Potlucks, while nourishing to the stomach and soul, can be stressful. Molly already covered the ways in which you don’t have to psych yourself out over being the perfect host, but I’m here to talk about the particular stress of being a perfect guest. Beyond exhibiting basic table manners, which I think I’ve finally nailed at 30, being a perfect potluck guest involves the underestimated feat of preparing something that is deliciously decadent or paleo or vegetarian or gluten-free or surprisingly full of bacon or a new take on an old classic or cheese-that-is-good-but-that-you-can-also-afford and most challengingly, in my opinion, transportable. Even if I know in my heart of hearts that the food at dinner parties is second to the company, I can’t help but feel the pressure anyway. What can I say? I’m fun.
I love to cook for myself. It’s one of my most cherished forms of shutting out the entire world (kidding?!). But toss in the knowledge that what I’m making will be on display and shared with many and all that’s out the window. After my anxiety has finished roaring up with the most basic sanitation and safety concerns vis-a-vis my dish — what if it kills everyone? remember botulism? It could be full of botulism! — I move on to the very particular type of stress that is figuring out what that dish actually is. Rooted in a desire to impress (but not too garishly) and pull one’s weight at the table (but not throw off the balance of the meal), it can be hard to cook without ego. To not skip ahead in your mind to the finished product and the adoration of your full and satiated friends.
Enter the entire point of this story, and what I’ve discovered, after much research and development, to be the best potluck contribution ever: the ice cream sandwich. I, a seasoned dessert enthusiast, firmly believe that two cookies holding together a blob of ice cream are also holding the solution to all of your problems: a way in which to awe and delight those around you all while easing the burden of food transportation. And because potluck ice cream sandwiches are of the build-your-own variety, all you have to do is pack up some homemade cookies, hit the road, and grab a tub of ice cream near your final location. Trust me, it’s a mother-loving hit.
It blends the ease of just grabbing a bottle of wine at the last minute with the joy of actually taking the time to bake for others. If you really want to wow folks, bring two types of cookies and fancy ice cream. Or just bring one type and a basic ice cream, because either way, you’re providing people with a surprise element: choice. Just cookies. Just ice cream. An ice cream sandwich but split in half with a neighbor. There are numerous, mutable ways to enjoy the elements of an ice cream sandwich. The cookies will be imperfect, the ice cream may melt, but you’ve put forth a dessert that encourages conversation, returning to the reason for gathering together.
If I’ve sold you, which I hope I have because I tried really hard, I’ve included the recipes for two of my all-time favorite cookies to use for this purpose below. But let me know what you’re making these days either way because cookie season is upon us!
Adapted from Joy Wilson’s Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes
2 3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, softened (* a word on that below)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 c. sugar
Whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
In the original recipe, it is suggested that you beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer. I melted the butter and stirred the sugar in, which does change the texture a bit, but is great for those without a mixer or folks who didn’t plan ahead and take their butter out in time. I am often that folk. Beat in the eggs one at time, mixing for 1 minute after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
Scrape down the bowl if needed and add the flour mixture on low speed (be it for your mixer or arm). Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. While it’s chilling preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a small bowl mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Roll the dough in the cinnamon sugar mixture (I used my thoroughly washed hands to try and get them evenly shaped). Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Let them cool on the sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack.
Feel Better Soon Cookies
From Julia Turshen’s Small Victories
2 sticks butter at room temperature
I cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. dried fruit ( I used cranberries)
Preheat your oven to 350 and line your baking sheets with parchment. Beat the butter and brown sugar together until creamy. Add the vanilla, eggs, baking soda and salt, mix until combined. Stir in the flour and then the fun stuff (aka the oats, chocolate and fruit). Using an ice cream scoop if you have it, a big ass spoon if you don’t, drop the dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10-15 minutes and let cool before serving.
I love those first moments at the end of a gathering, when you step outside, wine drunk and too full, flushed after the flurry of goodbyes, and slowly head home, replaying the best jokes and soft shared moments from the night. And if you find, in that moment, that your pockets are full of the last remaining cookies, broken in half, butter seeping through the napkin you not-so-gingerly wrapped around them, you’re welcome.
Photos by Joeun Lee.