It is Christmas time again on the farm and despite an enormous first snow, the land is bare and what a blessing. I have had extra time to rescue the fish from the frozen pond, time to fix the barn door and to put up the Christmas lights.
Every year I promise to start things earlier, buy the bags and wrapping, organize my cookie cutters, decide on what Christmas treats I am going to make, hold the open house. There are so many details that I now keep a book to keep track of all the Christmas meals, gifts and plans.
My eldest daughter called me last week and we decided that this year we wanted to do something different. So this week I have been calling up Nordic ski places but they doubt that there will be enough snow by Christmas. Here by the lake you learn to expect snow, and lots of it, anytime.
Christmas is that special time of the year when we all tend to bake and cook our traditional favourites. This is a firm rule in my house — the list is long about what has to be on the three day Christmas weekend menu. Christmas is not the time to change the menu too radically. It is about tradition. When I eliminate one of the dishes, one that no one eats like the peas, there is uproar. I tend to introduce new items on Christmas Eve.
I also like to bake a few new goodies to keep me experimenting. This year I am going to make chocolate almond toffee and chocolate cherry mice for table treats. I just may make a trifle, which I have not done in years. Maybe mincemeat tarts — another holiday treat long forgotten.
My baking plans are always ambitious and that continues right up to Christmas morning when I bake the traditional Christmas Morning Coffeecake.
Today, I wanted to bake a plain delicious cookie whose flavour is based on just a few items. Make sure you use fresh butter and pure vanilla or almond extract. Quality makes all the difference in a simple cookie. I felt like pulling out a cherished old favourite. These butter cookies are very simple; they are Grandmother’s Best Butter Cookies. Ironically, my grandmother never baked. Well, at least not for her 46 grandchildren. However, the nanny to her 11 children, Clara, who later became my godmother, was an excellent baker.
Here is Clara's recipe. This is a very simple recipe using only a few ingredients that you will have in your pantry. You can easily make it with a deep bowl and a wooden spoon — just as I did for this article. Sometimes it is very comforting to go back to the way I baked as a child.
• MAKE SURE YOUR BUTTER IS VERY SOFT
• USE PURE VANILLA OR ALMOND EXTRACT
• DO NOT OVER MIX THE DOUGH AFTER THE FLOUR IS ADDED
• CHILL THE DOUGH — BUT NOT UNTIL IT IS TOO STIFF TO ROLL.
• ROLL THE COOKIE DOUGH OUT EVENLY TO PROMOTE EVEN BAKING
GRANDMOTHER’S BEST BUTTER COOKIES
8 Tablespoons (1/4 pound) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
Icing sugar for dusting
In a medium bowl, or using a hand mixer on medium speed to beat together butter until pale and fluffy, 2–3 minutes.
Slowly add the sugar and continue to cream until all the sugar is absorbed. Add the egg yolks one at a time and beat until smooth. Add flour and mix on low speed until just combined. Do not over mix.
Transfer dough to a work surface and form into 2 balls and press into 2 disks. Wrap disks separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 F.
Take one of the chilled dough disks and Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface; using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/4 inch thickness.
Using a 1-1/2 inch round or fluted cookie cutter, cut out rounds and transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart; repeat with remaining dough.
Bake the cookies rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through cooking, until cookies are set but not browned, 8–10 minutes. Let cool before serving.
Dust with sifted icing sugar.
Store the cookies in between layers of wax paper in a cookie tin.