Monday, January 2, 2012


Today I offer some common scents:

College Apps are actually good for self reflection.

I can say this, of course, because I'm finally finished with them. It certainly doesn't feel like some virtuous self-reflection project when you're in the trenches plugging along.

But they are--meta thinking (having to pull together a large amount of information into one thing, be it a project, essay, test, experience, question, etc.) helps you keep it around for longer than learning it once.

I think completing  a bunch of applications with essays and places to tell them what you did over the summer and what your most valuable keepsake is and what you spent all of that time on outside of school, all that thinking, is a great meta thinking exercise for life.

People don't do this sort of thing when they're 37 just because. But applications force this meta thought. And, it makes sense: we're about to leave the people we lived with for our whole life for a new place. I appreciate the chance to cement my current self before heading out.

We are the sum of the experiences we've had so far. Those questions are like a checkpoint...I imagine going through a box in an attic somewhere in the future and finding drafts of my Common App essay, laughing over it and remembering who I was (am?) right now.

Those questions about who was your greatest mentor? They make you evaluate who you are in respect to someone who changed you.

Those questions about why you want to do what you say you want to do? They help you decide it's right or not right for you before you spend too long pursuing something you don't like.

Those questions about "Why do you want to come to X?" though? Uhhhmmm, my application should be enough, and furthermore, why do you need my glowing praise about how good your school is? Just read one of your own brochures.

What do you all think about the pros/cons of applications?

And now, for some shortbread. Simple...not complicated like my jumbled ruminations.


1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 1/3 ounces) rice flour or cornstarch
2/3 cup (5 ounces) superfine sugar--or process 5 ounces granulated sugar in food processor for 30 seconds
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a 9 inch round cake pan and a rimless baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In bowl of stand mixer, mix flour, rice flour/cornstarch, all but 1 tablespoon sugar (reserve for sprinkling), and salt at low speed until combined, about 5 seconds
  3. Cut butter into 1/2 inch cubes and toss with 1/4 cup of flour mixture in a small bowl.
  4. Add butter and any remaining flour to the rest of the flour mixture in mixer. Mix at low speed until the dough is pale yellow and resembles damp crumbs, about 4 minutes (whoopsies...I overmixed a bit but it still tasted great and had a nice flaky texture)
  5. Remove bowl from mixer and fluff lightly with fingertips, rubbing in any remaining butter bits. Dump half of the crumbs into the prepared  cake pan, even out, and press down with another cake pan. Add the other crumbs, even out, and press again. Smooth surface with the back of a spoon.
  6. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen, then unmold onto prepared baking sheet. Peel off the parchment round. Cut a round out from the middle of the circle with a 2 inch biscuit cutter, set it off to the side of the baking sheet, and replace the biscuit cutter in the hole you made.
  7. Place shortbread in the oven, immediately reducing the temperature to 300 degrees. Bake 20 minutes, then remove and score into 16 slices with a sharp knife. Pierce decoratively with a skewer. Bake 40 minutes more, until pale golden.
  8. Slide the parchment with the shortbread onto a cutting board, remove biscuit cutter, sprinkle with reserved sugar, and cut at score marks. Slide onto a wire rack to finish cooling at least 3 hours (overnight makes it even better).
Keeps well at room temperature up to 7 days.

From Baking Illustrated.

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