Maybe it’s enough to say that this cookbook echoes with voices from the hallowed halls of Gourmet magazine. Maybe it’s enough that NPR and The New York Times both rated it among the best new cookbooks of 2010. Maybe it helps that the five gorgeous copies of The Gourmet Cookie Book up for grabs on Umami Girl this week come to us from Condé Nast via the unendingly lovely Anne Woodard, my dear friend who was for several months the single remaining name on the Gourmet payroll. Or maybe the thing that will seal the deal for you—the thing that will urge you to leave a comment to enter to win a copy of the book—will be the five stories you’ll read in the coming days.
Anne is of the rare breed who can look into your eyes and know who you are and what, in the deepest reaches of your soul, you need. If that sounds a little terrifying, you’ll have to trust me. It isn’t. Just to meet her is to know you’ll never begrudge her the knowledge. To befriend her is to discover that she won’t only know what you need. She’ll make it her mission to ensure you get it. Not many people are like that. But Anne is.
When Anne first saw The Gourmet Cookie Book, she gave it the same treatment she’d give you. And she realized instantly, as I don’t think I would have done with all the time in the world, that this book needed to tell a particular set of stories. She gave the book to a handful of her family members and friends and asked each of those women to bake the cookie from the year of her birth and write about the experience. Then we’d put it all together and see where it took us. Don’t you just wish you’d thought of that on your own?
This series is the result of that project. During the week we’ll hear from five contributors, spanning the years 1946 to 1975. Anne’s mom Joan Holliday kicks off the week with the Moravian White Christmas Cookie from 1946. The recipe in the cookbook is written in the style of an era when people knew how to cook, and recipe writers could take for granted that their readers would understand terms like “cream the butter” and “roll the dough extremely thin.” It’s quite lovely, really. I’ve included a modernized version of the same recipe in today’s post, but if you’d like to have the recipes for the other cookies featured this week, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the book.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading these stories as much as I have, and I hope you’ll remember to check back every day from now through Wednesday to read them all. As an extra incentive, you may enter once per post, by leaving a comment on that post, for a total of five entries. All five contests will remain open through December 31, 2010 at noon Eastern time. And for an additional chance to win, please join Umami Girl’s facebook page between now and the end of the contest. I’ll be looking for ya (but I promise, no peering into your soul).
Take it away, Joan Holliday!
Well, the ol’ girl did it! I am looking at my finished product of Moravian White Christmas Cookies, and they look pretty darn good! My husband just taste-tested one and also said the flavor was very intriguing and lingering; he said he especially enjoyed the light, crisp texture. Yeah!
I must admit, I have made my share of cut-out cookies in my long life, so I was reluctant to spend the time on this project. But I couldn’t resist my youngest daughter’s request for the women in our family to make the cookies of our birth years from the Gourmet Cookie Book, then write about the experience. I was born in 1946 and currently live near Bethlehem, PA, home to a Moravian community that was the subject of an article from the December 1946 Gourmet — so it was clearly meant to be.
The ingredients are simple, except for the sherry, but I did dig this out of the back of my liquor cabinet—who knows what year that was purchased? The recipe said to add “sufficient flour” or one extra cup to stiffen. I ended up adding two extra cups of flour (five cups in total), and the texture of the dough was soft, yet firm enough that I could lightly pat it into three balls. I started this project on a Sunday night, and ended up refrigerating the dough all week, as my work and family life is busier than ever.
Today, I left the chilled dough out of the refrigerator for half an hour, then proceeded to cut out cookies. I rolled the dough as thin as possible. These days, I use an oil spray to grease cookie pans, and I questioned whether a 1946 cookie recipe could handle this—amazing all the new conveniences we have—but I did use it this time, and it didn’t seem to be a problem. I also have a convection oven, and realized, after the first batch of overly browned cookies, that I needed to reduce the oven temp from 450 to 425 degrees. I baked on two racks for three minutes, then rotated the pans—six minutes in total seemed perfect. The cookies browned nicely on the bottom, but were light white on top, fully cooked and crispy. The recipe made about eight dozen.
I think this is the first time in my entire life that I made cut-out cookies by myself. Coming from a large family, then having three children of my own, baking cut-out cookies has always felt like a communal event. So I missed the crazy chatter and hearing my oldest daughter telling me that I needed to roll the dough out thinner, or my youngest daughter making it clear that it was her turn to cut out the cookies, or seeing my son sneaking a few pieces of the raw dough. Now, working alone, the only upside was that my kitchen didn’t need a full cleaning after the dough was formed. I reminisced about how fast the years have passed and savored the thought that baking connects us through many generations—even now, I’m tearing up about the past, yet also aware that I am bringing back to life a recipe that my mother may have made when I was young.
After the cookies cooled, I ended up icing them, and I am really glad I did. The tablespoon of lemon juice in the Blue Decorative Icing (p. 152) was just what was needed to bring out the delicate spice flavors in the cookie. I also thought the cookies needed to be sweeter, so the light icing gave them just the right sweetness. I added a touch of blue food coloring, and it looked like blue ice—how cool!
There are now eight dozen Moravian Blue Christmas Cookies in my freezer in tin canisters, with wax paper between each layer, waiting for the holidays. This is called being prepared, like any good ‘40s girl!
Moravian White Christmas Cookies
-Adapted from The Gourmet Cookie Book. Makes about 6 dozen cookies. Special equipment: a star-, diamond- or heart-shaped cookie cutter.-
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 well-beaten eggs
4 cups flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 Tablespoons sherry
1. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until lightened in color and texture, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is light, about 2 minutes more. Add the eggs and beat until well combined.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together 3 cups of the flour and the salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add half the flour mixture to the bowl with the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Then add half the sherry and stir to incorporate. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and sherry. When all is well blended, add enough additional flour to stiffen the dough, about 1 cup. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease two baking sheets. Flour a work surface and roll out the dough to a mere 1/16 inch thick. Cut out cookies with a cookie cutter. Place on cookie sheets, leaving an inch of space between cookies. You will need to bake in several batches. Bake for about 7 minutes.