It started innocently enough: we wanted to send Christmas cookies to our nieces and nephews. “Christmas is for kids” and we thought this would be a fun pre-Christmas surprise. Then, we decided that if we were going to make said cookies, we should make some for J’s (the strong, the brave, the husband) work partners. We began our odyssey with Christmas carols playing on the radio, to inspire the spirit.
Generally, when I say I am a food lover, food fanatic, “foodie” if you will, generally, that excludes anything with copious amounts of sugar. I am a cook, not a baker; also, I am neither a Chef nor a pasty Chef. There is a difference..if cooking is an art, baking is a science. If you asked me a recipe for my most famous pesto, much to the chagrin of those who have asked, I would tell you a “pinch of this, a handful of that” I use predefined recipes as rough guidelines, flavor profile ideas. Not so with baking..you don’t just add an extra egg or a little more salt. Oooooooooh, no. I know this, and yet the rigidity, the discipline of it all is just a little much. And yet..in the spirit of the holiday, I walk through the baking portal with courage.
So when J insists we make “window pane” cookies from his childhood, I am game…but ignorantly I think we can use my sugar cookie recipe. We make two trays of cookies by gently removing cookie centers and filling their festive cavities with crushed hard candy. By the way, if you ever decide to do these, just buy small bits of hard candy rather than crushing them yourself. The blender is the worst idea ever, in case you decide to skip my advice. Back to the actual post-ground-up-candy window pain..oh, PANE cookies. Foolishly we follow the directions and place our cookies on wax paper, and pop in the oven. 8 short minutes later, we pull out raw cookies with bubbling burned melted candy centers. Ahhh…yes, that is exactly the schmaltzy Christmas look we were after.
It gets better. Remember the wax paper? Apparently, screaming hot and scalding melting candy heats up the wax to the point of melting it. To make the experience more exciting, the undercooked cookies are fractured and splintered at the smallest effort to remove the paper from the now-cooled cookie sheet. Disloging this attempt at holiday joy requires much hot water and a scrubbie. Oh well. Failed experiment, we have three glorious batches to go still. Nothing a bottle of wine can’t solve.
Rolling up our sleeves, we begin to make our next round of cookies. Its fairly uneventful, except that my decision to add extra eggs to the dough (“because the eggs weren’t large enough”) isn’t turning out to be a very good decision. But..I just add a little more flower, a pinch more of salt…right? I mean, we are just doing the rookie thing: using cookie cutters. J, however, is an artist. Each and every cookie must be perfectly cut and outlined. There must be zero degrees of variation. At this point, I am beginning to realize we need a larger kitchen – usually I occupy said space on my own. I gulp wine and watch as each cookie is preciously placed on the cookie sheet. I watch as each cookie receives the reverence usually reserved for a Eucharist. I drink. I drink some more.
Oh! Ratatouille is on TV; I sit down to watch it…with my wine. We have made 10 perfectly spectacular cookies, that means we are moving at the mind-blowing speed of a cookie every 10 minutes. Despite J’s drive to create impeccable cookies in shape and thickness, he isn’t so inspired to keep the pristine kitchen free from flying flour.
Finally, emboldened by said wine, I step in. “Can I make a few?” I ask sweetly. J says “Yes, I was just about to ask you for a break.” AS IF I HAVE BEEN WHIPPING HIM: ” Make the cookies, damn it! Make the cookies!” I ignore this vignette playing out in my head and move into position. Within 10 minutes I have made an entire sheet of cookies – 10 cookies. With astonishment, J says “Wow, you are fast!”. I respond with a simple “Hmm..mmmm” and take another sip of wine.
Now it is time for Picasso to begin decorating the cookies:
The icing is mixed with the ultimate care, the tidy mise en place is all there. Each cookie receives not two but three shakes of the sprinkles…each cookie has icing without any wrinkles.
Soon, the un-iced cookies are building, as is the pressure. We are running out of space for flawlessly decorated cookies to be perfectly spaced apart. The assembly line of perfection is starting to falter. We have about 50 to go…we have been at this for 4 hours. Picasso takes so long to decorate each cookie that the icing is actually beginning to harden. After being advised to move away from the cookies, because my cookie credo states that unrefined cookies are more “homey”, I sit down and finish off the wine.
The next morning I awake to a kitchen subjected to a heavy dusting of baking din. Every surface shows evidence of a finger print in white. Cookies are hanging from the ceiling fan to dry; crushed “hard” candy has formed colorful foundations in innocent bowls; remnants of icing cling to spoons and knives strewn throughout the kitchen.
Perfection apparently has its limits, and cleaning up after oneself may be it. Don’t hold your breath for Christmas cookies from us next year, kids.