Do you have a favorite holiday memory? Or, even a memory, favorite or not, that just means the Holidays to you? I was forced to think about that last year. It was just over a month past the end of my ill-fated love affair, and I was facing Christmas without the kids. I needed a shot of holiday cheer, and I needed it fast. What to do?
I remembered a cookie my Mom used to make, back when I was a kid.
A bit about my Mom, Christmas at our home, and these cookies.
As I've told you before, my Mom wasn't really a great cook. She wasn't horrible, but she wasn't especially adventurous. Pretty much everything was fried, at least until my Dad's heart attack. After that, everything was shoved under the broiler.
She was, however, a proficient baker. She made great pastry, and I still can't match her biscuits. Every Holiday, be it Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving, she would bake, and bake, and bake. I can't say whether or not she enjoyed it, but she did have a sweet tooth, and spared no effort to fill the dessert table at each opportunity.
Christmas baking meant pies, of course; pumpkin, mince, and chocolate for sure, sometimes apple, and usually a sweet potato in later years. Every year she made fudge, pralines, divinity, a non bake fruitcake abomination that consisted of crushed vanilla wafers and, something else, I'm not quite sure what, and lots and lots of cookies.
The usual cut-out cookies were there, iced with powdered sugar icing tinted a garish red and green, some kind of spiced date bar that I wish I had the recipe for, spritz cookies in the same shade as the icing, and fruit cake cookies.
The fruitcake cookies were ubiquitous to my childhood Christmases. We had them at home, if I went to a friend's house, they were pretty much guaranteed to be sitting on the counter there as well. My grandmother always had them, and I can remember eating them at church get-togethers.
The funny thing is, I didn't really like those cookies. They were white and bland, and filled with artificial, chemical tasting candied fruit. That was it. The cookie was just an innocuous vehicle for candied fruit and citron, along with a small amount of nuts. I didn't like fruitcake, well, not the one's I'd been exposed to at this point in my life, and I didn't like the overly sweet, artificial taste of candied fruit. Yet, every year, I looked forward to those cookies, and I anticipated their appearance on the kitchen counter.
The only time I ever saw those cookies was at Christmas time. One taste of that chemical, bitter citron and I knew that Christmas was really almost here. When you're 10 years old, that's a pretty big deal.
I thought about those cookies as I tried to jump start my holiday spirit, so I set out to make them. There was a problem; nobody but me remembered them. I guess they must have been some 70's fad from a women's magazine or something, because I couldn't remember the last time I had them, and I couldn't find anyone who even knew what I was talking about.
I started pouring through my collection of Holiday cooking magazines. I finally found a recipe that I thought might be close, so I made them, along with toffee and pecan tassies and far, far more sweets that we could ever hope to eat in three Christmases. I played Christmas music the whole time I baked, and by the time I had the counter filled with goodies, I had made it through the whole day without thinking of you know who.
Satisfied with my day's work, I made a pot of coffee and sat down with one of my cookies. It was a pale, golden white and had a very faint vanilla smell. I bit in. The moment that tang of candied citron hit my tongue, I could see my Mom's old kitchen. I could imagine the little Santa shaped cocoa mugs that lined the bar, and I could smell the Christmas tree. (Flocked, with a color wheel on it) It worked. Make no mistake, this cookie is a far cry from Proust's madeleine, but it accomplished it's goal.
Later, when the kids came home, they surprised me by liking those cookies. I made several more batches, and experimented a bit. I tried substituting first some, and then all of the candied fruit for dried. I used apricots and dried cranberries, even dried cherries. While the dried fruit may have made a better cookie, it was not the Christmas cookie of my memory, for that, it needs the candied citron.
This year, I needed the same boost, so last Friday, I put on the Christmas CD's, I made a pot of Earl Grey, and I baked these cookies. Maybe someday my kids will fondly remember me in the kitchen baking these, and always associate that memory with Christmas.
I hope so.
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups AP flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cottage cheese (small curd, creamy - don't use low fat)
2 Tab milk
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup mixed candied fruit with citron * see note below
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Lightly mix in half of the flour. Add the next 7 ingredients, mix until well combined, stopping to scrape the sides occasionally. Stir in the remainder of the flour, and the fruit and nuts.
Bake at 375 F for 10-12 minutes on parchment paper. Cool on a rack. This recipe makes about 30 cookies for me.
* The fruit should be chopped much finer than it comes out of the container. To accomplish this, I lightly oil my knife with vegetable oil. It makes the job much, much easier.
A final note -
The title of this post is an obvious reference to Proust's great work. In recent years, it has become de rigueur to refer to this work as In Search Of Lost Time. I thought the earlier title better served my purpose, but after re-reading this post, I'm not so sure. Searching for lost time is a fair description of my blog, n'est-ce pas?