Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cookie Anatomy

By Donna MacMeans

Christmas cookies have some sensual benefits not always anticipated.

A while back, Cassondra and I were comparing some baking stories (which if you know Cassondra, these are rare stories, indeed). On an earlier blog, Cassondra shared how creative frosting of a candlestick sugar cookie led to an eye-opening discussion of the birds & bees. You might recall her posting was part of a dare from Anna and I. Now I’m obligated to follow through with my story – another lesson in anatomy inspired by cookie dough.

A number of years ago, our beloved next door neighbors moved (sniff, sniff). They were the perfect neighbors in that their children were precisely the same ages as my two. The agonizing months of curiosity about possible new neighbors followed, until November when a “sold” sign replaced the more familiar one on the lawn.

The new neighbors moved in and, wonder of wonders, they had a daughter the same age as my son. She was even placed in his kindergarten class. “Mary” (not her real name) would often come over to play with my son and on this particular afternoon, I was making cookies while the kids were playing.

I like to make gingerbread cookies – not to eat – but to decorate a wreath that I hang on the fireplace. The heat from the chimney scents the air with the rich scent of ginger and spice. I’d decided to use a new shape for my cookies that year – Gingerbears.

The process is simple – first, make up a batch of gingerbread, whatever recipe you can find. Now the fun begins. Make a series of dough balls – 1 medium, 5 little, 3 tiny little balls. The medium will become the bear’s belly, one little will become the head, the others will be arms and legs. The tiny ones will make a nose and two ears. No need to smush them down – they’ll bond in the baking. Here’s a couple of the ones I made to demonstrate. Unfortunately one was the victim of an unfortunate icing accident, thus the unseemly red birthmark.

Let me share a baking secret – parchment paper. If you put the raw dough on parchment paper there’s no need to grease the cookie sheets. Plus you can lay out the cookies on paper on the countertop and then slide them onto a cookie sheet and into the oven with ease. But now, back to my story -

Little Mary sees me assembling these bears and looks at me with big brown eyes and says “Can I help?”

Who could refuse? I had her wash her hands, tied a frilly little apron around her child’s body, and suggested she make up some balls.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to do that.”

She screwed up her little face then picked up some dough – rolling it between her fingers so it became long and thin like a snake.

“I’ll make the dangley parts,” she said before she slapped her creation between my bear’s stubby little legs!

Now all sorts of questions are forming in my mind about the new neighbors. But first, I quickly remove the “boy parts” explaining that all the bears were girls, which seemed to satisfy her – though she was no longer interested in helping with the cookies.

Afterwards I spoke with her mother and learned that Mary has an older brother whom she has “surprised” on occasion. My new neighbors turned out to be as wonderful as the old ones, even with the mischievous Mary (who has since graduated from Notre Dame).

So my question is - have any fun or bonding experiences occurred while making cookies? Are you finished with your Christmas shopping? Baking? Decorating? Not long to go -- Share your comments and I’ll select one for a copy of The Education of Mrs. Brimley.

Oh, and Happy Festivus (for the rest of us) Day!

Here’s my Christmas treat for you - an intoxicating pecan pie. You’ll want to slurp up any pie filling remains with a straw – it’s that good.

Donna’s Pecan Pie

1 pie crust
1 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups light karo syrup
¼ cup bourbon
5 oz melted butter (one stick & 3 tablespoons)
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat the over to 400 degrees

Mix by hand all the above ingredients except crust and pecans
Pour mixture into the pie crust
Put pecans on top in concentric circles.
Bake 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees
Bake 45 –55 minutes more.


CM said...

I just want to say that the only thing better than parchment paper is Silpat--reusable, and infinitely useful!

Donna MacMeans said...

cm - You've got the Golden Rooster - Congratulations!

Yes - we have a silpat mat as well, but I've used parchment for so long, I always reach for it first. And, as a bonus, you can write on parchment paper and still see through it. So for writers who want to layer plotlines and see how they mesh - parchment paper is great for "cooking" plots as well.

Aunty Cindy said...

WAY TO GO, cm! Hope the GR didn't lose too many feathers when you pried him from Foanna's clutches.

Great initials, btw!


Helen said...

Donna I loved your story I love the way children just say or do things without being embarassed.

Congrats cm on the GR I hope you enjoy his company.

My mother used to bake lots of cakes and biscuits when I was young and I always helped her some of the biscuits would come out weird shapes but I haven't had anything like your story happen to me.
I loved the reciepe I have just about finished my cooking I have just taken the turkey thigh roll out of the oven and tomorrow morning I will cook the pork. It is my daughter in laws birthday tomorrow so we have a BBQ to go to in the afternoon then friends are coming around to watch the carols by candlelight on TV which is our normal christmas eve event.
I am now going to wrap all the presents thank goodness it has cooled down here.
Have a wonderful chrissy everyone

Keira Soleore said...

