11th Day of Christmas: ‘Tis the Season for New Traditions
In our family, tradition rules. And I don’t mean that in a valley-girl-takes-liberty-with-the-English-language sort of way. Doesn’t it seem we’re destined to perform in the same way each holiday? Crank out the Christmas cards by the 15th. Brave the traffic and the crowds. Trim the tree. Bake batch after batch of the same confections we baked last year – and the year before that. There’s some comfort in this, I know, and I’m not saying I’m against the same old grind. But sometimes you forget how the unexpected can transform the regular into the truly spectacular.
Rewind to last Sunday afternoon. My children and I had set aside time to begin our Christmas cookie baking marathon. (Just so you know, I use marathon here because it feels like nothing short of a 26.5 mile run. For my kids it doesn’t mean one day – our baking spans the better part of a couple of weeks!) First up, ginger snaps. We always bake ginger snaps. I don’t know if it’s the smell of the ginger and cinnamon that fill the house, or if it’s that spicy-chewy-sugary texture, but that seems to be the first cookie on our list. And it helps that the kids get to roll little balls of tasty cookie dough in piles of snowy sugar.
So, as I always do, I assembled the ingredients and called in the troops, who I must reveal were less than enthusiastic. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but instead of getting immediately to work, my son and I began pouring over cookie cookbooks. Not one, not two, but three. Now, it’s important to point out, this is a kid who would rather be shooting hoops than sifting flour. Even my preschooler weighed in. We reviewed the ingredients for toffee bars, gingerbread cutouts, sugar cookies and the like. We considered spumoni slices, Santa’s whiskers and chocolate crinkles before deciding on a cookie we’d never before considered: fudge ecstasies. Their description in the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook was the deciding factor: “If ever a cookie deserved its name, it’s this one.”
We looked at each other and without a moment’s hesitation began to assemble a new batch of ingredients: chocolate pieces, unsweetened chocolate squares, sugar, vanilla and the like. We didn’t have the exact ingredients. For instance, we had half semi-sweet chocolate pieces and half milk chocolate. The pantry wasn’t stocked with unsweetened chocolate squares, so we used the unsweetened powder with the right amount of oil. No matter. The process felt like part scavenger hunt and part science experiment, which added a new element of fun.
Pretty soon, we’d concocted a fudgy-gooey mess that did not resemble any cookie dough I’d ever seen. The kids were having a ball. But for my part, worry set in: If this recipe didn’t produce results, the entire cookie tradition may not survive!
With much trepidation on my part – and extreme joy on theirs – we placed 16 brownish blobs into the oven and waited. Ten minutes to be precise. We pulled them from the oven. We examined them closely. They looked like cookies. They smelled like cookies. How would they taste?
With hardly a moment for them to cool, my sous chefs dove in and tasted. After much smacking of lips and licking of fingers, I was pretty sure of the result.
“So? What do you think?” I asked, as if something more momentous depended on this fudgy batch.
“Four and three-quarters,” my 8-year-old announced.
I must have looked perplexed because he went on to explain, “On a scale from one to five, Mom, they’re four and three-quarters.”
“So you like them?”
They both grinned, and reached for another, dropping chocolate cookie crumbs across the counter, the floor and into the room where they were headed to watch “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
I surveyed the mess, which was considerable – cookbooks strewn about; flour and sugar making trails along the kitchen counter; hills of chocolate powder and an errant chocolate chip or two scattered about; cookie crumbs and dirty dishes calling to be cleaned. Instead, all I could do was munch a cookie of my own and think about how one simple change had infused new energy into an old tradition.
So, next week, we’re attempting Santa’s whiskers – another new cookie recipe – and I have a pretty good idea of how it will go!
Fudge Ecstasies (from the 1989 Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)
1 12-ounce package (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate pieces
2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon. vanilla
¼ teaspoon. baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts
In a heavy medium saucepan heat half of the chocolate pieces, the unsweetened chocolate and the butter until melted, stirring occasionally. Add eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and baking powder. Beat until thoroughly combined. Stir in remaining chocolate pieces and nuts.
Drop by rounded teaspoon two inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and surfaces are dull and cracked. Cool cookies on wire rack. Makes about 36 cookies.