If you have read about me, you know that in 1991 I decided to go to culinary school at UCLA. I had this bone-deep intense longing to learn how to do all the techniques I was reading about in food magazines. I wanted to learn to make sauces and to understand pastry and baking. I didn’t own a stand mixer or a food processor, or know how to use them. I remember trying to make a red wine butter sauce and having it break into a greasy mess. I tried to make meringue with the little hand mixer I got as a wedding present in 1965, which ended in dismal failure. And remember, back then there were no food blogs, no food channel, no facebook. If you wanted to learn how to do something you went to the library, found it in a food magazine or took a cooking class. I was tearing my hair out in frustration.
So the magical day came when I called up to register for my first class, and was told that I would have to take a little test on cooking knowledge before being allowed into the culinary program. Oh my god, there was actually a chance I might not pass and not be able to get in! My heart was galloping in my chest. They were giving the test in the near future, so she gave me the address, building, room number, date and time. She said you had to get 70% of the answers correct to pass.
So on that fateful day, I had to drive for 45 minutes to get to the UCLA campus, find street parking that was non-existent, walk blocks to the proper building, go up the elevator and walk through a maze of halls to find the room. I walked in and it was a maelstrom of about 50 people standing and talking, people sitting at tables taking the test, people standing in lines at the front of the room to get their tests graded, people at another table filling out forms and writing checks, and people trying on new chef’s coats. So for people like me who can’t concentrate if there is any noise, I had just walked into my version of hell. And I was supposed to take a test!
So I got the test, which was about 5 photocopied pages stapled in the upper left hand corner, and sat at one of the conference tables. I was so afraid I wouldn’t know anything and my hopes of going to culinary school would be dashed. If I was someone who hyper-ventilated, I would have been gasping. So I stuck my fingers in my ears and looked at the questions. Eureka! They were easy, such as:
- How many teaspoons in a tablespoon?
- How many ounces in a pound?
- At what temperature does water boil and freeze?
- Name 5 leavening agents
- True/False Chefs never need to wash their own dishes
- How many cups in a quart?
Well, I whipped through that test like a hot knife through butter and took it to the front of the classroom to be graded. There actually were a couple of people who got less than 70% and left so dejectedly. It was really sad. I, on the other hand, got 100% correct. The lady said I was only the second one all day who had done that. My head was pretty big, let me tell you. So I got to fill out the forms to put my name in the culinary school data base, and write a check for my Chef’s Coat, which we were required to wear to the cooking classes. There were big stacks of new folded chef’s coats wrapped in plastic, so the lady gave me one and told me to try it on to make sure it was the right size.
Oh my god! I was so excited. My first Chef’s Coat! I walked to the side of the room and facing the blackboard, I put that chef’s coat on. I had this shit-eating grin on my face that I could not stop. I buttoned up the white jacket and ran my hands up and down the stiff new fabric. I folded up the sleeves, which came past my fingertips. I couldn’t stop grinning, so I couldn’t turn around, because I would have looked like a total idiot. Finally I was able to straighten out my face and tell the lady I had the correct size. She said I could now call and register for one of the classes.
As I was going down the elevator, holding that chef’s coat, that real thing, the fantasy now transformed into reality. I was going to go to culinary school. For real. Yes!!!
(See me in my chef’s coat here.)
I chose the Twirly Lemon Butter Cookies for this post because piping was one of the new techniques I learned in my first culinary school cooking class. We practiced with mashed potatoes because we were making Coquilles St. Jacques, which was a scallop gratin with mashed potatoes piped decoratively around the edge.
If you like the heady taste of lemon, then this is the cookie for you. The cookie dough and the frosting have lemon juice and lemon zest, and the dough even has lemon extract. These would be perfect with your hot afternoon tea, or with your iced tea, for that matter. I bet you can’t eat just one.
Twirly Lemon Butter Cookies with Lemon Buttercream Frosting
Makes about 60
For the Cookies
2 ¼ cups AP flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest, grated or microplaned (1 lemon)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon lemon extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease or spray.
2. In a food processor, whiz the butter and sugars until well blended. Add the zest, lemon juice, egg yolks, vanilla and lemon extract and whiz until thoroughly mixed.
3. Add the flour baking soda and salt, and whiz until thoroughly mixed in. The dough should be soft enough to pipe. If not, add water 1 teaspoon at a time and incorporate.
4. Put the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch open star tip and pipe 1 ¼ to 1 ½-inch-wide circular swirls onto baking sheet, 1 ½ to 2 inches apart.
5. Place the baking sheet in the upper third of the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottom edges of the cookies are just starting to brown.
6. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then remove with a spatula. Allow to cool completely.
For the Frosting
2 1/3 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest, grated or microplaned
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick minus 1 tablespoon), slightly softened, cut into tablespoons
1 ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
1 drop yellow liquid food coloring (optional)
1. Whiz the powdered sugar and lemon zest in a food processor, about 20 seconds.
2. Add the butter and whiz until very little pebbles form. Add the lemon juice and food coloring and whiz until well blended and smooth.
3. Remove frosting to a bowl and mix thoroughly with a spoon to ensure the food coloring is evenly distributed.
4. Put the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch open star tip. Pipe ¾ to 1-inch twirly circular frosting hats on each cooled cookie. Use your finger to smooth the edge of the frosting where it ends. Let stand until the frosting sets completely, up to 3 hours.
Note: If you don’t frost your cookies immediately, but store them stacked up in a container, crumbs from the bottom of the cookies may adhere to the tops of the cookies below. Before frosting, brush the crumbs off with a pastry brush.