Take the fat and slap it right onto my arse, a.k.a. “baking day” with mom. For years now, my mom and I have held “baking day” during each Christmas season. It has become a beloved tradition in which we play Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, Frank Sinatra’s “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas”, and the Carpenters’ “Ave Maria” while we spend the afternoon baking. We look forward to it every year and although schedules make it challenging, we book it without hesitation.
So (just so you understand) when it comes to baking, my mom does NOT mess around! She has a ginormous stove, two large drawers filled with flour and sugar, and she of course sets out all of ingredients that we could possibly need ahead of time to be prepared for our “baking day” (unlike me, the butter is softened and ready to go, darn the softened butter!).
This tradition started a thousand years ago when I was in high school (yes, I’m that old), and since then I have had a love of baking. My mom was the ever gentle, patient teacher and never admonished me when we had to throw away an entire batter because I forgot one to two ingredients (oops!). However, this is also the woman who always tried my fabulous kitchen sink concoctions, at my relentless insistence, comprised of soapy water and dirty dishes. I would stand on a stool over the sink where she placed her used utensils, looking up at her with such excitement and eagerness, happily creating a “dessert” like my mom was making. Granted, I was 5 at the time.
I used to be so competitive. Ahhh, the old days when I was young and energetic. After learning to bake, I took every Christmas as a challenge. Early on in my baking days, I announced that I wanted to make the dessert for Christmas dinner. I would pick the cover of Bon Appetit or Gourmet and set that as my Mount Everest. I would spend hours measuring, stirring, melting, sifting, mixing, and painstakingly place one slivered almond in at a time in an icing that was spread around an entire cake.
I saw every food magazine cover as a conquest and an inevitable accomplishment, as painful and exhausting as it was. Now, in my old and wise age of 41, I’m completely content coming to the “baking day” table with a simple recipe and adjusting it to make it more “holidayish”. No longer do I search for recipes through MANY cookbooks with my mom. Now we both just settle into a relaxed kitchen where we can chat, listen to Julie Andrews sing an amazing “Oh Holy Night”, and enjoy the chance to bake together.
So if you haven’t gotten the hint, I’m now a lazy baker. Today I made a very classic chocolate chip cookie but sassed it up a bit. My dear friend, Michelle, shared her family’s version of the chocolate chip cookie, and I have to say that I believe it is the best recipe of its kind. Just note that I have made adjustments in an experiment to make the cookies more unique for the holidays. As I have learned in the last few weeks sometimes the original recipes should not be tampered with, they’re lovely the way they are. However, as in the past, I will share my adjustments in the event you want to live on the edge with your holiday baking. I liked how they turned out, Paul did not (anything with dried fruit is a tough sell).
Aunt Mary Knab’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (care of Michelle Erickson)
2/3 cup shortening, 2/3 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 12 oz. package chocolate chips
Mix thoroughly shortening, butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. Blend in remaining ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes.
Note: I used 1 cup of chocolate chips, 1/2 cup of dried cherries, and 3/4 cup walnuts. My mom’s ovens are slower than molasses so we adjusted the temperature and time. I, of course, overcooked the first batch. But the second batch turned out great (even Paul liked them until he bit into a dried cherry).