December 18, 2012
I joined with a few of my sweet, wonderful, kind, funny, and at times disturbingly odd friends on a little cookie collaborative for today called “Home for the Holidays.” Each of us used the same ginormous house cutter to create our own design and when I say ginormous I mean this is a cookie that would keep an entire daycare wired on sugar and bouncing off the walls for a week.
Going clockwise beginning at the top left hand corner match the designer to their sweet digs:
Jill Wettstein (Jill FCS)
Laura Trombley (Laura’s Cookies)
Nadia (My Little Bakery)
Anne Yorks (Flour Box Bakery)
Andrea Giacomi (Cupookie)
Anita Cadonau-Huseby (Sweet Hope Cookies)
Lorraine Russo-Harty (Lorraine’s Cookies)
Georganne Bell (Lilaloa)
And a huge thanks to Angela at Oh Sugar Events for organizing the fun for us. Angela, you are the bombdiggity.
Christmas Eve at my grandma and grandpa’s house. Just Grandma and Grandpa, my parents and siblings, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and second cousins, my nieces and nephews, a few lifelong friends of the family, one or two pastors along with their wives and kids, and any missionaries who happened to have returned to the States over the holidays with no where else to spend Christmas Eve. My grandma had an open door policy when it came to Christmas Eve and no matter whether she had extended an invitation days before or that morning between shaping the 40 pounds of Swedish meatballs and pressing pads of butter into holiday molds no one came to the circle around our tree without finding a present under the tree with their name on the gift tag. These brightly wrapped and bowed packages for our last minute guests which seemed to magically appear at the last minute direct from the North Pole were actually from Grandma’s fully-stocked private stash of prewrapped just in case presents. No doubt dozens of missionaries over the years returned to distant lands with a new crystal glass nut bowl or sterling silver candy dish stored in among their baggage. I can only imagine how useful they were when preaching in a grass hut church with mud floors at the edge of the rain forest.
Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s was the same every year with one tradition leading into the next tradition, and it all began at the front door where there was barely time to slip off your winter coat before being handed a Santa mug filled with steaming hot wassail; crisp apple cider spiced with cinnamon and cloves and just enough orange juice to give it a citrusy tang.
The smell of the simmering hot wassail filled the house and even before I held the porcelain Santa head in my hands I could taste it through my nose. The problem was that wassail wasn’t wassail to my grandma unless it was three degrees short of boiling temperature and so for the next 15 minutes I’d cradle the cup in my hands waiting for it to cool down. Growing impatient I’d move my mouth in for a cautious sip but at the last second, right before the tongue scorching liquid touched my lips I’d recoil. Wait for a few minutes, move in for a sip, and pull back at the last second. Repeat. Repeat. Finally after a few more minutes of my private wassail waltz, I’d take in that first sip of liquid hot apple pie and it was always just as good as it had been the year before. For me, hot wassail will always be the smell and taste of Christmas past, that time when all the people in the world who most mattered to me were very much alive and gathered in the same room, laughing and talking with one another, singing Christmas carols, listening to the bubbling sound of the bubble lights on the tree, and sipping hot wassail.
Grandma and Grandpa.
Mom and Dad.
We were altogether then just like we had been all the Christmases of my life up to then and how in my child’s mind and heart I believed it would always be for every Christmas to follow.
And so, I came up with this recipe with my loved ones in mind . . . and in heart.
And you know what? These cookies taste just like Grandma’s hot wassail.
Minus the Santa mugs.
The crisp tangy taste of real apples in this recipe comes from . . . wait for it. . . real apples. To be more precise, freeze-dried apples which I was able to find at Target, Safeway, Trader Joes, and a number of local stores. The Archer Farms brand pictured below is from Target.
Freeze-dried apples are NOT the same as dried apples or apple fruit leather. All the moisture has been removed from freeze-dried apples and so when you bite into them you get a snap rather than a chew. It’s a little like biting into packing peanuts that taste like apples which is not how your average packing peanut tastes. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do.
The freeze-dried apples need to be finely ground for this recipe which can easily be done in a food processor or by putting them into a plastic storage bag and going all whack-a-mole on them with the smooth side of a meat mallet. If freeze-dried apples are unavailable locally you can either substitute with 1 – 2 teaspoons LorAnn’s apple flavoring or by adding 3 tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate (if using the juice concentrate adjust the flour by adding another scant 1/4 cup). Okay, let’s get to the recipe!
Grandma’s Christmas Wassail Cookies
1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest plus 1 good squeeze from half an orange
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6-8 oz (1 1/2 cups) ground freeze-dried apples
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 pinches ground cloves
…..Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ground apples in a bowl. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together.
3. Add in the eggs, extracts, and orange zest and juice beating until well-blended.
4. Add in the dry ingredients one cup at a time until the dough is fully incorporated.
5. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to the desired thickness. Place the cut cookies onto a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet and bake on the center rack of the oven for 8-12 minutes. Baking time will be determined by the thickness and overall dimension of cookies.
6. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet before moving to cooling rack.
*This recipe is adapted from Vanilla Variation by Georganne (LilaLoa)
More wintery Christmas beverages coming soon!