The fourth! Gosh darn it! And those of you in the US, it's 2:26am pacific time, which far later where you live. Don't you folks every sleep???

With all this cooking on you mind, hopefully you're not cooking the books, so to speak. What?! Bad pun aren't allowed in The Lair?

Joan said...

I am SO done with baking this year! In keeping with my newfound holiday spirit, I'd purchased LOTS of ingredients.

I'm So done.

Parchment does ok for many cookies. However SOME types really rquire the "lightly greased" part to become THAT cookie. Not too many, but some.Helps with the dangly parts *g*

And Silpat? Despite my devotion to the Food Network, I just can't get into it.

I'll take my good old cookie sheets and foil any day.

Off to work for the 12 hour bake amongst yourselves

And cm...congrats on the GR!

Caren Crane said...

Congrats, CM! Make sure the GR naps while he is with you. Whenever he comes back from visiting with Anna C., he is exhausted! *g*

Donna, I love that story about little Mary and the dangly parts. Those bears are so cute! Love the idea about putting the bears on the wreath over the hearth. Of course, that wouldn't work here, since we rarely build a fire. (hmph)

Helen, you are right, children do not get embarrassed about things until we tell them they should be, really. Oh, and I am jealous that Santa comes to Australia at the beginning of his run and North America last!! How is that fair?

Keira, puns are always welcome. The worse they are, the better we like them!

Joan, we are still baking Christmas cookies. We've only made 3 kinds so far. I talked to Mama yesterday and she was making the Date-Pecan pinwheels, so I am a happy camper!

As to the status chez moi: Shopping done. Baking in progress. Wrapping almost done. I still have to work tomorrow (and on Boxing Day!), but am quite filled with the Christmas spirit.

Now, I will only be concerned that all my children will be quite disappointed with their Christmas gifts. You never can tell with the teenagers and young adults. My son asked for a new windshield for his car. Not sure the Bank of Mom and Dad can swing that one right now...

CM said...

Ooooh--I love the idea about using parchment paper for plots! I did something similar at one point using transparencies, but with a transparency, it's hard to see what you're writing on.

The Golden Rooster is safe, and clucking about under the Christmas tree that we just put up. I shall have to bake it cookies later today.

mcrowley41 said...

Plotting with parchment paper? What a great idea. I've never had an anatomically correct cookie lesson but there's always plenty of bonding over baking with my family. Mostly we hover to steal bits of the cookie dough.

Merry Merry

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, CM, hope the GR enjoys his BRIEF visit with you! Bwahahahahaha!

Donna, laughed at your post! Especially the bit where you got worried about the new neighbours ;-) I've got to do some baking today - chocolate slice - and then that's it, thank goodness. It's Christmas Eve here so it's now or never, folks!

Keira, that was an AWFUL joke. I laughed and laughed. ;-)

Donna MacMeans said...

Happy Festivus all!

Cindy - love the new avatar. Is that you as a little one? I'm not sure what's in your hand but it looks a bit like snowballs - seasonal *g*

Hi Helen! A turkey thigh roll? Now that sounds interesting. Not sure I'd be crazy about doing a lot of cooking either when it's hot outside. The Christmas/birthday BBQ sounds just the thing.

Donna MacMeans said...

LOL Keira - We could ask the same of you, except I'm routinely up about 2 AM. Sometimes "cooking the book" is precisely what the little devil needs - although "stewing" might work better. Adds a twist to making your characters suffer *g*

Donna MacMeans said...

Joan - We entered the second phase of cooking as almost all the previously cookies have disappeared *g*. Poor Santa won't have any cookies on his plate otherwise.

We make an almond tuile cookie that requires buttering the parchment, but those types of cookies are rare. In most cases the parchment works fine naked.

Bummer on the 12 hour day. Will you be off then on Christmas? I'm afraid I'd be asleep on my feet after a long stretch like that.

Donna MacMeans said...

Caren - I understand where you're coming from. Not only do those teenagers get picky - they get darned expensive as well! I'm sorry to hear you'll have to work tomorrow. Before I was self-employed, my employer used to make us work a half day on Christmas Eve. I'm hoping the practice is still common, as I haven't done my grocery shopping yet for Christmas and the stores are a bit less crowded during the workweek *g*.

LOL on the transparancies. Try using a sharpie or a heavier pen on the parchment. Ball point just gets lost.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Margaret! I got the idea to use parchment paper for plotting from an old trick to fix typos on a manual typewriter (guess I'm showing my age here *g*). With the typo, you'd type the same letter on the window of an envelope, backspace, then line up the re-inserted page and "whited-out" error with the typed letter on the envelope. Remove the envelope and re-type. Worked like a charm.

