Being a kid with my parents in the role of parents was fantastic! Christmas however, was a bit of a downer. Having parents that came from two different religions meant we never celebrated any holiday properly for fear someone might get offended.
I resolved that when I grew up, Christmases were going to be the biggest party of the year. Not for religious reasons (tell me who besides the pope remembers why people actually celebrate Christmas?). And not for the presents (I find shopping for others a chore and all I really want for Christmas is a cookbook or two.) No, I wanted the food part and the merriment part. I wanted so much food on the table that it groaned under the weight soon to be followed by my guests groaning that they had eaten too much.
It’s taken the past 15 years to figure out what consists one of my Christmases. There were things I saw at friends houses that I liked – like my American friend Susan Smith, whose family bought a beautiful expensive bauble for the tree every year so with every passing year the tree became more beautiful and rich. But mostly my point of reference has been what I read in books and magazines or have seen in films.
In a way, I think I am lucky. I have no overbearing traditions to uphold and ever since I was 21, Christmas has always been at my house or at least with me doing most of the cooking.
I have toyed with Turkey, Goose and Ham and have settled on Turkey (brined). Christmas sides have run the gamut of weird, wonderful and downright disgusting but I am pretty much settled on those as well as the sauces (cranberry, gravy and bread sauce). Desserts still vary wildly from year to year, last year it was individual blackberry trifles this year I think it might be the Sour Cherry Linzer Tart.
When my friend the Domesticated Bee wrote to me from Athens, asking after some Christmas cookie recipes I realized there was an entire Christmas kitchen domain I had never addressed. Christmas cookies!
I guess I never made the cookies because I was too busy freaking out about Christmas and trying to make it wonderful. Last year was the first year I made All of Christmas dinner on my own, without the usual help from my sister, friends or husband (well he did fold the paper napkins into Lotus flowers, proving once again that he is full of surprises and can always make me smile). It all went without a hitch and I made an obscene amount of food, of which less than half was eaten. So I think I can say, I have tamed the Christmas beast and am ready to juggle a few more balls.
Bring on the Christmas Cookie Baking! Cookie roll call for Christmas 2010 in my casa are; chocolate shortbread nuggets (need to find rice flour for these!), pfeffernusse, hornchen, apricot melt-o-ways (yeasted), classic sugar cookies. And of course today’s special: Anisplatzchen. A wafer of dual consistencies, meringue on top, squidgy beneath with an almost medicinal taste, not too sweet and very moreish! And they keep for 4 weeks in an airtight container.
This is a recipe from Carole Walter‘s book Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets. It’s a book that was recommended to me by the owner of Books for Cooks in London and even though the measurements are in cups only (grrrrrrr….! Don’t worry I converted it for you) this woman knows her cookie baking so I am going to let her guide me.
It has not escaped my notice that life likes to be ironic. So in all probability, little L will grow up to hate Christmas and will celebrate hers with a plate of Sushi and only her cats for company. I hope not though!
Christmas Cookie Number 1
Aniseplatzchen Carole Walter Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon anise seed, ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
3 large eggs, room temperature
1. Butter 3 large trays or 4 smaller ones and dust with flour. Tap the pans firmly over the sink to remove excess flour. Set aside.
2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the anise seed and set aside.
3. Beat the eggs on a medium speed in a stand mixture (or with a hand-held mixer) until lightened in color. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, taking about 2 minutes, then beat for 20 minutes longer. (yes, it’s a long time, I hope you have a stand mixer.)
4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, them mix for another 3 minutes. (I was petrified that the whole thing would collapse with the addition of the flour but it stayed puffy and was the consistency of wallpaper glue).
5. Drop teaspoons of dough onto the prepared pans, spacing them about 2 cm apart. Let stand uncovered for at least 8 hours or over night. (I have two words here – Piping Bag so much more efficient!).
6. Position the shelves in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Heat the oven to 160°C.
7. Bake the cookies for 5 to 7 minutes or until set on top. These cookies should not brown. To ensure even baking, rotate toward the end of baking time. Let cool for 2 minutes on the pans before transferring to cooling racks.
Can be stored in an airtight container layered between strips of wax paper for up to 4 weeks.