Tag Archives: cookies

The Educated Palate

What are the foods and beverages most associated with college students? Ramen and kegs of beer, of course! And those are fine for today’s impoverished denizens of undergraduate academia.

But back in the day, we had certain foods and beverages (well, mostly beverages) reserved for special occasions.

Indulgent cookies. You know that commercial about the mother who has let the children take over the bathroom, but hides there to eat her cookies? Now, aside from the aesthetics of eating in a bathroom, that ad sparked a fond memory. I suppose when we were poor college students, we could have indulged in less expensive, more expansive bags of Oreos or Fig Newtons. But when we wanted to splurge on a real indulgence, it was Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies all the way. We’d buy them at the tiny on-campus convenience store that cleverly stocked them. Then we’d try to make them last. They never did.

The Make-Out Drink. Never mind booty calls. Back in the day, we knew that a guy had certain intentions when he showed up with a bottle of Amaretto di Saronno. Instead of “chill and Netflix,” the invitation was expressed as, “Do you want to go up to the roof?” (It was a notorious and private place around the dorms.) Only di Saronno would do. Anything else was considered déclassé.

The Show-Off Drink. Nowadays I understand there is a drink called a Blow Job, involving whipped cream and a hands-off method of ingesting it. We had the General Sherman. This was a shot of Southern Comfort, lit on fire, and swiftly chugged. Despite what you might think, the drink caused no harm to the imbiber – unless it was a man with a mustache. Then it was inadvisable, to say the least. (For those confused by the name of the drink, consider the name of the alcohol and just go look up General Sherman, okay? But I digress.)

The Birthday Drink. When anyone in my circle of friends reached legal drinking age, we initiated her with a tradition: retiring to the pub in the Student Union (that’s a thing that existed back then) and ordering a pitcher of Sloe Gin Fizz. There is no more candy-ass girlie drink on the planet and a pitcher of the practically glowing pink liquid is quite a sight. Sloe Gin Fizz is also a drink that sneaks up on you. The birthday girl (or, less often, boy) would slosh down a fair amount, then try to stand up while we all laughed.

Another birthday tradition, reserved for those of our acquaintance who had effervesced to excess, was the tie-dye cake, which was not yet a thing like it is today. Again, there was ritual. It was baked in a sheet pan, covered in white icing, and adorned with M&Ms spelling out Happy Birthday. (I like to think that the candy gave a hint at the multi-colored wonders awaiting the recipient.) Once sliced open, it usually had the desired effect, which left the rest of us to eat the cake.

The Poetry Drink. I studied poetry in college, and one of my creative writing classes would occasionally meet at a dive bar just off campus. (It was called the Royal Palm Tavern but was invariably referred to as the “Hairy Palms.” But I digress. Again.)

This place was a shot-and-a-beer sort of place frequented by townies, not students. No Sloe Gin Fizz there. So my fellow poets and I got into the swing of things, ordering the obligatory combination. But we had to be different, so our shots were not whiskey, but peppermint schnapps. This may sound appalling, but I encourage you to try it sometime. Knock back the schnapps, then sip the beer. After the sweet, sticky burn of the schnapps, the beer tastes especially cold, crisp, and clean. I’m not sure what it did for our poetry, though.

I’m not advocating binge drinking among college students – or anybody, really – and I know that campuses now have rules about over-imbibing and promotional campaigns to discourage it. We can well do without students staggering around campus.

But I do hope that college students have their own drinking (and eating) traditions to reminisce about when they’re old and gray and much less inclined to indulge in silly libations. Or that they at least smile when I still order a peppermint schnapps and beer, as I do occasionally, just for old times sake.

 

 

Kiffles and Kugel, Facebook and Google

Dan was trying to remember the name of the holiday cookies he and his mother liked so much, but neither of them could recall it. “We used to have them at Uncle Rudy’s house,” Dan said. But no bells rang. Uncle Rudy was no longer available to provide any suggestions.