So when I wanted to see if my romance plot was working with my suspense plot, I would do it on parchment and layer it much the same way as the retyped letter and the original.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Foanna - No wonder you're so often ahead of the game *g*.
Yes - One always wonders if the new next door neighbors are going to be serial killers or druggies or sadly out-of-shape nudists *g*.
But they tend to be normal people with kids - just like us (I think).
Those neighbors have since moved out and newlyweds hoping to fill up those spare bedrooms have moved in.

Donna MacMeans said...

Oops cm - I see I responded to Caren about the transparencies instead of to you. Sorry, but the thoughts are the same. Another advantage to the parchment is that the sheets tend to be bigger (though noisier) I don't use that plotting technique so much anymore, though. It was just another attempt at finding something that would click for me. Perhaps the problem was that whenever I pulled out the parchment my thoughts would run to cooking and not plots *g*.

Suzanne Welsh said...

I love this post Donna! You never know where kids' minds will go, do you?

When my kids were little I used to make an assembly line for baking cookies. The oldest and I would roll the dough into balls, then the younger two would roll them in sugar, or egg/coconut, or nuts, then place them on the baking sheets. I'm sure one or two ended up in their mouths and not the pans!

Donna MacMeans said...

LOL Suz - some traditions are best left unchanged - especially the ones involving the filching of the cookie dough *g*

Cassondra said...

Well, my question is, WHY did you remove the dangley parts? Why not just bake that cookie right along with the rest? We have to get our educations somewhere don't we?

Of course, I don't have children, so I don't have to worry about such stuff......ahem...

Great post Donna. I've been waiting for this story. And just think. If the newlyweds next door actually start to fill up those extra bedrooms, perhaps you'll have little visitors in three or four years and you can bake cookies again. (grin)

Cassondra said...

Can you imagine if the banditas decided to actually get together for a cookie bake-off in the lair?

Well...maybe it's better if we don't imagine that...ahem..

Nathalie said...

It is quite funny... here everyone raves about cookie baking!
We don't have that tradition at home, however I am sure it is associated with a lot of great memories!

Happy holidays!!

Aunty Cindy said...

The lil cutie on my avatar is my grand-niece Jilly, though I think there is a definite family resemblance! :-) She's holding a cupcake with a candle because it is her second birthday (she's now 3 1/2).

Never had any anatomically correct cookies either... maybe this year! One year when my son was a toddler, I decorated the Christmas tree with sugar cookies cut in holiday shapes (star, holly, wreath, etc). Funny thing, by Christmas Eve there were only a couple of cookies left on the tree! Seems my son and his dad kept sneaking them off and eating them.

I actually broke down and baked two loaves of apricot-nut bread last night. They were supposed to be gifts, but they look so good I may have to bake two more today.


Lily said...

In my family, we don't do cookies, but a traditional festive pudding... and I remember once my mom told me to stir it for 30minutes while she prepared something else, and I took a book, began to read it, and totally forgot the pudding, who became chewy and glued to the casserole... I remember that my mom was furious with me!!

Ever since, I stay away from the pudding!

Helen said...

Yes it is Christmas Eve here in Australia and there was just a radio report about Santa checking his sleigh and all is well for his trip tonight.
I am really getting excited now I am so looking forward to tomorrow and being with my sisters and all of our families and of course my 23 month old grandson who tells me he has been good and Santa is bringing him a bike and of course my 5 month old granddauughter who is just going to love the paper.
I would like to thank everyone here the Bandits and the visitors you have all made this year very special and to each and everyone of you and your families have a wonderful Chrissy full of love and happiness.
Have Fun

catslady said...

When my two girls were young we used to make the shaped christmas cookies - oh what a mess lol. I have a very small kitchen and so we spread out into the dinning room. My oldest has now moved away but for the first time she made the cookies with her fiancee. I'm hoping she's moves closer so that the 3 of us can do it again!

Nancy said...

Donna, I can honestly say I've never had anatomically correct cookies. I saw an episode of "Top Chef" one season where they would've fit right in, though! The pie looks fabulous. Pecan pie is a southern favorite, as you probably know.

CM, congratulations on the rooster! Be sure to watch him, though. When Anna Campbell laughs like that, she's up to something!

Donna, I never thought of using parchment paper to plot. It's a neat idea.

Caren, you have my sympathy on the work thing. I used to have to work Christmas Eve, too. Ugh. At least Mr. Windshield-as-Gift is thinking in a practical vein. I hope the others are all pleased.

Helen, thanks for the kind words! We appreciate all our visitors, too. Y'all are really what adds the flavor to this blog, and we're happy to have all of you.

I hope each of you has a wonderful holiday.

flchen1 said...

LOL, Donna! What a great story! No such similar experiences here yet, but that may be because I've yet to start baking that sort of shaped cookie with my kids--it's all I can do to slap the preformed cookie patties onto the baking sheets and shove them in the oven, hoping I remember to set the timer so they don't also burn... Maybe in another couple years. That'll give me time to brace myself for any "educational" opportunities...

