The holidays are an extremely busy time of year for me, as they are for most. Between buying all the gifts, decorating, preparing for special Christmas Masses at church and attending all the kids’ activities, it can get downright stressful! As an Italian, I also have the tradition of baking Christmas cookies. Each year we do anywhere from six to eight to 10 different kinds, which takes hours of work.
Last weekend, we did five of them, and when I say “we” I mean my daughter and I. My 8-year-old seems to be more engaged in helping with the baking than my 12-year-old but both do end up helping me frost and dip cookies. I don’t complain! Whatever help they can give is that much less that I need to do! This year, we made eight different kinds at about four dozen each for a total of around 400 cookies. We put them in sealed containers and freeze them all in the big freezer in the basement, removing them as we create cookie tins and trays for our friends and family.
Some of the cookies we bake are age-old recipes from my great Italian grandmother, Assunta Amore Toscano. My oldest daughter is named after her (Maria Assunta). I was really little and don’t remember much about her except going to her house for dinner sometimes. But, she left recipes for Italian Fudge and Almond Macaroons, among others. Italian Fudge are my favorite holiday cookie. They are chocolate balls dipped in chocolate frosting and they have whiskey inside so, hey, what’s not to like?
The Almond Macaroons are a tricky one to bake, at least for me. One change in an ingredient or variable in the recipe and the whole thing comes out badly. This year, unfortunately, was one of those years. I tried different almond paste and I had a tricky time measuring out the sugar (long story). The kids say they taste the same but I don’t know. Plus the consistency is a little off. Anyway, you can’t be perfect every year and there is still another week to go. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try again!
The remaining cookies we made were: Hermits, Cut-outs, Hazelnut Thumbprints, Peanut Butter Dips, Biscotti and Graham Cracker Chocolate Chip. My husband makes a few of his, as well, so we have a total of 10 or 11 different kinds in our house right now, plus any that we receive from others. It’s a sugar festival!
While baking, I try not to drink too much. It’s hard enough to keep all the balls in the air and juggle all the stuff. The mixer, oven and sink all get quite the workout as I move through all the baking. But, afterwards, as I rest my poor feet and back, I definitely enjoy a glass or two of wine. This year, my husband brought home an Old Vine Zinfandel from Bogle, a relatively easy to find vintage. I don’t normally like Zins at all but this one wasn’t terrible. I tend not to enjoy the spicy character but this one had enough fruit that it balanced out some of that peppery taste I dislike.
The fact that it was Old Vine was appropriate given that some of the recipes are so old. I’m sure even the versions I’m baking aren’t exactly the same as what my great grandmother baked. They hardly wrote anything down! But, someone tried to write it down and I go with that plus a little of my own experience through the years guides me through to the final product.
Happy baking and happy holidays!