How’s that for a clickbait headline? I guess I could have also started with “One weird trick with a thimble that might just save Christmas” but that seems a little extreme.
But anyways….I can’t be the only person who goes a little overboard with Christmas baking. I just can’t fucking help myself.
In the past few years I’ve baked fewer and fewer “no good reason, just because it’s Tuesday” sweet treats, opting instead for long braising stews and quick cooking breads, but come December, when it’s literally dark for 14 hours a day and people are cutting down perfectly good trees and dragging them indoors only to electrify them and cover them in soon to be broken glass and cat butt floss, I get festive in the kitchen baking cookies for Christmas.
My favourite Christmas treats aren’t generally crowd pleasers, but IDGAF. I love my grandma’s coconut tart recipe, and I have fond memories of being 11 and eating them directly out of the deep freeze in the basement in December, to the point that there might not have been any left on the 25th. Whatever. Mom made them for me anyways. I also love sugar cookies, but I’ll have to find a different recipe, because we learned last year that not all cookie recipes are created equal.
The rest of the selection will vary. A few drop cookies, a bar of some variety, something chocolatey, something with raisins and spice, maybe something boozy. You know, the old/new/borrowed/blue of Christmas baking.
This year’s line up looks something like this:
Nanaimo squares (that I made for the first time last night but haven’t tried yet, so if they taste like crap they’ll see the bottom of the green bin and we will never speak of this again).
Hermit cookie, but without the dates, because I fucking hate chopping dates and I just don’t want to do it anymore, no matter how much my father-in-law likes them the way I used to make them.
Aside from the Nanaimo bars (which will get replaced with my tried and true brownie recipe if they’re an abject failure). I’ve made the pastry for the tarts. I’ve made some oatmeal cookies that are just to keep me from eating the rest of the Christmas baking, and I’ve made Thimble cookies.
The thimble cookies are a family recipe. As I understand it, when my mom moved out when she was about 18 to go to university, she wrote out some of her mother’s recipes on index cards. Some 50 years later, I still have these cards. I’ve only ever made a handful of the recipes. Most are, at best, a list of ingredients and some basic cooking instructions. These were familiar recipes to my mom, and they wouldn’t have needed much explanation. I definitely remember her adding extra details for me when I took over the baking responsibilities in our family when I was 13 or 14.
I’ve made the thimble cookies before, but of course, ever time they turn out a little different. The recipe calls for rolling the cookies in crushed walnuts, but I went for almonds this time because, well, because I like almonds more. For the jam, I found a jar of low sugar strawberry in the pantry that I had made at the beginning of 2015. As I made jam again this year, it was lingering on the back of a shelf, no longer the newest or most exciting thing out there. It was part of the batch that didn’t quite turn out, having gotten too thick, but it was just what I needed for these cookies. And now that it’s open, the rest will surely go to good use sweetening up my plain yoghurt, or maybe filling some cornbread muffins in the new year.
But back to the thimble cookies. Mix the dough, roll the dough balls around in the egg white, toss them in chopped almonds, and onto the baking sheet. But here came the key questions: Do I bother to go and find a thimble or do I just use my finger. Adding to the (growing longer) list of things I had forgotten about this recipe, you have to bake the cookies for 5 minutes before making a hole in the middle. So yes, I did need a thimble.
Okay, throw them into the oven and go and find a thimble.
Thimble in hand (or rather, on index finger), I pull the baking cookies from the oven and make a small indentation in the top. But it doesn’t look big enough. I tried doing a wiggle move with my finger, but that caused the sides of the cookie to split. I ended up going with a tamping motion, making a hole with sharp sides but a bottom that was larger than the size of the thimble.
Of course I fucking forgot that cookies spread when they bake, and all my efforts for larger holes took my cookies from having a nice innie belly button to one of those strange taunt flat belly buttons you often see on folks with less than 5% body fat. Where the hell are you supposed to put the jam on one of those?
I had to mound the slightly too stiff low sugar strawberry jam on the spread out thimble divot. They’re not the most beautiful thimble cookies ever made, but that’s not the point. Perfection is not the point. If I was only willing to accept perfection I’d never bake, or cook, or clean, or, I don’t know, leave the house.
I bake at Christmas because I get to look at my mother’s handwriting. I bake at Christmas because I come from a long line of women who can, and have, and still do, stand at the kitchen counter and bake all day, so that there is always a treat in the freezer for when someone comes to visit. They even know enough to bake extra, so that you can steal one or two from the deep freeze as you walk by and there will still be some leftover for guests.
Baking is my Christmas tradition. The tree thing is lovely, and we can all get behind that receiving thoughtful gifts thing, but as I have no children and don’t usually host the Big Day, I don’t really get behind decorating for Christmas, or obsessive shopping for the perfect present. I can’t sit still long enough to watch most Christmas movies, and while carols are lovely, they wear out their welcome pretty damned fast. Outside of getting drunk and crying, baking IS my festive spirit.
I froze most of the thimble cookies in order to give them a fighting chance of lasting until Boxing Day. If I keep at it, there will be enough for leftovers on the 27th.