Su Lum: Slumming
December 12, 2012
When I brazenly wrote to the owners of the Cottage Bakery in my hometown of Boonton, N.J., and asked for their Christmas cookie recipe, they replied that they had never given it to anyone but would give it to me on the condition that I keep the secret.
I had described my love of their cookies, my favorite treat in my Christmas stockings for as far back as I could remember, my despair when they retired and closed the bakery and my joy when they moved next door to my parents and continued to bake the seasonal cookies for friends and neighbors. Now that this, too, had stopped, I was desperate. I had tried hundreds of possible cookie recipes, but none of them came close.
I can keep a secret as well as the next person (better, I’d say), but when the couple both died within six months of my receipt of the recipe, I was unnerved to be its keeper. Did the recipe carry a curse? If I gave it to my daughters, would I die next and, worse, pass the curse to them?
My solution to this dilemma was to publish the recipe, thus defusing its power and spreading the joy in (as my father would say) one swell foop.
Since 1989, I’ve run the recipe in this column on a more or less annual basis, and here it is again.
German Honey Cakes
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Bring to a boil 1/3 cup molasses, 2/3 cup honey, 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Watch out that it doesn’t boil up and out all over the stove. Remove from heat, and add 1/3 cup of shortening.
When the shortening is melted, put the mixture into a large bowl.
Mix together 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons water, 1 heaping tablespoon of ground anise (I mash the anise seeds with a mortar and pestle), 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon allspice.
Add this to the warm honey mixture in the bowl. It will foam up like a chemistry experiment – kids love this part.
Add 4 to 6 cups of cake flour. Here an industrial-strength mixer is useful because the dough gets very, very stiff.
Roll the dough up in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and refrigerate it for at least two days.
Whenever you’re ready, take out the dough, bring it to room temperature, and roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin or wine bottle – I recommend the former – and cut with cookie cutters (a glass tumbler or tuna can, cleaned, will suffice).
Some people like thick cookies. Others like thin ones. Bake at 350 degrees “until done,” the time depending on the thickness, usually about 10 minutes for medium sized. Your life will be made easier if you line the cookie trays with parchment paper, which can be reused again and again.
Make an icing of 1 teaspoon of gelatin softened in cold water, a bag of confectioner’s sugar and enough water to make it thicker than cream. Maybe add a little vanilla.
I slather my icing on with a pastry brush, but my artistic friends and relations turn the cookies into works of art with an icing bag and food coloring. Both taste great.