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September 2020 COTM: Black & Gold

September 2020 COTM: Black & Gold

“Here, will you use this?” My cousin Annette handed me a bag. I quickly recognized it as from King Arthur Flour’s catalog. That’s where I bought my fancy ingredients for baking for fun. I had kind of picked up my love of baking again recently in the last couple years. I had lost my job and had a bunch of new kitchen stuff and was baking cookies and bringing them to the Fours. I had brought some chocolate chip cookies a bunch of times to share with staff and friends before games. I took the cocoa home and stashed it in my little baking area in the kitchen.

 

Right before the 2010-2011 season started, I’d been experimenting with this chocolate cookie recipe and I really liked it. It was kind of cake like and it felt really special because it was rolled in sugar. I played around with it a lot. I got a fancy notebook at Barnes & Noble and started making slight variations of it, making little tweaks here and there and recording them. I didn’t go to culinary school, I’m not a trained pastry chef. I was actually back to work for an old job, but under new management and the fun little start up I used to work for was now owned by a multi-national giant and I didn’t love my job anymore. So, coming home to bake was my break and I would throw on music or sports radio and just bake cookies. Eventually, I remembered the bag of special cocoa that my cousin Annette had given me. I read up on this black cocoa and knew it would be too strong on it’s own and I decided to blend it in with a dutch processed cocoa. It came out of the oven and it was black and it was DELICIOUS. Then it hit me, what if…I added a gold element to it? I could have a Black & Gold cookie to kick off the season. I tried a few things, but ultimately landed on peanut butter chips. I brought them to the Fours for a brunch game – Bruins were playing in Prague breakfast and hockey sounded good.

 

I brought those cookies almost every game that season. From October to June 15th. As the Bruins made their way to the Stanley Cup, I messed around with recipes for that cookie. The demand grew. I went from making 16 cookies a game to 60 or more when the Bruins hit the final. While it was happening, I was becoming more and more unhappy with my work. A lot of it was being stuck in the past, but a lot of it was a lot of other stuff in my life that just didn’t seem to be going right. I remember getting home from work very late one night and I had a lot of cookies to make before the game tomorrow and I decided to just push through. Late night working in my kitchen, I caught a glance of myself in the reflection of the kitchen window and saw a very happy gal. I had spent the better part of the last 13 hours commuting and working and didn’t have a very good day, but I was beaming in this reflection. I was just happy to be making cookies and the thought of how people had bought in to my silly superstition and how they enjoyed the cookies – well that made me happy too.

 

I’d love to tell you that’s the night I decided to start Top Shelf Cookies, but it’s all a series of things that came together and there were a lot of stops and starts. A LOT of stops and starts. I worked a ton of overtime to pay off any debts so I could take a lower paying bakery job and hopefully get this crazy idea out of my head. I worked over a year at a bakery, it should have been enough to dissuade me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what a little place of my own would be like. Ultimately, I had learned a few things and decided to take a really slow approach with Top Shelf Cookies. I found a shared use kitchen and I got started there in September 2014. We always offer the Black & Gold for our birthday month COTM.

 

I had no idea that little burst of inspiration would lead me here. We have had a lot of ups and downs. The first winter was the year we got 2 feet of snow a week for like 6-7 weeks. Everything was hard. We have had it rain 12 Tuesdays in a row, essentially ruining one of our best farmers markets and giving Megan the nickname of Stormy. We have lost giant batches of cookies. We have had giant events flop. We had three different opportunities at small shared spaces that fell through. There were times that I just thought, I can’t do this. I should just close it up and find me an office job.

At the beginning of the year, I knew we had to move out of our shared space into a space of our own. This was going to be the last year I could operate like a circus worker, traveling with a tent from place to place. We looked at spaces on March 11th as every event scheduled was cancelled, every wholesale order was put on hold.

I cried myself to sleep that night at the thought of just giving in.  I wrote out my fears on this blog. I feared I would lose nearly six years of official work and the four years of planning and learning before that. Our online store wouldn’t stop. The blog had been shared so many times. The names that came through were a lot of familiar names, people who were friends and family, but a lot more of our regular customers from events, online etc. I was overwhelmed, emotionally it was a lot. The notes that came in with these orders. Long time customers wrote about how they didn’t want me to stop making cookies, a former boss sent in an order with instructions to send cookies to Boston’s heroes or less fortunate and attached was a note with some encouragement and advice, people just wanted to support us. I asked a lot of businesses I know of our size and they were also feeling the same things I was.

So, the ship steadied enough to make a plan and the plan was to keep going with the plan for 2020. Signing our lease in the middle of a pandemic was not how I envisioned us signing our first lease, but we’ll roll with it – we always do. Happy Birthday Top Shelf Cookies and thank you Boston (and beyond) for enjoying what we do.

 

Thanks,

Heather

 

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