You may think I’m just an ordinary smut writer, but in fact I have a secret life…as...gasp!...a cookie-baking mom! This past Thursday I went public with my hidden vice by giving a presentation at my son’s school’s annual Festival of Lights.
Here was my blurb for the presentation:
“The Sweet Art of Cookie-Baking in Northern Europe
During the cold, dark Decembers of the northern hemisphere, kitchen artists in every house had to create their own light. What better way to brighten your life than delicious homemade cookies? Help stir up a batch of three-layered ribbon cookies, then sample the final sweet result, while we talk about traditions of baking and hospitality at year end in Europe and North America.”
In the photo above you see me prepared for the demonstration of assembling “Ribbon Cookies” (the kids helped add the flavoring to each of three portions of dough). Note that my gingerbread house is on display as well.
Now, I was fully prepared for a turn-out like most of my book readings, that is, a select, but intelligent and discerning group of people who appreciate life’s sensual pleasures. Lo and behold, the place was packed—by far a bigger crowd than all of my other book events put together (excepting In the Flesh LA and NYC which sort of don’t count). I think I may need to rethink my path to fame and fortune. Cookies definitely trump sex in terms of public interest, or so my research thus far has shown.
Before a standing room only crowd, I spoke about Christmas sweets customs in Europe and my childhood memories of my mother and her friends baking many kinds and serving them to guests. Polish poppyseed cookies, Swedish Nut Rolls, Russian Tea Cakes—it was like a mini trip to Europe for me! And so I continue the tradition today, when I’ll start the first batch of Christmas cookies 2008, Finnish spoon cookies, formed with a spoon my grandmother got for a wedding present in 1919.
But back to the event. After my brief lecture in which I confessed my cookie mania and made full use of my cookie map of Europe, I invited the kids to help with the final assembly of the cookies and about a dozen volunteered enthusiastically. I got several queries as to whether the gingerbread house could be consumed on the spot, but I held off the hungry hoards, determined to save that destructive pleasure for my own kids on Christmas Eve (they had to put up with the stress of the construction after all). Then parents and kids alike got to sample ribbon cookies and persimmon cookies I made from an old recipe of one of my son's classmates grandmothers. I got lots of compliments and requests for both recipes, which made me happy. I do like to make mouths water one way or another.
If you’d like to make your own Ribbon Cookies, here’s the recipe:
(from A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies)
Yields 100 cookies
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1/4 cup minced candied cherries or
candied orange peel
2 drops liquid red food coloring
1/4 cup finely chopped unsalted natural pistachios
2 drops liquid green food coloring
1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/4 cup miniature chocolate chips
Line bottom and sides of a 4 x 8” straight-sided loaf pan with plastic wrap, using enough to overhang all sides.
Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder together in a small bowl.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla and egg.
Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing just until blended. Divide dough in three equal parts (use measuring cup to make sure they are even) and place in individual bowls. Add cherries or orange peel to one, stir until combined (I also added a few drops red food coloring), and pat in an even layer in loaf pan. I arrange about 8-10 flat measuring Tablespoons of dough into the pan and press it flat with an offset spatula, then smooth it to make an even layer.
Add pistachios to another, stir until combined and stir in food coloring. Pat into an even layer on top of cherry layer. Stir melted chocolate and chocolate morsels into the third until well blended, and pat in an even layer on top of pistachio layer. Fold plastic wrap over dough to cover completely and refrigerate until firm enough to slice, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Unwrap loaf pan and unmold cookie dough by pulling up on plastic wrap to aid the process. Peel plastic completely away. Cut 1/3-inch slices crosswise off end of loaf. Lay slices flat on work surface so that the various layers of cookie are horizontal in front of you. Cut each cookie into four pieces, top to bottom, so that each slice has all three flavors. Place two inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake just until light golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Slide parchment onto racks to cool cookies completely.