...in the piano room, the tinseled evergreen...cold winter light flooding through the window...
all of us, jostling...someone, probably my mother, lifting out each item, one after the other...delight...
I don't remember the package's contents, but I can guess. Probably, one of their coveted Christmas cards—every year Shelah (or was it Carmen?) made a handful of Christmas cards by painstakingly cutting intricate designs out of paper—was nestled in the box. I imagine there was also a pair of homemade hot pads, and perhaps a jar of dried mint leaves for tea. I'm almost willing to bet money there were apple schnitzes that they had dehydrated on the wire racks that dangled above their basement wood stove. And then there were the cookies. These I remember, without a shadow of a doubt. A tall stack of old-fashioned molasses cookies, a pretty patch of white cream peeking out of the lid of each cookie where a little hole had been cut into the top cookie's center, and, tucked into the bottom of the bag, a cookie-sized circle of homemade bread to keep the cookies soft.
Fast forward to this last Christmas. I am visiting Amber in her home and we are talking about Christmas cookies and how we determine which kinds are worthy of our Christmas platters. Top of her list, along with the cocoa mints and peppermint cartwheels, is—you guessed it—those old-fashioned molasses creams, the same ones her family had sent to us in the mail a quarter century ago.
I still have a few in the cupboard, she says. Would you like to try one?
Oh yes! I say, but then the conversation moves to other things and the cookies are (unbelievably) forgotten.
It's not until I am back home that I remember the cookies, so I send an email: “Would you mind giving me the recipe for your iced gingerbread cookies?” I write. “The fancy ones we were talking about...? I've been thinking about them ever since and I'd like to see the recipe.”
The cookies are quite plain, actually, but so satisfying. They have a hearty molasses flavor, yet my children—the same ones who balk at the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch classics like shoofly pie and shoofly cake—eat these up lickety-split. The cookies come out of the oven soft. Once cool, however, they turn crispy, so they must ripen for a few days—just pop them in an airtight container with a bit of soft bread to provide moisture. When ready to eat, they have a soft-yet-firm texture. They keep forever at room temperature.
You know what? There's something deeply comforting about having a jar of soft molasses cookies always at the ready. Two batches of cookies later, this I know.
Old-Fashioned Molasses Cream Sandwich Cookies
Adapted from Amber's recipe.
Amber's recipe called for just white flour, but the second time I made these I used half whole wheat and couldn't even tell the difference.
for the cookies:
¾ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons baking soda
Cream the butter and brown sugar. Beat in the molasses. Add the egg. Stir in the dry ingredients. Chill the dough for several hours (or several days).
On a heavily floured counter, roll the chilled dough until it is about three-sixteenth inches thick. Use a circle cutter to cut out the cookies. Place the cookies on greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until just set. Careful not to over bake them! For one half of the cookies: as soon as you take them from the oven, cut a small circle in the center of each one. Cool the cookies to room temperature.
for the icing:
2 tablespoons butter
4 cups confectioner's sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup boiling water
Put a cup of the sugar in a bowl and cut in the butter. Add the remaining dry ingredients. Add the boiling water and whisk until smooth. The icing should be like soft butter—easy to spread but not at all runny. As the icing sits, it will harden. Add more boiling water as necessary.
Ice the underside of each of the solid cookies and then press one of the cookie rings on top: bottom to bottom. Repeat until all the solid cookies have been matched with cookie rings. Eat the cookie holes.
Put the cookie sandwiches in a large jar. Place a piece of soft bread on a piece of wax paper, or on a jar lid, and set it on top of the cookies. Lid the jar and let the cookies ripen for four days before eating. Every couple days, check the bread—when it gets hard, discard and replace with a piece of fresh bread.
Yield: about three dozen sandwich cookies.
This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.23.15), the quotidian (2.24.14), roasted cauliflower soup, Oreo, birds and bugs, the quotidian (2.25.13), bandwagons, for my daughter, food I've never told you about, part three, creamy garlic soup, reverse cleaning, and Grandma Baer's caramel popcorn.