Tuesday, December 14, 2010

They're just cookies

When I was in high school, I was the show choir accompanist. I was nowhere as cool as the piano player with the beard in "Glee" who Husband loves, but I was pretty hardcore nevertheless. For example, I totally got mono from my boyfriend one December, during the show choir's busy season. I remember sitting at a baby grand at a country club somewhere robotically playing "Here Comes Santa Claus" while the choir director waved her hand in front of my face, trying to get my attention. I was really sick, but I would not stop. Must. Play. Christmas songs. And. Showtunes. At. All. Costs.

Anyway. Every so often I'd get to come out from behind the piano. One Christmas, the choir gathered in a charming vignette to sing an a capella version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." Several of us were chosen to interject lovely little spoken-word memories of Christmas. While my fellow show choir-ers talked about Santa Claus and gifts and youthful memories and elven magic, when it came my turn I said something like, "I remember coming home from church of Christmas Eve to delicious trays of cookies and coffee."

Yes, cookies and coffee. Baked goods are really important at Christmastime.

We would always bake our Christmas cookies from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, a tome about which I've gushed effusively in the space in the past. There were always chocolate crinkles, Russian teacakes, jubilee jumbles and lemon squares displayed artfully on a porcelain tray shaped like a Christmas tree. Well, it was artful for a second, but then we got our hands on the tray and all hell broke loose. Powdered sugar everywhere.

And then there were the cream wafers. Too delicate and pretty to be scarfed like the jubilee jumbles, I always thought of the cream wafers as "adult" cookies. They were fancy, and scalloped, and filled with a pastel frosting and coated in a thin layer of sparkling, sandy sugar. They were called "wafers." Clearly too grown-up to be inhaled by the children. For that reason, I hardly ever ate them when I was little. Which is completely ridiculous, you know, because they're just cookies. But in my little head, they were to be relished and savored in a way that demanded a certain maturity.

So now that I'm, like, mature and stuff, I made a batch. And they are amazing. And now I am kicking myself for missing out for so long. Decades lost to inaccurate cream wafer perception. Tragic.

Just think how compelling my spoken-word show-choir vignette contribution would have been had I been eating the cream wafers.


Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

The note in the book says, "Delicate pastry-like rounds with a rich filling. A lovely addition to the cooky trays for a tea or reception." Indeed. The dough bakes up almost like puff pastry, to the point that you have to dock it to prevent too much rise. Dainty and charming and melty on the tongue. Divine.

The dough has to chill for at least an hour, or overnight if you like. And if life gets in the way and you don't get back to your cream wafer dough for a few days, don't worry. The dough really can hold in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

The wafers:
1 c. unsalted butter
1/3 c. whipping cream
2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
About 1/2 c. sugar, to roll the cookies
1 batch creamy butter filling (below)

Creamy butter filling:
1/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk (pasteurized, if you are so inclined)
1 t. vanilla

First, make the dough. Place the butter and cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream until they are well combined. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.

When you are ready to make the cookies, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you want to work with it, to allow it to warm up enough to be rolled. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the sugar on a plate. Roll the dough to 1/8" thickness on a lightly floured board. Cut into 1 1/2" rounds, using a fluted cutter if desired. Place the cookies on the plate with the sugar, turning to coat both sides (you might have to press a bit to get the sugar to stick).

Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet. Prick the cookies with a fork to "dock" the dough. Bake 7-9 minutes, until slightly puffy.

Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, make the filling. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, powdered sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Mix until well-combined. Divide the filling in half; tint half with red food coloring and half with green.

To assemble the cookies, sandwich two cookies together with about 1/2 t. of filling.

Makes about 3 dozen filled cookies.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: cocoa blocks
Two years ago: chocolate-almond saltine toffee