And parchment and silpats are both great, but I confess that I haven't used either recently either--it's all I can do to locate the actual pans ;)

Congrats on the GR, CM!

Oh, and don't enter me--thanks much, Donna! I've already got my very own copy that I'm dying to read (maybe I should ask for "time" in my stocking...)

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi all - Sorry to be gone for so long. I had to run and fetch my sister to bring her up here for Christmas. That was a four and a half hour diversion. (sigh)

Cassondra - The newlyweds recently told me they're expecting so you may be right. Although I'm not sure she'll let the little ones over to bake cookies with "that crazy book lady." *g*

AC - Well she's such a cutie, no wonder I thought it was you *g*. LOL on your sugar cookies on the tree story. We did something similar. One year in our poverty years, I made gingerbread men and women to decorate the tree. We had the tree, just no ornaments. I made holes in the heads of my cutouts with a straw, then carefully threaded red satin ribbon through each. The tree looked wonderful, but the next morning the only thing left on the lower branches were the cute ribbon ties. I should say everything lower than dog-height was missing. The guilty culprit lay in the corner with a satisfied smile on his face.

Donna MacMeans said...

lily - back away from the pudding.
*g* Actually, I think I need someone to say that to me this time of year. My girth is starting to rival Santa's!

catslady - I love holiday cutout cookies - they're so much fun to decorate - but messy though. Sounds like you've started a new family tradition!

Donna MacMeans said...

Nathalie - What! No cookie traditions! No plates of the sugary munchies to leave for Santa? No manic search for butter and sugar when in the middle of the recipe only to discover you're out?

Not sure I want to live in a world without Christmas cookies *g*.

How come there's no carols about Christmas cookies? Jeanne - we need your talents!

Donna MacMeans said...

Helen - Merry Christmas to you! You've made our lives richer by your daily comments. I hope we're on your list for 2008.

Nancy - Merry Christmas to you as well! The pecan pie recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of bourbon but feel free to add more. I always do (hic!)

Donna MacMeans said...

fichen1 - You and me both on needing more time. I was thinking about that on the way driving home. I've put "more time" on my Christmas list every year and you know - I still always end up with the same 24 hours as before.

Hope you find some time in the new year to plop down with Mrs. Brimley. Make it a resolution for the new year *g* because before long the next book will be hitting the shelves.

Donna MacMeans said...

Julie - I know you're out there. I just got a sweet note from your husband saying you've been trying to post a comment but keep getting disconnected due to the high winds. Thank you for the effort - really it's the thought that counts. Now stop worrying about getting through, cuddle up with your dh, and listen to the winds blowing past from inside your warm comfortable home. Merry Christmas!

Keira Soleore said...

A final salvo from me before the holiday and our trip...

Banditas, you've made this year a very fun one for me, filled with laughter, teasing, learning, tears, and roasted chicken (yum!). Thank you for your kind and warm welcome to The Lair. I look forward to a great 2008 with you. Merry Christmas!!

Donna MacMeans said...

Keira & Everyone -

A most sincere and hearty Merry Christmas to everyone from the Banditas.

As I'll be here throughout the week (sounds like a stand up comedian, doesn't it?), I tend to forget that folks won't necessarily be able to check back to the blog before the holidays. SO if you're headed out - be safe, be happy, and be sure to come back and tell us all about it *g*.

jo robertson said...

OH. MY. GOSH! I'm late coming to the party today, Donna, but what a party. I'm still laughing out loud!

A great idea for gingerbread cookies -- hanging them over the chimney -- but I'm not sure mine would make it from the kitchen to the fireplace.

One of the things I do is bake cut-out sugar cookies with my grandchildren. They love to play with the dough and make their own "snakes," but I must confess none has every dangled her snake in inappropriate places!

Can't stop laughing. So funny!

jo robertson said...

Forgot to say congrats, cm. I must show my ignorance and ask what a Silpat is. This must be something that wasn't around in the early thirties when I was cooking, LOL.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Jo -

This I know *g* mainly because my daughter went to culinary arts school for a couple of years and brought me a few. A silpat looks like one of those flexible cutting mats, only this one can be baked (I think - never actually tried it, though it's in my cupboard). The cookies slide right off and you don't have to grease the silpat. I like the paper, though, as I only have one silpat- but I have lots of parchment paper. I can slide one sheet of cooked dough from the hot pan to a cooling rack, then slide another sheet of dough onto the hot pan and into the oven.

Donna MacMeans said...

And the winner is...catslady! WHich is especially appropriate as there are kittens in Mrs. Brimley *g*. Just visit and give me your contact information and I'll send an autographed copy your way.

Merry Christmas everyone!