The offending lemon shortbread with lemon-custard icing (and cracked pepper).

Who needs recipes (or glasses) when you have intuition?

Apretty-sweet fellow keeps trying to convince me food is not a hobby. But I beg to differ. Especially when it comes to the creation of new treats.

Cookies and cakes and pies! Oh my!

Since I was old enough to hold a spoon, I've loved to bake. In recent years, I've come to realize the process of creating something is a great stress reliever. And what's not to like about the results of combining butter, sugar and flour — plus whatever other ingredients float your boat?

But to find one's bliss in the kitchen, it's important not to buy into that adage that baking is a science, not an art.

Chefs insist it requires precise measurements. Flour must be properly fluffed and weighed. Backup oven thermometers are de rigueur, for heaven help us all if things get a degree too hot.

It's all so deadly serious it's enough to make this cookie crumble. I suppose that's why I'm grateful I'm just a cook.

Shh! Don't tell the pastry police. But I don't even follow recipes. My measurements are a handful of this, a pinch of that and a lot of taste-testing along the way. When headed into uncharted territory, I want to get there by following my own senses — taste, texture and intuition.

So what if the latest brownie experiment turned out a bit gooey? Call 'em "molten" and everyone else will call them delish. Cookies end up a bit crunchy? Slow bake those suckers a second time and your blunder becomes biscotti.

I haven't blown up the kitchen or poisoned a soul creating Sanne's Sins. Not yet, anyway.

In fact, tossing off the shackles of culinary constraints has resulted in some drool-worthy creations. Cheesecake collided with shortbread one fine day. I'll never forget the sight of my sacrificial taster's eyes rolling back in his head as he gobbled cookie after cookie.

But some of my homemade recipes aren't so good to go. At least not on the first go-round. This week, after a particularly trying day, I was soothing my ruffled soul with some p.m. baking. On a whim, I grabbed my holy trinity and a few more ingredients. In a matter of minutes, a small pan of shortbread popped into the oven with a lemon-custard topping.

When they popped back out, I gave them a taste. Meh! I like my lemon treats tart, and I found this batch was a bit blah.

But they sure were purdy. So I posted a photo of the results on Facebook. My page lit up with "WANT SOME!" comments. And not everyone shares my passion for pucker, I know.

Two of my newsroom neighbors are always nagging for noshibles. So win, lose or draw, a couple of these babies came to work the next a.m. to satisfy the duo's sweet teeth.

One colleague took the smaller cookie. The biggest beggar took the largest. Both were merrily munching away when suddenly Big Cookie called out a question that got me guffawing, much to his consternation.

"Ugh! Did you put pepper in these?"

Umm. Well, yes. But not on purpose, I tried to say. Unfortunately, I was laughing too hard to speak.

Juvenile, I know. But the aghast look on his face — combined with my sudden realization that efforts to retrieve errant chunks of cracked pepper that had accidently made their way into the lemony topping had not been fully successful — sent me over the edge.

I suppose this would be a good time to mention that we three have been known to play a few pranks on one another.

OK, mostly it's Smaller Cookie and me tweaking Big Cookie. But he so deserves it. Trust me.

Still, did he really think I'd deliberately feed him something noxious? Apparently so.

His eyes got bigger, his expression more horrified, when I failed to answer.

"What? What did you do?" he sputtered, spitting cookie into a napkin.

It didn't help matters when Smaller Cookie chirped that his treat was delicious, and innocently asked what Big Cookie was whining about.

I tried again to explain. But my mirth had increased exponentially. Tears ran down my face. I'd entered the wheezy laugh zone. You know, where you really can't breathe.

Smaller Cookie joined in the guffawing for no other reason than this type of hilarity is contagious.

I finally choked out there was nothing deadly. I swore up and down that it was only a common spice. I painstakingly tried to explain the pepper problem. I even promised to wear my glasses in future baking endeavors.

"I thought I'd gotten every kernel," I said. "You must have gotten the only piece I missed."

But my assurances were half-baked, and too late. Poor fellow already had tossed his cookie.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email

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