Something’s Cooking

Baking, actually.  It’s a good thing I have a few posts ahead in the drafts file, or I wouldn’t even have been able to put out the desperate few I did, the last week or so.  We’ve been making Christmas cookies.  We two fruitcakes also made two fruitcakes.  I can’t figure out how to Email the second one to KayJai, so I guess we’ll be forced to eat it ourselves.

In the last couple of weeks, the wife and I, with some help from both daughter and son, have made up 80 to 90 dozen cookies.  First we laid in supplies, a flat of 2 ½ dozen fresh eggs, ten pounds of butter, two 10 lb. bags of flour, plus nuts, flavoring, decorations, chocolate, and stuff even I don’t know about.

We made up 11 different types – two different versions of Scottish shortbreads, three flavors of hard meringues, thumbprints, Yule logs, oat delights, several shapes of cookie-pressed spritz, some decorated sugar cookies, and a batch of ginger snaps.  I know ginger snaps don’t seem like a Christmas cookie, but I’ll try to explain later.  Each different batch yielded 6 to 8 dozen little bite-sized gems.

It all started because my wife is the youngest of nine children in a Bad Good Catholic family.   Well into her late twenties and early thirties, she was treated as if she couldn’t cook, despite her next oldest brother, a trained Chef, admitting that she cooked better than him.  For the summer family picnic, she was told to “Just bring chips and dip.”  For the Christmas celebration, it was, “We’ve got the main courses.  You just bring cookies.”  So she learned how to make homemade cookies.

My good Scottish mother taught her how to make real Scottish shortbreads.  The secret is working the dough by hand, so that the skin warmth causes the butter to meld with the flour and sugar, to produce a literal melt-in-your-mouth Ambrosia.  This year, instead of using white sugar, she produced a second batch with Canadian Maple Sugar.  If the Americans ever invade Canada, it will be to get those cookies.

The grandson is allergic to wheat flour, so she found cookies with no flour, not just for him, but he loves them.  Hard meringues are just lots of egg whites and sugar, whipped till they’re stiff.  Three different batches, all with different stuff mixed in, one got shredded dark chocolate and hazelnuts, one had slivered almonds and Skor bits, and the last received finely chopped glazed cherries and coconut.  Dollop on a sheet of parchment and bake low and slow, till firm.

Oat delights are melted chocolate, shortening, rolled oats and coconut, mixed together.  No need for baking.  Form into small globs on a cookie sheet.  When the chocolate solidifies, they’re ready to eat.

Yule logs, thumbprints and spritz cookies all have a shortbread-like base.  Yule logs are rolled to finger-like size and shape, and baked.  The next day they have the tops dipped by hand into chocolate and set aside to harden.  Thumbprints are rolled into ping-pong balls, dipped in egg-white, rolled in chopped walnuts and half a glazed cherry pressed into the tops, then baked.

Spritz cookies are dispensed by a cookie-press, so that they, but not me, are fresh-pressed.  Variously sized and shaped bottom dies give crosses, Christmas trees, and lobed discs.  These have colored sugar balls and other shapes pressed in by hand before baking.

While making cookies for the family gathering years ago, the wife threw out her back.  We had just received a flyer from a new chiropractor, working from the basement of his home, a half a mile away.  I called and he said to bring her over.  It’s 9:30 at night!  You mean, in the morning, right?  No!  No!  Bring her now.  We went over.  He cured the problem, we took along a card-box of cookies as a thank-you, and a tradition was born.

When the wife was forced to give up her family, because they were toxic, en masse, we needed somewhere to put all these cookies.  Each year the number of cookies given to the doctor and his family grew, as his family increased.  Sugar cookies were added to the mix, specifically for the kids, and the Christmas cake recipe was developed for the adults’ more refined tastes.

Sugar cookies, rolled out flat and baked, are bland and uninteresting.  As with so many things worth doing, the wife decided to improve on them.  We began icing them, not just with a sugar glaze, but with a colored, flavored glaze.  Bells are coated with a gold, maple flavor, stars, snowflakes and snowmen get white, almond.  I slather green, mint on holly wreaths.  Stockings get red, cherry, except for a white cuff.  I stripe candy-canes red and white.

The wife makes sure bears and reindeer look natural in brown, gravy?  No. Peanut butter? No!  Sugar beads, bells and bows, along with other shapes, and coarse, colored sugar, are all added to dress them up.  Their stockings all have their names in burnt-sugar coloring on the cuffs.  We cut out boy-shapes and girl-shapes.  The daughter, with the best eye, the steadiest hand, and the most artistic flair, turns these into representations of the kids.  Kids?  Hah!  They were when we started, 25 years ago.  The cookies have grown with them.

Two of the girls are married.  She made one girl-cookie into a young school-marm, with a book on the front of her pretty frock.  Another married daughter is also a teacher, but more of a free-spirit, so her cookie looked more like a hippie in a flow-y skirt.  The third was dressed in a ball-gown, with a string of pearls.  The son, the youngest, and studying to be a pharmacist, got his cookie with a pharmacist’s jacket, and his studious glasses.  One new husband is a painter.  His boy-cookie came with a paint spattered sweatshirt and blue jeans.  The other is a bit of a gamer, so his showed a controller on the tummy.

The kids have loved these personalized presents for years.  Even now, *grown-up*, they and their spouses still want the fun, and the recognition.  Pictures are taken and stories are told to friends and co-workers.  The family has built a Christmas tradition.  First they exchange and open presents, then they all sit down to pots of tea, and our cookies for a family brunch.  While making this mass can be a bit (lot?) of work, it’s also fun, and what we do to release tension.  The joy and appreciation make it all worthwhile….and there’s leftovers till February.

