Mexican Wedding Cakes for FrancescaI was under a strict gag order until last Wednesday. You see, my 20 year-old-son was leaving Portland to see his girlfriend in Punta Arenas, Chile. All the way at the other end of the world. Since she didn't know he was coming (tricky in this computer age--he told her he was taking a job washing dishes on Mt. Hood), I couldn't blog, tweet, or facebook about it. I hate being silenced.
We don't know when we'll see him next, so the good-bye was tough. And here's the really weird thing: Pavel and I will be childless for Christmas this year. It will be only the second time since we've been married. The last time wasn't so surprising, we didn't have any kids yet.
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I spent a little time trying to decide what it meant. I've been used to baking many kinds of cookies for Christmas: favorites from my childhood, Danish and Czech Christmas cookies, new ones from Gourmet Magazine. Should I still do it?
Cloud Cookies for GraceYou bet I should. For one thing, why should Pavel and I lose out on treats just because our kids are off having fun? And besides--cookies remind me of all the Christmases past.
So I'm baking some of our old favorites--and a batch of each kid's particular favorite.
Grace lives in the Netherlands now, but is spending Christmas in Prague with my husband's cousin. She's been steady with her favorite cookie, and I admire her for it--I had to grow to appreciate Cloud Cookies. When I was little, my mother always made Cloud Cookies, a barely sweet but very short cookie. The ground walnuts, whiskey, and single clove that adorns each cookie give it flavor. I preferred the sweeter ones, like Mom's orange scented Spritz, and the penuche and divinity fudges. But Grace, from the time she was little, loved Cloud Cookies.
Strýc with RůžaAnd then there's Simon, who's off in Patagonia, for how long, we don't know. His favorite is a cookie we call 'Strýc's cookie'. Strýc (pronounced 'streets') is Czech for uncle; it's also used as a respectful term for an older gentleman. Strýc was Pavel's grandmother Růža's first boyfriend, and, after her husband died many decades later, her last boyfriend. I wrote a story (Gourmet, November 2006) about eating cookies at Christmas with them. The gist of the story was that Strýc made the best ones. And Simon agrees. These ones are made with nothing more than hazelnuts, sugar, rum-soaked raisins, and egg whites. But they are chewy and fragrant from the rum and absolutely wonderful.
Francesca is in Caserta, Italy this year--just outside Naples. Her favorite cookies are Mexican Wedding Cakes, sweeter than the cloud cookie, and made with pecans instead of walnuts. They're exactly the kind of cookie I would have picked when I was little. Especially when it's dusted three times with confectioner's sugar! I use a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Christmas Cookies. Incidentally, I love this book. Besides having many tempting cookies (I especially like all the meringues, and Mother Bauer's Buttered Rum cookies), I like the book's layout. Directions are give separately for food processor and electric mixer; recipe amounts are given in cups, ounces, and grams. I find this especially useful when measuring ground nuts, as I can weigh whole, and then grind them in the food processor with a small amount of the sugar, avoiding turning the nuts to paste.
Recipes for the other two favorites:
makes 7-8 dozen
1 lb butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
2 T whiskey or brandy
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup ground walnuts
6 cups cake flour
7-8 dozen whole cloves
- Preheat oven to 325º
- Beat butter until soft and creamy, beat in egg yolk.
- Add sugar, whiskey, and vanilla.
- Beat in ground walnuts and flour.
- Shape dough into balls the size of a walnut, set on ungreased cookie sheet.
- Stick a clove into the top of each cookie.
- Bake 15-20 minutes, until bottoms are slightly golden.
- Cool on baking sheet
Stryc's CookiesStrýc's Cookies
Makes 5-6 dozen
I have a special mold for these cookies--about 1-1/2 inches across. You might find a similar mold meant for chocolates. I make these in the food processor.
200 grams hazelnuts (about 1-1/2 cups)
200 grams sugar (1 cup)
140 grams (1 cup) raisins, chopped and soaked overnight in 3 tablespoons rum
2 egg whites
- Toast hazelnuts at 325º for 5-7 minutes. While still warm, put on a nubby dishtowel, wrap up, and rub together to remove loose skins.
- Grind the hazelnuts and sugar together in a food processor
- Pulse in raisins and egg whites
- Take scant teaspoonfuls of the dough--it's very wet--and roll in a plate of granulated sugar. Press into the mold, and then remove from mold and put on parchment lined baking sheets. If you don't have a mold, shape into little logs and shape into crescent shapes.
- Bake at 350º for 15 minutes, cool on racks.
I'm afraid four kinds of cookies (I made my favorites, bourbon balls, too) doesn't seem like quite enough. So check back next week to see the other cookies I'm baking.