Monthly Archive for December 2010
If there were a baker’s equivalent to writer’s block, I’m willing to bet bakers everywhere are experiencing it exactly now. I would know, because the condition afflicted me just yesterday—when, on the post-Christmas drive home from Minnesota, sometime after we’d crossed the border into Wisconsin but long before we’d passed into Illinois, the urge to bake something (anything) hit. As I stared out the window at the rolling, snow-blanketed hills, contemplating the cows (Do they ever get to go inside?) and the farm houses (Would that surely lovely family be willing to take on a boarder (me)?) and the driving habits of those big, many-wheeled trucks (Really? You two are going to drive in the right and left lanes, at the exact same speed, which is five miles under the speed limit?), I committed my afternoon to the kitchen. What better way to welcome myself home?
But what to bake? That was the problem. Despite the seemingly endless miles of quiet highway ahead of me—ripe for a baking brainstorm—I couldn’t come up with anything. As I said: baker’s block.
For all the cookies I have baked—and there have been many—I have never made a thumbprint cookie. I’ve long been charmed by the name, a culinary onomatopoeia, of sorts—a name that sounds like it looks: a cookie that’s been stamped with the fleshy pad of a thumb. And I’ve been intrigued by the endless possibilities for filling the cookies’ thumbprints—be it jam or curd or caramel or peanut butter or ganache.
So, when I set about crafting my holiday baking list, I put thumbprints right there at the top. I left the specifics—what type of cookie (a rich butter cookie, or maybe something nut-based or flecked with cornmeal?) and what type of filling—to be worked out later. There would be thumbprints, in one form or the other—that I knew. There would also be a mix of treats from Christmas past—espresso crinkles, lemon poppyseed shortbread, truffles, and brittle—and from, as with the thumbprints, Christmas future (I envisioned a new confection—maybe a thick, powdery marshmallows or candy-cane-striped meringues or pistachio-studded nougat—as well Russian tea cakes (a cookie I’ve long loved to eat, but have never made) and some kind of ginger cookie). I wanted to try an old family recipe or two, as well—maybe my grandparents’ party mix or my mom’s roll out cookies.
Fall went easy on us here in Chicago. It was long and sun-drenched and fringed in rust-colored leaves. And, best of all, it faded gently, slowly, nearly imperceptibly—almost as though it were melting away. So I’m having an easier time coming to terms with winter than I usually do. Dare I say I’m even liking it a little bit? December, I must say that this is a first.
It’s just that there’s something wonderful about the flat, hard edge of winter’s sunlight that glints off everything, making it look clean and new. There’s a magic in the little puffs of air that can suddenly be seen at your mouth, or the tufts of steam rising from street grates or building tops. There’s the smoke of logs burning in a fireplace, a sign that someone, somewhere, is having a cozy afternoon. There are the twinkling lights that belong to this portion of the winter—the first part, the holiday part. There is the chunky sweater, the one that threatens to swallow you whole. There is the thick scarf, wound tight around the throat. There was that first dusting of snow—so white, like someone tipped a bag of sugar high above us, letting its glittering contents float down to the ground.
It seems like I was just here raving about cranberries and the cake they should adorn and impending turkeys and travel and such and, poof!, the holiday has come and gone. Along the way, I turned 30. Thirty! And this blog turned three. Three! Both occasions seem awfully momentous. Momentous enough for a cookie, I’d say. Won’t you agree?
And not just any cookie, but a shortbread cookie. Have you made shortbread? If not, I suggest you hop to it. It’s a cookie that manages to be incredibly easy and super decadent and a little elegant. It’s infinitely adaptable, too, to all kinds of flavors and additions. Here, we’ve got a round of shortbread that’s flecked with ground pecans (though the original recipe called for walnuts and I’m pretty certain that any nut would do) and baked in a round that’s been pricked with the blunt end of a bamboo skewer.