Sneeze, crumple, aimless toss, miss. There is an ever-growing parade of crumpled tissues surrounding the oval trash can next to my bed. From overhead, the tissues on the floor easily number enough to cover a high school homecoming float. Too tired for Netflix, too feverish to read, the harsh reality of a mid-winter cold is it's as unwelcome as a sub-par tissue against a crimson nose. Medical offices tend to stock under-sized, scratchy tissues from flimsy boxes. On a recent Friday morning, I’m ¾ of the way through a box of thin-ply tissues way before a pair of cordovan leather loafers pause at the doorway. The doctor reads my chart, glances at me and immediately dons a mask. The nurse practitioner has noticed my steady tissue dispensing and reaches into a glass-doored supply cabinet for a fresh box. She suggests I keep the one I have adding, “you look like you really need it.” I want to thank her but the words unleash a ferocious tickle followed by what I refer to as the Marlboro Man cough. I drain the flimsy tissue box of the last one.
Both the doctor and my local pharmacy, (the one known for its register-receipt- coupon-generosity) commend me for having gotten a flu shot earlier in the season.
Still, whatever malaise has taken up residency in my ear is the gift that keeps on giving. Both doctor and patient are more than anxious to derail the culprit who has stayed far too long and is reluctant to leave without a little intervention. I wait on a slim chair behind the screen reserved for flu shot participants. At the moment, no one is participating and the pharmacist seems pleased to have me tucked away, out of plain sight. When my prescriptions are ready, the enthusiastic cashier reminds me of all of the savings I’ve accumulated and hands me enough register tape to wallpaper my kitchen.
Before making the Sherpa-less trek up the stairs and back to bed, I cobble together a cold beverage, a hot beverage and a bowl of mandarins. Had I taken the time to peruse my pharmacy coupons, I could have taken advantage of the very generous two dollars off store-brand Vitamin C tablets. My preferred kind of Vitamin C allows you to peel back the skin, unleashing each sweet/tart segment. Before climbing into bed, I gather up the tissue parade float from the floor, tossing it into the trash. I will not venture down the stairs again until my hankering for chicken soup overrides my desire to sleep.
Loretta Robertoy remains my go-to whenever cherry pie demands my attention. Answering the phone at Hyline Orchards since 1958, the matriarch of the orchard and farm market calls Fish Creek, Wisconsin home. I’ve been chatting with her since 1984 when we first opened A Slice of Heaven in Philadelphia. Loretta is a great-grandmother these days, but continues to run the business alongside her husband, Marvin. Hyline cherries played a prominent role in A Slice of Heaven’s menu, featured not only in pie but enhancing steaming bowls of steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. Cherries arrived frozen in plastic tubs, methodically wrapped in the Advocate, the local newspaper, then slipped into large plastic bags and knotted securely. The knots reflected Midwestern capability- sturdy, no-nonsense and requiring a dickens of a time to undo. I suspect that Loretta implemented the non-negotiable tying of the knots. Loretta has consistently provided cherry support when I needed it most.
When cherry pie was on the menu for Molly O’Neill’s expansive LongHouse Food Revival in Rensselaerville, NY, I called Loretta. It was Loretta who saved me from a commitment I had made for a ridiculous number of cherry pies for Showtime’s Tribute To Twin Peaks, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a few years back. And for the past 8 years, when Cupid schedules a February fly-by through Maplewood, NJ, Loretta’s phone rings in Fish Creek.
Connecting with Loretta by phone is not always easy. Loretta divides her time between the house and the store, and has no interest in computer generated customer relations. Loretta retains most information in her head, which she then transfers to an order pad of fine lined paper. Non-smudge resistant carbon paper provides the duplicate copy which is kept somewhere on Loretta’s desk. The challenge in ordering from Loretta is that her long-term memory insists that I still own a restaurant in Philadelphia.
“You’re in Pennsylvania, aren’t ya?” she always says when we finally get down to the business of my shipping address.
“No, not anymore,” I remind her. “I’m in New Jersey.”
