Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Christmas Cookies

John's family bakes Christmas cookies. Specifically, John's mom bakes Christmas cookies. It's not Christmas without a tray of a half a dozen or more types of cookies, each with its own provenance. In recent years, Kay has scaled back, and now doesn't make any at all unless she knows the whole family will be assembling for Christmas.

Last year, John wanted to make sure he wasn't without one of his favorite cookies, Greek Twists. So, he asked his mom to show him how to make them.

And the only camera I had on me was my cell phone camera. Still, though, I observed and documented; John mixed and baked. This was no small feat, as the recipe calls for 5 pounds of cake flour, and Kay mixes it by hand. And by that I mean, with her hands.

"What kind of Christmas cookies do you bake?" Kay asked me. This feels like a loaded question when it comes from your mother-in-law. John and I were already married, so it's not like my answer would be a deal-breaker.

Quite a few people in my family bake, but when it comes to Christmas cookies, what springs to mind is the Christmas cookie tray at my Grandma Arnold's house: chocolate chip cookies spiked with a little peppermint to make them extra Christmasy, the chewy cookies with the Hershey's Kiss pressed into the middle, and what I have thought for my entire life were buckyballs but Google now tells me are actually called buckeye balls.

I described these to my mother-in-law, and all was good.

This year, since my Christmas tradition is really more to eat cookies than to make them, I hadn't given Christmas cookies a second thought. But John offhandedly mentioned Greek twists one day, and that stuck in the back of my mind. After wandering the baking aisle at the grocery store looking for something resembling "Velvet cake flour" (found: grade 00 pastry flour), I offhandedly mentioned that I thought we could get all the ingredients we needed for the Greek twists. "OK, then - let's bake!" he says.

A couple of days and about 15 stores later (for a comprehensive/frantic search for: Crisco, molasses, Hershey's Kisses; of those, only found molasses), we were making Greek twists; the peanut butter cookies with the Hershey's Kiss (substituted a square of Cadbury's chocolate); and ginger snaps, an excellent recipe from my mom's sister's husband's family.

And while I definitely enjoy eating cookies, I also enjoy giving them away. So John headed off to work with little trays for the people in the office who make everyone else's lives easier, and we gave trays to our neighbors. But don't worry, we saved plenty for ourselves.

But I'm not telling how many are left.

So, it seems that we're carrying on the tradition of making Greek twists. If you'd like to try your hand at them, the recipe is below. They come out tasting like a light(ish) shortbread with a bit of a citrus zing. And, the recipe makes about 12 million cookies.

Greek twist recipe, as it appears in my mother-in-law's well-worn, well-loved cookbook.

Greek Twists
(from the Travis Family, via Great Aunt Rita on John's Dad's side of the family, which came to Detroit from Bitola, Macedonia, near the Greek border)

1 pound Blue Bonnet Oleo [margarine]
1/2 pound sweet butter
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar
juice from 1 orange
zest from one orange
6 Tbsp coffee cream (light cream, or half-and-half)
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Velvet cake flour (Kay gets 5 pounds; you don't always need all of it)

Cream together margarine, butter, and sugar. Add baking soda to the orange juice. Add it to the batter, then add the rest of the ingredients in sequence. Add enough sifted flour to make a smooth dough. [We used about 4 pounds for our most recent batch.] Roll out a small gob until it's pencil thin, fold it in half, and twist. Glaze with egg white. Sprinkle with ground walnuts if you like such thing. Bake in a 350 degree oven until they're light brown. The Travis kids like these sprinkled with some powdered sugar.


jt said...

Funny thing is the Travises make "buckeye balls" too,but being from Michigan we never used that name! Peanut butter drops, i think was what we called them.

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