Christmas can be a tough time of year, especially the first year or two after you’ve lost someone close to you. After my father died, it took me some time before any of us could face producing the sorts of cookies he always baked for the season. Eventually, my mother started making the individual fruitcakes he used to make, and occasionally one or two others, and the iced butter cookies that were her realm.
Then Mom died 18 months ago, and last year I didn’t make cookies. But this year I found myself digging through the recipe box I made for her back in high school and coming up with the clump of ancient, butter-stained Christmas recipes both parents had used for so many years.
Dad specialized in the German style of cookie that is made and stored weeks in advance. These are not cookies for immediate gratification, and as kids we were generally more interested in Mom’s sugary icing anyway. But yesterday, following a 20 hour power outage, I piled up my baking ware and got to work—which I should have done 3 weeks ago, but I was working on a copyedit and better late than never.
So now I have multiple loaves of cranberry bread (the best recipe I know of is on the package of cranberries, gorgeous for toasting,) small ones for gifts and two large ones in the freezer for Christmas morning. I have a large batch of orange candied pecans for giving and nibbling. I have “Great Grandma’s Christmas Pudding” (more accurately, Great-Great Grandma) which is a typical English steamed dessert, dark and heavy and made of an unlikely mix of carrots, potatoes, brown sugar, and raisins, the chief glory of which is the flamed brandy one pours over it after Christmas dinner. And no, sticking a silver coin in it to be found is not part of our family tradition, I think someone broke a tooth on it one year…
And Springerle. This is a typical Dad affair, requiring a lot of fussy steps and endless waiting, and truth to tell, he was not a man for the details of technique, so his generally turned out rocklike and only edible when dipped in a hot drink. Egg whites are whipped with sugar to make a meringue. Egg yolks are similarly made thick and sticky. Flour, lemon peel, and the elusive anise oil (hunting all over Santa Cruz county for anise oil, I found a source only to have it dry up when my daughter dutifully showed up to fetch it. I ended up using anise extract, but next year I shall start earlier and find a source, probably online.) Fold all the sticky bits together with the flour, and then wrap it up and store it in the fridge over night. The next day (today, in fact) roll it out and then press it with a Springerle mold, which is either a flat piece of wood with shapes carved into it, or a rolling pin with those same shapes—I have the pin. The cookies are then cut along the lines of the mold, laid onto a cookie sheet over anise seed, and stored again for hours and hours, to set the shape. Eventually, they are cooked (slowly) and then—yes, stored again, with a hunk of apple, to soften and age.
So, what are your family recipes?