Displaced Pittsburghers, and other lovers of the Steel City: this one’s for you.
When I saw the recipe for Giant Eagle-style chocolate thumbprints on Brown Eyed Baker about two weeks ago, they went straight on my “must bake as soon as humanly possible” list.
Just looking at the photos on her blog made me homesick.
The grocery chain in Pittsburgh is Giant Eagle (Iggle if you speak Pittsburghese). (And before you scoff at the name of our grocery stores, Wisconsinites, I raise my eyebrows at “Pick n’ Save”–giant eagles might have nothing to do with groceries, but at least it’s more creative than Pick n’ Save. Sheesh, who comes up with these names? The more I think about them, the sillier they sound.)
Anyway… One of my fondest memories growing up is going to the grocery store. Sounds a little odd until you know that every single time we went, my mom would pop us by the bakery counter where the baker would give me a free thumbprint cookie. I remember being jittery with excitement as my mom slowly wheeled the cart through the produce aisles, picked out lettuce and whatnot, then stopped at the meat counter, all in what seemed like slow motion to my seven-year-old brain, waiting not at all patiently for us to finally hit the bakery.
And then, there we were. A thumbprint. Chocolate or vanilla. I’m not sure what my favorite flavor was, but I do know that I ate my fair share of both. I also know that, being totally indecisive, I probably annoyed my mom on the majority of our grocery trips by being unable to choose between the two. (The really great days were when the baker gave me both, probably to help my mom get on with her shopping.)
This cookie has a weirdly crunchy but also soft dough (poor description, I know–Brown Eyed Baker’s is better) that pairs well with both the denser, fudgey frosting and the sweet, vanilla icing, which hardens on the top like royal icing but is perfectly oozy when you bite into it. And using different flavored sprinkles gives each cookie a totally different taste, even though you’re using the same dough.
And just so you know–unlike in all other parts of the country, thumbprints never have jelly in them. Ew. Just don’t do it. Please, put frosting in there instead.
Also, full confession time: I’m not ashamed to say that when I was home for college breaks and tagging along as my mom did her shopping, I would wander up to the bakery counter even then. If you have ever met me in person, you know that I look about 5 to 10 years younger than I actually am, depending on the amount of makeup or height of heel I’m wearing. So, more often than not, as my sneaky 20-year-old self eyed the cookies, the baker would fork over a free thumbprint, obviously assuming I was 12 years old. I can honestly say that these are the only times in my life that I have ever felt grateful for looking so ridiculously young (and before you mention it, yes, I know I’ll be thrilled when I’m 40 years old and look 25. You don’t need to say it. Seriously. Don’t say it).
If we weren’t in a rush and the cake decorators were working at the window, Mom would let me watch as they spooned piles of fluffy frosting onto cakes, twirling the stand rapidly to smooth it out, then piped delicate roses and birthday wishes on top. It all seemed like magic to me–how could they make it look so beautiful so quickly? I’d stand on my tiptoes, mesmerized, until we finally had to go. I could have stayed there all day.
Funny how cookies like this–just from one person’s blog post and countless recipe tests–can make all these great memories come up, isn’t it? Although most cookbook authors introduce their baking chapters with nostalgic memories of baking with family, I never really thought about baking as a particularly memory-laden experience for me, since we didn’t do a whole lot of baking in our kitchen (except perhaps the holidays). But I guess there’s a nostalgia to my grown-up love of baking after all: it just was in the form of Giant Eagle and thumbprint cookies rather than a mixing bowl on my own kitchen counter.