Chocolate Cranberry Crunch bars from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. (Sarah Austin/Sun Staff Writer)

November 10, 2020

AUSTIN | Throwing Stars and Sweatshirt Stains

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For the first installment of a Moosewood Mess, I started out with dessert because it seemed like a relatively easy first step — something very much within my comfort zone. I invited my friends for the inaugural Moosewood Meal, which only ramped up the pressure. I felt like I couldn’t disappoint them, but I also didn’t want to make something overly complicated and ruin everything before it even started. That brought me to Chocolate Cranberry Crunch bars and chocolate sugar cookies. 

When I first looked at the recipes, they seemed to be idiot-proof. However, it appears I’m an idiot. I don’t know what I did wrong; I was so dedicated to this project that I followed the instructions for the cookies to a tee. When I was mixing the dough, it seemed a little too crumbly, but I didn’t want to add any extra butter lest I stray from the recipe. I’m not a particularly careful cook; however, I was laser-focused on these cookies.

I chilled the dough, went to a Zoom meeting and scoured my apartment for a makeshift rolling pin. After wrapping a bottle of PAM in saran wrap, I set to work rolling out the dough. It kept breaking and ended up becoming a much larger mess than I intended (but a much better arm work-out). I cut out the cookies and put them in the oven. After the required time of 15 to 20 minutes (I did 18), I took them out only to discover that I had somehow made crackers. They were hard and crunchy, so I diverted from the recipe (I lasted a lot longer than I thought) and only put the second batch in for ten minutes. Even with the time change, the cookies were still rock-hard, but with a slightly softer middle. Both batches ended up less like cookie stars and more like throwing stars. I could knock a guy out with a well-aimed cookie — I bet Julia Child could never say that.

Other than fumbling with the crumbly dough, these cookies were relatively easy to make. They didn’t require any special tools considering I just repurposed things most people already have in their houses.The recipe made enough to feed a crowd, but I did have to roll them out, which was a bit of a pain. So, in terms of being a college student on a time crunch with limited baking equipment at my disposal, I would give these an 8/10 for doability. However, considering the flavor and texture, I would only give them a 4/10 for taste. They were bland and cracker-ish without a uniform texture ー overall not enjoyable to eat. If I did try again, I would roll them out a bit thicker and add a teaspoon of instant coffee powder to enhance the chocolate flavor.

Moving on to my triumph from later that same day: Chocolate Cranberry Crunch bars — an oat mixture base, with cranberries and chocolate laid over top. This is where my superiority complex kicks in. Even though these were a resounding success, I felt the need to tweak the recipe. I chopped up the cranberries, stained my shirt because I’m a mess and mixed in the rest of the topping ingredients. The recipe itself was pretty straightforward, and other than the cranberries, I already had flour, oats, sugar and chocolate chips on hand. 

Again, I followed the recipe exactly … with one exception. I let my laziness win out and didn’t use the food processor to chop the cranberries. It’s such a pain to wash, so I figured chopping them by hand wouldn’t make much of a difference. The only casualty from the knife was a stained shirt, so it’s definitely a doable recipe for a bare-bones collegetown kitchen; just wear an apron. I would also recommend that if you make these bars, pay attention to the pan size. I didn’t have a 7 ½ x 11, so I just used an 8 x 8. 

Because I didn’t have the right pan, the oat layer was a bit too thick, so the ratio of cranberry-chocolate to oat was a bit off. After tasting them, I had the urge to replace some of the oats with walnuts. In terms of taste and texture, I would definitely give them a 9/10; the cranberries were sour and blended really nicely with the chocolate, and the oat layer was pretty moist. In terms of being able to make these quickly in my tiny kitchen, I would give them an 8/10. That said, I don’t know how common it is to have cranberries just casually chilling in your freezer, so this recipe lost two points for extra time spent at Wegmans. 

Overall, I’m happy with my first crack at Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. This isn’t just teaching me how to refine my cooking skills or opening me up to a whole new world of recipes; it’s teaching me patience. I’m learning how to follow instructions, which honestly is a pretty solid life skill — one everyone can benefit from. 

Everyone seemed happy with the Chocolate Cranberry Crunch bars, and my roommate and I even ended up eating the chocolate throwing stars at a worrying pace because they became addictive after 11 p.m. Today, I was able to check off not one, but two recipes from my very long list. I’m feeling pretty confident.

Sarah Austin is a sophomore in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at sarahaustin@cornellsun.com.