Tag Archives: cookies

A Little Holiday Treat

It’s a little odd that in a year in which we’ve done more cooking than usual we’ve posted even less here. But, hey, everything about this year has been strange, so I guess that our erratic posting habits shouldn’t be such a surprise.

Since she’d used all of her available leave time helping to care for me as I recovered from surgery, Christmas Eve was a workday for her—though the evening commute only took a couple of seconds; her office is our former guest room. We’d already carefully planned a not-extravagant menu, unlike that year when making dinner took so long to prepare and contained so many courses we barely finished before Christmas morning. A little shrimp cocktail, some crab-stuffed mushrooms, and clam chowder and fresh-baked biscuits: it all had easy prep and cleanup, and was incredibly tasty.

I’d taken the rest of the semester off from teaching in order to concentrate on recovery, and there were no late-night rehearsals and performances for theatre projects, so for the first time in forever our holiday marshmallow-gifts and Christmas cards were prepared and shipped early; we even had a little time to bake some cookies for us, and as gifts for helpful neighbors. Nana’s molasses cookies are fabulous, but the recipe is a family secret I’m not sure I even have access to. Snickerdoodles are reliable, as any recipe from America’s Test Kitchen should be. I finally realized the secret to making Peanut Butter Blossoms: however pretty they might be, ignore the Hershey Kisses and use high quality dark chocolate. About the Almond Linzer cookies she was so excited to try, perhaps the less said the better, save that any recipe with dough so fussy ought to deliver cookies that stuff themselves with jam.

It’s now the Monday after Christmas, when some Grinches have already taken down their decorations and left trees by the curb, but I’ve got one belated Christmas treat to share. (Or maybe it’s early for next year; you decide.)

Not so long ago—in fact, on the Monday after Thanksgiving—just as I was about to leave for my Cardiac Rehab session, I received an email from a composer-friend. Although we’ve known each other, and admired each other’s work, for more than twenty years, it was only this summer that we collaborated for the first time, when we wrote the closing number for a virtual version of the youth theatre program on whose faculty we serve. John’s email said, “Want to write a Christmas song?” It had attached the recording of a piece of music he had in mind—and with which I fell in love immediately.

Writing the lyric was as much fun as I’ve had in a very long time, and receiving the recording made by a terrific actress we know was maybe the happiest thing to happen this year. I hope that the expiration date for Christmas songs hasn’t passed in your holiday celebration, and hope even more that we will all share a peaceful, happy, healthy, and creative 2021.

Maybe It Will Snow. Music by John O’Neill, lyrics by Clay Zambo, performed by Gabrielle Stravelli.

I hope, too, that the New Year will be sweet and not so prone to breaking as these temperamental cookies.

Do not be fooled into thinking this is the only sample that cracked into many pieces. We lost nearly as many as we saved.

Don’t Laugh. Don’t Even Snicker(doodle).

“I need to bake cookies on Wednesday night,” she said. “And maybe a cake.”

We’ve been hooked on The Great British Baking Show (or …Bake-Off, as it is known everywhere but in America), and it has improved both the quality and quantity of our baked goods, but need seemed rather strong a word. I asked for clarification. She explained that she was going to interview a bunch of young people on Thursday, and thought bringing some treats might make them a little less nervous about telling their stories.

Cookies. And maybe a cake. On Wednesday night, when she wouldn’t arrive until well after 7. Before catching an early train on Thursday. It just seemed impractical to leave the work for her. Especially when I’ve been working from home lately.

I took a late-morning break and looked around the kitchen. I figured I’d start with the cake. I was not thinking about the fact that she dislikes baking cookies and I should have left the cake for her; really, I was thinking I could get a cake into the oven and while it baked I’d sort out the cookie situation.

We had apples and ginger, so a recipe I found in the New York Times seemed like a good place to start with the cake. I might have misread it, or maybe my apples were larger than the ones the recipe was expecting, because it came out very apple-filled. Nothing wrong with that; it took a little longer to bake than the recipe said, but it looked fine and smelled better.

