Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 19

My mom is not much of a cookie baker. There are many things she does well, but her cookies are so-so. Actually, I'm not sure it's so much that her cookies aren't great as when we were kids she didn't bake them that much. My Grandma B did.

Grandma B was a precision sort, so baking worked well for her. She wanted to do something to help my mom out at Christmas time, and somehow it evolved to a process whereby we would request cookies and she would bake them...when we went to her house to pick her up, there would be treats galore as well as luggage and Grandma. It was excellent.

Christmas cookies weren't necessarily Christmas-specific ones. For example, one of my personal favourites was the scotheroo - these are known by many names, but they are basically that rice krispie/peanut butter/karo syrup base with milk chocolate top thing - which is actually an acceptable treat year round. However, since we weren't really a cookie family, any occasion where cookies were present was a special one, therefore any cookie we liked could become a holiday option.

There were always date pinwheels, a favourite of my mothers (which I wouldn't touch with a bargepole, but never mind,) the aforementioned scotheroos and a variety of chocolate chip cookies. Grandma used the tollhouse cookie recipe on the Nestle bag, and originally made them with and without nuts to give us options. Sadly, she sometimes used hickory nuts, which suck, so the ones with nuts didn't always go down so well, particularly since my brother is four-square against nuts in any bar or cookie. (In fact, I Bob would be happiest if walnuts and pecans are banished from existence, but I digress.)

The next variation to evolve was the raisin chocolate chip, which seemed sensible since we liked raisins in oatmeal cookies. They were successful, and quickly outsold the nuts variety at any cookie time. And then one year, genius struck. Grandma was baking in the middle of the night and realised she had no nuts in the house, and she could not fathom not making a variety with a bit of crunch. Ever the resourceful one, she cast her eye around the kitchen and there was the box of leftover rice krispies from the scotheroos. So she added these to the batter, developing a cookie that somehow managed to be chewy and crispy and crunchy at the same time. They were awesome, and quickly became my preferred chocolate chip.

Grandma would also branch out to more holiday focused items. She'd make those peanut butter star cookies that had that star-like milk chocolate pressed in the center (far superior to the hershey kiss). There were gingersnaps. Sugar cookies ready for creative frosting by her grandchildren. White mice, peanut clusters and anything else we requested. She made an AMAZING one that was a chewy cookie with cut up spice drops mixed in. The variety was endless, and each was delicious (except those damn date pinwheels. Yuck.)

But perhaps the best thing of all was that Grandma was sensitive to dietary limitations and didn't want to make things too sinful. She was a Baptist, after all. So she made all of her cookies in could have three cookies at our house and eat roughly the same as you would with one somewhere else. Grab a handful and it wouldn't was still about a cookie and a half if you added it all up. This made it feel like cookie feasting, not just a Christmas treat. Sheer decadence, a child's fantasy come to life.

My grandmother died the year my brother started dating his wife. This left a huge hole in our hearts, and there are times I still miss her a lot. But within a few years, the cookie void was filled - my sister-in-law is a cookie-baker extraordinaire, and she makes some of the finest toffee going, as well. I love checking out the options each year when I arrive at their house for the holidays. There's always a new one from a magazine or a friend to try, and you can tell which ones are hers and which ones are from the cookie exchange because the outsiders just don't have the same prefection of taste and texture.

Now if only I could get her to add some rice krispies, life would be grand.

Oh. And snickerdoodles suck, in case you weren't aware of that.


kirelimel said...

I came down with stomach flu and hour after baking snickerdoodles with my then 2 year old nephew (he's in college now) and can't look at those cookies to this day.

Mnmom said...

I kind of like snickerdoodles - they are are like the shy kid everyone overlooks.

So far this season we have made: chocolate/cherry pinwheels, mexican wedding cakes, orange/almond balls, chocolate chocolate chip oatmeal, and jam thumbprints.
Next week we're making an actual Yule Log cake - I've always wanted to try that. I'll post pics.

lulu said...

I make fabulous snickerdoodles, the key is really high quality cinnamon. Make them with Penzey's and you might change your mind.

I am always amazed when I read your posts about childhood, because we had such similar upbringings.

Jake's Mom said...

My mom always thought as you do that the Brach's star chocolates we far better than the Hershey's kiss.
I like your Christmas memories, keep them coming!