Cuninary Corner: Munchstache mania

When it comes to ironic facial hair, the mustache is unequivocally king of its kind. It’s dated, dorky and looks cringe-worthy on exactly 9.2 out of 10 guys.

But over the last year or two, something about this look has captured the attention of an entire subculture of American males. So what’s the appeal? Perhaps shamelessly sporting a ’stache lends the wearer such an air of confidence that no one questions his intellectual prowess. Throw on some plastic-framed glasses, skinny jeans and a Che Guevara t-shirt, and you’ve created a solid look that’s totally unique – just like all the other hipsters! The downside? Not everyone can sprout a ’stache so easily.

But what if there were a mold that enabled any amateur to cut out cookies in the shape of a mustache and try them on for style?  A restaurant in my family’s hometown (Carbondale, Ill.) recently began serving up this stylish trend by the dozen, selling cookies shaped like various types of ’staches. Unable to contain my curiosity, I decided to try my hand at crafting this culinary confection, a cookie that blends sweet irony with the fresh-baked flavor of snickerdoodles – the munchstache.

So some friends and I set up shop in Agard kitchen, ready to test-drive this trend. We decided on peanut butter cookies, believing that the sandy color would be appropriate for replicating a real mustache. We found a simple-sounding recipe from Simplyrecipies.com. It called for ½ cup butter, ½ cup peanut butter, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 egg, 1 ¼ cups flour, ¾ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp baking powder and ¼ tsp salt. We began by slowly and meticulously mixing the butter with the sugars. It’s like my daddy always says: Careful creaming creates incomparable cookies. That means no shortcuts – cream by hand without falling back on the microwave or food processor.

We then incorporated the rest of the wet and dry ingredients and popped the dough in the freezer since chilled dough seems to hold its shape better when baking. We feared that warm dough would produce flimsy, misshapen munchstaches. And that’s just embarrassing for everyone involved.

While the peanut butter dough chilled, we began on a second batch. This time, we substituted a cup of Nutella for the half cup of peanut butter and half cup of sugar. This produced slightly wetter dough with a pleasant, nutty flavor.

Next came the hard part – molding, which we did with cookie cutters that I received as a Christmas gift from my cousin. Each set of Munchstache molds contains five varieties: the imperial, the bristle brush, the baron, the woolford and the walrus. The premise of the mold is simple, in theory: One side cuts the shape while the other stamps the hair-like decorative detail. In practice, we struggled with the molds. While cutting out the shapes was easy enough, stamping the design proved to be difficult, as bits of dough kept getting stuck in the grooves. The walrus proved particularly uncooperative, as its elongated, droopy shape made it difficult to keep cookies intact. The moister Nutella-based cookies were particularly ill suited to this shape and were much more appropriate for sculpting a modest bristle brush.

After several minutes of struggling, we were able to cut our cookies and stamp on the designs. We placed them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. And let me tell you, they smelled delicious. Partygoers in Agard living room kept popping into the kitchen to catch a whiff, asking us what we were making and if they could have some.

While it’s clear that the cookies passed the smell test, the next evaluation was most critical – the taste test. Ten minutes in the oven produced cookies that were too well-done for my liking; however, friends and several passers-by reported that they were just right. The peanut butter treats packed a pleasant peanut-y punch with out being cloyingly sweet. However, I was disappointed that the Nutella cookies weren’t more chocolatey. Perhaps a few tablespoons of cocoa powder would improve future recipes.

However, the simple system of evaluation used to assess the everyday cookie cannot be applied to the munchstache. When rating this unique confection, we must consider aesthetic qualities of the ’stache as well as the flavor. Overall, the peanut butter cookies produced more realistic-looking mustaches, since the stamp detail was easier to see. The imperial and woolford styles were most successful, producing confections that were attractive, elegant and unmistakably mustaches. I tried them on and immediately felt sophisticated (despite the fact that I was standing in the middle of my common room with a cookie in front of my face, making ridiculous facial expressions in the mirror).

Baking a mustache is a lot like wearing one. It requires confidence, finesse and a willingness to eschew convention in favor of sophistication. These cookies demand a lot of effort, just as I imagine real mustaches require a good amount of upkeep. However, for an occasional treat, it’s refreshing to challenge culinary convention and serve up a heaping plate of staches for special occasions. So instead of spending this week lamenting the ills of capitalism and Hallmark, try sitting down with a platter of these delicious delicacies and actually celebrating Valentine’s Day.  Ironically, of course.