All the Things I’m Missing Out On: Berger Cookies
May 19, 2020
I’m not supposed to be where I am right now. I’m supposed to be in my ancestral home, celebrating the marriage of one of my dearest friends. In the weeks leading up to this one, I was supposed to have been in Boston at the wedding of another dear friend, living in a house with some of my favorite people, laughing about all those spring breaks we spent snowed in at the lake house. I was supposed to be in a cabin in the Finger Lakes drinking wine with my best friends from high school. I was supposed to be in a beachfront condo in Ocean City, sinking my toes in sand and getting sunburnt on the boardwalk. I was supposed to be spending time with my family at home, doing the wonderful, mundane things you do at home. Cleaning out boxes of childhood knick-knacks, letting your parents make you coffee, reading on the couch, taking the dog out to poop.
Last year at this time, I was gallivanting around Mallorca and then Japan. This year at this time, I’m in Berlin. Still. Maybe indefinitely.
I didn’t want to write about the pandemic, but it’s kind of hard to write about anything else these days. It feels tone-deaf to write something not shaped by the zeitgeist of social distancing and face masks and responsible consumerism, even if all you say is: I purposefully don’t want to write about corona today. Alas. Here we are. Talking about corona.
It’s been fascinating to watch us as a society sway through phases of talking and thinking about corona. Concurrent with the panic and anxiety was a pressure to perform and produce, a manic do-all-the-things energy that fed off the idea of optimization and being your best self. Then came the be-kind-you’re-surviving phase, where it was okay to lie around all day watching TV or doing nothing constructive. Right now, things feel surreal and normalized. My Instagram feed is full of ads for boutique masks. Instead of getting excited about new restaurants, I’m getting excited about locally-sourced delivery services. I’ve gotten used to meeting my friends one at a time for long walks in green spaces Jane Austen style or on chastely distanced picnics. I’m doing okay, and I feel a little guilty about it.
It feels tone-deaf to write something not shaped by the zeitgeist of social distancing and face masks and responsible consumerism, even if all you say is: I purposefully don’t want to write about corona today. Alas. Here we are. Talking about corona.
Something I wasn’t expecting that has been nice: All things being equal, as in, all the people you know in the world are suddenly equally accessible, I’m having more regular conversations with old friends who live far away via video chat, and I’m wondering: Why didn’t we do this more often? Well, likely because my life is usually one big, global gallavant and a fully-packed calendar of work and social activities.
And I’ve been writing fiction and poetry again, maybe because now that my work load has slowed, my idle brain once more has the space it needs to imagine something of its own. I’ve been so grateful for my writing group, my fiercely creative friends who inspire me to tell stories with the hopes of impressing them.
There are simple, daily things that I appreciate. My sweet, small cat who nuzzles me awake with his wet nose and nestles his purring body into my neck. The balcony sprouting with herbs and colorful flowers, which, when the weather is nice, I enjoy on sunny mornings with a mug of coffee and whatever issue of the New Yorker I’m weeks behind on reading. I have a job. I have my health. My family is safe. I’m living in Germany. I am so, so privileged. In general, yes, but especially now.
And there it is again, the guilt. How dare I complain about anything? Am I even allowed to feel sad about not getting to travel this year? About not getting to watch my friends get married? About not having barbeques in Tempelhof? About not getting to stock up on brown sugar and American painkillers from Target? About not drinking the first Aperol spritz of the season at an outdoor bar? About not sitting in my parents’ yards watching the sun set. About not rubbing shoulders with shoppers at the market? About being unafraid of breathing the same air as a stranger? About not hugging people?
Oh, this litany of complaints is trivial when you start thinking about what’s going on in the world. [Insert here a solid half hour of my brain going to dark and anxious places I’d rather not write down.] And then my kinder self steps in and says, Hush. That’s it. Just Hush. Over and over again until the frantic guilt subsides and feel turns to do. Call a friend who’s having a hard time. Plant the lettuce. Refold the clothes in the closet. Dance with headphones on. Spend the day nursing a pork shoulder in the oven.
Back to stasis again. Life is okay. It’s a little rough sometimes and a little good sometimes. Banal and exciting in turn. Banal: I miss Berger cookies. I should be eating them right now, sitting at the long dining room table in Baltimore with a mug of coffee that someone else has made for me. My stepdad, a Baltimore native, introduced me to these local legends a few years ago, and I am a zealot about requesting a pack in every suitcase that comes my way from that part of the world.
It’s a little rough sometimes and a little good sometimes. Banal and exciting in turn. Banal: I miss Berger cookies.
The cookie itself is nothing really special. It’s straightforward and cakey and not too sweet, but topped by a sloppy swoosh of fudge nearly as thick as the cookie itself. But a Berger is more than the sum of its parts. It’s rich and creamy and comforting and melts in your mouth and tastes like all the things you shouldn’t eat but make you happy when you do. It is the cookie we need for these times.
Because I can’t bring myself to the Bergers this year, I thought I’d try to bring the Bergers to me. A dangerous endeavor, now that I know it can be done.
I wish there were more of the things I’m missing out on that I could bring to me. My friends in other countries. Other countries.
I have a panic block when I think about how the world will have changed when we come out on the other side of this. I’ve come to accept that I don’t do well with change. My current coping strategy is: assume it’ll all go back to normal, the old normal, though likely it’ll be something more like a new-new normal. Hush, kind self says as guilt and anxiety rise in turn. One step at a time. Turn thinking to doing. Call a friend. Take a walk. Bake cookies.
I’ll admit, I scoured the internet looking for good copycat Berger Cookie recipes. This one is adapted from King Arthur Flour, which, in my opinion, does a pretty damn fine job of recreating the recipe.
For the cookies:
1/3 cup (75 g) butter
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
½ c sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk
For the icing:
2 cups (350 g) baker’s chocolate (or chocolate chips)
1 ½ tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/8 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 400 ºF (205 ºC). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper – or two if you’re lucky enough to own two whole baking sheets.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, salt, vanilla, and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl, then add sugar and egg. With a large spoon, add in flour and milk, alternating between the two ingredients. Do this gently.
Drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto the cookie sheet. You should be able to fit 12 cookies on one sheet. (If you, like me, only have one baking sheet, you’ll want to do this in two batches.) Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they’re just starting to brown on the bottoms, but not colored on top. You want your cookies to be soft and cake-like; don’t overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool – either on the baking sheet, if you have two, or a rack should you need to put a second load of cookies into the oven.
Make the icing by melting chocolate, corn syrup, vanilla, and cream in a saucepan over high heat. Let the mixture get very hot; the cream will start to bubble. Remove from heat and continue to stir until smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar and salt.
Dip the top of each cookie into the warm icing and replace on the baking sheet. Using a spoon, thickly drizzle the chocolate icing evenly over the cookies. You may want to wait until the icing has thickened somewhat, so it doesn’t just drip off the cookies. Will it feel like it’s too much icing? Yes, it will! But that just means you’re doing it right. Use it all up.
Allow the icing to set completely before eating – this will help it achieve a fudgier texture. Keep at room temperature for several days.