Xmas Cookies (Memories of Christmas Past)

Good morning Peter.  This post is for you, and any others interested in food in general, and our Christmas cookies in particular.  You can’t pull them off the screen, so get your own breakfast before we begin.

I apologise for blurry photos.  This post is a learning experience in publishing pictures.  It runs down a long way.  I wanted large pictures for detail, but there’s not much text.

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Cookie Nests 2These are cookie nests – chocolate drops pushed into balls of dough.  Our chiropractor and his family prefer milk chocolate, while we like the darker.  I took the picture below first, before I realized we had one light one left.  We also made a batch with mint chocolate drops, but apparently the last of them followed the daughter home.

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Cookie NestsMore dark chocolate cookie nests.  Even with a fast digital camera, I manage to get fuzzy photos.

3Maple Sugar Shortbreads

These are the Maple Sugar flavored shortbreads.  The wife found a correctly-sized maple leaf cookie cutter, and I used a small steel cookie spatula to lightly carve in fake veining.

 

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Meringues

These are some of the hard meringues, two of each flavor.  Grated dark chocolate and hazelnut ones on the bottom left, almonds and Skor Bits at the top, and chopped cherry and coconut at bottom right.

 

 

5Oat Delights

These are the Oat Delights.  No-bake cookies, they’re easy to make and yummy.  Put grated chocolate in a glass bowl in a pot with a bit of boiling water in the bottom, to melt the chocolate.  Mix in the other ingredients, dollop out in spoonfuls on waxed paper, and let set.  These, and the meringues above, are the no-flour cookies the grandson can have without allergy problems.

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ShortbreadsTrue Scottish shortbreads, just like Grandma used to make.  After much practice, Granma Ladybug makes them just as good.  Five different basic shapes – winter mitt, holly leaf, Christmas tree, star and plain circle.  The pictures don’t show as much detail as I’d hoped.  Again, I used the cookie spatula to cut in a cuff line on the mitts, a center vein on the holly, a Chrysler star out to the vertices of the star, and just an X on the discs.  It makes them easy to break into four mouth-sized pieces.  I used the end of a chop-stick to indent small holes in the Christmas trees, to simulate decorative balls.

 

7Spritz

These are some of the spritz cookie shapes I pushed out of the cookie press.  You may notice that some of them were from the first batch, and got a little too brown.  They’re not burnt, but are not cosmetically acceptable as gifts, so we get to keep and enjoy them.  As you can see, different sized and colored decorative balls (dragees), mini M&M candy, as well as slivers of red and green glazed cherries are used to brighten them up.

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Sugar Cookies 1

A few of the shapes of iced and decorated sugar cookies we made.  Making and baking is quick and easy.  The icing and decorating takes far longer, but we use the time for some family togetherness, silliness and stress relief.  Note the results my steady hands produce on the candy canes.  The wife sprinkled a little of the Maple Sugar on the reindeer to produce a fur effect.

9Sugar Cookies 2

Some more of the iced sugar cookie shapes.  I can slather red, green or white on wreaths or snowflakes.  The son helps his mom dress up the wreaths, bells and Christmas trees after she’s done with reindeer.  She puts names on all the stockings.  The dressing of the boy- and girl-cookies falls mostly to LadyRyl.  These are just the extra ones we bake in case one of the ones intended for gifts might break, so these are the plain ones.  If I’m still around next Christmas, perhaps I could slip a couple of pictures of the more ornate ones in with a post about motorcycles or sewage disposal.

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Thumbprints

These are called thumbprint cookies, glazed cherry halves pushed down into walnut coated dough balls.  Of all the cookies we make, by a narrow margin, these are my favorite.  I could, but don’t, eat these by the dozen.  There is absolutely no taste difference between red and green cherries, and my mouth can’t see….but I like the red ones. Granma Ladybug is partial to the green ones.

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Yule Logs

Last, but not least, we have what we call Yule Logs.  The dough is similar to the spritz, cookie nests and thumbprint.  (They are all shortbread types.) Form small cylinders and bake, next day, someone with a steadier hand than mine (see The Wife, above) dips them in more melted chocolate, and puts them aside to cool and set.

 

Granma Ladybug said that my contribution to this industry is my ability to put the cookies in the oven, take them out to cool and then pack them into the containers.  Wife says without this assistance, she would be very hard pressed to do this.

We feel we can do this for at least one more year, and hopefully beyond.  Friends and family enjoy these, but our caring Chiropractor and his family receive the single largest donation.  They are overly generous in return.  Half a fruitcake goes along to ride shotgun.  No photos were available because it’s shy and wishes to remain anonymous.

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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.