Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When Your Week Needs Sweetness

The other night, my spouse and I were watching one of those Santa Claus movies, the one where Tim Allen discovers another clause in the contract, the one where he/Santa needs a wife. My spouse turned to me and said, "I'd really like a Christmas cookie."

I said, "We can make that happen." I always have baking supplies in the kitchen, even if I'm not always in a baking phase. Off we trooped to the kitchen, and 30 minutes later, the oven transformed dough into cookies.

I took a moment to say a prayer of thanks for the microwave. In my childhood years, we'd have had to plan ahead to make most cookie recipes: the butter needed to soften, and there was no good way to do that except to pull it out ahead of time. The microwave does an imperfect job, but it still makes cookies possible with no thinking ahead required.

It's fun to make rolled out cookies with people who don't do it very often. My spouse dug through the huge collection of cookie cutters, the ones I rarely look at anymore. And thus, in addition to Christmas trees, stars, and Santas, we had Christmas pigs and Christmas sea gulls.

I was reminded of a baking session in grad school, where we made traditional Christmas cookie shapes, and the guys showed up to help decorate. Fun with food color! We had some of the most garishly decorated Christmas cookies ever--but everyone was having so much fun that I silenced my inner Martha Stewart critic, who declared we were not making good things.

In case you want to have fun, I'm posting my sugar cookie recipe below. It's not as sweet as some recipes, and if you roll it out thicker and keep an eye on the oven, you can end up with a much softer cookie.

After reading this piece, I've also been having fun with candy making. Some of these recipes can turn out a fairly low-fat candy (although not low calorie!). There's even a jellied candy recipe, one that will be perfect for the vegans on your guest list. As I was pouring the nut brittle onto the parchment paper, I cautioned my spouse not to touch it. He made his disappointed face, and I said, "You can have some later. If you touch it now, you'll get 3rd degree burns." It's important to remember that not everyone remembers basic chemistry.

Holiday cooking always reminds me of holiday fiascos. I remember when we tried to make fudge as children, and we put in double the amount of chocolate chips (we needed a 6 ounce bag, back when they made bags that small, and we put in the 12 oz bag). It never quite firmed up. But the grown ups in our lives were gracious about it. We spooned it over ice cream--or just spooned it into our mouths. If you get the ingredients right, the fudge recipe below has rarely failed me.

I made that fudge recipe once, only to have one person who tasted it wrinkle his nose and say, "It's awfully sweet." Well, of course it is! It's fudge!!! Sometimes, you just need something sweet. And if you're watching your waistline, your insulin, your health--well enjoy that first bite or two, and then quit. We all know--and now it's been scientifically proven, that the first bite is best, and each bite afterwards, we experience diminishing returns.

Take a moment to slow down. Take a bite of sweetness and savor it. Think about the other kinds of sweetness that you'd like to see manifest in your life.

Sugar Cookies

2 sticks butter
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
¼ C. milk
2tsp. baking powder
4 C. flour
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter, sugar, eggs. Add milk and dry ingredients. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness on a floured board and cut with cookie cutters. Sprinkle with colored sugar or leave plain to frost when cool (or to enjoy plain). Bake 10 minutes at 375. Easy frosting: moisten powdered sugar with enough milk to make spreadable and tint with food color.

Festive Fudge

2 C. sugar
2/3 C. evaporated milk (skim works fine)
12 regular marshmallows
½ C. butter
1 C. chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1 C. nuts, if desired (other stir-ins would work too)

In a heavy, large sauce pan (or dutch oven), mix sugar, milk, marshmallows, and butter. Cook, stirring, over medium heat, until it boils. Boil and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Mix in chocolate chips until completely melted. Stir in vanilla and nuts/stir ins. Spread in a buttered 8 inch square pan.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Thanks for the recipes and sweet reminders.