Dec
14

12 Days of Christmas

by

Introduction to the “12 Days” Blog Series

In addition to trees, lights, gifts, family and friends, the holidays revolve around food. A unique breed of “holiday foodies” emerge this time of year and take a special interest in what food traditions will be kept, lost and/or created. In honor of the holidays, the SacFoodies invited our FH family to join us in a 12 Days of Christmas blog series. It’s a celebration of food and traditions from all of us here at FH. Cheers!

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12 Drummers Drumming, 12 Biscotti Missing

A guest holiday blog by John Armato armato-head-shot.jpg
Senior Partner, Fleishman-Hillard New York and Sacramento
John also maintains a blog of his own on the creative process, communications and a life of ideas: Think Inside the Box

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One of the happiest Christmases of my life was when I found a toy drum under the tree. Every gift-giving occasion thereafter (and as each previous drum had been played literally to pieces) I received a fresh tin snare, or paper-headed marching tom, or little imitation drum set until I was finally old enough to take lessons and receive my first real drums. (Red sparkle; I could not have been happier.) Once I had the real thing, family and friends began giving me Little Drummer Boy ornaments or German-carved nutcracker drummers for Christmas. I’ve had – and have – many times a dozen drummers drumming. (Note: Photo inset at start of post is a screen grab from a home movie of the author, age 6 in 1971, the very morning of that very special, first-drum Christmas)

But when I wasn’t pretending to be a drummer or, later, gigging at endless holiday parties as a real one, my Christmases were filled with food. The only Christmas tradition that has been around as long as my drums and drummers is an Italian cookie called “biscotti.”

Now this isn’t the hard, dry – dare I say aloof, even rigid – biscotti you find posturing near the register at upscale coffee shops. No, this biscotti is a little pillow of pleasure, a soft, unassuming lump of dough more at home next to an honest cup of joe than a vaulted venti cino-this-or-that. While other holiday cookies are flaunting their layers or morsels like overdressed kids posing with Santa, this biscotti sits quietly … content and warm in a simple sweater of icing, like the one relative who isn’t telling loud stories but who everyone eventually gathers around.

You should know the “right” (read “the way we do it”) pronunciation, by the way. It’s bis KOH tee – long “o.” It’s not “bis-CAUGHT-tee” as those weird pretenders who bear no resemblance to the one true cookie of my youth are frequently called. (Under my breath I mock those as “bisk-ODD-ee.”)

So, behold the biscotti, a pleasant, plump and infinitely “popable” treat that has been music to my mouth as long as I can remember. But beware, while one batch can easily make 20 dozen, one of those dozens can just as easily go missing. A sociable cookie, the biscotti hates to be consumed alone. With two or three of his friends, perhaps, but not alone. Thus your hand need wander to the cooling rack only a few times before the cookie ranks dwindle in significant numbers.

Tell anyone who asks, those 12 drummers ate them.

ITALIAN BISCOTTI

8 cups flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar

2 cups Crisco
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vanilla (preferably clear vanilla)

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a very large bowl. Stir with wire whisk to blend thoroughly. Add the Crisco. Cut it in with a pastry blender till crumbly – the size of small peas. Make a deep well in the middle of mixture. Add the eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix with a large spoon or your hands, working until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Roll into small balls.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or Silpat, for 10 to 15 minutes, just until slightly colored on top and a pretty, light toasted color on the bottom. They should be just firm to the touch.

While still warm dip into a powdered sugar icing.

BISCOTTI FROSTING

This makes just the right consistency for frosting the soft biscotti. Double the recipe for a full batch of cookies.

2/3 stick oleo or butter
1 tablespoon Crisco
1 box sifted powdered sugar
Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons warm milk (or lemon or orange juice)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or lemon extract or pure almond extract is good too)

Just warm the milk. Cream butter and Crisco; mix in powdered sugar and salt. Add liquid as needed. Add flavoring.

Dip the cookies upside down in the frosting as you take them from the cookie sheet. Let them set a minute and if everything goes just right the heat will slightly melt the frosting and make a glaze. If not try either thinning the frosting a tiny bit or warming it every so slightly. Alternatively, take a knife and frost them.
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The author at the drums of his adulthood, at yet another corporate Christmas party.

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The author’s niece, Lauren Sieker, brings the family tradition into its third generation.

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For the author’s mom, Mildred Armato, this is art, this is beauty, this is probably already a dozen short …

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