This year, I'll not only be baking Christmas cookies for my family and friends, I'll be sending a big box to some COLD soldiers in Afghanistan. No, they are not Marines, but I love them anyway. As I have said, they are out in on the edge of the earth, and they don't have adequate cold gear. I already sent some caps and gloves and some inferior packaged cookies, but now I must get on to sending them some homemade love. Because, after all, when we cook for our family and friends, when we put our time and our best effort into it, isn't that what we are doing? If we didn't care we would serve Hamburger Helper and chips ahoy. Does it take all that much more effort to make a pasta in fifteen minutes than to make Hamburger Helper? (Well, really, I wouldnn't know, because I have never made it. the Littlefoodie, 15 year old daughter, had it served to her at a friend's house for dinner once. She said it was vile.) And although I do buy packaged cookies from time to time, chocolate chips can be whipped out in 45 minutes if you have a stand mixer and large cookie sheets. Which I do, don't you? Shouldn't everyone have these?
Last year, right before my son left for Iraq, a friend of mine and her daughters made him the most enormous pan of Crusciki (these are a Polish fried cookie drenched in powdered sugar. Their joke is "How long will a Crusciki keep? No one knows, they are always gone by the end of the day") Anyway, the point is, they wanted to show him their love and appreciation, even though they barely knew him, and they did it by investing their time and energy. Could they have gone out and purchased Crusciki or some other gift? Yes. But IT WOULDN'T HAVE MEANT AS MUCH. And believe me, he felt the love. And ate ALL the cookies. Himself. Now, I have asked her for the recipe before, and she did say she would let me publish it, but so far, no dice. You can find a recipe for it on Martha Stewart.com. If Deb coughs it up, I will edit this post and publish it.
So, I will start baking soon and will send some of my family's favorites over to the soldiers. Here is one which I will be sending.
2/3 C soft butter
1/2 C sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 3/4 c flour
Cream butter and sugar, add yolks and almond extract. Add flour. Shape into balls and press a thumbprint in each cookie. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool and fill with jam (homemade currant jelly is great, homemade raspberry will also do). Dust with confectioner's sugar.
Indeed my computer did crash in March of this year. (But I probably have it backed up. While my mind is not inferior (see comments), I may be a little forgetful at times!
*Note, Gates Foodette caught a mistake, the above recipe has been edited since first published. Sheesh.
Chrusciki (Polish Bow Ties)
12 egg yolks
about 5 level tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt
5 VERY heaping tablespoons of sour cream
5 cups of flour (more or less)
A whole can of vegetable shortening for deep frying
Powdered sugar -- a box (you'll need slightly less than a box)
In a LARGE bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir until the mixture is a uniform shade of dark yellow. Add the sour cream, and again stir thoroughly until the lumps of sour cream are broken up and the mixture is a uniform light yellow. Then, gradually add the flour until you get a stiff dough.
At this point, you have two options: Divide it into four balls and knead each one until your arms feel like they're going to fall off, or divide into two balls and put one into your KitchenAid mixer fitted with a dough hook. My grandmother of course had only Option 1, but I opt for my mixer. It really takes a quite a while to knead, a good 10 minutes in the mixer, which means each ball gets about 15-20 minutes by hand. (My grandmother would recruit the kids to help. I used to do it while watching TV) If you see the dough sticking to the bowl, add a little more flour, but don't add too much or the dough won't be elastic enough. What you want is a very smooth, soft, uniform medium yellow -- it gets a little darker as you go on. I have found that you can only do half the recipe at a time in the mixer.
Roll out the dough:
After it is well-kneaded, divide the dough into manageable pieces -- usually six or eight. Take one of the balls and turn onto a floured surface. Roll out with a rolling pin until very thin--my grandmother used to do roll until she could vaguely see the pattern of her vinyl tablecloth underneath.
Shape the dough:
With a butter knife, cut the dough into long strips about 1-1/2 to 2 inches wide. Cut each strip into lengths of about four inches so you have a lot of rectangles. In the middle of each rectangle cut a small (1 inch) slit going lengthwise.
Pick up one of the rectangles. Take one end of the rectangle and gently bend it toward the center, threading it through the slit in the center and pulling it out back into a rectangle. The rectangle will now have twisty sides and look kind of like a bow tie. Set the bow tie gently on a plate or platter and move on to the next one. It will take a little while to shape all of the rectangles, and you'll notice that the dough from the first ones dry out a little. This is fine. You should end up with well over a hundred chrusciki, I actually never counted. It depends on how big you make each rectangle.
When you're about 2/3 way through shaping the chrusciki, you can put the vegetable shortening in a large pot with high sides and turn the heat on medium-high so that the shortening melts and heats up while you're finishing shaping the chrusciki.
When you're ready to start frying, take a platter and cover it with paper toweling or a paper bag (which will absorb the grease). It needs to be close, but not too close, to the pot on the stove...close enough so that you don't drip oil between the pot and the plate, but not so close that there is a danger of it catching on fire.
Test out the temperature of the shortening by carefully laying one chrusciki in the pot. It should sink to the bottom and immediately be covered with bubbles and come up to the surface. If it takes more than a few seconds, wait a little while until the shortening is hot enough. When it's right, you'll see that it gets golden really fast, so take care to flip it as soon as you see any browning, usually about 20 seconds or so. As soon as the other side is even a hint of golden brown, it's time to take out. Use a plastic slotted spoon--I use one of those spaghetti utensils and it works great.
But you don't need to fry them one by one! No, you take a handful of raw chrusciki and gently lay it on the surface of the shortening. And then start stirring, flipping gently, until they all seem to be a uniform gold, then remove them from the oil and lay them on the paper-covered platter.
When they cool after a minute, you can transfer them to a large bowl and sprinkle powdered sugar through a sieve onto the chrusciki, turn over and sprinkle again. You'll see that the chrusciki are very delicate and flaky, so you need to be gentle when turning. It's best to work with a partner, here...one monitoring the stove and the other putting the cooked chrusciki in the bowl and adding powdered sugar.
There is an old family joke that goes like this: Question: "What is the shelf life of chrusciki?" Answer: "No one knows, because it never lasts long enough to put back on the shelf."
And how do you pronounce chrusciki? Kroose - cheeky. If you're adventurous, you can roll the R.
June's notes on the recipe (which I have never made, but I just wouldn't be me unless I had a cooking judgement to make: get one of those "spiders" from the asian market. They are about five bucks and they are the best thing ever for removing things from the hot oil. Don't tell Deb, I'm getting her one for Christmas.