Dad the Baker
It’s no accident that the cold, dark time of year finds us thinking of warmth and family—either enjoying it, or missing it. And nothing represents family quite so much as holiday foods. Which generally means cooking.
Growing up, my mother was the cook, but certain things my father claimed as his. Preparing Sunday brunch gave him a noble reason not to accompany us to church: if we wanted to eat when we got back, he was going to be just too busy stirring up crepe batter or making (Bisquick-based) cinnamon rolls or baking a breakfast cake. Or, in his later, more experimental years, trying his hand at Danish pastries (which, to be honest, were only occasionally a success, since his impatience and lack of attention to detail often rendered them nearly raw except for the edges.)
But he came into his own with Christmas baking. For some reason, he loved to produce the kind of cookies that are aged for weeks with a slice of apple, regularly changed. Little cupcake-sized fruitcakes—all those cheerful artificial dyes!—that very occasionally were permitted a dribble of nice cheap brandy, kept on hand to flame the Christmas steamed pudding.
His other specialties tended to be dull in appearance but rich in flavor. He always made Pfeffernusse, little brownish-grey balls that were nice if he’d made the dough sticky, though they could be kind of hard if he’d put in enough flour to easily shape them. And hard or soft, they were much better if he didn’t decide to dip them into a glaze.
Springerle are the one thing I actually miss having, particularly because I’ve never come across a commercial variety. These are pale, barely-sweet, anise-flavored little squares, so good dipped in sweet wine or hot coffee. Though again, some of Dad’s were hard and others soft, so you new that if you could see the imprinted pattern from the roller clearly enough, you were going to need a hot drink for the dipping.
So what about your family? Who was the cook, and what goodies evoke the season to you?