Sunday, January 2, 2011
This year, I decided to bake a few dozen Christmas cookies. I like cookies, and you probably do, too, but making cookies, much like any other act of cooking or baking, is labor intensive. Opus vita. Of course, you can go to the store and buy tubes of dough and throw it into the oven. That method is fine. However, I believe that a lot is lost in the translation of soul-cookie-love using that method.
So I decided on five different varieties of cookie: the omnipresent Peanut-Butter Blossom, Macaroons, Sugar, Wedding, and Ginger. Let us begin with a short tale concerning the creation of PB Blossoms.
PBBs are some of my favorites. When I lived in PA, my aunt Charlotte baked these cookies for me on many occasions. I always enjoyed them, but I have not eaten any for some time, so I decided to bake a few. As I mixed the ingredients and made dough balls that would eventually become cookies, I noticed that I had approximately half of the yield that the recipe told me I could expect.
Upon removing them from the oven, I noticed that the cookies were double the size of a reasonable PBB, and one Hershey Kiss looked forlorn sitting there, so I began placing two Hershey kisses on each cookie. The resulting appearance of the cookie was unexpected but fully appreciated. Blossoms, indeed.
Now, I am not a skilled baker, as I lack the proper experience, but I do have certain expectations when I set out upon a task, cookie making included. These macaroons provided me a thorough and disappointing learning experience. First, macaroon dough is sticky sticky. A good trick for dealing with sticky dough is to use wet fingers, and I thought I had my problems licked, but I did not.
I had the idea to bake the macaroons on sheets of waxed paper as I thought the cookies would remove easier from the sheet. Not so. The cookies stuck to the paper and would not relinquish their grasp. Perhaps if I had allowed them to cook longer they would have peeled right off, but my anxiety over burning things sometimes prohibits proper browning. I thought they were done anyway, and so I probably lost half of my macaroons. The tops were okay to eat, but the crispy browned bottom is the best part and most of the bottoms had irremovable pieces of parchment baked right in. The dogs did not mind eating a little parchment. But half success is better than no success, I guess.
Mexican Wedding Cookies are good. It is unfortunate that they can be quite dry when they do not have to be. Hence my anxiety with leaving things to bake for too long. These cookies were not dry. These cookies were delicate and delicious, covered with hills of confectioners sugar. The challenge with these was removing them from the pan without them crumbling. More cooling would have prevented that, but I had a lot of cookies to make and I was wearing thin on patience. The other challenge was not eating them all myself, but rather sharing them, which was the goal of baking cookies in the first place.
Gingers proved to be the best of the cookies, in my opinion--an airy, crisp and light cookie with a hint of ginger and sugar apropos of the Christmas Season. Some of the batches I squashed thinner with the bottom of a pint glass, creating a crisper cookie. I preferred the thicker gingers, as they had a bit more chew. If I was ever going to make cookies for anything, this variety is the winner. Truly delicious and noteworthy.
I made a ton of sugar cookies, and I ate about a half ton of them. It is fortunate that I waited until the end to make these cookies since the stiffness of the dough killed a few of the gears in my hand mixer when it seized the beater before tearing it away from the machine. The mixer barely limped along after that malfunction, and I believe she will have to be retired from cookie making if not from service entirely.
I rolled the dough fairly thin before cutting the shapes, sprinkling a little sugar on their tops before they went into the oven, and they baked up crisply with a very nice sugar flavor perfect for eating with coffee.
I then loaded up two tins with a few of each type of cookie, heavy on the sugar cookies since I had a pile of them, one each for Billie, my neighbor woman who is 85 and still mows her own grass, and another for the self-proclaimed hermit across the street, also named Bill.
When I checked the mail today, I found a thank you note from Billie, and it is possibly the best compliment I ever received. It said: "...You had a large part in making my Christmas a good one this year with the delicious homemade cookies. My mother used to make thin 'tea cake' sugar cookies--yours brought back wonderful memories."
That's how Soul-Cookie-Love works.