Time for cookies. I was pretty sure nuts were off-limits, considering the possibility of allergies; and I knew we didn’t have any chocolate chips. And I didn’t have forever. Sugar cookies? No, too dull. Snickerdoodles. Lovely, soft cinnamon-covered beauties. The cinnamon would go nicely with the spices in the apple cake. I followed the recipe precisely.  I checked the oven thermometer twice. I put 8 perfect little dough balls  on a half-sheet pan, put the pan in the oven, and set the timer for 5 minutes–half of the allotted baking time, after which the pan was to be rotated. I opened the oven door and found to my dismay that all the cookies had melted together.

Whoops. 8 must have been too many.

I scraped off the pan, washed and dried it and let it cool, took the dough out of the refrigerator and tried a batch of 6. And they pooled together, too. Maybe 4? and on the insulated cookie sheets? Another glob.

It should be noted that these cookies tasted great. They just had no structural integrity. I saved what I could of them, even tried cutting perfect circles of them with a biscuit cutter, but they just wouldn’t hold shape. I was not going to send misshapen, crumbly cookies to work with her.

I tried again the next morning, with a recipe from her favorite cookbook. Why didn’t I think of that in the first place? Because, as it turned out, it didn’t matter. They melted together, too. I don’t know what was going wrong, but I was surely glad that I was home alone and the cat doesn’t mind hearing a little cussing from time to time.

By the end of batch number 2, I had a big container full of Tasty But Ugly Snickerdoodles, and I had run out of time. Unless she really wanted to stay up late on Wednesday night, trying again, store-bought would have to do. She dropped me at home to start making dinner while she went to the market.

After dinner, she sliced and packaged the cake. Whatever I did, it was wonderfully moist and spectacularly ginger-y. I did not steal a piece to find this out; my sample was from one of the scraps. The cake was a hit with the older kids, she reported on Thursday night, and the little ones loved sprinkle-covered sugar cookies. Good enough for me.

On Sunday, we had tickets to see a production of the musical Hairspray that friends of ours were doing—at the same theatre where, a year ago May, she asked if I might like to marry her. We planned to pack a picnic, as usual, but the week got away from us and there wasn’t much time left. “What say we order a pizza from the Awesome Shop, and pick it up on the way?” She agreed readily. We had a quick text-message exchange with the couple who were joining us for the show—no anchovies, no garlic—and decided what to do about dessert. I did not have the emotional fortitude to try another batch of snickerdoodles, and I wasn’t going to take the bin of broken ones…

But I could use them to make a pie crust.

And I did.

Chocolate-Marscapone-Cherry Pie with Don’t Even Snicker-doodle Crust

For the crust
Crumble failed snickerdoodles in the food processor until you have at least 2 cups; pour into a large bowl.
Add 1/3 stick melted butter (no need to add sugar). Stir to combine.
Press moistened crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, leaving at least a 1-inch high rim.
Bake until golden brown; cool completely before filling.

Filling, adapted from Bake or Break
Melt 8 oz. chocolate, chopped (I used 3/4 dark, 1/4 milk). (I did it in the microwave on low power, stirring ever 30 seconds or so). Cool the chocolate slightly.
While the chocolate cools, whip in a stand mixer 8 oz. marscapone cheese, softened.
Add the cooled chocolate and 2 tbsp cherry preserves to the cheese; stir to combine.
Spoon the filling into the cooled pie crust and chill for 2 hours.
Serve with whipped cream. If you’re at home, this should be home-whipped, and topped with shaved chocolate. If you’re going on a picnic, don’t make your self crazy: pick up a can at the market on the way.
Accept compliments graciously. And enjoy the show.
2016-09-30-22-46-49

We hear that Bake Off is changing networks, and losing its two charming hosts and the more delightful of its two judges. Ah, well. We’ll still bake.