“What were they like?” I asked.

“They were rolled up and had walnuts in them.”

“Sounds a lot like rugelach,” I said. Strictly speaking, rugelach don’t have to be made with walnuts. They can have jam or other fillings inside. Along with hamentaschen, they’re a staple of Jewish baked goods. Dan had some Jewish relatives, so it seemed a good place to start the search.

“I think it began with a ‘k,'” he said.  “Maybe kugels?”

“No,” I said. “Kugel is a baked noodle dish. It’s not remotely like a cookie.”

So, as with most modern problems, we turned to Google. (At least it rhymes with kugel.) In fairly short order we found that the cookies in question were kiffles, and their origin was Hungarian. We found a recipe that sounded reasonably simple on Allrecipes.com.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/235921/hungarian-kiffles/

I decided to check it out with a Hungarian friend to see if the recipe was authentic.  He said he didn’t remember them from childhood, but he added, “You had me at ‘a pound of butter.'” (Actually, they had me at “a pound of cream cheese.” The recipe made 36 cookies. It was clear that this was not a heart-healthy recipe, but what holiday baked goods are, really?)

Well, I suppose you can write the ending to this one. There is now half a batch of kiffle dough resting overnight in our fridge. Tomorrow we bake! And evaluate. And tweak if necessary for a second batch.

But the kiffle saga had me thinking. What other cookies or treats did people have in their childhood or from their heritage that they could no longer get or could barely remember? Naturally, this time I turned to Facebook. A quick post brought some interesting answers. And a lot of warm memories.

Jean remembered a cookie called Springerlies and thought they were Italian. “Mom’s friend made them. They were a real treat when we got them.”  Gwen replied that Springerlies are German, though most likely multicultural. “A friend spends days making them and other German cookies every year,” she said. “Awesome cookies!”

So here for you, Jean and Gwen, is a recipe:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/9922/springerle-i/

Trish voted for Spritz cookies. “My mom used to make them, I think my Nana did too. I don’t have a recipe….” Well Trish, now you do! The recipe comes straight from Gold Medal Flour, so it ought to be authentic.

http://www.goldmedalflour.com/recipes/classic-spritz-cookies/ccd9d7f3-6075-4593-be61-7b0aeb02bc88

Lisa remembered, “My mom used to make these cookies called Spice of Life. They were a soft, dark molasses cookie, rolled in sugar. She’s lost the recipe, unfortunately, and I haven’t been able to recreate it.” Here you go, Lisa. This recipe actually appeared in a murder mystery by Diane Mott Davidson. It sounds fantastic! You had me at molasses and spices.

http://recipecircus.com/recipes/Stella/COOKIES/Spice-of-Life_Cookies.html

Jane’s favorite was date nut cookies.  They involved sweet dough, covered with dates and nuts, rolled like a jelly roll, sliced, and baked. “People are not into dates anymore, although about five years ago I saw the very same recipe in a magazine, and couldn’t believe it.” She also mentioned pizelles, very thin butter cookies, covered in powdered sugar. “They sell them in fancy shops, but you can make them pretty easily,” she added. They do require a special machine to make, which I’m guessing costs a packet at Williams Sonoma.

Melissa, whose background is Swiss-German, mentioned Mailänderli, Spitzbuebe, Basler Läckerli, and Züri Tirggel. “No one is ever going to make them like my grandmother did, and no place is ever going to be as comfortable as the chair in the tiny spot between the radiator and the kitchen table.” She’s been experimenting with recreating two of the cookies, but says she hasn’t got the texture quite right yet. Here’s a recipe for the Basler Läckerli:

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/basler-leckerli-566387f7424bb12207dbef07

Gwen also told about a holiday cake – makowiac, or poppyseed roll, with filling 1/2″ thick. She says she has her grandmom’s recipe, but that it’s labor intensive. (I looked at a recipe and is she ever right!) Gwen ordered one from a specialty bakery and is hoping it lives up to the legendary dessert of memory.

Peggy said that her mom didn’t make cookies, instead making fudge and peanut butter balls for teacher gifts. Robbin makes rum balls that can knock you on your ass.

Other friends fondly remembered treats that are not uncommon nowadays but don’t always live up to memories. Michael mentioned Toll House cookies – the chewy kind. (I’m with him on that.) And Wendy was fond of Scooter Pies – Moon Pies, readily available, just aren’t the same, she says.

It was fun hearing the stories and chasing down recipes. To all my friends I wish fond memories and a lovely, treat-filled holiday! You’ve made mine a little bit sweeter.

The Not-So-Traditional Cookie Challenge

Make three different cookies – a dozen of each – inspired by your family holiday memories and traditions.

That was the assignment on a recent holiday baking show I watched.

It occurred to me that I would have failed miserably. It’s not that I can’t bake, or that I can’t bake cookies. I just have no family memories or traditions associated with cookies.

My family never baked at the holidays. Occasionally we’d get a tin or box of assorted cookies – chocolate and plain shortbreads, butter cookies, and so forth – that we kids called “kind-a-wanna cookies” because we could each choose the kind we wanted.

My mother’s baking exploits centered around box cake mixes, lemon meringue pies for my father (his favorite dessert), and slice-n-bake chocolate chip cookies. (I notice that now the company that makes these believes even slicing to be too much to task the modern baker with.)

I did have one holiday cookie-baking ritual in my teens, however. I would go over to my friend Peggy’s house and we would make either chocolate chip cookies (from scratch, no slicing involved) or sugar cookies.

The chocolate chip cookies were ones we had learned how to bake in home ec class and Peggy still had the original recipe on the original 3″ x 5″ index card. (I know she recopied the card when it became old and ragged, and I think she may have laminated it.) Actually, Peggy did the baking. I helped with the math (2/3 cup butter times 2 is 4/3 cup is 1-1/3 cups) and ate some of the raw cookie dough, this being back in the days before that was dangerous or if it was, we didn’t know it.

Our other holiday cookie tradition was Christmas sugar cookies. Again, these were from scratch and my assignment was to sprinkle the cut-out Santas and bells and stars with red and green sugar sprinkles. We’d listen to the radio (but not Christmas carols) and tuck the cookies lovingly away in colorful tin boxes with layers of wax paper. After eating just a couple ourselves, of course.

So, were I to be magically transported to a holiday baking contest, what could I make? Chocolate chip and sugar cookies, of course. Though I’d have to think up trendy flavors like bourbon-guava-cinnamon-chip cookies and sugar cookies adorned with fondant and gum paste and decorative isomalt shards.

But what would my third cookie be?

As a young adult, I had a recipe for a spice cake with raisins that I adored. Back in the day my friends and I were always broke, so I made small loaf pans of spice cake and my husband made miniature banana cakes from his Grammy’s recipe. So I suppose I  might have to fudge a little and make banana-spice cookies with raisins. (Fudge! Now there’s an idea!) Not a childhood memory, but sort of a family tradition, of a new family just starting out anyway.

I suppose I could make some kind of peanut butter cookie. That was one my mother did make from scratch, and I loved pressing the fork into the dough to make the criss-cross on top. (I suppose today we would call them “hashtag cookies.”) They’re not very “holiday,” but at least they represent a family memory.

Or, if I was a really accomplished baker, I could invent some kind of lemon-bar cookie with a toasted meringue on top, in honor of my father’s favorite, but non-holiday, pie. My mother would slip the pie into the oven to brown the meringue, but nowadays I see people using blowtorches. I still think of blowtorches as things that belong in the garage, though, not the kitchen.

No, this year I’ll do the same as ever. I don’t have children and Peggy’s son is now grown, but when she comes to town for the holidays, I fully expect we’ll both make time in our schedules for a cookie-baking fest. Chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles. They won’t win any competitions, but I can honestly say they are holiday traditions.