I don’t often bake cookies. It’s even rarer that I will eat one. But the recent death of my Grandma Agard had me craving a chocolate chip cookie. It’s not an association that I would have ever made as a child.
When I was growing up, Grandma Agard never cooked or baked anything. For all of my childhood, she lived with her mother, Grandma Richards. Their household worked just like most other couples I knew at the time. Grandma Agard would get dressed up and head to work every morning and Grandma Richards stayed home and did housework, cooked and baked.
Grandma Richards always made sure the cookie jar on the counter was filled with molasses cookies with white frosting. I think it was because molasses was inexpensive and chocolate chips weren’t, but maybe they just like molasses cookies.
I assume that Grandma Agard learned to cook and bake after Grandma Richards died in 1984. By then I was already living on Cape Cod, so I didn’t have occasion to visit her in Binghamton, New York, very often. When I did, I don’t remember cookies.
She continued to live by herself until her house burned down ten years later. With the insurance money, she was finally able to retire and buy a small ranch in Dennis to be closer to her daughters and grandchildren.
Once she was retired, she picked up the cookie baking role her mother had assumed, and she always made chocolate chip cookies. For years, she would arrive at every single family gathering with a covered tin full of chocolate chip cookies. Her cookies were perfect in appearance because she hand-placed each chocolate chip to ensure that every cookie had the same number of chips. She didn’t want people fighting over which cookie had the most chips.
At some point when our daughter Julia was around three, she started calling Grandma Agard, "Cookie," which quickly morphed into Grandma Cookie. She was quietly pleased with the new name and it stuck even after she was unable to bake any longer. Grandma Cookie she will always be.
I’m sad that she has passed on, but she was 96 years old so it wasn’t unexpected. She was not sick or in pain and she died peacefully in her sleep. It’s pretty much how everyone would prefer to go if given a choice.
This weekend, I decided to try to recreate her cookies. I researched every angle of chocolate chip cookie making that I could find. The original Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies calls for butter as the fat. My few past attempts at making the cookies with butter were not successful. Butter melts faster than shortening, so they ended up flat and very greasy.
Based on appearance alone, I would guess that Grandma Cookie used all shortening. Her cookies were pale in color and had a height and lightness that cookies baked with shortening have. Plus, my mother always used shortening in her chocolate chip cookies and when I was younger, I did too.
Butter does add flavor, though, so I ultimately decided to go with half butter and half shortening, specifically Spectrum organic all-vegetable shortening. It is non-hydrogenated and has no trans fats, not that a chocolate chip cookie is healthy in any case.
The dough was softer than I remembered, so I worried the cookies would spread out and be thin. To ensure that they didn’t, I refrigerated the dough for an hour before baking the cookies. It worked perfectly. The Kitchen Genius ate one while it was still warm and pronounced my cookies a huge success.
"You can be the new Grandma Cookie," he said.
I’ll stick with Nani, but it will make my heart happy to give my grandchildren a cookie in my grandmother’s memory when they come to dinner tonight.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Nestle’s Toll House recipe)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup organic shortening
3/4 cup pure cane sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12-ounce package of dark chocolate chips
In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer combine the butter and shortening. Add both sugars and vanilla and beat until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour mixture. Stop beating as soon as all flour is incorporated. Add chocolate chips and stir in by hand. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough onto baking sheets, leaving space in between so the cookies can spread slightly (about 8 cookies per sheet works well). Bake for 9 to 12 minutes until cookies are light golden in color. Let cool on baking sheet for five minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to continue to cool. Let baking sheets cool down before filling them with the next batch.