Sunday, December 19, 2010
I've been visited by the ghost of Christmas past, revisiting childhood memories. For some reason, childhood puts such a gloss on plain things, investing them with a magic that time corrodes and reality degrades.
One of my favorite Christmas memories is of when my sisters and I would gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols as my mother played. We sang in the glow of special, gorgeous candles that were only lit at Christmas time. It wasn't until years later that I figured out the candles were really ugly. Tree-shaped, drippy candles with gilt on the dribbling blobs. Seriously ugly. But I thought they were amazing because they were our carol-singing candles.
Decorating the house was part of the fun of the season. We'd pull out the great ornaments like the felt Mrs. Clause mail holder that hung on a hook, the Christmas cards going into her apron, and the felt Santa Clause head toilet seat cover. It never occurred to me that they might be a wee bit on the tacky side.
Every year we would anticipate the arrival of the Christmas package from the grandparents back East. Every year Grandma would send the same treats packed into a coffee tin - a layer of plan, flavorless, bland cookies, and a layer of chocolate, nut toffee. Guess which layer the kids plunged into? The cookies we spurned, but the chocolate was gone in a flash.
I still am a sucker for the chocolate toffee, but my memory of those cookies has been proved false. They're not bland, they're just not over sweet. They have a subtle comfort that invites you to have a couple of cookies with your hot cocoa and a firm, but not dry, texture that says it's OK to dunk. I've found that I really like them!
Part of what makes these cookies great is their social nature. It's easy to gather family or friends to roll and shape them. The traditional shaping is supposed to be a wreath, but it tends to look a bit like a fish. What do you think?
- Grandma Wilma's recipe
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 hardboiled egg yolks
8 cups flour
extra granulated sugar for topping
sparkling colored sugar (optional)
1- In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and hardboiled egg yolks.
2- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the flour, a cup at a time, until the flour is all incorporated. Most likely you'll have to muscle in the last couple of cups by hand with a wooden spoon.
3- Cover the dough and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or up to overnight.
4- Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F with racks dividing the oven into thirds. Place the extra granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. If desired, stir in colored sugar. You can divide the sugar between two bowls if you'd like half your cookies red and half your cookies green.
5- Take a small chunk of dough (about 2 TBSP worth) and roll it into a "worm" on a clean countertop. Overlap the ends to form a wreath (or fish), and dredge the cookie in the sugar. Place the cookie on an ungreased baking sheet.
6- When the baking sheet is full, bake for about 10 minutes, just until the edges are barely starting to brown.
7- Remove to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.