Tuesday, January 02, 2007

1000 Cookies – Give or Take

Happy 2007! Some catching up to do ...

The week or so before Christmas always a challenge for me when I was a kid. How to deal with the Christmas situation without money of my own to buy some token presents for friends and family. It’s that awkward age between the time when you’re eventually aware that your parents have been lying to you all those years, and the time you are old enough to get an actual money paying job, the first of which I got at 15. But there were plenty of years in between to be challenged.

We must have gotten some nominal funds, maybe for doing some odd jobs around the house. Things we probably would have had to do anyways for no reward other times of the year. And some kids surely get allowances. But all this is not really your own independent money, as you still get it from the parents, and again probably for chores you would have to do with or without monetary reward.

So it always seemed like a sham somehow. Because whatever money could be appropriated was more of a charity affair than something of mine that I could then share as a present with someone else. And the modest presents that could be bought really didn’t represent a terribly thoughtful present.

So, as that problem started appearing in our house, I decided to take action.

In the form of cookies.

Lots of cookies.

Lots and lots of Christmas cookies.

Every year, for some years now, we all make a ton of cookies. Wrap them up in cellophane and ribbons. And that constitutes the presents from all of us to the rest of the family and some close friends. Since everyone had a hand in picking the cookies to make, shopping (if not actually paying for the ingredients), making the 1000 plus cookies (no kidding), cleaning up the mess, and, not least of the effort, packaging all the baked cookies for actual giving, everyone has an a feeling of having given something of actual meaning and value. Despite the modest monetary costs for the ingredients. All in all, I guessed we spent about 70 to 80 hours between three people doing all this.

Although 5 pounds of butter, one gallon of cream, pounds and pounds of hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, dried cranberries, dried apricots, and what all still add up to a few bucks.

This year, school ended the Thursday before Christmas, leaving only two full days to bake everything. With Sunday reserved for packing everything up.

We made a list of possible cookies to make the weekend before. And each choose four different types from the list. With an eye towards having both a diverse final choice, and ensuring everything could actually be made in the short timeframe we had to work with. This is the fun step.

Our choices this year were:

Toffee, Almond and Dark Chocolate Bark (Gourmet Magazine Dec 1998)
Hazelnut Raspberry Triangles (Gourmet Magazine Dec 1995)
Black and White Sugar Cookies (Gourmet Magazine Dec 2005)

Cranberry Milk Chocolate Truffles (Gourmet Magazine Dec 1998)

Fig and Date Swirls (Gourmet Magazine Dec 2001)

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti (Gourmet Magazine Dec 2001)

Espresso Dark Chocolate Truffle Kisses (Gourmet Magazine Dec 1998)

Raspberry Jellies (Gourmet Magazine Dec 1985)
(no picture as I seem to be hopelessly pectin challanged)

Lime Jellies (Gourmet Magazine Dec 1985)
(no picture, as they died an ugly death - see below)

Polish Apricot Twists (Gourmet Magazine Dec 2004)

Plus we made a frozen cranberry mousse for the actual Christmas dinner, which my sister hosted this year.

All of these recipes are from various editions of Gourmet Magazine, and most can be found on www.epicurious.com

Our target for each was approximately 100 pieces per type. Since we were making 10 gifts. About 100 pieces per gift. About 1000 pieces total.

And every year, a few of the attempts go awry.

For example, we always begin by making a master list al all the ingredients we need, naturally everything multiplied out (some recipes need to be doubled, tripled, or halved), all the instances of butter consolidated to see how much we need to buy. And of course, mistakes are always made here. Too much or too little of something being noted on the list. Which is then discovered at the worst possible moment. Naturally after stores have closed, for example.

Plus, some things just go wrong.

This year, we lost the lime jellies. Because the pan we made the jellies in gave up some long-baked-on deposits from the bottom of the pan, which floated around in the translucent jelly as it cooked. Little black flecks in the lime green jelly. Really not so Christmas-looking as we intended. Had to be tossed.

And, somehow, the first batch of chocolate for the truffles got some moisture in it as the chocolate was melting, turning a pound of chocolate into a sort of grainy, sandy mess. Still tasty, if your not too finicky about the texture. But again, nothing you could use as the basis of a gift. Something to nibble on the rest of the week.

So was actually made well over 1000 pieces. Having to toss a couple hundred along the way.

But, all things considered, they all turned out beautifully for the most part.

Everyone made their batches of treats in the same kitchen at the same time, somehow coordinating oven, stove, counter space, etc. A pretty good trick.

The winners were clearly the cranberry truffles, the bark, the apricot twists and the fig swirls. Although the biscotti was the first thing to be eaten.

TeenGirl and I then packaged the bounty. Wrapping 1/10th of each type of cookie first in some clear cellophane, tied with ribbons. Then arranging the different packaged cookies on a plastic plate wrapped in tin foil, and wrapping then entire package in clear cellophane, again tied with long ribbons. A 6 hour activity.

The results are festive, beautiful to look at, and delicious to enjoy over a cup of coffee or tea. Maybe after all the holiday hysteria is over.

And when it was all done, everyone had a real sense of having given something of meaning. Not just some cash. Something that was carefully selected, something that took real time and effort to create, something that had a little meaning. A sense of the giving side of the holidays, to balance the overwhelming avalanche of taking that seems to pervade the holiday season.

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