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Baking in the Dark

[Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, November 2008.]

Here’s the thing about these cookies: I baked them by candlelight. No, really. I did. See, just as I was gearing up to put the first batch in the oven and settle in with a tall glass of iced cranberry juice for Saturday Night Live’s “Presidential Bash,” the power went out with a snap. I might have cursed. I might have cried, “but I have so much to do-o!” I might have called my mom to ask if she’d heard anything about why the heck there was no light in my building or on my whole block, but alas she had not … and then I rummaged around the closet to find my mini mag-light flashlight so I could peer into the oven at those very precious, very pumpkin-y cookies. Fortunately my oven is fueled by gas so even though I couldn’t really see it I could still make use of it. Even more fortunately, I had a few candles in the cabinet that helped light my way.

I’m not sure why I thought my office needed yet more treats, but I had a cup of pumpkin puree leftover from the cupcakes I’d made them last week and I wanted to use it up. Pretty much, these cookies are a younger sister to those cupcakes: they use the same spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) and are almost cake-like because they rise up so light and fluffy. Still, they’re cookies. And I knew we all could have used some cookies on election day.

As I clenched the flashlight between my teeth and dropped teaspoons of batter onto the cookie sheet I realized something: it was so quiet. With the loss of power — and thus the light — all the radios and televisions (as well as the, gasp, Internet) were shut off. This is a rare thing in a city, to have absolute silence. So even as I grumbled about missing out on my dose of SNL (I do love me some political humor; don’t feel too sorry for me, though, because the power came back on about half-way through the program and I caught the last little bits) I had to appreciate the peace of the moment. For weeks I tried to put the election from my mind because I was so excited about it, so hopeful and wishing for so many things, and that night before I really felt like my head might explode. It was comforting — even though that sounds slightly crazy — to have a bit of a respite, forced though it was.

After all, what did people do before electricity? The pioneers definitely didn’t bake their nightly biscuits and rabbit stews by the glaring light of a fluorescent bulb — no, it was starlight and campfire and they made do pretty well. I love camp cooking and part of the reason I do is because it’s so … uncomplicated. So what if the fog blows in and I can hardly see to steam my broccoli? The other night I felt a sort of kinship with all those intrepid prairie cooks who set up makeshift kitchens by the light of the moon — call me a romantic, but I felt rather hardy and proud of myself. If I’d been wearing long sleeves I probably would have pushed them up and I might even have tied an apron round my waist. I wasn’t surrounded by waving fields of grass stretching out on all sides but I certainly felt as though I could have been.

Back in reality, I took the cookies out of the oven and let them cool in the stark darkness of my little kitchen. I sipped my juice and lit another candle. I could hear the shush of cars passing by my open windows every so often, but otherwise the night was still and close and quiet. I brought the candles over to the counter and picked out what looked like the perfect cookie to sample; when I took a bite that, too, was a sort of respite. I knew I had to get up early to swing by my polling place on the way to work, and I had no idea what the rest of the day would bring, but for that moment, eating pumpkin cookies by the flickering light of a tea candle, all was right with the world.

Pumpkin-chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
pinch nutmeg
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and pumpkin. Add the flour and stir just until incorporated. Add the chips.

Drop by teaspoons on cookie sheets and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges but not dark.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


  1. Oh Nicolina! These look fantastic and I will just have to bake these for my sweets-loving family come Thanksgiving. Wait, “for my family?” I LOVE pumpkin everything (almost as much as I love coconut) and so making these would really be more of a selfish endeavor. I feel no shame!

    Thanks for sharing. :)


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