Photo by Andreae Callanan
Andreae Callanan keeps cookies in Christmas.
By the time you read this, it will be December. As I write, though, the St. John’s Christmas Parade hasn’t yet happened. It’s an unseasonably warm November day. Still, according to Facebook, four people I know have already put up Christmas trees. In their houses. On purpose.
When I was a kid, I’m pretty sure we never had the tree up more than a week before Christmas. The needles would have fallen off, for one thing. I don’t even think you could buy Christmas trees earlier than the middle of December back then. I know that loads of people have the pretend ones now (although unless you have a deadly spruce allergy, I really can’t understand why), but really, settle down. The ornaments will be all dusty, and the cat will have eaten your tinsel by the time Christmas actually comes. Besides which, we’re Newfoundlanders, and are obliged to keep our trees up until Old Christmas Day.
Even if you wait until the first of December, that’s five long, needle-shedding weeks. Think about it.
This is coming from someone who goes completely insane about Christmas. I love it. I love everything about it: the decorations, the presents, the shopping (to a point, mind you), the wired children bouncing around the house, the family gatherings, the parties, the television specials, the music, the food, oh the glorious, glorious food! I love hanging stockings by the chimney with care, I love ding-dong-merrily-on-high and fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
I also really, really love cookies.
I started baking Christmas cookies on my own when I was in high school and living with my father, who “doesn’t do Christmas.” Well bah and humbug to you, sir. Armed with cookbooks and a great deal of butter and flour, I made some of my family’s classics, like shortbreads, and invented some recipes of my own, like my half-moon-shaped chocolate-dipped orange-zest sugar cookies.
When I hit university and had my very own kitchen, I started churning out batch upon batch of Christmas cookies, and would do up little gift bags for my friends. Since I was studying literature, I never had much in the way of final exams, so I would finish school while my friends were still cramming away. I would bake busily, and they would snack hungrily. Cultural exchanges were made, and I got to go to some rockin’ Hanukkah parties, and a few swingin’ Solstice celebrations, further strengthening my theory that all people, when they find themselves in the dark and cold, are compelled to eat stupidly rich treats and light candles. We may come up with different reasons for it, but really: dark and cold. Need I say more?
When it comes to selecting cookies to bake, I go about it systematically. The way I see it, there are six categories of Christmas flavours: buttery, chocolatey, fruity, nutty, spicy, and citrusy. The six flavours can be combined—as in the recipe for Florentine cookies here—but they must all be equally well-represented. And Christmas cookies for me have to be “shaped” cookies, which means that they’re either roll-out cookies that I then go at with the cookie-cutters, or they’re the sort of cookies made by rolling balls of dough in your hands. This is probably because Christmas is the only time I could be bothered with the tedium of rolling a triple batch of cookie dough into ¾-inch balls.
Last year, I slacked on the cookie baking. I had just put my daughter on a gluten-free diet and really didn’t have what it would take to convert all my favourite recipes to weird and unusual flours. I also had a three-month-old baby glued to me, so that didn’t help. Now, though, I’m excited to get back at it. I was cracking out the old Christmas cookie magazines this year on Labour Day weekend. Does that make me worse than the November tree-putter-uppers? Perhaps. Except the cat won’t be eating my tinsel.
There are many variations on this recipe; mine is based on ones I used to eat in a Greek café where I worked in Montreal. Flourless nut wafers studded with dried fruit, suspended in caramel, and coated in chocolate. Yum. Makes about 36 cookies
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon candied citrus peel
1 tablespoon raisins
1/4 cup salted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon whipping cream
4 ounces good chocolate
1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. (The cookies will never come off if you don’t!)
2. Roughly chop almonds. Finely chop cherries, peel, and raisins. Combine in a medium bowl.
3. In a small pot, melt butter. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Bring to a boil for one minute, until mixture begins to turn golden.
4. Add sugar mixture to nuts and fruit. Add cream. Stir well. This will not look like any kind of cohesive dough, just a bunch of sticky stuff in a bowl.
5. Using a teaspoon (as in a measuring spoon), make little mounds of nut mixture on your parchment-lined sheets. Leave plenty of space – no more than 12 cookies per sheet. Flatten slightly.
6. Bake about 10 minutes, turning sheets halfway through, until mounds have spread out into circles and are bubbling, with slightly darker edges. Remove sheets from oven and let sit several minutes before carefully removing cookies to a rack to cool (you’ll want a thin-edged spatula for this).
7. When cookies have cooled completely, melt chocolate in a double boiler, and use a spoon to cover smooth sides of cookies in chocolate. Use a fork to make the traditional “wave” pattern in the chocolate. Let cool completely and enjoy. Keep cookies in a tightly sealed container in the fridge, but try to let them come to room temperature before eating.