Monday, December 19, 2011

A Pressing Christmas Tradition

Happy holidays everyone! I'm absurdly in the Christmas spirit and part of being in the Christmas spirit is making some traditional Christmas cookies like a good Italian should. In my family, we do Christmas cookies lite. By that, I mean that we don't make 18 different types of cookies. However, we do make one type of cookie in three different colors! So that's almost the same thing. The Christmas cookie we make is the spritz (or butter) cookie from the Joy of Cooking. This is one of the few times I'll support using a Joy of Cooking recipe for baking.

For those of you unfamiliar with spritz cookies, they're like a sugar cookie, but you use a cookie press to make fun shapes like trees or ornaments. A little background on the cookie press: years and years ago, my mom had a classic old metal cookie press. Then it broke or disappeared or something. Regardless of the reason, we didn't have a cookie press anymore. So, in order to bring back the tradition, we had to obtain a new cookie press. The problem is, all of these new-fangled cookie presses are plastic and awful. We have two including the Cookie Pro Ultra II Cookie Gun. Sounds impressive but actually was not and led to an angry phone call with the manufacturer last year. The truly epic cookie press battle took place last year but it culminated in us obtaining our current cookie press, affectionately known as "The Dead Lady Cookie Press". That's right, we bought it at an estate sale, where we found it in a pile of crap in the old dead woman's basement. It was almost creepy but we were too excited to have found an old metal screw top cookie press to care. So that's the story behind our cookie press and that's what we use now. (This was a necessary diversion because the cookie press is the most crucial part of making spritz cookies.)

On to the baking! Spritz cookies are actually extremely easy. Cream some butter and sugar, add some egg yolks and vanilla, then add some flour and salt. That's it for ingredients. Then we modify slightly and break the dough into thirds before chilling and dye one third green and one third red (although the red usually comes out more pink than red but I do the best I can). There's nothing exciting to report about any of this except that it's a little annoying because you have to wash everything after using each of the dyes. Then I chucked the dough in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Here's where things got interesting. Cookie presses come with discs with cutout shapes that you use to create the various shaped cookies. However, the cutouts don't necessarily give you a good indication of what the cookie shape will be. My mom and I identified the tree, the camel (yes, camel.), the IUD/penis shape depending on who you're asking, the butterfly, the spiral, and the blob. So those were the ones we made. There was also a dog/reindeer but we didn't feel like cleaning another one. We started out with the green dough to make the trees because the trees are my favorite. My mom and I were supposed to have another baking minion at this point but he was busy trying to break into his aunt's house with a crowbar. You just can't make this stuff up.

Even with our superior cookie press, pressing the cookies isn't easy. It takes some significant arm strength and the dough has to be just the right temperature. Too cold and you can't press it through the cookie press and too warm and it's a soft mess. Also, if the dough's too cold, the cookies don't stick to the tray and you can't detach the cookies from the press. We stubbornly tried pressing the cookies when they were too cold. These cookies are therefore infused with love and cursing, like all good Christmas cookies.

Eventually we managed to press all of the green dough into trees (though we did have to creatively rebuild a couple). At this point, our baking minion returned to help press some red cookies. The first attempted shape was the spiral shape but that one notoriously doesn't stick to the pan well so we only made a couple of those. I also forgot to take the red dough out of the fridge in a timely manner so the dough was once again too cold. Baking minion tried to warm the dough in the cookie press by wrapping his warm hands around the metal, which seemed like far too a logical solution to me. Finally, we got into a rhythm with the butterfly cookies which turned out to be ornaments(?) as long as they were large enough. Into the oven for about 10 minutes.

All we had left then was the plain dough colored dough. The reason we don't dye this dough is because these are the cookies we add red and green sprinkles to. We started out with the camels but they were hard to make so we only made two camels. Don't worry though, there is a picture of them. It still boggles my mind that a camel shape even exists. For the rest of the cookies we used the IUD/penis shape. However, when pressed through that shape, lo and behold, the cookie was a heart! So we made many heart shaped cookies with red and green sprinkles. Oh, I should also mention that once there is too little dough to go through the cookie press, we made circular cookies with thumbprints in the middle and filled them with sprinkles. I don't particularly care for the sprinkle cookies but I love love love these spritz cookies. Especially the green ones. Because somehow they taste better. Don't argue with me, they're better! Anyway, the cookies are tiny shapes of buttery goodness and they just melt your heart with Christmas joy. Here are some pictures and sorry for the poor quality of the second one (but that's the only way you're getting to see the camels):

Critical Reception:
The truffles are a hit. I've been told that I could make them and sell them for 20 bucks a box and make an awesome profit. I think the favorite type so far has been the cookie encrusted truffle but I haven't asked enough people yet. Plus it's hard to eat more than a few in a day. That said, the truffles are succeeding in bringing Christmas joy and I would definitely make them again with some better white chocolate. And dear readers, you should try it yourself! It's a pretty easy recipe despite the minor roadblocks you read about in my last post. Be brave and get your hands covered in chocolate!

A Disney Moment: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
So, I spoke too soon. We're not quite at the full length feature films yet. Similar to Fun and Fancy Free, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is two stories in one movie. First we have Mr. Toad. I don't recall ever having seen Mr. Toad before so my only knowledge of Mr. Toad comes from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland. And that ride can only be described as a hot mess so it doesn't give much insight into the plot. And even after watching it, I'm still not sure what the plot was because it wasn't that memorable. Mr. Toad steals a car because he wants to drive it and goes to jail and then breaks out and somehow ends up with a plane. I just didn't really care. It was entertaining enough while I was watching but it just didn't stick with me.

The second half was the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The first thing my sister and I noticed was "Ooh! Narrated and performed by Bing Crosby!" We love Bing Crosby and especially his gorgeous singing voice that can just relax you in the best way possible. Unfortunately for us, it worked too well. By about halfway through the introduction of Ichabod (via a slightly lengthy song), I was dead asleep. About five minutes later, my sister was asleep. We both woke up when the movie was pretty much over. Feeling extremely confused, we decided to go to bed and give it another shot the next day.

The next morning we watched Ichabod again. Ichabod as a character is kind of annoying. But that aside, it was really pretty good until the very end. The end has an ambiguity that I didn't care for. I suppose that's Washington Irving's fault but it still annoyed me. Overall, it was better than most (if not all) of the dark times Disney films, but due to the clump of 5 films that Ichabod and Mr. Toad belongs to, it only ranks a 5/5.

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