when it comes to the holidays, my inner domestic-snob (IDS) takes over my usually placid and muchmore reasonable self. she recoils at the sight of plastic decorations and battery-operated toys. she silently cringes in the company of store-bought pies and cookies that never expire, and part of her soul weeps at the popularity of hastily stuffed gift bags over properly wrapped packages. now, before i offend everyone who has ever given a gift in a bag or bought a pie (myself included), i must explain that i exist on both sides of this pretentious fence. i’ve been known to devour tubs of icing and store-bought cake mix, and i readily admit to gifting a hotwheels set to our 5-year-old nephew (i don’t think a crocheted scarf would have garnered the same squeal of delight). i admire the best ingredients and the finest products, but a militant martha stewart clone i am not. neither am i oblivious to reality – life is hectic and the pressure to please is immense. i love all sincere gifts, regardless of their wrappage or what’s inside, and i truly appreciate the effort put into meals and treats, whether they come out of a freezer section or a cookbook. while i acknowledge that my IDS is, well, a snob, i do appreciate her pesky voice reminding me to try a little harder. sure, my efforts generally fall somewhere between perfection and reality (usually a little closer to the latter), but this middle ground is good enough for me.
thus, my plan is to share with you some of my favourite handmade items of joy. most are edible (the stir part) or wearable/usable (the stitch part), and all are giftable (and IDS-approved). i hope you enjoy!
i shall begin with spoon cookies. to me, these are the ultimate gift cookie. i’ve been making these every christmas since i came across the recipe in the december 2005 issue of gourmet (RIP). they are pain-staking. they are fussy. they are demanding of your time and patience. but when you taste them, they…are…divine. mysterious. unique. and so more-ish. make them now!!
spoon cookies (from gourmet, adapted from celia barbour)
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla (pure, of course)
2 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt, slightly rounded
1/3 cup fruit preserves (strawberry and raspberry are lovely, don’t worry about seeds as it’s strained later)
prepare dough: fill your sink with about 2″ of cold water and get out a heat-proof bowl. prepare brown butter by melting butter in a 2-3 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally. the butter will foam, then dissipate and foam again just as it’s starting to brown nicely. you want the butter to be golden with a nutty fragrance and the flecks on the bottom of the pan should be a rich caramel brown. expect this to take about 10-12 minutes (and don’t turn your back). place the pan in the sink of cold water to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter begins to look opaque, about 4 minutes (this is where i use a heat-proof bowl instead of putting my hot copper-bottomed pot into cold water). remove bowl from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla. whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and stir into butter mixture until a dough forms (it will initially look really sandy, just keep stirring). shape dough into a ball, wrap in cling-film and stand at room temp (or fridge) for 1-2 hours (i think they taste even better if you chill dough overnight – just let the dough come to room temperature before trying to work with it).
form and bake cookies: put rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325. press a piece of dough into the bowl of a shallowish teaspoon, flatten top, then gently slide out and place on cookie sheet (lined with parchment). the dough will be crumbly, but becomes cohesive when pressed. form a sheet’s worth and bake for 8-15 minutes (7-8 minutes for me, but my oven is bizarre). cool on sheet on a rack for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack to cool completely (at least 30 minutes).
assemble cookies: heat preserves in small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and cool completely (also run the spoon along the underside of the sieve, i find a lot of it sticks there). spread the flat side of a cookie (duh) with a thin layer of preserves and sandwich with another cookie to form a wee egg-shaped beauty. let sandwiched cookies set for 45 minutes, then store airtight for up to 2 weeks. recipe makes about 30 sandwich cookies.
**note**: the flavour of these cookies evolves – try to wait at least 2 days before eating.