When it comes to cooking, fast and good are generally mutually exclusive. By fast, I’m not talking about the impossible rate at which Iron Chef contestants chop carrots (At the speed of light. Don’t fact check that). I’m talking about clickbait articles like “10 Cooking Shortcuts Everyone Needs to Know” or “30 Dinners in Under 30 minutes.”
Fast and easy are often used interchangeably, but lists of tips and tricks that boast speed are the ones to look out for. Yes, maybe some recipes are more easily and quickly prepared than others, but by nature, not by method. If you’re taking more than several minutes to fry an egg, you’re probably doing something wrong.
As food and cooking have becoming increasingly present online and on social media, the discussion surrounding them has changed. We’re a technologically driven society obsessed with what’s fast and easy. We don’t have time to dedicate to cooking –– we’d rather have our Apple Watch make our dinner for us or watch someone make dinner in a Tasty video instead.
“Drunk Uncle” digression aside, I’m here to tell you (in my very professional opinion) that in cooking, as with life, there are no shortcuts. That’s right, call your mom to tell her she was right. Alert the press. Or just tweet about it. There are no shortcuts. Stop microwaving your eggs and putting frozen chicken straight into the pan (it has to thaw first, c’mon). While some shortcuts are kitchen experiments executed at the hands of desperate, time-crunched cooks, others are much more nefarious. Into the latter category fall clickbait disguised as time-saving hacks. Less experienced cooks fall victim to these hacks, shaping their culinary experience with two-bit tricks designed to garner views rather than inform readers.
Growing up, I frequently visited my grandmother for the sole purpose of learning how to make her signature rugelach. They were fluffy, oozing with a rich chocolate filling and sprinkled with a sugar, butter and flour mixture that turned golden brown in the oven. They bore little resemblance to the dense, dry cookies of the same name sold in many grocery stores and even traditional bakeries. They were an entity of their own, stealthily categorized in the same group of recipes defining the traditional Ashkenzi pastry.
The process of making these rugelach-sweet bun hybrid was nothing short of involved (mostly on my grandma’s part as I was only seven or eight at the time of my interest in making these treats). To save me the anticipation of waiting for the dough to rise — I was, predictably, quite impatient during the whole ordeal — my grandma would make the dough the night before. To this day, I still don’t know how she made it.
It was just this magical, massive ball of risen yeast and flour that was revealed in its enormous bowl under a checkered towel every time I arrived for our day of baking. I was in awe of the bowl’s contents. Somehow, by some process of adding ingredients and shaping them, my grandma created the foundation for what we would spend hours assembling and baking. It was hard for my young mind to grasp the actual work that went into making something like that, and looking back now, I regret taking it for granted.
To assemble the rugelach, we’d carefully roll out the dough and cut it into triangles, slather each piece generously with chocolate spread (something mysterious that came out of a plastic tub with Hebrew lettering) and roll them up before dabbing them with melted butter and sprinkling the crumb topping over them.
Waiting for the rugelach to rise again then bake was agonizing. I would watch the oven and try to will it to turn the dough golden brown faster. It was a trying several minutes even waiting for them to cool out on the counter once the fragrant, steaming pastries were removed from the oven.
This process took countless hours of preparation, but it was worth it. Not just for the final result, but for the time spent making them (however impatiently passed). The memory of making rugelach is one that I hold on to dearly. No shortcut could replace or even resemble that. In an era of increasing instant gratification and dissociation from reality, it’s easy to forget that cooking, however time-straining, is a grounding and nourishing process. Using shortcuts only detracts from its benefits.
Rather than following those “lazy cooks” guides for “quick and easy meals,” try making your meal with a different adjective. And please, please stop using the microwave to cook raw food.