Whew, I survived another year of my week-long cookie baking orgy and all involved seem exhausted, if well satisfied with the experience. I thought I'd share a few photos of my creations for your calorie-free voyeuristic pleasure.
Here's a photo of my dining room table on Tuesday night, the height of the frenzy. The chocolate-covered slab will soon be cut into tiny, jewel-like squares to make the Venetians, everyone's favorite cookie. Only a crazy person would labor over the almond-paste dough lightened with whipped egg white, divide it carefully into thirds, tint two, bake the thin layers for 12 minutes each, agonize over whether they'd fall apart, layer them with apricot jam, let them rest in the refrigerator over night and finally ice them with melted semisweet chocolate. This year they turned out well because I took them out of the fridge well before I poured the chocolate and was too busy to attend to them sooner. That meant the cookies were room temperature and the chocolate took longer to harder, so the icing didn't crack as much as usual and they were much easier to cut. So, crazy overscheduled busyness can lead to fruitful discoveries. Next time, I'll make the same "mistake"!
This year I tried two new recipes for the boxes and rehearsed one other for possible future inclusion. The latter was a recipe for "Nutmeg Logs" which were quite nice--a rum and nutmeg-flavored sugar cookie rope, rolled in sugar for crunch and frosted with an eggnog buttercream. The big hit, though, were my "Night Before Christmas Mice" cookies, seen here cooling on the rack. Herr Doktor entitled this photo "many blind mice." I like that.
Because a number of my son's teachers have kids, I thought the mice would be a nice whimsical addition this year. They turned out to be quite a headache, too. To get the string licorice tail in there, I had to shove a wooden skewer in each of the fifty mouse bottoms, which felt rather like something I should be describing in an erotica story. The eyes and nose were a challenge, too, because the recipe recommended melted semisweet chocolate, but that was leaving a weird point of melted chocolate and made the mice look crazed. So I whipped up some buttercream, which also didn't work until I used a smaller tip on the pastry bag.
I realized, as I was tearing my hair out over these damned mice, that my cookie-baking orgy is very much like writing for me. I have to face down my fears and my perfectionism with every recipe. Disaster lurks at every corner, even though I've been doing cookie boxes for five years and baking some of the recipes for many more. And yet the compliments and enjoyment of those select appreciative recipients (the very appreciative ones get boxes year after year--no dieters or people who "forget" and still have some left over weeks later, please--plus my family is very well-trained in expressing ecstatic delight) makes all the suffering worthwhile.
Here is a squad of mice destined for my son's class holiday party. Each one has its own personality, doesn't it? Unfortunately, none returned to tell the tale. I'm not sure if I'll do the mice next year. They've gotten good reviews, but several people have said they're too cute to eat. What do you think? I mean now that I have the butt-skewering and the eye/nose recipe down, maybe it won't be so trying next year?
This pair did escape the jaws of the fifth graders and seems to be sniffing at the other new recipe--filled German Lebkuchen (gingerbread) squares. The filling of apricot jam with chopped almonds and candied European orange and lemon peel moistens the gingerbread nicely and I will definitely be making these again next year. Especially since I can make them in November and have one recipe out of the way.
I wish I could send a box to all of my blog reading friends (fewer of you now, I suspect, but those of you who are dropping by anyway are friends indeed), but perhaps you'll be satisfied with a voyeur's look at the cookie porn.
The photo above is of the bottom layer of the teachers' boxes, including classic Ribbon Cookies and Cranberry-White Chocolate Drop Cookies.
The top layer includes the heavy hitters: Pecan Caramel Cookies (a pecan pie like topping on shortbread crust), the aforementioned Lebkuchen, Venetians and Spoon Cookies (made with browned butter and Tahitian vanilla for a melting texture and sandwiched around raspberry jam).
If you have children or are a child at heart, you also get a couple of the frisky little mice.
Still left on the schedule--the gingerbread house which I'll make with a new recipe, an attempt at my mother's classic coconut macaroons and some Cranberry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cookies for a friend who is receiving a late box. I wouldn't feel right if the gift didn't have at least one cookie fresh from the oven!
Perfectionism. Nutty, yes, but where would I be without it?