Our kitchen was very busy yesterday. In addition to Jim’s beer bottling and racking, I was deeply involved in my usual holiday activity of baking cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. We split the kitchen down the middle and went about our merry ways. A great deal was accomplished!
A long time ago, an in-law gave me a wonderful Christmas gift.
Now, this is quite the cook book. It is ALL about cookies of all sorts European, with a smattering of breads thrown in. I have not actually made any of the breads, although they sound delightful. I have made many of the cookies. That this is a well loved and very much used book is quite evident the second you open it.
Upon my first perusal, I was intrigued by the many recipes that included notations like “These store well for 3-4 weeks” and “Improves with age”. At the time, Jim was on active duty in the Navy, and this included many sojourns that were long and far away. From bitter experience I had learned how poorly some favorite baked goods fared on their extended travels to foreign ports, where they sometimes languished for weeks before the ship arrived to collect the mail that had accumulated during its sea passage. The idea that there were cookies that could travel and arrive even better than they were when they left home intrigued me.
Of course, I didn’t quite trust the long keeping storage claims until I had tried them out for myself. As difficult as it was, I managed to put aside a tin of the Honey lebkuchen squares for a month or so and discovered that the author was not putting me on. Jim was delighted to receive the baked goods that I started making. I received reviews from shipmates that were positive as well.
One of the things I discovered right away was that there were ingredients that were challenging to acquire. One of those ingredients was candied orange and lemon peels. At the time I lived in San Francisco, and the only place I was able to discover these items was an obscure shop in Oakland. In addition to the inconvenience of going all the way over there to acquire this item, they were VERY dear indeed. I searched my library of cookbooks (this was before the internet and Recipesource.com, if you can believe I am so old!) and was able to find a recipe for candying citrus peels. I tried it out and it worked like a charm.
I have never tried to buy candied peels again. It was too easy to do. I was delighted to receive organic lemons from the home place in California so that I could make truly chemical free candied lemon peels. Well, I could do this when I was able to beg some from the limoncello maker… quite a lot of competition for lemon peels exists in this house! They are also necessary for freshly grated lemon peel, which is also an ingredient often called for in the Festive Baking cookbook.
Over the years, I have ruminated about the thrifty character of the Germanic housewife. I put myself back into the 18th and 19th centuries when many of these recipes were developed. Imagine….. It is the holiday season and you want to make delectable delights for the seasonal celebrations. Normally you would be looking for large quantities of eggs and butter for this sort of thing, but it is icy cold and dark outside. Your hens are sulking and the cow’s production of milk has dropped, plus the butterfat content of said milk is barely detectable. What to do?
Many of these recipes call for honey and sugar and flour as major ingredients, all things that store well. The only fats used are those found in the ground nuts. Perhaps one egg is used in the recipe, perhaps another one for the glaze. Or there is a shortbread type of cookie, requiring lots of butter, but not a single egg. Then there are the whisked egg/sugar method cookies, which ask for no butter. Additionally, if you are the sort of gal who thinks ahead, you can make your wonderful confections and cookies months in advance, store them on the top shelf of your pantry and bring them out when the parties begin.
No waste is produced. If there is a recipe that calls for an egg yolk, down the way there is a recipe that calls only for egg white. Or you save all those whites and make meringue cookies, which have an amazingly long shelf life. Do you need freshly grated lemon peel? No doubt the same recipe that calls for that ingredient requires the juice of one lemon for the icing recipe. I have an image of the household management requiring all oranges and lemons used on the place to be carefully peeled, and the peels set aside until enough have accumulated for a batch of candied peel to be produced. This is stored away for future reference; it is called for in large quantities all over this book. Some cookie recipes require over a cup of candied mixed orange and lemon peel.
I have also wondered if there are a lot of almond trees in central Europe. Almonds and hazelnuts are used in impressively large quantities, as compared to the very conservative amounts of eggs and butter asked for.
Whatever, all musings aside, I have now made seven different kinds of cookies, all of which keep for weeks. The varieties that do not have such a sterling shelf life are due to be made in a couple of weeks.
From the top, clockwise: Vanilla crescents, Basle leckerli, honey lebkuchen squares, molasses spice cookies, ginger cookies, almond sticks, and in the center, pfefferneuse.
Jim got all excited when I made up that plate for the photo op. He thought maybe I was putting some cookies out that didn’t fit in the tins and needed to be eaten. I believe I need to make that good man up his own plate based on how his face fell when he learned that the plate had been emptied back into the tins!