Oops, almost forgot.  We found that the chiropractor’s favorite cookies are Ginger snaps, so we include a canful, for him.  He claims he takes them downstairs to the office, and the rest of the family doesn’t even know about them.

21 thoughts on “Something’s Cooking

  1. kayjai says:

    You figure out how to get that fruitcake to me…I’ll be waiting.


    • Archon's Den says:

      I keep trying to stuff it in the mouse on this end, but it just won’t go. White Lady wants me to take pictures. How be I send you one of me enjoying a slab. It’s either that, or you have to visit home again.


  2. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Archon! I am so impressed! Pictures of these cookies would have topped your post off! ~ The secret is working the dough by hand, so that the skin warmth causes the butter to meld with the flour and sugar, to produce a literal melt-in-your-mouth Ambrosia ~ ( you should make Rants put that in his cookbook!) And you made them “personalized” – again, impressive. I bet these people LOVE these cookies!
    I’ve been meaning to tell you – I adopted your timer suggestion. I have a really old gas stove and I’m scared to use the built-in timer (It’s so old, I was scared I might burn the house down) but I have a timer that looks like a lil chicken and he seems to help me a bit. I just have to remember if I bake the first batch for 12 mins the next batch may only need to go for 10 mins because the oven is so hot. I baked some Pilsbury sugar cookies for my husband the other night – I swear I followed the directions – they just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger….when I put them out to cool they spread out bigger n bigger….My husband came upstairs and looked at the cookies and said, “Damn Woman! What did you make, pancakes? Are you going to serve them up with a knife and some syrup?” (he ate every damn one of em, too)
    Do you ever bake bread?


    • No, but I do on occasion. Started out making spelt bread for Grandson with all his allergies. We make our own pizza dough too. Our culinary versatility knows no bounds.


      • whiteladyinthehood says:

        Your own pizza dough! (you guys might should consider opening a bakery!!!) I have a pizza stone for making home-made pizza, but I always used a ‘mix’ for the crust….it would not compare to a real home-made one! You have some great culinary skills!


    • Archon's Den says:

      You have NO idea how much they love the cookies and cake. We went for a treatment today, and they’re still drooling. I wrapped half a cake and left it in the refrigerator. We came home after our delivery, I went to get some iced tea….and there was the cake. We phoned immediately, and drove back over. Chiro was standing just outside his garage, looking worried. He now reads all my posts. Told us that he liked this one so much that he printed it out and made the wife and kids read it.


    • Archon's Den says:

      I write another War And Peace, and you still want pictures?! They’d run over into Shimoniac’s site. I will try to take and post some photos.


  3. The Canadian maple sugar Scottish shortbread cookies sound yummy! As do the meringues – I do love meringues.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Meringues are a bit messy, and they take a lot of time, but they’re worth it. Do you make your own? I seem to remember a lot of cooking in your blog last year. It’s taken the wife 45 years to feel that she makes shortbread as good as my mother did. Even if you tried to make them, Canadian Maple Sugar is in short supply in your bayou. You’re up a creek, even with a kayak and paddle. You’d have to ask a Canadian Snowbird to bring some down. Like I told KayJai, I try to stuff it in up here, for transport, but it just won’t go.


  4. It’s a good thing you don’t mastermind the Christmas cookies, Flash. The meringues are made with egg whites and we make the Spritz with the egg yolks.


  5. Sounds like a good time was had. Xmas here was just another day. None of the kids made it home, but Mama did. For most of the day. (-35. Wind chill -42) We went to the neighbors for dinner so I didn’t even have left over turkey to eat for a week. We had to wish each other ‘Happy New Year’ during her nightly phone home.

    Maybe I should audition for Scrooge; Bah! Humbug!


  6. Archon's Den says:

    Ah, the things we do, often separately, to stay together. I just froze the last of the leftover turkey for even later. You could have just set it outside. -23 F is the coldest I know I’ve been out in, got a pair of frozen ears out of it. Had to have the wife knit me a manly attractive headband. Ruined bloodvessels mean that a cool breeze, blowing leaves off the trees in the fall, can freeze them again. I’ve got the Scrooge role locked down. If you want, you could be first runner-up, just in case I can’t perform my duties, this coming year.


  7. Buddy, don’t take this wrong, but thank GOD you live in a whole ‘nother country. If we were in communication range, I wouldn’t be able to get back out your front door! How the heck do you guys manage all that without weighing 500 pounds apiece? (Um … you DON’T weigh 500 pounds – sorry, 220 kilos – each, do you? 😉 ) Man, you must have willpower to burn! 😀


    • Archon's Den says:

      If you were in communication range, we’d let you help spread it around. None of us weigh 500 lbs. (that’s 227.3 kilos, but I don’t speak metric, I think Imperial, a system with idiosyncrasies and Character, perhaps fodder for a post), but the first year after I retired, I gained 10 pounds. Still fighting to get it back off.


  8. benzeknees says:

    I love shortbread! It’s easy to mail cookies within Canada. With just the 2 of us we don’t do any baking here anymore. Congrats on finding a wonderfully unique way of sharing Christmas spirit with family & friends.


  9. Archon's Den says:

    It’s easy to mail cookies within Canada? What a delightfully subtle hint! The daughter sends small parcels of yarn and knitted stuff here and there. I should ask her about it. We’re off to the farmers’ market, taking some shortbreads to the coffee lady and the book-exchange gal, also a few sugar cookies for her young son.


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