“Right,” Loretta replies. “Let me have your address again at the restaurant.”
“It’s a bakery,” I remind her. “The restaurant was in Philadelphia a long time ago. I’m in New Jersey now.”
“We’ll ship these out in a few days. You should have them next week, unless the weather is bad. It might take a little longer.”
It always takes a little longer because Loretta is a busy woman. Sometimes the shipping department at Hyline Orchards needs a gentle reminder, a second phone call. Always surprised that the cherries haven’t yet shipped, Loretta lets me know that she’s currently in the house but will walk over to the store and get things rolling. This second phone call gives us an opportunity to revisit my current address, and reminisce about the time the cherries were sent to Philadelphia.
On our most recent phone call, Loretta told me that the Winter Carnival was scheduled for the weekend, and despite the mild weather forecast, if there was an abundance of snow, the cherries might not ship for a few days. I told her I understood, gave her my address once again, and promised I’d call when the cherries arrived.
Three days later, a weighty corrugated box arrived, postmarked Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Still frosty on the inside, the label advised, Door County Frozen Cherrys.
Keep Frozen – and then in fine print, “Use in your favorite cherry pie recipe or as a topping or eat as they are.” Pretty good cherry advice, no doubt dictated by Loretta. After unwrapping the box and securing two tubs in the walk-in and two tubs in the overcrowded freezer, I stepped outside and called Loretta to let her know the cherries had arrived. The phone rang and rang until I was just about to hang up. Finally Loretta answered, slightly breathless. “I was in the house,” she replied. “Did you get the cherries?”
Of course, I did.
Valentine’s Day is a holiday that sparks division. Nowhere is this great divide more keenly evident than on a sugar cookie platter. With less than a week remaining, the countdown to February 14th feels less sentimental this year, a touch snarkier than in years past. Are we falling out of love with Cupid’s heart-driven holiday?
Much like New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day wants us to plan appropriately. Plans dependent upon long-stemmed roses and dinner for two at over-booked restaurants, generally yield over-priced mediocrity. I am not shy in voicing my opinion that second to Mother’s Day, Valentine’s is the holiday when dinner is best eaten at home, perhaps attired in the Pajama-grams you received in December.
February 14th and I have spent far too many retail days and nights together for me to embrace the holiday with enthusiasm. I will readily accept ownership of tossing the words “I Tolerate You” over my shoulder a few years back, when searching for a suitable flourless chocolate cake inscription. It should also be noted that I did not flinch when the conversation heart cookies took a turn from saccharine to sarcastic, when pastels were replaced by somber gray. This year, however, we’ve reached a tipping point.
Sugar cookies proclaiming their love are being elbowed off the yellow Fiestaware platter by conversation hearts sneering “not ever” and “you wish.” Cynicism penned in royal icing mirrors the way we’re feeling; far less sweet, infinitely more agitated about the world in general. Does this mean we should give Cupid the boot? Not necessarily.
Perhaps a healthier approach to February 14th is simply embracing it for what it is; an excuse to eat chocolate. And there’s plenty of stellar chocolate from which to choose. Unless you are tethered to the heart-shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates available at your neighborhood pharmacy/megastore, there are far better alternatives. You can start with the oversized Pound Plus block of bittersweet chocolate from Trader Joes. While you’re there, grab a small container of buttermilk, some butter, a little heavy cream, and a carton of eggs.
Chocolate Chess Pie can sweeten the Hallmark holiday that many of us love to hate. Why Chess Pie? Because it doesn’t require a huge time commitment and the end result is scrumptious. Based on humble ingredients, Chess Pie originally hailed from England before traveling across the pond and taking up residency in New England and throughout the south. Prone to many variations, Chess Pie is a custard pie, known for being a little heavy-handed with the sugar. Similar to many humble pies, its ease in preparation stemmed from the fact that the pie relied on four season ingredients that were available in most kitchen pantries. Over time, the early recipe morphed into variations incorporating the ingredients we liked best.
