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How ‘The Puffy’ has impacted my life: one chocolate-chip cookie through the years

They’re crunchy on the edges but soft toward the center, peppered throughout with semi-sweet chocolate chips that are just the right size. They are delicious straight out of the freezer when I need a cold, sweet treat, but they are equally amazing warmed up and topped with ice cream. 

These are not just any chocolate-chip cookies.

My family has been using Food Network personality Alton Brown’s “The Puffy” cookie recipe since the day it aired on Brown’s show, Good Eats — December 13, 2000. 

I was two days old.

Stuck with a newborn baby in the snowy Ohio winter, my parents watched a lot of Food Network; my dad made the cookies once and was instantly hooked — he even filmed a Good Eats-style video of himself baking this oh-so-amazing recipe. Ever since, it has been my family’s one and only recipe for chocolate-chip cookies.

Every winter, every summer, every family holiday or get-together, we bake these specific cookies. My childhood carries the distinct taste of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips and the slightly salty (but mostly sweet) dough that my father would always let me lick off the spatula when he was done with the mixing bowl. 

Now, however, these cookies have another meaning for me.

It started in May of this year when I was studying for my Spanish class’s final exam. Weary, hungry and thoroughly “studied out,” I decided out of nowhere that I wanted to bake the night before my final. I had baked intermittently through high school, mostly cupcakes and the occasional lopsided cake, but this was the first time I would ever tackle the family cookie recipe by myself.

I spent all night sifting flour, cracking eggs, and using our trusty No. 20 ice cream scoop to place perfectly even dollops of chip-filled dough on baking sheets covered in silicon baking mats. The whole time, I was going over the history of the Spanish language in my head, studying with my brain while my hands were occupied.

The cookies came out wonderfully, as usual. 

They were just as good in July when I made them again, and another time last week (I baked them again while studying for my first biology exam of the semester). 

No longer just the cookie of my childhood, they are now my go-to stress-baking recipe.

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I never realized how much I loved to bake until it became my favorite stress-relief activity. If I have a big exam coming up, I bake the night before. If I need a break from writing a huge paper, I bake. Even if I am just generally stressed, it’s time to break out the mixing bowl and order ingredients.

Naturally, everyone in my family loves it. 

My mother likes to joke that when I stress-bake chocolate-chip cookies, she stress-eats them. I have also shipped some of my extra cookies to my significant other, my friends and, most recently, my aunt for her upcoming birthday. After all, I don’t need 70-something cookies in the house every time I get stressed.

This has made me recognize, though, that in my opinion, everyone should have some sort of similar “stress activity.” Some people color when they’re stressed, some people read or binge Netflix shows or hang out with friends — and I bake. To me, there is nothing like the hum of the mixer or the beep of the oven when I’m stressed. And to top it all off, when I’m done, I have dessert.

This sort of thing is especially important to have right now. 

I know that a lot of people are incredibly stressed because this year is unlike any other in so many ways. School is different, our social lives are different and even everyday pastimes like grocery shopping and going for walks are different. 

In a crazy world like today’s, it is key to hold on to what normalcy we can get — like the ordinary measuring, mixing and scooping of baking cookies.

I move back to Oxford this weekend, and I already know it’s going to be difficult for me to not have my home kitchen for the rest of the semester. That doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on stress-baking — in fact, I might occasionally tie up my residence hall oven making these beloved treats. I am, however, going to miss the ease of access, my dad hovering over my shoulder making sure I’m mixing the dough at the correct speed and, of course, my mom helping me taste-test. 

To think, it all started with my parents watching Food Network. 

These cookies have certainly been a journey throughout my life — from that first original parody video in early 2001 (with a cameo from none other than my one-month-old self), to the dozens of times my father has baked them over the years, to even the video remake we made in 2018 (with me reprising my 2001 role). Now they are important to my adult life as well, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In other words, if you have been looking for an excuse to bake, this is it. You never know how helpful a couple of chocolate-chip cookies might be.