Cookies bring impromptu lesson in geometry
I’m a stereotypical journalist in that math isn’t my strong suit. I’m definitely a words person, not a numbers person. But of all the math classes I took in high school and college, the one that I disliked the most was geometry. Though I wasn’t one for skipping classes much in high school, I managed to wriggle my way out of more than a couple geometry classes.
I admit that I didn’t try very hard to “get” geometry. My biggest hang-up was proofs. I could figure out the area of a triangle (most of the time) but I hated that I had to explain each step with the mathematical law that made that step possible. As a words person, this shouldn’t have been a big deal. This was just matching the right words to the numbers. But since I came to the solution to most math problems by mere luck, I couldn’t begin to explain how that worked.
So what does this have to do with baking cookies? Alas, I got a C in geometry once again.
I went to my Grandma Bollas’ cookbook for inspiration for this article, and came across a recipe for crescent cookies. Grandma Bollas raised six sons, some with the Sweet name and all with a sweet tooth, so most of the recipes she’d written down in an old school notebook of my dad’s were for various kinds of cookies.
Like many of her recipes, the crescent cookies entry was essentially just a skeleton of a recipe: a list of ingredients with a couple of notes on what order to mix them, followed by a time and temperature. No doubt she’d baked enough cookies to know how the recipe was supposed to go.
I’ve baked enough cookies to figure out Grandma’s recipe, too, and it seemed easy enough. First, you make a dough that’s sort of halfway between a pie crust and a shortbread cookie. Then, you roll it out, cut it into squares and fill it with a nut paste before rolling the cookie into a pretty crescent shape.
This is where my geometry skills failed me, and perhaps my gluten-free flour. I mixed up the dough, and since it contained a lot of butter as well as cream cheese, I figured that I could probably do without xanthan gum to hold the dough together. I put it in the refrigerator for about five hours, and it was nice and firm when I took it out again. I worked the dough a bit until it was pliable, then rolled it out between two sheets of wax paper coated with powdered sugar.
My first cookie turned out nicely. I spooned in the nut filling, pulled the edges over and formed a nice crescent on my cookie sheet. A second decent-looking crescent followed. But that’s when things went off the rails. First, I seemed to be cutting the squares too big, which led to some giant, messy sort of bowties. Some of the squares were more rectangular, and those ones didn’t roll up very neatly. If I had actually learned all those geometric proofs back then, would my shapes have come out better? Finally, the dough got a little sticky (should I have used xanthan gum?), so a few of the cookies ended up looking more like tortellini than crescents.
With pasta shapes on my mind, I decided to improvise. Why not make ravioli cookies? I got out a round cookie cutter and started cutting out circles. I put a dollop of nut paste in the middle, then topped it with another circle, sealing the edges. Now my cookies were a lot more uniform, even if they were no longer crescents. They cooked up nicely and were tasty, too, so I don’t think Grandma Bollas would mind my improvisation.
But maybe in my next life, I won’t skip geometry class.