So, what do the holidays mean to you? Chocolate-peppermint bark, maybe? Or good ol' pecan sandies? Or perhaps the classic thumbprint, pressed extra exuberantly to permit the maximum amount of raspberry jam on top? If none of these treats grabs you, then I'm sure you've got some other goody that conjures up Santa, sleigh bells, and the spirit of giving in one bite. After all, it's our memory - not our tastebuds or our eyes, as some insist - that is the first and last arbiter of good taste.
While recent expositions on the relationship between taste and memory have been appetizing, who needs a panoply of famous writers in the New York Times (and now in a book) to affirm what the humble cookie exchange has been telling us for decades? I've been to more cookie swaps than I can count over the years. And, sure as the sun rises each morning, these parties invariably unfold this way:
Cookie swapper: You've got to try my [insert cookie name]. It was my mom's [or insert gramma's] special recipe. She made it every Christmas.
Julia: Mmmm . . . [while taking a bite]. Mmmm . . . [again, while secretly wondering what all the fuss is about]
Cookie swapper: I make it every year, but it never comes out quite like my mom [or insert gramma] made it.
Julia: Hmmm . . . any idea why? [asked, knowing full well that memories have a way of playing tricks on tastebuds]
Cookie swapper: No, not really. But it's the best, isn't it? [said, beaming ear to ear, fully expecting a positive reply]
Julia: Mmmm . . . [for lack of anything better to say]
Now I'm not one to burst anyone's bubble, and sometimes these family heirlooms do register quite high on my foodometer. But, more often than not, they are positively flavored by their bakers' recollections of time spent with mom (or, shall I say, gramma) during holidays past.
And so? Does our tendency to overinflate our treasured recipes make them any less praiseworthy? Fortunately for those around the cookie table, not so much. We only get into trouble when we fail to divulge the secret ingredient - that special vignette, or that snippet of family history, which makes the recipe linger as sweetly in our minds as on our tongues.
That said, I give you two of my favorite cookie heirlooms (below) - and the stories behind those cookies - with the hope that you'll spread the season's joy by sharing your favorite recipes and their tales with those you love. Live life sweetly,
|Feature: Usher Christmas Classics, Recipes to Remember |
The story: Forgive me if I've shared this recipe with you already. But it's the cookie that my mom served for breakfast each Christmas morning. (That's right, breakfast. Obviously, my mom made quite the impression on me).
The story: People often ask how I develop new recipes. Usually I start with tried and true classics and then put a twist on them in some way. First developed for Fine Cooking magazine, this cookie merges two Christmas classics: the gingersnap and the thumbprint.
Favorites: Readymade Royal Icing Embellishments
Christmas cookie decorating is a labor of love - no question about it. That said, there are ways to cut corners without cheapening your cookie designs. One of my favorite shortcuts - which I often take at this zany time of year - is embellishing with readymade royal icing decorations rather than piping them by hand. The Santas, snowmen, penguins, and other do-dads, pictured on my Snow Globes (right) and below, are examples of just how lovely some of these readymade items can be. Fancy Flours is my go-to source when I need instant decorations as impeccably detailed as these.
Home for the Holidays
Photo by Greg Rannells
This year, the holidays are sandwiched between
two photo shoots for my next book, which means I
have scarcely a moment for anything other than
cookie decorating or recipe writing. But a shortage
of time hasn't prevented me from getting in the
holiday spirit! I've just had to get into it extremely
fast! Need some time-saving tricks to kick your
holiday party planning into high gear? Then check
out the easy entertaining tips in my latest
Cookie Swap & Other News
Even though Cookie Swap just celebrated its 1st birthday, I'm still enjoying some fun and thought-provoking book interviews. In fact, two of my favorites occurred last month. The most recent - an hour-long live (yes, live) radio interview - cut to the core of why I do what I do. Thank you, Carole Murko of Heirloom Meals Radio, for hosting this cathartic experience (!) and for promoting the importance of preserving our culinary heritage as well as you do. The other San Francisco Chronicle piece explores the ever-growing cookie swap phenomenon. For those of you who didn't know, another 4 or 5 cookie swap books were released this year; one bearing the same title as mine! (Could lil' ol' me have started the next big trend? I doubt it, but I don't see the harm in harboring the illusion, do you?!)
And now for my really big news -- and it isn't even Cookie Swap
-related! (I know, hard to believe, but true.) When I'm not in the kitchen, I spend much of my time volunteering for the IACP
(that's short for the International Association of Culinary Professionals, a multi-disciplinary group of food pros that numbers about 3,000). In October, I became Secretary-Treasurer Elect, which means I'll be President of this illustrious group in a few years. Thankfully, there's plenty of time to strap on my training wheels and take a few spins around the block with the current officers. This is a big job with big shoes to fill.
It probably comes as no surprise that I've got lots of holiday cookie decorating projects in my forthcoming book. After all, my first forays in the kitchen involved Christmas cookie decorating with my mom. My macaron snowmen hit your email-boxes by way of my holiday greeting earlier this week. And, now, here's another holiday project in process. Called Snow Globes, these whimsical cookie vignettes will eventually stand upright on tiny cookie pedestals. While they may look detail-intensive, they're actually quite easy to assemble, thanks to one of my favorite finds. (See Favorites, left.)
Hey, don't forget: I'm still eager to hear your burning cookie decorating questions! I need your input in order to tune the FAQ section of my new book, which I'll be wrapping up in the matter of a few months. Anyone who submits a question prior to February 15, 2011 will receive an acknowledgment in the book, not to mention my undying gratitude! I'll also answer your question(s) immediately so you won't have to wait until summer 2011 for the book's release. Thanks again!
Happy holidays to you and your loved ones. Let's raise our glasses to a sweet new year!