Tub Frosting and Blueberry Pecan Biscotti
What makes you angry?
What really sets you off?
I don’t mean irritated or agitated or annoyed. I mean what triggers an endless chorus of rapid fire expletives or a slam session where no door in your house goes untouched. I burned off most of my explosive anger in my 20s thanks to a love of long distance running and a long term relationship with a Jungian psychologist whose name rhymes with vulva. These days my anger is less like a 0-60 eruption and more like a slow simmering pot of stock, carefully managed to prevent boiling. So imagine my surprise when a little matter like store-bought frosting sent me over the edge in the midst of a Thai food lunch with a friend, a very good friend, the kind of friend that listens, counsels, and seldom, if ever, infuriates me. In a casual conversation she described the birthday cake her eight-year-old (and down-right adorable if you’ll pardon the bias) daughter wanted to make, including the purple frosting—a tub of store-bought, purple frosting.
The look on my face likely said it all, but my fork fell with a clank onto my plate of pad see ew and I opened my mouth anyway to deliver my judgmental, visceral, and of course, unsolicited response, “What? You can’t use tub frosting? Do you know what’s in that s#@&? And how easy it is to make frosting from scratch?”
We were both stunned. It bears repeating that this is a very good friend.
I’m a militant label reader, favoring real foods made with ingredients my Gram would recognize. Still, I reserve my soapbox appeals for vile things that are consumed regularly like Pop Tarts and Lunchables. If it’s something you eat on a special occasion—and a birthday certainly qualifies as such, screw the label, just enjoy it. So why the outrage then? I wondered as I slunk back home already at work on my apology.
The ingredients in store-bought frosting, while unsavory, had little to do with my reaction. As I peeled back another layer of the onion that is my psyche, I saw that it had everything to do with the connection between a mother and a daughter. My collection of warm childhood memories is small, and I guard them like the Crown Jewels. The best memories were made in our tattered kitchen from simple things like homemade frosting. Butter + sugar + cream + vanilla. We never used a recipe. I worked the hand-held mixer, mindful of not making it rain powdered sugar across the kitchen. Mom would peek over my shoulder and with only a glance she knew—a little more sugar, a bit more cream, adjusting back and forth until billowy, satiny frosting filled the bowl. There was a bonus round if I got to transform the white wonder into a colorful frosting, swirling in drops of food coloring. The best part? Licking the sweet beaters until they looked nearly clean enough to be returned to the drawer. In time I knew too and could make the “bit of this” and “dash of that” adjustments without mom’s watchful eye. Strangely this, all of this, the grit of the powdered sugar on my teeth when it’s not fully dissolved in the butter, the swirls of red food coloring, the bright white yielding to pink, and the feel of my tongue on the grooves of the beaters were locked away for safekeeping in a dark corner of my brain until the words “tub frosting” unleashed them.
My apology was accepted (Thank you again E!), and I was invited to give a sweet little birthday girl her first homemade frosting lesson. A little more powdered sugar. A splash of cream. Lots and lots of red and blue food coloring and a bit of patience as we waited for a vibrant purple to emerge from the bowl. I stood over her shoulder as my mom had over mine, forging a memory almost as sweet as the one I carry with me from my childhood.
Blueberry Pecan Biscotti
This recipe was adapted from Alice Water’s biscotti recipe in The Art of Simple Food. I prefer the texture of biscotti made without butter. They’re a bit more brittle and can withstand a generous swirl or two in my morning coffee.
1 1/4 cups pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried blueberries (Dried tart cherries are nice too.)
white chocolate (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.
- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is silky. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir until just incorporated. Gently fold in the pecans and dried fruit.
- On the prepared baking sheet, form the dough into two, 3-inch-wide loaves, about three inches apart. Wet your hands with a little water to keep the dough from sticking to you. Bake the loaves until lightly golden, about 25-30 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool for ten minutes.
- Lower the oven temperature to 300°F. Slice the loaves into 1/2-inch-thick cookies and place cut side down on two baking sheets. Bake for ten minutes, flip the cookies over, and bake for ten more minutes.
- When the cookies are completely cool, dip in or drizzle with melted white chocolate, if using.
Makes about 3 dozen.