Friday, March 2, 2012

Homemade Girl Scout Cookies: A lesson in futility.

Some things simply need to be left to the professionals.

In my case, those professionals are the Girl Scouts.

I had a hair-brained idea this week to try my hand at making homemade Girl Scout cookies. Yes, I saw the recipes on Pinterest so I foolishly thought they were do-able.

Foolish. Foolish. Foolish.

But I love Thin Mints and Samoas and the thought of being able to make them myself seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Admittedly, my first mistake was trying to assemble and bake two kinds of cookies at the same time. Thinking I'd be saving time by having ingredients and the mixer all out at once only proved to frustrate me more trying to coordinate the cooking, cooling and baking times.

I started with the Samoas dough. Easy enough. Basic shortbread, really. But I didn't have a cookie cutter shaped like a donut, so I had to improvise with a small glass and the opposite end of a frosting piping tip. But I kept getting dough stuck in that tip so had to fish it out with a fork every time. It got rather obnoxious.

Once those were in the oven, I started the Thin Mints dough. The recipe tells me to "knead the dough slightly to help keep it together." What a joke.

The stuff just crumbled. Worse yet - the recipe indicated to put it in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to rolling it out.

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist - or even an amateur chef - to surmise this dough was going to break apart when you tried to cut cookies from it. Cold, hardened, crumbly. Oh yeah. That just screams success in the kitchen.

Again, I didn't have a small round cookie cutter, but the recipe advised using a bottle cap - like from a small orange juice - to cut the cookies.

I had no orange juice. I had Powerade. Close enough.

But it was impossible to pull the dough out from the cap without it falling apart, so soon I was hacking away at that plastic cap with my kitchen shears to put a big enough hole on top to push my finger through and loosen the cookie from the top.

Although then I just managed to poke a hole in the center of every cookie. Aargh!

So with my kitchen shears in hand, I chopped and wrestled that cap some more. Orange plastic shards flying everywhere.

What a mess. But that's hardly the worst of it. I scan my kitchen.

Dough bits are EVERYWHERE.

My kitchen counters have a thorough dusting of powdered sugar and cocoa powder, the floors are littered with crumbs and since I'm darting to and fro, I've managed to smoosh chocolate bits with my feet into the floor.

Really glad I didn't get a chance to clean the floors yet this week. I try not to get down on myself about the mess, vowing to make mopping top priority tomorrow.

I eventually get the hang of the Thin Mints cookie cutting, when I realize I have to put things on hold and go coach my son's 2nd Grade basketball team at the Y.

I can't even begin to believe it is nearly 4:00 and I'm still putting these cookies together!

Hubby is away at a conference all week, so I have to pinch-hit for him as coach. You're probably asking yourself, "Why would she choose today to take on this baking project?" Good question. But I really did not expect this to be an 8-hour project! That, and I think I must thrive under pressure so I unwittingly put myself in these situations.

It's the first practice of the season, I've never coached anything, ever, and I've got 11 highly energetic 7 & 8 year old boys to corral and teach the fundamentals. And I'm pretty sure I have chocolate streaks on my shirtsleeves and cocoa in my hair.

I welcome the diversion from my disaster in the kitchen, but I cringe at the work I have left to do when I return home.

Practice comes to a close - it went pretty well, I think. But I'm more than happy to relinquish the reins to my husband next week!

After filling the bathtub for my boys and sending my daughter to shower, it's back into the kitchen I go. I finish all the baking and move onto the toppings and assembly.

This is when deep regret enters my brain.

Nothing is more irritating when I'm cooking then to have a faulty recipe. The ratio of coconut to caramel for the Samoas is completely off. I have way too little caramel, yet enough coconut to feed Skipper for a week. Well, maybe not Skipper. That scrawny Gilligan, for sure, though.

Not only does this grave detail make mixing the two futile, but I don't have nearly enough caramel to spread on each cookie in order to make the topping actually stick to the cookies. Not to mention that the assembly is so tedious that I have to repeatedly reheat the caramel to spreading consistency.

But guess what happens when you continually heat caramel?

It turns hard as a rock, that's what.

So not helpful.

I'm at a loss so I walk away from this train wreck and move on to the Thin Mints.

They are ready for dipping in chocolate. Again, faulty recipe translates to more frustration. I did not make nearly enough chocolate to coat all the cookies.

Maybe the recipe author knew how impossible cutting cookies from that dough is and figured I'd give up half-way through and chuck the remaining dough. Little did she know I have stamina and would fight that dough to the death! The only chance of that chocolate coating sufficiently covering each cookie is if I had, indeed, only made half of the cookies!

I grumble and give in to melting more chocolate. It still isn't enough - I'm about 7 cookies short - but by this time I'm so thoroughly exhausted I opt to toss the un-coated cookies into a ziplock and put them in the freezer. Maybe I'll feel the urge for a Thin Mint in July. I'll melt more chocolate then.

My attention now goes back to those horrific Samoas. Bottom line: I need more caramel.

As the only adult in the house with three children in bed, a trip to the grocery store is not an option. Then it dawns on me that I can make caramel from brown sugar!

I scan the internet for a how-to and soon I'm making my own caramel. I think I'm a genius until this also fails miserably. It's just a runny mess that has no adhesiveness to it whatsoever, so again I'm left with clumps of rock-hard coconut and caramel that refuse to stick to my cookies. Meanwhile, this runny caramel is turning my shortbread cookies into soggy, crumbly circles of goo.

I'm near tears, but am committed to finishing. I do the best I can with what I have to work with and just hope the final step of chocolate dipping and drizzling will somehow remedy the situation.

All hope is lost when I discover the amount of chocolate sauce the recipe produces only gets me through about 3/4 of the cookies.

I refuse to care.

I leave it all on wax paper to set, loosely cover it with plastic wrap and admit defeat. I'd deal with it in the morning.

It takes me nearly as long to clean up my counters and load the dishwasher as it did to make those dreadful cookies! It doesn't help that I have bowls and kettles caked with hardened caramel and chocolate sauces. For a split second, I consider tossing everything in the garbage and buying new in the morning.

I quickly realize it's insanity - brought on by impossible girl Scout cookies reproduction - talking and I snap back into the real world. I'll just let them soak. For a long time. A reeeeally long time. Like until my husband comes home and he can clean them. (insert devilish laugh here)

By morning the verdict is in. I have pretty decent Thin Mints, but certainly not quite Girl Scout Thin Mint caliber. And definitely not worth the effort when I could have just given the girl at my door earlier in the week four bucks and saved myself the trouble.

The Somoas? A complete and utter disaster. Soggy shortbread. Teeth-breaking coconut and caramel. And even odd-tasting chocolate...that never really set very well. But I have two storage containers full of the little mishaps. At this point, I'd have to pay someone four bucks to eat them.

So do yourself a favor. Learn from my mistakes.

Support your neighborhood Girl Scout and buy her cookies. No messy kitchen. No frustration. No entire-day-sucking prep. At $4 a box, it's truly a steal. At some point - maybe when I realized my caramel was overcooked - I would have paid 70x that for someone to put me out of my misery.

Although I probably could have just thrown one of those Samoas at my head for the same effect.

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