Lum: The best cookies you’ve ever tasted
December 17, 2014
I can't believe that Christmas is upon us again already. The older I get the more frequently the holidays seem to pop up — not just Christmas, but all of them. While Aspenites are finishing their turkeys and hams, the elves at Carl's will be putting up the Valentine's Day displays.
The other day, a friend asked me if I was going to run my Christmas cookie recipe, reminding me that I had completely forgotten the cookies last year and maybe the year or two before that.
Various people have said, over the decades, that they ripped the recipe out of the paper but never got around to making the cookies and then lost the clipping.
This column is for you, dear readers. I don't bake these cookies any more, and I'd be more than happy to taste-test yours. Terry Allen used to bring by a cache of them every year but, alas, he has gone on ahead.
These are cookies I used to get from The Cottage Bakery in Boonton, New Jersey, my hometown. The cookies were big — 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, with a picture of a European Santa stuck to the icing on top. When I was a kid, there was always one in my stocking, and I kept getting them even after the owners sold the bakery because they moved right behind my parents' house and did a bit of baking on the side for friends. I had searched everywhere for a recipe duplicating the Christmas cookies to no avail. When my cookie came in the mail in December, I would get friends to take small (very small) bites to try to identify the ingredients. Jim and Trina VonVliet were getting old, time was running out, so I took the audacious plunge and wrote to them, asking for the recipe.
To my astonishment, Trina wrote back in broken English saying that they had never given the recipe out to anyone but they would give it to me. The condition was that I should keep the secret of the cookies.
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Itemized by pounds and grams, I translated the recipe to cups and teaspoons and baked up a storm, feeling like the most privileged person on earth. Six months later, Jim and Trina were both dead.
Did I really think they died because they told me the secret of the recipe and that my own mortality was at stake if I passed it on to someone else? Maybe not, but I waited 10 years before deciding to publish the recipe in The Aspen Times and so diffuse the curse.
Here it is.
GERMAN HONEY CAKES
Bring to a boil 1⁄3 cup molasses, 2⁄3 cup honey, 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Watch out that it doesn't boil up all over the stove. Cool a bit and add 1⁄3 cup of shortening. Stir until melted and pour into a large mixing bowl.
Mix together 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 2 egg, 2 tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons of ground anise seed, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of allspice. Add this to the honey mixture and it will foam up like a chemical experiment.
A heavy-duty mixer will help when you now add 4 to 6 cups of cake flour. The dough will be stiff and after refrigerating it for a few days, it will get even stiffer, the reason I've given up making these cookies.
Bring the dough to room temperature and roll it out to any thickness you like and cut them with cookie cutters, a glass or a clean tuna-fish can. My daughter Hillery makes them really thin; I used to roll them about a quarter inch thick. Bake at 350 degrees, less time for thin cookies, more time for thick. For best results, bake them on parchment paper.
Make icing with 1 teaspoon of plain gelatin softened in a little cold water, mixed with 14 ounces of powdered sugar. You can get fancy with an icing bag (Hillery) or slather it on with a basting brush (me).
What I haven't stressed here is the most important part: These are the best cookies you've ever tasted. Go for it.
Su Lum is a longtime local who hopes Hillery is in a baking mood this year. This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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