Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cookie Sunday

I have spoken quite often of the traditional annual celebrations enjoyed by Keith's family and this particular event is one of the most fascinating for me. I haven't been able to attend for several years but this year I did and experienced Cookie Sunday in all of its mad crazy glory.

I've told many of my friends about my first experience with Cookie Sunday. I admit that, at that time, I went with a fully preconceived notion: I assumed it to be a pleasant and sedate afternoon of cookie baking and coffee sipping. I knew that the women of the family gathered at one of their homes to bake several types of cookies. Each family member then gets several containers featuring a collection of all of the cookies baked. The men of the family spend the day pursuing varied manly pursuits such as hunting, working on cars or overthrowing small countries and then join the festivities for a huge family dinner as the baking is reaching conclusion. Sounds like a slice of Pleasantville, does it not? Imagine my surprise when I walked in to that particular Cookie Sunday to be greeted by Anne calling out, "You're just in time for Jello Shots!" Whaaaaa....?

That's right.....Cookie Sunday with this fun-loving family is indeed a celebration and yes, there are specially embroidered aprons and cute little gifts of hot cocoa and such, but these women do not play when it comes to mass cookie production. They,together, become the Cookie Machine and you need to get out of their way. The first time I experienced Cookie Sunday, I tried to help and instead just found myself accomplishing no more than being a hopeless and hapless stumbling block. I instead just cowered in the corner and watched the madness.

Madness it is, believe me. I returned this year excited to capture Cookie Sunday for the blog. Cookie Sunday was hosted by Keith's Mom Helen this year which made it convenient for us as we were staying there that night. Keith and I agreed to get a head start and bake our cookies the night before. Everyone also contributes to the Sunday evening dinner as well and Keith chose an artisan bread recipe for French boule, a round crusty bread. I chose a recipe for Black and White cookies from the venerable King Arthur Flour cookbook. Everyone typically bakes several types of cookies so we also went with a Chocolate Pecan Tassie recipe borrowed from our friend Betty Bissell. Keith mixed up the bread dough to chill overnight and we baked the cookies for our Half and Half cookies the night before as well.

Cookie Sunday arrived and following a hearty breakfast at Dudley's in Apache Flats ( I kept calling it Rascal Flatts), we brought Aunt Ruthie home to begin the day. Ruthie entertained us with tales of praying the rosary when walking and being questioned by border patrol about the abundance of vanilla they were bringing home on a recent Panama Canal cruise. My twisted mind went truly tabloid with these stories and I found myself picturing Ruthie in a nun's habit getting busted by border cops for smuggling illegal vanilla. This was the quiet beginning....the aroma of the first cookies wafting from the oven, the first cocktail being poured, Keith and I icing our cookies with the vanilla and chocolate frosting we made ourselves. The silence would slowly be shattered by the arrivals of various family members and soon, the Machine would be in full motion. The cookies would be baked in quick succession, the doughs formed at a rapid pace, the trays lined back to back.....an endless conveyor belt of cookies was created. Once again, I tried to help but in my efforts to photograph the event I would find myself in the way again. As the cookies are baked, a "staging" area is set up in another area to place them once baked. In this home, the area was set up in the garage next to Ken's restored 1958 Corvette. I was volunteered to help stage the cookies in the garage and I kept visualizing myself taking a tumble with a tray of treats and landing in that treasured car. Thankfully, that didn't happen but I kept getting distracted and was told I "was falling behind" in my job. As the family grew so did the madness, and soon children were running, laughter was erupting and wine corks were popping. Remote control cars started to zip into the kitchen. Appetizers were set up and among my favorites were Anne's cheese and pepper dip and Parmesan bites as well as Jill's enchilada dip(pictured at right). Soon, I realized it was best to just back away and avoid being scalped by a scalding hot cookie pan. Keith and I found ourselves in the living room just letting the Cookie Machine rock on unfettered. Now, those of you that know me understand that a female-heavy atmosphere is a welcome one and that I don't need to find a more masculine activity instead. Interestingly enough though, Keith and I decided this was a good time to go buy a replacement headlight for his truck and to load firewood for the trip home. Yes, Virginia, even we had to take a break from the female frivolity.

When we returned, freshly masculated, we rejoined the craziness. At this point, multitudes of baked goodness were lining up in the garage. The young ones, Caitlyn and Sierra made their own creative concoctions. Even baby Lindsay made her first Cookie Sunday cookie. The downstairs kitchen was in full employ at this point so there were two floors of baking going on. We would bake our tassies here after creating them on the top of the meat freezer. Crock pots of clam chowder, chicken and various other cuisines were plugged in every room in preparation for dinner. Several new cookies made their debut this year and a couple of them were created by the newest Cookie Sunday recruit: Nanna, the exchange student from Denmark staying with Rhonda and Brett. Nanna made some Danish specialties including Marzipans and a cocoa and coconut treat called harregryns kulger. As amazing and overwhelming as I find Cookie Sunday, I can only imagine what Nanna was thinking but she was a workhorse right along with the rest of the ladies. The new creations were wonderful but thankfully the treasured traditions remained...Helen's Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, the chocolate-cherry drops and the Mother of Them All: Jill's revered Monster cookies. I look forward to those bad boys every year.