My long-time relationship with Chocolate Chess Pie played out at Philadelphia's Cafette restaurant. I lost count of the number of pies I baked there, but Chocolate Chess was a perennial favorite. Walnuts were key to the pie’s experience, but can certainly be omitted. Some versions include both nuts and raisins, but since we’re on this side of the pond, our enthusiasm for raisins in baked goods is lackluster. Either way, select a good-quality bittersweet chocolate and spike it with espresso and vanilla. Traditional Chess pie recipes instruct you to whisk some cornmeal into the filling, but as a pie rule breaker, I prefer to toss the cornmeal into the piecrust instead.
As someone with a chocolate-covered cherry Valentine’s history, (thanks, Dad) boozy cherries make a fine addition to this pie. Ditto for a sensible dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a tall glass of bubbles.
There are two major events vying for our attention this weekend. One involves a football and highly caloric eats, the other has us fixated on a groundhog with the power to determine the longevity of winter. I am only mildly interested in the latter.
The football portion of the weekend will go unnoticed in my little world; my disinterest in the game stems from more than enough rough-and-tumble touch football as a youngster. It was all fun and games until someone got hurt and with two older bothers, it always ended the same way. I will acknowledge however, the Super Bowl was a fine excuse for my mother to fill her shopping cart with fixings for Pigs-in-Blankets, a few bottles of popular and neon soft drinks, and a large red and yellow bag of Fritos corn chips. Even then it wasn’t about the game, it was about what was happening in the kitchen.
As for Punxsutawney Phil, he and I go way back to the days when jovial weatherman Willard Scott bounded across the television screen, interrupting my soggy breakfast cereal reverie. Willard captured the groundhog excitement, providing a play-by-play from Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania. The brouhaha generally reached its exciting conclusion just as I was racing down the driveway, attempting to catch the school bus. The unknowing was torturous; would Phil see his shadow and if so, was that a good thing? Was Phil a sunny-side-of-the-street groundhog and did the sun even shine in Gobbler’s Knob? I never could remember and quite honestly, regardless of what Phil saw or didn’t see, winter trudged along undeterred. (It seems counter-intuitive for a shadow sighting to trigger six more weeks of winter, but those are the facts.)
This weekend, Punxsutawney Phil will be represented in a sugar cookie likeness at the bakery, right alongside Super Bowl-appropriate sweets. I am less inclined to dabble in groundhog/football brown icings, more likely to focus my attention on seeding and slicing Meyer lemons. Regardless of whether the groundhog sees his shadow and retreats to a comfy den with his weighted blanket, or embraces a spring-like forecast, we remain in the thick of citrus season. This provides plenty of incentive for my sport of choice; a solitary pursuit requiring select kitchen equipment, no particular uniform, and boasting zero commercials. The half-time show is low-tech; simply rotating the baking sheet 180 degrees in the oven. The post-game show begins when I deem the baked good cool enough to slice and enjoy. Go, Pie, Go.
For anyone participating in Dry January or Clean Eating, we really don’t need any distractions. Being reminded to eat more pie by Pi(e) Day’s distant relation, National Pie Day, seems unfair. Elbowing it’s way onto the calendar, pie’s lesser-known celebration has chosen to land on the seemingly random date of January 23rd.
Originally credited to American engineer Charlie Papazian, Charlie proclaimed his birthday, January 23rd, as National Pie Day. The American Pie Council took up sponsorship of the holiday in 1986 on the date that coincided with the 75th anniversary of Crisco shortening. Aimed to increase sales of the famous blue-labeled shortening, the marketing ploy worked. Today, National Pie Day is recognized as yet another excuse to bake and eat pie. Hard-core Pi(e) Day loyalists remain tethered to March 14th, unwavering in their dedication to the mathematical/double crust celebration. Whether you choose the January or the March date, (and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating both) here’s a true tale from my workplace of the restorative power of pie.
I am convinced that pie is more powerful than any bar cookie or frosting slathered cupcake or gluten-free quick bread. Pie has a sixth sense- a way of knowing when it’s most needed. Pie prides itself on being the center of attention in November and again in late May and early July, but it seems to me, pie is most restorative on ordinary days.
About a year ago, a giant cloak of sadness, of profound loss, engulfed the bakery. While we were in the thick of it, pie helped cushion the blow. Not just in the eating, but in the baking. The repetitive nature of rolling and crimping, of juicing lemons and whisking eggs, peeling apples and weaving lattice, provided a welcome distraction. The term Misery Pie seemed an apt description; a dessert whose sole purpose was to alleviate the excruciating pain. As promised, the pain eased but never really went away. Grief seemed like a word reserved for people (other than hipsters) dressed in black, in a state of constant mourning, and it felt a little bit self-indulgent, so I renamed it Melancholy. Melancholy liked to breeze in and out, hiding around corners, jumping out and dragging me down when I least expected it, but allowing me to get on with my day.
Strongly believing that most days can benefit from a triangular slice of pie, a faux food calendar telling me to celebrate National Pie Day feels hollow. Eyeing a stack of empty pie shells in the freezer and choosing how to fill them is enough of a reminder. Shivering in the walk-in and considering my options, cold storage apples feel better suited to fall. Folding up the hem of my apron to create a pocket, two lemons nestle easily into the linen-service-quality polyester. Cradling a flat of eggs and two quarts of buttermilk in my arms, I open the door of the walk-in with my elbow. No sooner do I start cracking eggs into a bowl and zesting the lemons, a customer walks through the bakery door, scanning the front table in hopes of a buttermilk pie. When asked if there was a chance I’d be baking the tangy custard pie any time soon, I hold up the orange capped Five Acre Farms Local buttermilk in reply.
Without prompting, the customer confides that she is having a bad day and a buttermilk pie might turn things around. Clearly, this wasn’t any old pie request; I sensed this was in fact, a Misery Pie. “My father passed away in December. It was his favorite,” she whispers. That not-so-old hole in my heart ached in sympathy. I nodded.
Pie seems to know when it’s needed. The same way a piecrust cradles a filling, protecting it from the heat of the oven, pie can also cushion us from some of life’s harshest realities. The English writer and dramatist John Lyly, is credited for a series of books written around 1579, titled, Euphues. Lyly wrote, “In misery it is great comfort to have a companion.” It seems plausible that on certain days, faux or factual holiday, or plain old Thursday, pie makes a fine companion, indeed.
Nothing wipes the smile off the face of a gingerbread man faster than the month of January. A few short weeks ago, overstuffed cookie boxes were in all their insta-glory, only to be replaced in January by vegan breakfast bowls. No wonder we’re feeling curmudgeonly; we’re hangry.
The sugar buoyancy we experienced in December is gone, replaced by sacrifices made in the name of clean eating. We’re not drowning our January selves in pink packets of Sweet-n-Low or heaping spoonfuls of Cremora into our cuppa joe, but the New Year changes things. Splashing soy in our coffee, and oat milk in our oatmeal, we bump up our water intake, hanging our January selves out to dry. Adding a shot of bitters to a glass of seltzer might be good for our health, but it doesn’t take the sting out of a long workday.
Clean slates and diet trends change with the times. We once swore by Atkins and oat bran, grapefruits and South Beach. We hunted, we gathered, counted points, and tried to slim fast. Carbs were good until they were bad, kale was king until cauliflower thought it was pizza. You can’t fool me; a sheet pan cradling oven-roasted vegetables cries out for melted cheese. If we could navigate our wellness journey with ease, we would certainly download the app with the most expedient route. Instead, we’re stuck in late night traffic with a driver who can’t decide between WAZE and Google Maps. From the back seat I want to tell the driver to take the butter-sugar-flour-eggs-it.
There are plenty of faux food holidays to embrace. A few days ago, National Bagel Day slipped into town, but without so much as a slab or a schmear of a greeting, I missed it. My workplace is already in the throes of February planning. Christmas Red has been bumped out of line by Rose Pink and the Christmas cookie cutters have been relegated to an airtight bin for hibernation. Sprinkle King is gearing up for the diets-be-damned holiday with a vast collection of sugar hearts and edible pearls. Above the din of the espresso machine pumping out skinny drinks, you can hear the sound of the bakery door slamming. A disgruntled, solitary gingerbread man sees himself out.
January takes a little getting used to. A snow-globe’s worth of flurries isn’t dire, but faced with a long road of winter yet to travel, I’m already itching for spring. My kitchen clogs remain firmly planted on the same brown and yellow linoleum squares they frequented in 2019, within earshot of early morning caffeine-ators. There’s been a lot of conversation this week about less dairy and zero sugar and sheet pan vegetables. Reaching for my insulated cup spiked with two shots of espresso and capped with whole milk foam, I’m thinking how much better my coffee would taste with a little laminated dough swirled with dark chocolate. Someone is going on about sheet pan dinners and meal prep. Remembering when sheet pans were called cookie sheets and meal prep was just making dinner, I’m already irritated and it’s not even 9 o’clock. Thank goodness I didn’t weigh myself down with a list of impractical resolutions about being patient and understanding.
January cautions us to be mindful but my mind is elsewhere. A recent foray into a top shelf of cookbooks unearthed a recipe, clipped from a box of Nabisco graham cracker crumbs. The cardboard is rough on the underside, smooth and perfectly legible on the topside. It’s a recipe for "Graham Cracker Pie" wedged alongside a recipe for "Rich Vanilla Cream Pie." Both recipes are basically identical; custard and meringue in a graham cracker crust.
Graham cracker crumbs tossed with melted butter and sugar were an integral part of Jessie’s piecrust repertoire. The crumbs were also used to stretch along the bottom and up the sides of a cavernous springform pan, a vessel for cheesecake as award-worthy as Lindy’s or Junior’s. The same graham cracker crumbs lined Pyrex pie plates, playing host to custards and creams. One of our favorites was a humble vanilla cream crowned with toasted meringue. The filling required a stove-top application, and was the same custard Jessie used to fill éclairs, cream puffs, and Boston cream pie. Jessie had a tendency to “fix” recipes and in this case, she always bumped up the number of egg yolks, creating a richer custard than what was called for, and increasing the number of whites for a loftier meringue.
Our version of vanilla cream pie was no different than the pies dubbed “Prairie Pie” and “Flapper Pie,” homespun desserts made from simple ingredients tethered to no particular season. Prairie Pie dates back to the 19th century, a pie that enjoyed popularity throughout western Canada. Scrappy bakers all across the country offer a similar version of this vanilla cream pie. In the 1920s, “Prairie Pie” was contemporized with the name “Flapper Pie,” and in some recipes, cinnamon (which was more costly) was added to the graham cracker crust. The women behind the pie plates in Prairie kitchens were less likely to rouge their knees, but they knew how to transform farmhouse staples into gossamer desserts. For those of us in suburban kitchens, if the milkman didn’t deliver fresh milk and eggs, we turned to our local A&P or Waldbaum’s.
Vanilla cream pie with toasted meringue in a graham cracker crust feels like January. It’s not particularly fussy, but it’s flashy enough. It’s exactly the kind of pie to ease the January blues, to forgive resolutions broken or never made. It reminds us that even the most humble of desserts, a pie popularized well over 100 years ago, is still relevant. “Flapper” pie was so-named to mirror a time when women were questioning political, cultural, and technological advances. The more pie changes, the more it stays the same.
Armed with a remote control, I watched 2020 waltz into town Tuesday night from the comfort of a sofa in Toronto. Ryan Seacrest was at the helm of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in Times Square. Canadian crooner Bryan Adams headlined from Niagara Falls. Just before midnight, I flipped the channels, stumbling across Celebration Square, Mississauga. You can always distinguish the Canadian revelers from the New Yorkers. Canadians dress in smart Canadian winter jackets, laughing in the face of wind, water, and snow. New Yorkers are more fixated on slimming pouffy waist-length jackets and oversized Party City New Year’s eyeglasses. I suspect it’s a cultural thing.
I’m not sorry/sooory to wave good-bye to 2019. It was a year as mercurial as a bowl of egg whites and sugar, with some lofty highs and far too many lows to count. In my line of work, the year spins like the gears on a Kitchen-Aid mixer, accelerating from modest holidays to dangerously high-speed holidays. In the confines of a bakery, we’re in the business of making lives a little sweeter, a little more (or a lot less) gluten-y, a little nutty, unless of course you’re allergic. In most cases, we’re here to help you douse your everyday in caffeine and celebrate with copious amounts of butter and sugar.
A bakery strives for success every single day. When things go wrong, the epic fails feel monumental; until the next one comes along. Some of the failures are out of our control, like oven timers with laryngitis. Others are tethered to human error, cold and flu season, a finite labor pool. Like egg whites and sugar clinging optimistically to the sides of an impeccably grease-free bowl, I dream of success with every pie. I want the crust to be flaky and the filling to be memorable. It should be the kind of pie that announces itself when you carry the bakery box through your front door and set it on the kitchen counter. It should be a pie that beckons you to cut one more sliver before you leave the table and another morning sliver with your first cup of coffee. There’s nothing cavalier about pie baking. Pie is needy and finicky and seldom perfect. On Thanksgiving, all of the pies nag, tugging at the sleeves of my bathrobe. The pies of 2019 were no different.
Not much will change in the minutiae of my New Year. I’m not one for resolutions or monumental adjustments. Maybe I’ll eat more vegetables and fewer cheesy puffs; probably not. A new decade is humbling, reminding us that the oven timer of life continues to tick down. Seasons and holidays will once again tumble one into the other like dominoes, empty pie shells will haunt. Pie-bye, 2019. Sorry to see you go; not sorry.
We were never a doughnuts-for-Hanukkah family. Sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts fried in oil certainly had their place at the Hanukkah table, but not ours. We preferred the miracle of light to shine on crispy-edged potato latkes, sizzling on repeat in the West-Bend electric fryer. Brisket, delicious as it was, served as a vehicle for the latkes, accompanied by blush-pink applesauce and sour cream. Dessert was often an after-thought because we were focusing on Hanukkah’s raison d’etre- lighting the Menorah and unwrapping our gifts. Occasionally, Jessie or my grandmother would bake rugelach but they were time consuming and interfered with the latke production. More often than not, we opened yellow mesh bags of chocolate gelt, peeled away the gold foil and nibbled on waxy, milk chocolate. It was somewhat lackluster, but traditional.
Rugelach in Yiddush means “little twists.” My grandmother’s rugelach was a European-inspired yeast dough, coiled around raisins and walnuts, crunchy with cinnamon sugar, more of a pastry than a cookie. Jessie’s rugelach was an American-ized cream cheese dough, made popular by the Breakstone and Philadelphia cream cheese marketing teams. The dough was tender and flaky, made up of equal parts cream cheese, sweet butter, and flour. We tend to associate Hanukkah with dairy-rich foods. This makes rugelach the perfect Hanukkah dessert offering, unless you’re up to your elbows frying latkes.
My early rugelach days were tethered to the Oneg Shabbat following Friday night Temple services. Accompanied by tiny cups of Welch’s grape juice, rugelach dough swirled around apricot or raspberry jam, walnuts, and cinnamon sugar. The rugelach vacillated between fresh and crumbly, dense and dry. More enticing were the over-stuffed cream puffs and chocolate glazed eclairs, but rugelach was always front and center on the dessert table. Long before it was a catch phrase, I suspect rugelach suffered from a fear of missing out.
As a young adult, I learned to associate rugelach with the somber gathering of a Shiva call. There was nothing particularly special about any of the cookies fanned across the Saran wrapped platters. The chocolate chip cookies looked promising, but were always shy on chips. The twice-baked Mandelbrot had little personality, and the brownies always looked better than they tasted. A West-Bend coffee urn gurgled from the neighboring sideboard, filling the room with the rich aroma of Maxwell House or Chock-full-O’Nuts. It you brushed up against the sideboard too closely, a precarious stack of coffee cups and saucers rattled nervously. It was nearly impossible for a cookie to be jubilant in a tear-stained house of mourning. Rugelach deserved better.
Every December, I longed for Hanukkah to be equally represented amidst the overkill of Christmas sweets. I wanted a Hanukkah cookie unthreatened by overdressed gingerbreads, jammy thumbprints, be-decked-be-sprinkled spritzes. I felt rugelach had spent way too much time amidst mourners and was seeking a little joy. By adapting the fillings to the season, the variations were infinite. I set out to expand my rugelach repertoire.
I included the finicky pastry in my restaurant career, offering the tender cream cheese spirals at too many holidays, particularly Hanukkah. I added dark chocolate and raspberries, a generous handful of hazelnuts. Over time, I couldn’t keep up with the demand and had to limit the jammy crescents for occasions I deemed important. I rolled and shaped the spiral cookies for family gatherings, milestone events; even when that included sad farewells. There was something therapeutic about the rolling, the filling, and the shaping of the tender dough, something restorative about the repetition. It also became my favorite December cookie, less glittery than the dozens of Christmas cookies strutting their dragées across glossy magazine covers.
Rugelach dough provides as much inspiration as pounds of sugar cookie dough. It's festive enough for a late-night party or comfortable with hot tea in the afternoon. Apricot jam, walnuts, and cinnamon still have their place, but trying new flavors keeps the tedious process enjoyable. Inspired by my mother’s love for Meyer lemons, the sunny citrus is perfectly suited to the cream cheese dough. Replacing jam with a sweet/tart curd offers brightness and texture from the Meyer lemons. Pistachios
provide all the glitter necessary to make this a holiday cookie. The result is surprisingly out of character for a swirly rugelach; a welcome bit of sunshine amidst wind chills that only Santa dare brave. If I squirrel some away for Sunday, I won’t have to open a single foil-wrapped milk chocolate coin.
Based on brisk sales at work, it appears we need a little Christmas cookie, right this very minute. Sugar cookies are in the forefront being aggressively chased by gingerbread. It is a race we never can win.
I was always more of a rugelach girl, more comfortable with a cookie slightly akin to pie. Rugelach dough is tender, a cream cheese circle happy to embrace cinnamon sugar, plump raisins, and walnuts. Although fiddly to prepare, at Hanukkah, rugelach was the cookie yin to Barton’s chocolate gelt yang. Save for Spritz cookies, Christmas cookies were foreign territory. Jessie’s black-handled Mirro Aluminum Cookie Press with 12 interchangeable discs lived in the depths of one of the knotty-pine kitchen cabinets. In December, Jessie unearthed the gadgetry, inviting me to participate. It was never my forte; I didn’t have the right touch. Spritz-cookie-ing required squeezing just enough dough onto the cookie sheet but not too much. Jessie’s cookies were distinctive, easily recognizable. Dogs looked like dogs down to their tails, snowflakes and trees were unmistakable, boasting clean edges. Mine all looked pretty much the same. I was better suited to cut-out cookies, but Jessie had little time or inclination to be (direct quote) “fussin’ with all that icin’ nonsense.” Perhaps she was trying to save me from my future cookie self.
My current self must admit that decorating Christmas cookies is something I actually look forward to. Unlike pie, weighty with fruit, screaming hot around the edges, cookies are somewhat manageable. The quantity is totally unmanageable; the retail public actually clamors for thousands of cookies. The bakery will pump out exactly that; thousands. In my early days at the bakery, I was hired to decorate cookies for the Christmas season. Nine years later, I’ve racked up plenty of miles on the carpal-tunnel-odometer. Every time the piping bag misbehaves, or the Ameri-gel Christmas Red leaves its indelible mark on my fingers, I can’t help but think of Jessie and that black–handled Mirro Aluminum Cookie Press.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm