When was the last time you ruined chocolate chip cookies?
For me, it was about four weeks ago. I forgot to set a timer, and when I remembered, I raced to the oven ten minutes too late. The cookies weren’t burnt, but they were very toasty. Much too crisp and overdone to put in the Hurley House case. I was standing over the tray, acknowledging the loss, yet unable to throw them in the trash. Surely I could find a use for them?
At this moment, Elizabeth walked into the kitchen, and I shared my woes with her.
“I over baked the cookies,” I confessed.
She picked up a cookie, snapped in half, and agreed with my assessment. They were too far gone. And yet…not horrible. We stared at the cookies together in silence.
“You know,” I said, after a few quiet moments, “these remind me of those crisp store-bought cookies from Ina’s Mocha Chocolate Ice Box Cake recipe.”
“You’re right,” Elizabeth agreed. “I wonder if we could use them in a similar way.”
“Do you think we could create a vanilla version of that recipe?”
“Want me to try?”
And that was how it started. Within minutes Elizabeth had whipped up a creamy concoction, and we layered bits of our broken, overdone cookies with the sophisticatedly sweet cream creation. We tucked the dish safely in the fridge to sit overnight, fingers crossed it would transform the overdone cookies into something new and amazing.
The dessert became a metaphor for my heart. I have felt like a cookie left too long in the oven, begging to be removed from the heat so that I can shine and impress.
When I look around at the places in my life where I feel toasty and too far gone, I see what I saw when I stared at the sheet trays of cookies that would never make it to the bakery case. Dashed dreams, unmet expectations, disappointment and despair. And yet, it is in the very places where I feel abandoned and forgotten, destined for the dumpster, convinced nothing of value remained, it is there where beauty and hope emerge.
If my life has a central theme, if there is one thing I know about the ebb and flow of crisis and celebration, it is that brokenness is the chrysalis for beauty. The fire created the ashes. The ashes created the fertile soil. The fertile soil nurtures a change. And the change births something beautiful.
Fire is traumatic, relentless, searing. I never welcome the fire. But when I look back at my life, every place of beauty has been birthed by pushing through a place still dusty with ash and bearing the searing scars of what it took to get there. Often I want to skip to the happy ending and know that it all worked out. But the process of change demands I acknowledge not only the ashes, but also the burning fire that ravished everything in its wake.
Back in the bakery, the next morning, after our layered experiment had hibernated overnight in the fridge, we huddled around the dish with spoons, curious and hopeful. We took a tentative bite. Then another to make sure we weren’t imagining the delightful discovery. It was good. Really, really good. It was (dare we say) better than the cookies could ever have hoped to be on their own.
We were experiencing a metaphor wrapped in better and sugar, cream and chocolate chips, reveling in the sense memory of our tongues tasting beauty born from ashes. The trash-bound cookies had become the avenue through which a new dessert was discovered, and it tasted like milk and cookies and home. Our giddiness was electric.
I have made this Milk and Cookies Ice Box Cake several times since that first experience, intentionally ruining perfectly good cookies in pursuit of something different and equally (if not more) satisfying. At first, when I take the cookies out of the oven way past the recommended bake time, it feels like failure. But then when I taste the layers of sweet cream and cookie dough softened by time and exposure, I remember that not all failures are final. Beauty can come to the broken places when I allow the process of brokenness to shape and redirect my outcome.
Milk and Cookies Ice Box Cake
- 6-8 large chocolate chip cookies, over-baked and toasty
- 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy cream
- mini chocolate chips for garnish (optional)
- If you are baking cookies from scratch for this recipe, you want them to be toasted but not burnt. They should still taste good, but the texture should be close to a crouton. The drier and staler they are, the better.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream until stiff peaks form. This should take about a minute.
- Choose an 8X8 square dish, a medium-sized soufflé dish, or a deep pie dish for assembly.
- Begin by breaking the cookies into large pieces and fitting them in a single layer on the bottom of your dish.
- Top the cookies with one third of the cream mixture. If possible, repeat the layers of cookies and cream twice, ending with cream.
- The number of layers you are able to make will depend on the size of your dish. If you can only get two layers, that will work fine.
- Sprinkle the top with mini chocolate chips.
- Cover and refrigerate the dessert for sic to eight hours or overnight. When ready to serve, scoop out the layers of softened cookies and cold cream. Enjoy!