Friday, December 02, 2005

Why my Christmas cookies are like sex

See, it didn’t take me long to start talking about sex at all, now did it? But I won’t jump right in yet, I always prefer to take a leisurely route to the main event. Getting warmed up first makes for a more satisfying conclusion, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d like to start by talking about the month of December. I was born in December, the 31st, but that’s not why I like December because New Year’s Eve isn’t really the best time to have a birthday. (It sucks, actually.) What I like about December is the light, the quick-fading afternoon sunset, dying the horizon in fiery orange. The purple and blue shadows of dusk, the crisp, chilled stars of Orion that fill the night sky over my house. I love Christmas lights displays, although I don’t put up any myself, but if you do, I’m out there oohing and ahing and thanking you for your efforts to chase back the early winter shadows. Old-fashioned colored lights enchant me more than the supposedly classier white fairy lights. I don’t want designer good taste, I want to feel eight years old, wide-eyed, transported to Aladdin’s Cave of jeweled trees. Maybe December is so rich, the air somehow thicker, because it’s the place where cyclical time and linear time collide. Thoughts of a new year meld with the physical urge to burrow into a warm place and feed body and soul.

Ah, yes, here’s my segway to the other reason I love December. Christmas cookies! To bake them at any other time of the year just wouldn’t be right. But when December comes, I stock up on the butter and brown sugar, buy a big box of luscious fresh walnuts and pecans from Sunnyland Farms and good almond paste from King Arthur flour, and start stirring. Last year I made five different kinds of layered cookies to give to my kids’ teachers and it took about three days of concerted kitchen duty. I included a written guide to the different sweets, because for me, reading about a food whets my appetite and adds tremendously to the pleasure of eating (not unlike erotica and the satisfaction of other appetites). I thought I’d include the official insert and hope it makes you hungry!

The Twelve Layers of Christmas:

  • Venetians—Italian flag-tinted cake layers with apricot jam and bittersweet chocolate
  • Gevulde Speculaas—Dutch spice bar cookies with marzipan filling
  • Yin-yang Cookies—vanilla cookie dough with chocolate chips marries chocolate cookie dough with white chocolate chips
  • Chewy Pecan Squares—pecan caramel filling on a shortbread crust
  • Ribbon Cookies—layers of cherry, pistachio and chocolate cookie dough

So, hey, if you leave a lot of friendly posts, buy the anthologies with my stories, and tell your friends about my blog and I just might send you a box next year!

Okay, okay, I’m getting to the sex part soon. Really. Of all the cookies I make, the Venetians are the most challenging. You have to mix up almond paste, butter, sugar, egg yolks and almond extract, stir in some flour and beaten egg whites and divide the batter evenly among three 9” x 13” pans to make three very thin layers. Oh, and you have to tint one pan’s worth of batter pink and another green, stirring in the coloring carefully so there are no streaks. After they bake and cool, you layer them with strained apricot jam, let them sit overnight and apply a final coating of melted bittersweet chocolate. When the chocolate sets, you carefully cut them into tiny squares to be savored with tea or coffee.

I was mulling over the topic of sweet things and sex and as my annual rendezvous with the Venetians is coming up in a few weeks, I was reminded of the different elements involved in the process. The ritual and routine. A certain confidence that I’ve done this many times before with good results and knowledge that I’ve assembled a few tricks to make success more likely than when I first began. There is a bit of worry that things might not turn out this time for one reason or another, although even if a layer breaks coming out of the pan, it can be patched fairly easily. The final result is worth all the worry and effort, though, no question about that. The pleasure itself is layered—the almost unbelievably intricate ribbons of the moist, tricolored almond cakes, the hint of sweet jam, the faintly bitter richness of the chocolate. It’s not unlike making love to a partner with whom you have a long, rich history or writing a story you care about enough to labor over for weeks, months, years. Not sure exactly how this will play out, but I’m going to try to put my Venetians in an erotic story this month. I'll be paying careful attention to all the sensual details when I make them this year.

For my next post, I’m thinking of digging up an unpublished interview I did for Penthouse a few years ago. But don’t worry “writing” and “food” folks. There will always be something for you.

No comments: