As much as I look forward to reprising all of my family’s traditional Christmas rituals every year, I also love the fact that each celebration ends up having a certain uniqueness, a little twist that allows it to stand out in the treasury of my Christmas memories. This year one of those twists was doing baking for profit, as well as all my usual baking for family and friends.
I took a few orders for gift towers. I have often given away my baking as presents before, but the concept of selling it to someone else, for them to give away as a gift, was entirely novel. And since I didn’t know whom the boxes were intended for, I wasn’t able to take their tastes into account. This meant that I could (to a certain extent) do whatever I pleased. Of course, if my customers had provided me with injunctions of their own, I would not have had the pleasure of sole creative decision; however, they were perfectly content to leave everything up to my judgment. (Apparently, there are people out there who do not possess decided opinions on every matter that pertains to food: I am not one of them.)
Still, I was limited by that pesky matter so universal in business transactions: namely, making a profit. It wasn’t the cost of the actual contents that worried me so much, but the packaging. A big company can buy their packaging in bulk; I cannot. Fortunately, I found sturdy, glossy boxes of graduating sizes at my local dollar store that answered my dilemma admirably. (Although I had to go to seven different locations of the store to find the proper sizes in matching patterns; they weren’t sold in sets.) Then after the boxes were picked out, I had to decide what to put in them.
I knew immediately that I wanted to fill the smallest box with truffles. So I made a raspberry-flavored ganache with my favorite 58% Swiss chocolate, hand-rolled it, and then loop-dipped the truffles. After striping the truffles with some additional dark chocolate, all I had to do was tuck them into gold candy cups, and my first tier was complete.
The largest box seemed ideal for an assortment of piped sablés. (I posted about these earlier: if you are interested in trying them, you’ll find the recipe here.) I made the chocolate and the lemon variations and used both doughs to pipe star-shaped cookies, but I only used the chocolate dough for the figure-eights. In retrospect, I think that I should have made figure-eights with the lemon dough as well. Despite the fact that we were always taught in pastry school that odd numbers make the most attractive presentations, I think that most people (meaning ordinary people, not pastry chefs or designers) would prefer the fun of having more shapes, even if it weren’t quite as appealing to the eye. Furthermore, when the cookies are all tumbled together in a box, can you even tell how many shapes there are?
For the final box, I needed to make a cookie that I could decorate. (Just piping the dough for the sablés doesn’t count.) I chose a recipe that I always bake for the family on Christmas: Scandinavian wishing cookies. And this is the recipe that I’m giving you today.
I copied the recipe out of a cookbook that I checked out from a library when I was eleven. At that age, I hadn’t the faintest notion that I would ever be blogging about recipes, and it didn’t occur to me that I might want to able to remember the name of the cookbook someday and ought to make a note of it on my copy of the recipe. So I can’t give this recipe its proper accreditation. However, as I don’t make any specious claim that it is my own, I hope that you will overlook the omission.
These cookies are basically just gingerbread cookies—or spice cookies, as I usually call them. But they have a special tradition attached to them, hence the unusual name. Here’s how it works:
Place a cookie in your cupped palm, and then press the tip of one finger on your other hand into the center of it. If the cookie breaks into three pieces, and if you can eat the entire cookie without saying a word, you get to make a wish. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the first place, the cookies are just as likely to break into two or four pieces, as into three. And secondly, if the cookie does break into three pieces, everyone’s natural reaction is to exclaim: “Look, I get to make a wish!”—momentarily forgetting the second part of the requirement and thus negating any chance to make a wish.
All this means, of course, is that you are liable to have to eat several cookies before you get to make your wish—but this doesn’t matter because the cookies are so delicious that you’ll want to eat several anyway. In addition to the usual spices and molasses, they contain orange zest, which I think makes all the difference. The original recipe called for decorating the cookies with “lace icing”—a blend of confectioner’ sugar, milk, and vanilla. I used royal icing this time because it dries harder than the lace icing, and I needed the decorations to hold up even when the cookies were stacked on top of each other in a gift box. However, the lace icing tastes much better; so unless you’re concerned with portability, don’t follow my example.
Once I had filled all of the boxes with goodies, I secured them with appropriately festive ribbon and then wired on some lovely, gauzy silver-and-gold bows that I had been tremendously lucky to find. I was actually in the cooking department of the store looking for a new candy thermometer, and someone else had just happened to have left the bows on the shelf there—one of those little providences that makes life so delightful.
Last of all, I attached a glittery bell-shaped gift tag to each tower, and then headed out to deliver them to my customers. I was satisfied with my handiwork, but I couldn’t help wondering how the recipients would like their gifts. Would they open the boxes right away, or would they choose to leave the tower intact for a time, admiring the packaging and speculating as to what might be inside? And when they did open the boxes, would they open the smallest box first, or would they start at the bottom and work their way up to the top? Which flavor of sablé would be their favorite? Would they like the cookies best, or would they be chocoholics like me?
Well, of course, I made extra truffles for myself! Wouldn’t you?
Wishing Cookies3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ¾ teaspoon ground ginger ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature 1 ½ cups granulated sugar 1 egg 2 tablespoons molasses (I like the more assertive flavor of blackstrap; the original recipe didn’t specify a particular kind) 1 tablespoon water ½ teaspoon orange zest Lace icing (recipe below)
- In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy (you can do this by hand or with a mixer). Add the egg, molasses, water, and orange zest, and mix well. Scrape down the bowl.
- Gradually beat in the flour mixture until the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
- Divide the dough into two equal portions, shaping each into an 1” thick rectangle, and then wrap them in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to roll out, about two hours.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Take one of the dough portions out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out ⅛” thick.
- Cut the dough out with whatever cutters suit your fancy. My Christmas cutters are (approximately speaking) 3 ½” long, so the oven time is based on that size of cookie. If your cutters are larger or smaller, you will need to adjust the baking time accordingly.
- Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to darken.
- Allow the cookies to cool on the trays for a minute, and then use a metal spatula to transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
- Repeat with the second half of the dough.
- Once all of the cookies have been baked and cooled, fit a decorating bag with a small round tip (#3 is what I generally use), fill the bag with lace icing, and pipe on desired design.
Note: The dough trimmings can be gathered together and chilled again until they are firm enough to roll out. Then they can be rolled out and cut into shapes just like the regular dough.
Lace Icing: Sift 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, and then add ½ teaspoon vanilla and enough milk (about 2 tablespoons) to make the icing of piping consistency.
Yield: This is hard to say. The original recipe claimed that it made one hundred cookies, but I never get that many—I suppose my cutters are larger than the ones they were using. So your yield will depend on the size of your cutters. But at any rate, this makes a lot of cookies!