining flour. Mix.
Divide the dough in half. It will be sticky. Wrap one half in plastic wrap or parchment paper. Add the melted chocolate to the second half of the dough and mix until well combined with no vanilla streaks. Wrap the chocolate dough in plastic or parchment. Put both dough halves in the freezer for three hours or chill in the refrigerator until firm.
Flour a board lightly, and roll out the vanilla dough into a roughly 7-by-10-inch-rectangle. Roll out the chocolate dough to the same size. Put the chocolate dough on top of the vanilla dough, and with the wide end facing you, roll up as for a jelly roll. Wrap in plastic or parchment and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 400 F. Unwrap the dough roll and cut with a sharp knife to make slices about 1/4-inch thick. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes. Watch the bottoms so they don’t burn.