Scene4 Magazine — Nathan Thomas
Nathan Thomas
A Speech You Can Use

Thank you, President Wigglesworth, for that fine introduction.

Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, parents and families, and students.  Commencement means a beginning.  And as you walk across this stage this afternoon, I want to provide some useful advice.

Probably the most useful recipe for the chocolate chip cookie is the Toll House recipe.  Over the course of years, I've discovered various means of looking at this basic text that I'd like to share with you.

For mixing – you'll need a large bowl, a ½ cup measure, a ¼ cup measure, a teaspoon, and a mixing spoon.

First, I'd urge that you use two sticks of butter.  Some people will argue that using a mixture of butter and some other shortening will ultimately lead to a better crumb.  This may be.  I've had some cookies made with a butter substitute that you couldn't believe it might not be butter (ahem) that were dandy cookies.  Nevertheless, I strongly believe in the 100% use of butter in the chocolate chip cookie. Some might also think that 100% butter is going too far.  But if you're eating cookies to begin with, you might as well have as delicious experience as possible.

I also suggest that you use a "no salt" butter.  Otherwise the cookie can take on an extra saltiness that can be unpleasant.  You want the butter to soften to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Any softer, and the resulting dough doesn't come out right. Any harder, and the dough becomes challenging to mix by hand.   

Next, you add a ¾ cup each of white and brown sugar.  Here again, I urge the use of a dark brown sugar.  One, it adds some extra color to the finished cookie.  But the stronger taste provides a useful contrast with the refined white sugar. It keeps the cookie from being . . . well. . . too sweet.

In combining the sugars with the butter, mix by hand.  But mix well enough so that you have a smooth texture to the dough.  Clumps of unmixed sugar can be a problem later down the line.  You want a smooth texture with a consistency that might remind you of fresh Play Dough.

In the bowl push the dough to one side so that there is a little bit of "empty" bowl on one side to work in.  Crack two large fresh eggs into that "empty" side next to the dough pile.

Have at hand your dry goods – flour, salt, and baking soda – as well your vanilla.  Dip up a ¼ cup of flour and pour it into the ½ cup measure.  Use your teaspoon to measure a teaspoon of baking soda and salt and add them to the flour waiting in the measuring cup.   

Now you can use that same teaspoon to measure the vanilla and add it to the eggs.  What kind of vanilla to use?  Please do not use vanilla flavoring.  If you want a really good cookie, don't rely on something from the chemist's test tube, go for the real deal.  For the chocolate chip cookie, I prefer pure Mexican vanilla.  Also, even though the traditional Toll House recipe calls for only one teaspoon – I suggest adding another.  The combination of the extra real Mexican vanilla, the butter, and the dark brown sugar provides the floor for a real depth of tastes in an already pretty good cookie.

Add the vanilla to the eggs.  Mix the egg and vanilla together.  Then begin to mix the egg/vanilla mixture with the rest of your dough.  If you mix well by hand, you'll have a nice base to add the flour and not have a tough cookie.

Once the butter/sugar mixture and the egg/vanilla mixture are smoothly mixed, add the ¼ cup flour with the baking soda and salt.  Combine well. 

Now add 2 more cups of flour at ½ cup intervals.  You want to mix by hand so that you don't overbeat the dough. Make sure the flour is well combined in your dough.  But a machine is going to overwork the flour, and that means gluten strengthening.  And that means a tougher cookie.   

Finally, the Toll House recipe suggests you use semi-sweet morsels. Again, I suggest a morsel with a higher chocolate content.  The slight bittersweet nature of the higher chocolate content plays nicely with the deep tones of the dark brown sugar and the extra vanilla.  Also, the recipe calls for 2 cups (or one 12-oz package) of morsels.  I'd suggest only using half of the 12 oz bag.  Curiously, using fewer morsels allows you to taste them more.

Then, cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.  Walk away.  Sleep. Take in a movie.  Allow the butter to harden again and the gluten t o relax. Allow the flour to get hydration from the liquid in the recipe.

It is a fact that the best cookie is not the fastest cookie.

The next morning, warm your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  I suggest parchment paper on cookie sheets as your baking surface.  Cleaning is much easier in the end.   

Pick up golf ball size bits of dough.  Roll them into balls in your hands and place them on the sheet with enough room between them for some spreading out as they bake.  Generally I get about 9 golf ball sized balls of dough on a conventional baking sheet.

Place the sheet(s) of dough in your oven.  Check after about 10 minutes.  If they look about done (slightly brown and not quite "wet" in the middle of the cookie), you can take them out and have them finish baking on their baking sheet in your kitchen.  If they need a little more time, keep an eye on them so that they won't burn.

You should have a nice soft cookie.

Now that's something you can use to your benefit for the rest of your life.

I know there are other graduation speakers who will try to give uplifting advice.  But given the amount of loan debt you've amassed and the lack of good-paying jobs for you once you've finished your trip across the stage, I think those so-called up-lifting words might sound a little hollow today.

And, if I wanted to tell you the truth, there's no lack in the truth I might tell you.  I might tell you that it's offensive for the rich and the wealthy t o appear on television and talk about how union members and workers need to get used to a "new normal" of lower wages while those same wealthy managers continue to get ever higher paychecks of their own.  The "new normal" doesn't apply to them.  I might tell you that it's offensive for an elite group of men and women to make shameful profits from the selling of war without having to sacrifice their own children to the monster that enriches them.  I might tell you that the worship of Mammon has led us astray.  A land that has so much raw material has been squandered to make the few wealthy alongside children who live in poverty.

On your graduation day, better to learn how to make a delicious cookie than to hear empty blather.  Or the truth.

Thank you.

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©2011 Nathan Thomas
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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June 2011

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June 2011

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