As the afternoon wore on, the smoke alarm would go off twice, and the cookie baking would give way to dinner prep. Rhonda was making luscious-looking homemade egg noodles, Helen brought out her clam chowder, Jill made the deliciously garlicky Madison's Salad and Dave whipped up his soon-to-be-a-tradition black bean soup. Unfortunately, this meant Keith and I had to prepare to leave as we had a long drive home. We quickly chowed down, boxed up our cookies and said our goodbyes.

I am forever blown away by the annual traditions Keith's family enjoys. The family members are so used to them that they probably take them for granted a bit but to those of us who are newer to the group, these events are quite astonishing and frankly, quite wonderful to witness. Oh, yeah, Cookie Sunday is a good time for sure but to those of us not used to these truly unique family celebrations, it seems to be an amazing way to celebrate family ties. In fact, these folks are so close that this particular Cookie Sunday was conspicuous by the absence of one of their own: Rhonda and Brett's daughter Morgan who recently joined the military would be in boot camp and unable to attend. Morgan, you were greatly missed by everyone and it wasn't the same without you.

Cookie Sunday has come and gone and rocked my world once again. It's no wonder that it's considered an annual event as I think everyone needs a full year to recover until the next one.

Long live Cookie Sunday.

Here's the recipe for our Black and White cookies (which turned out really well) courtesy of The King Arthur Flour Cookbook...and yes, this counts as Cookbook Challenge #13:




Cookies

  • 1 cup butter*
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil, or 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind (we used lemon zest)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (we didn't have the KA kind, just store-bought)
  • 1 cup milk (regular or low-fat; not nonfat)
  • *If you use salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe to 1 teaspoon

Vanilla icing

  • 3 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • *For the whitest icing (at the cost of reduced flavor), omit the vanilla (actually, we used clear vanilla to ensure whiteness)

Chocolate icing

  • 2 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
  • 3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (chips, or chunks), melted

Directions

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

2) To make the cookies: Beat together the butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, lemon, and vanilla till well combined.

3) Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4) Stir in the flour alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Do this gently; there's no need to beat.

5) Using a muffin scoop or a 1/4-cup measure, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. With wet fingers, or the wet bottom of a measuring cup, flatten/spread the dough to a 3"-diameter circle. Leave 2" to 2 1/2" between each cookie; they'll spread.

6) Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until they're set, and are perhaps a very light golden brown around the edges. If there's no sign of brown, that's OK. Cookies baked for 10 minutes will be quite moist. Cookies baked for 12 minutes will be drier, and more "authentic." Bake for 11 minutes for an in-between cookie.

7) Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool them right on the pan. As they cool, prepare the icing.

8) To make the vanilla icing: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, and hot water. For a nice vanilla flavor, add the vanilla; for the whitest icing, omit it.

9) Spread the icing over half of each cookie. Place them on a rack to set while you make the chocolate icing.

10) To make the chocolate icing: Combine the confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, hot water, and espresso powder. stirring till smooth.

11) In the microwave, or in a pan set over very low heat, melt the chocolate.

12) Add the melted chocolate into the sugar mixture, stirring till well combined.

13) Spread the icing on the uncovered half of each cookie. You'll have a generous amount of icing, so don't be afraid to pile it on.

14) Set the cookies back on the rack, and allow them to rest for about 30 minutes, till the icing is set.

15) For best storage, wrap each cookie individually, in plastic wrap, and store at room temperature.

Yield: 2 dozen large (3 3/4" to 4") cookies

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great reminder of how wonderful this family is...you are correct, it is easy to take for granted. Thank you for bringing my blessings to light!
Love you,
Kim

Anonymous said...

Its truely a great story! It brings back memories of my grand mother and I baking for the holidays. I'm a car freak as you know - so I may have had to drive that vette!

David Lee said...

Great story Greg, as usual. Good luck on driving that Vette, though. I've seen it moved from that spot twice in fourteen years.

Willie said...

Greg, once again, Thanks for sharing such wonderful family traditions!!! As you know, our family have a few traditions, but unfortunately Cookie Sunday isn't one of them. Mom always did the baking and we were better for it! Her Date Pinwheels always steal the show!!! Hope to see you and Keith over the Holidays!

Kristy said...

Having my own Cookie Sunday this weekend with Princess Daughter. On tap are my giant chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin (yes, we are trying this again after a 3 yr hiatus as the first time Daughter forgot to put the sugar in the dough and completely freaked out) and my infamous Snickerdoodles. However your post has given me an idea for a new cookie in honor of your particular Cookie Sunday with a redneck twist. This cookie is reminiscent of thumbprint cookies with no real baking required. All it requires is a case of Moonpies from your favorite quickshop, jello and Everclear grain alcohol. Prepare the jello shots as normal. Put them in the little plastic pill containers that you get at the hospital. Once those are set up press the jello shot container and all into the middle of the Moonpie. As you will probably have more jello shots than moonpies, garnish your platter of cookies with remaining shots and sprigs of pine for a festive holiday presentation. I'll let you know how they turn out. P.S. I want an extra large bottle of Advil for Christmas. Make sure they are the 500 mg not the 200 mg. Wouldn't wanna damage my liver taking too many at one time you know. LOL!

Confounded Cook said...

Redneck thumbprints....that's cookie madness waiting to happen. Guaranteed to burst into flames....

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