Baking with Powdered Sugar

This is not a baking how-to. It might be the exact opposite.

I decided to bake this week. Because pandemic. And boredom. And I didn’t have any sweets in my house and I wanted some. And I had just enough ingredients to make sugar cookies.

Or so I thought.

So I got baking. True crime podcast in my ears, butter softened, shiny chrome mixing bowl on the counter. Flour and dry ingredients mixed together—check. Egg cracked—check. Butter and sugar creamed together—

Wait, where’s the sugar? I could’ve sworn I had some in the back of the cabinet somewhere. I always do. I shuffle items around—tea bags, spices, food coloring I haven’t used for two Christmases—no sugar.

At least, not the kind I needed. In a wilted plastic bag in the corner of my cupboard was confectioner’s sugar, the sugar you would lick right off your fingers as a kid whatever chance you got (maybe you do that as an adult too, no judgment.) The kind perfect for dipping strawberries in. The kind that makes an excellent buttercream frosting. I stared the sugar down for a moment. You don’t use powdered sugar in cookies. But it’s all I have.

My first thought was to throw everything away—the flower mixture, the half-beaten egg. It was no use now. I didn’t have what I needed, so why keep going?

Then I remembered the story of the chocolate chip cookie.

The original Toll House chocolate chip cookie, created by Ruth Wakefield in the 1930s, was a complete accident. When baking butter cookies for a crowd one night, she thought she could add a little baking chocolate to make them into delicious, fudgey chocolate cookies. But when she pulled them out of the oven—no dice. The chocolate chunks had kept their shape. Ashamed, she served them to her guests anyway. And her guests loved them. So much so that they came back for more.

I knew that day in my kitchen I wasn’t about to change the world. But as I stared at the powdered sugar, I thought, might as well. So in went the powdered sugar into my cockamamie cookies. I combined the ingredients, and the dough looked okay…somewhat cookie-like. Instead of balling it up on a baking sheet, I spread it in a baking pan instead. Y’know, just to find out. If I was going to experiment, I was going to go all the way.

The result was a weird, blondie-like bar kind of like shortbread, which I put some icing on to add a little extra sweetness. It wasn’t a monstrosity. It wasn’t a disaster. When I was staring down that powdered sugar in my pantry, I was picturing a kitchen on fire, a ruined pan, a bubbling mass crawling out of my oven like something out of a black-and-white B-movie.

But it turned out. Whatever it was, it turned out.

It might seem easy to scrap something when you realize you’re not prepared. And yes, that is a good rule of thumb if you’re, say, skydiving. But when we take small risks every day, it might surprise us how good the result is. You might not be serving world-famous cookies to the masses, but you might just do something no one’s ever done before.

Or, at least, something you’ve never done before.

So go ahead. Challenge the empty pantry. Use the powdered sugar. And see what happens.

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