Baked Good: One Man's 24-Hour, All-Cookie Marathon

6:03 p.m.: Done! Well, done in the sense that I won't be cracking any more eggs anytime soon (although I have more left than I thought I would. Anyone up for an 18-egg omelet?). I still have more cutting and sorting to do. But at least now I can begin to clean some of the rubble out of the kitchen. When the last cookie is packed, which shouldn't be too long now, I'm going to leave the kitchen for good for the rest of the weekend. And, for the record, I didn't eat a single piece of mandel bread; not even a crumb. Familiarity, truly, breeds contempt. Good night.

I promised the last word on the New Modern to my mother:

When I would walk down the stairs to the bakery through the trap door, to my left I saw huge motors working away giving heat to huge hearth ovens. I would see huge mixing machines and "proof boxes"—wooden boxes where the bread would be placed before baking so that the dough would rise. I saw wood-covered benches, tables really, and there were old-fashioned scales. One man would take the dough from the machine and put it onto the table and cut out and then weigh a portion of the bread to be baked. The scale had to be balanced. And then, when the bread was the proper size and shape and mixture, the men would put the loaves into the proof boxes which were lined with corn meal.

And then the loaves would go into the oven with the use of a baking peel. It took a lot of skill to do this to make sure that the loaves would go directly into the oven but allow the peel to be removed. (this was no place for kids. I remember getting hit in the stomach once by an elbow of a baker thrusting out the peel from the oven). Now the bread is in the oven. Then they had to shoot steam into the oven while the bread was baking. And then the baker would remove the loaves from the oven and place them on a nearby table, again using the peel. When the bread came out, the bread would be coated with sugar-water, to make it shine.

ACT IV: The Aftermath

I don't know how much money this stunt generated for all of those good charities. I know that people who are dear to me gave this weekend when they otherwise might not have given and that's a very good thing. And I know that on Memorial Day weekend, especially, it's good to remember what has come before. I will never know exactly what it would have been like to have been a baker at the New Modern Bakery in Scranton. Or what daily motivations swirled through Sam Miller's head when he was down there. But I feel closer to my family—the long dead and the very much alive—than I did before I started this project. And a lot of people who could use some help got some. And, really, what are holidays for, after all?


Images: Andrew Cohen

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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