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I think we all love the holiday season for a different reason.  I am almost certain that I have scoured every corner of my brain thinking of all of the things that I love about winter time.  And, even after searching through the disheveled place that must be my mind; I still manage to remember even more things that I adore about this time of year as I experience and remember them. The following are my most cherished memories of the season:

  1. Snow. This has to be number one because it’s clearly the best.
  2. Cookies, candy canes, pies, sugar, endless sweets is there anything better?
  3. Family, even the crazy ones.
  4. Leaves. Someone said they’re welcoming in winter in seattle, I love them for that.
  5. Music. I’m a total sucker for anything holiday like, I love it when people sing with me
  6. Happiness, people are together, they are singing or talking of past holidays, everyone’s in a good mood.
  7. Cute winter coats, socks and pajamas.
  8. Christmas trees; the smell, picking them out, decorating them, having their lights on through the night, everything.

But I soon realized that my list was just that; it was my personal love of winter and the things that I thought it brought. Upon questioning my little brother his answer was completely different from mine.  He rattled off a list of video games that he had yet to play, and then replay, over the break, his eyes never once blinking away from our television screen.  I asked him if that was all the season’s magic was about; video-games?  The trance of the game ran through him, “it’s also about going to bed late, waking up late, good food and snow days to annoy you with.”  That was what I expected from him, he’s thirteen and his boyish tendencies are clearly present.

Daddy also replied differently, his gaze on his computer screen, never looking up at me.  Most days, I was pretty sure he wasn’t even listening to me.  So I asked him several times “what’s your favorite thing about December” my voice raising an octave and pitch with each pause between questions.  When I was finally screaming at him he paused, looked at me and glanced back at his computer.  This month for him has been stressful, we’re feeling the recession as I am sure most other families are.  He’s worried about mom and if he’s going to sell all of the cars on his lot.  Even though this years December has been hectic it will not re-define our holiday memories of joy.  In fact, I am almost certain that dad’s answer would be simple and short; snow.  His voice would get that sort of excited child-like quality as he imagined the slopes of Snoqualmie, and the back roads of Washington’s own little winter wonderland.  Years past we’ve always traveled to find our own snow.  Taking our old white Toyota who we called “baby beluga,” a smaller version of me, pudgy toddler sized brother and loving guard dog.  We’d sled down the little road ways and stop mid-day for the thermos packed hot chocolate that mom never forgot.  At the end of the day, four wet humans and an equally soggy dog would pile back into our adventure mobile and we’d head home to our tree and the warmth of a movie together.

Mom’s answer is what I expected; she’s tired of having kids home for two weeks.  My mom loves my brother and I but I think any mom who is raising a 16-year-old and 13-year-old at the same time would say the same thing.  She’s tired of my mess of a room, the messes I leave after baking, driving me everywhere on a whim, and cooking three meals a day.  But later that night I catch her alone on the couch; watching one of her favorite period pieces, I took my chance.  Cuddling up on the couch I begin my prying.  Giving way to my snuggling, the blanket wraps around the two of us and her mind’s thoughts unfold before me.  The tea kettle sounds, and her list begins.  She loves the smell of winter, the sight of lights (except of course those terrible “blue drippers”), seeing her parents more than usual, and the decorations.  Our house adorned in red and green is a tell-tale of her favorite festive colors of winter.  She also loves the holiday stories and the history behind each person’s traditions and their individual beliefs.  She loves that sort of thing; history and past memories.  So do I.

I love looking back on our scrapbooks of years past and the things that begin to classify our family’s holidays past.  Dad’s awkward beard and scratchy mustache, I vividly remember complaining about the scratchy kisses he would give.  Kisses between mom and dad, each looking at each-other in a bewilderment of love.  Baby brother stuck onto mom’s hip, his pudgy layers warm against her skin.  And me in the middle, wedging myself between any hug they would share.  I became slowly nostalgic for those holidays past.

Turning to my Kitchen Aid I intended to let it retell all that I was feeling.  Chocolate wafer thins with almond and vanilla filling.  They were mine to change and alter, into my own new holiday memory.  It was a simple recipe that I intended to change.  The chocolate dough was perfection cold, and interesting with the hint of my new caramel extract.  I could have chewed on the chilled dough all day, letting the flavors mix just enough to my liking.  But I was on an agenda, these cookies were not all mine; they were for my secret santa, M.  I’ve known her for years and we’ve shared quite a few holidays together.  There was the year of awkward braces and haircuts; when we decided to do something just the two of us.  Ice skating was our genius plan.  Not something I’ve ever been too good at due to my lack of coordination and balance but we we’re in it together falling as one and skating as one unit.  In the end, it wasn’t even our own doing that caused the great tumbles.  There were much smaller, younger kids on the rink too and these were no normal kids.  Like little scouts, each with their badges of honor they darted.  In between people, through legs and into people without warning when they just couldn’t stop themselves.  But, brushing ourselves off we went to our then favorite french restaurant, which we were sure was a secret that no one else knew of.  There we exchanged various gifts, each insignificant but spelled out our friendship towards each other.

So, M’s cookies couldn’t be just any cookie I’d ever made.  They required much more than the plain sugar cookies that I’d made earlier in the week for a school club’s holiday party.  I mulled over things she loved, rifling through the cupboard as I thought.  Almond extract.  We aren’t sure if it is completely normal but M, A and I are all obsessed with almond extract.  We love the way that it smells so good that you can almost imagine the taste in your mouth.  However, the actual taste of the plain extract is terrible.  The first time I tried it was a mistake, I was mixing it in when I thought it would be good to taste.  Wrong, but in the end the baked-in taste of the “almonds” was amazing.  I knew whatever I made now had to have that familiar taste of extract.  When I got to shaping the actual cookie base my head got the best of me.  I was imagining a sort of roll of Oreos, or wafers so the packaging looked as good as the treat inside tasted.

The final product was perfect.  The hard chocolate “wafer” layer was a casing to the sugar encased inside.  The cookies represented everything about the holidays.  On the inside, we all have different values and enjoyment that we bring from the season.  But it’s that outer shell, the all-encompassing blanket the wraps our memories into one thing; love and friendship.  Because that’s the underlying value to all these things, and as social beings we love that even once a year we get to be around the people we love the most.  The snow, video games and cookies are just things we enjoy doing with these people, I am almost certain that we wouldn’t love these things so much if it wasn’t for the people who made the memories with us.

So tonight, when many of us are preparing for Christmas and all it brings, or if you’ve already celebrated your holiday festivities ask yourself what’s it about this season that I love?  And maybe, share it with me, I’d love to hear your favorite things too!  Happy Holidays!

Adapted from:

Martha Stewart’s “Chocolate Wafer Sandwich Cookies”

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp Dutch process cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter (at room temp)

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp caramel extract

Whisk together flour, coca, baking powder & soda, and salt; set aside.  In an electric mixer, with a paddle attachment, beat butter and both sugars on medium speed; until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla and caramel; combine.  With mixer on a low-speed, add in dry mixture.

Turn out the dough into a piece of plastic wrap, and divide in half.  Form each piece into a flattened rectangle, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Flour your rolling board, and roll out each section of dough to about 1/8 of an inch.  Using a sandwich cutter, cut out your shapes.  Place your shapes onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating half way through until the centers are firm when lightly pressed.

Adapted from:

Martha Stewart’s “Sandwich Cookie Filling”

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted)

1-2 tsp almond extract

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Stir in almond extract, to taste. Use immediately.

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