Ghosts of Christmas Pastry
you write about the Christmas cookies yet?Ē a friend asked
I was on the phone, cradling it between shoulder and ear,
my hands deep in dough, the column deadline looming.
donít write about my Christmas cookies,Ē I told him. ďYou
donít know what itís like. I have a very personal relationship
with my Christmas cookies.Ē
sure you do,Ē he said, mollifying. ďBut maybe itís time for
you to spill the beans.Ē
the cookies,Ē I said.
he said, ďYou can do it. Write about the Christmas cookies.Ē
But see, itís like this: I come from a family of fine bakers.
I was the youngest kid and the competition was tough. My mother
made astonishing Danish tidbits and pastries. My sister makes
tiny cakes of multi-colored layers of marzipan mortared together
with apricot preserves and glazed with chocolate.
It took me a while to hit my cookie stride.
But all that pressure kind of warped me in a way, too. Because
Iím not very generous when it comes to Christmas cookies.
Maybe it has something to do with birth order, who can say?
I bake lots of Christmas cookies. But itís been years since
Iíve given away plates of Christmas cookies to my friends.
Because I know what happens with Christmas cookies and you
do, too: Somebody gives you a plateful and the anise flavor
mixes with the butter cookies and the meringues are sodden
from the jam leaking from the thumbprints and the biscotti
are hard enough to crack your fillings.
You eat two of them and leave the rest for Santa.
I donít like the thought of Santa getting all my butter cookies.
The way I see it is, anybody who wants my cookies has to go
to the trouble of coming to get them (though I suppose you
could argue thatís just what Santa does).
Look, I know this is not a very mature attitude. Iím not very
mature when it comes to cookies.
Take the shortbread, for instance.
I was at a party the other night and somebody tried telling
me that Scottish shortbread was the ne plus ultra of
all other claims to the shortbread name.
Iíve had Scottish shortbread, I said with a shrug that sent
my crab roll flying. It was OK, I said.
But what I didnít say was mine is better. More buttery, saltier,
crumblier. Itís shortbread to make a MacDougal weep with envy.
I stopped short of saying all that. I was at a party and it
would have been rude.
Nor did I talk about the espresso shortbread. I started making
that two years ago.
Itís all about sibling rivalry, I know that. But my sister
has already been declared the Maker of the Perfect Apple Pie.
I wasnít about to let her edge into the shortbread territory.
Not that hers isnít adequate. Itís fine. Rolled out a little
thin, if you ask me. And she cuts it into little stars. But
really, brown stars? So much for verisimilitude.
I like my shortbread thicker. I cut it in the shape of sturdy
little Christmas trees. If Robert Frost were alive he might
even write a poem about my shortbread Christmas trees. Maybe.
I also make anise cookies.
And chocolate pepper cookies.
When I was in seminary I got the bright idea to buy feet-
and hand-shaped cookie cutters with the politically-correct
thought that I would make light cookies and dark cookies in
the shape of hands and feet as a sign of racial harmony.
People shouldnít try to make humanitarian statements with
Because after Iíd rolled out and cut the dough, baked the
cookies and lined them up on racks to cool, I looked down
at what I had done. There were 30 disembodied black hands
and 30 disembodied white hands. There were 30 pairs of disembodied
black and white feet. I felt I ought to be brought up on human
rights abuses charges.
But the cookies sure were tasty. Now I make them as interracial
angels. Fewer body parts to mess with.
Which was why Iíve dropped chestnut fingers from my cookie
repertory. Each year Linnea asks me if Iím going to make them.
Each year I lie and tell her I canít find the chestnut puree
in the supermarket. Because something went awry with the chestnut
What happened was, after Iíd baked up a batch of 50 and laid
them all out on the counter before me, they sure didnít look
like fingersówhich was a relief, given my past experiences.
Trouble was, they didnít look like much of anything. Just
skinny, 3-inch long cylinders of dull brown dough. To truly
be a successful cookie they needed that certain je ne sais
Chocolate, I figured. That will be a fast fixówhich was a
good thing since it was one in the morning and the chardonnay
So I melted some chocolate and coated one end of each little
cookie and laid it back out on the counter to dry. When I
was finished I stood back to assess the effect.
The 50 chestnut fingers certainly had acquired a recognizable
shape. Sometimes a chestnut finger is not just a chestnut
finger. No sir, not a bit. And, at that moment, I was relieved
I didnít have any sons who might become alarmed when they
took the lid off the cookie tin.
Anyway, itís a new year and Iím back at work rolling and cutting
and shaping and icing. Coconut pyramids, anise angels, espresso
trees, shortbread fingers, bittersweet truffles, coriander
crescents, chocolate teddy bears. Come and get them.
can contact Jo Page at email@example.com