the lazy graduate student

Yes, I know, the title of this post sounds like a paradox.  Indeed, looking from the outside, graduate students are hardworking to the point that it is a fault.  Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that spending any waking hour not working is a waste of time.  I am not talking about this false laziness, but a real problem that comes out of burn-out, depression, lack of deadlines, or reaching a point where one can no longer coast.

Indeed, this state does exist, and I have fallen in and out of it for various reasons over the past couple years.  I can usually judge how bad this is by how messy my apartment is, and by how backlogged I get on my posting.  This gets into a weird feedback loops where cleaning my apartment makes my life better, and my life being better makes me want my apartment to be clean.  The activation energy is sometimes very high, but it's helpful for me to take care of the little things that have piled up.  And so, in my current recovery phase, I am posting what is not actually too bad of a cookie backlog:

137. Lemon Tassies
As you can probably guess from the picture, these are essentially tiny lemon cheesecakes.  The crust is a butter mixture kind of like regular pie crust, but it also has lemon zest in it.  This is baked before the filling, which is primarily made of cream cheese and flavored with lemon juice and more lemon zest, is spooned into it.  The whole thing is baked again to give the final result, which is a pretty and tasty treat!

I made a small mistake when I made these - when I read the recipe, I didn't realize that it called for so much lemon zest, and only bought one lemon when I definitely needed two.  I then tried to get as much zest as possible out of the single lemon and ended up including some of the bitter pith in the recipe.  This is always a bad idea.  Although this didn't completely ruin the recipe, these cookies (the definition is a little loose here I guess) ended up with a slightly bitter taste which shouldn't have been there.  When I shared these with my friends, they said it wasn't a problem, but I was not very happy knowing that they could have tasted better.

138. Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies
Continuing with the cream cheese trend, I went ahead and made these icebox cookies.  Now, the title here is a little misleading, because these cookies are made mostly of butter.  When I say mostly, I mean that there is an entire pound of butter in this recipe!  Yes, that's four sticks of butter, which is totally gross.  The cookies are a mix of all that butter, plus cream cheese, copious amount of vanilla, and finely chopped toasted walnuts (which I confess I burned a little).  The dough was rolled up and stuck in the freezer overnight, then I rolled it in more walnuts, sliced it, and baked it.

Fortunately, the yield of this recipe was something like 5 dozen cookies, so they ended up not being an instant heart attack for my peers.  The over-toasted walnuts weren't any kind of problem, and their flavor mixed with the sugar and vanilla left me thinking of maple syrup, which is never a bad thing.  I had a hard time peddling all of these off, so there are a dozen left in my freezer saved for another day.

139. Cocoa Shortbread Diamonds
Finally we have my rescued recipe, cocoa stars!  Faced with the prospect of cutting shapes in shortbread, I became reminiscent of the month I spent in Singapore in 2008 and the shortbread-decorating adventures I had there with my dear friend Bonita.  With that in mind, I couldn't bear just cutting these into diamonds, and went looking for a cute, small cookie cutter, which turned out to be a star.

Back to the topic at hand, however, these are shortbread cookies flavored with cocoa, so they have the typical shortbread ingredients - flour, confectioners' sugar, butter, and vanilla - plus cocoa powder.  This specific recipe calls for pulsing the ingredients in a food processor  until the dough starts to come together.  Unfortunately, with the quantities as dictated in the recipe, this never happened.  Even when I tried squeezing the dough together, it wouldn't stick.

Recognizing that this recipe was seriously flawed, I went online to the Martha Stewart website to see what the comments were on this recipe, and some people suggested adding an egg white to make the dough stick together.  I didn't like this idea: eggs have no place in shortbread, and I try to be very consistent about food definitions, so I added more butter instead.

I ended up adding nearly an extra stick of butter to the recipe, which made the dough stick together and made the cookies fantastically rich.  I think this ended up being a little too much butter, since the cookies basically fell apart when I tried them (and a few fell apart when I picked them up), but it was a good rescue.  So in the end, what I recommend is adding an extra 1/2 stick (1/4C) of butter to the recipe to make it work, and then it is a great success!

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