I’m still a little iffy on the whole study session thing.
You’d think that after four years of high school and seven Advanced Placement classes, I’d have the art of studying down.
But I don’t. I’m still perfecting my strategy.
A few months ago, I watched “Stranger Than Fiction.” Though it’s a minor detail of the plot, one scene piqued my curiosity.
In it, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, a Harvard Law dropout, talked about her law school study sessions.
Once she started bringing baked goods to the sessions, she claimed that everyone worked harder and wanted to stay at the sessions longer because they had sweet sustenance.
I was skeptical. In the past, I’ve been very particular about what I put in my body before studying: a cup of black tea, a cup of water, and either a ginkgo biloba supplement or a teaspoon of raw cocoa powder.
The ginkgo is an age-old Chinese herb used for memory enhancement. And raw cocoa powder increases blood flow to the brain. Either is good for studying in theory.
I think these supplements help my retention, but I’m also pretty sure the placebo effect is stronger than the actual effects (if any).
But my whole high-school career, I’ve made a point to not eat sugar before or during a study session, for fear that it might induce a) a jittery lack of focus, or b) a crash.
But after watching this movie, I’ve been wondering what would happen if I brought baked goods to a study session.
So I flipped through my favorite cookbook, “Ad Hoc,” by French Laundry executive chef Thomas Keller. Lemon bars seemed too sugary. And blueberry cobbler just isn’t the right dish for a study session.
I settled on the chocolate chip cookie.
Yeah, yeah. I know. So basic. Or as my friend put it, “So domestic.”
But they’re guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser, and Thomas Keller’s recipe yields the best cookies I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately, I had to bake them the night before, as I couldn’t rush home after an AP French exam that ended at 4:30 p.m., bake cookies, and be back in time for the 6 p.m. study session for AP European History.
The cookies are good a day later, but nothing like they are right out of the oven.
Thomas Keller’s “secret”?
They have a fairly high salt content, compared to other recipes. I find this really adds to the richness and flavor of a cookie. It’s like the difference between caramel and fleur de sel caramel.
And he uses a mixture of chocolate chips—some at 60 percent cacao, and some at 70 percent. This way, some parts of the cookie are richer, while others are more bittersweet.
Of course, I splurged on the chocolate, too. The recipe calls for hand-chopped pieces, so I picked up a few bars of Valrhona. Nestle just won’t do the trick in this case. These cookies are serious.
But they fit the mood of the study session. Serious studying merits serious cookies.
And to my surprise, they did make it easier to study. I had spent over four hours taking the first exam. Then I had a 90-minute break before the three-hour study session began.
I was a little fatigued. But being able to reach for those cookies whenever I felt like it propelled me and the others through that study session. No jitters; no crash.
I stand corrected. Sweets go well with study sessions.
Now I have one more good thing to look forward to when I go to college: baked goods to get me through those all-nighters.