Yes, I’ve noticed that butter has a definite season, and it extends from Thanksgiving on thru New Year’s – at that point, “resolutions” override the eating of rich and sweet lusciousness for another year.
I love butter, and I’ve always loved Julia Child, but the day she said, “If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream instead”, she rose to the top of my short list of true foodie gurus. Long, long ago, I determined that regardless of whatever the doctors discovered was wrong with me, I was ready to respond, “OK, and I’m ready to follow your recommendations, but with one exclusion – butter!” (And to that short list, I have now added bread, and my current doc is pained each time he hears me recite the list.)
But last year, upon our return from wintering in Mexico, my long-standing heart murmur became more of a heart squish! And I received some of the best and worst news I’d heard in a long time – the bad was that they wanted to cut me down the middle and replace my aortic heart valve, but the good was that, to everyone’s surprise, my angiogram showed no blood circulation problems at all. My only thought at the time was (and I remember it well) “Damn – I was right all along; butter is actually good for you!” It is at times like these that you think you must truly have a guardian angel.
Well my giddiness was short lived, because as I healed and began to take on my usual and customary tasks as kitchen wonk, I also began to worry about what I may be doing to my wife, and her heart – so I didn’t actually let all go to hell, so to speak. But lo and behold, this past summer, she too had to have an angiogram! My only thought through the whole ordeal was, “Ooo, there’s no way she’s going to be as lucky as I was – this is the end of our butter freedom!” But, I’ll be damned! She came through with flying colors – how can it be that two “chunkies” who revel in their butter, can somehow both have absolutely NO problems with clogged arteries, while the rest of the civilized world minds their diet closely, and still has problems? Well folks, I may be alone in this thought, but I truly feel there’s something that medical science is missing here – and maybe some day we’ll find out what it is, but there’s definitely something weird happening!
In our house, we celebrate the Butter Season – always have, but this year, we’ll be pulling out all stops. Today I’m starting on Christmas cookies – specifically, homemade fig newtons, and a chocolate-mocha drop cookie. Now, I’d love to tell you that these are both easy Christmas cookies, but I can’t – they both have annoying elements that pop up to bite you in the rear while you’re making them. But if these sound good to you, I can at least tell you what the recipe writers didn’t (doesn’t that annoy you?).
A word about the fig newtons – why these for a Christmas cookie? Well, dried fruit goodies have always been made for Christmas – so I would dare say that fig cookies have a long Christmas tradition even if you never got them in your stocking on Christmas morning. And if you spice ’em up right with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, it tastes just like Christmas! Besides all the above, I have a fig tree out back, and I dry the figs each summer – and in all honesty, I ain’t found nut’in better to do with them yet than to use the dry figs to make these cookies. BTW, don’t expect something akin to Nabisco’s version – these are the luxury edition!
Now what’s wrong with the fig cookie recipe? Well, this is a VERY short dough, and for those of you who have never much worked with short doughs, that means it’s hard to handle! DO chill it, but once it’s chilled, it must be flexed (kneaded) before rolling out, or it’ll crumble away on you. Also, use the floured towel they suggest, or be ready to try to move a very fragile dough from your board to your pan. Now what they don’t tell you is that it’d be a really good idea to butter your pan before putting the dough into it – if you don’t, you can expect that when you cut your bars into strips, they’ll be sticking to your ungreased pan very tightly. Yes, this is a challenging cookie (read all the comments on the recipe site), but that’s what Christmas cookies are all about! It’s worth it.
And what about the mocha cookie? A bit easier, but not without its own annoyances. First of all is the melting over boiling water bit – my suggestion, don’t try to melt your chocolate over straight burner heat – chocolate is difficult to melt – it wants to seize up rather than melt, unless the heat is applied gently. It can also be done in the microwave, but a bowl over boiling water in a pan is just as easy. And I used the parchment paper as suggested, but frankly, this cookie wants to stay on the paper, and no matter how much you let them cool (and you MUST), they still are tough to get off. I wonder what a well greased cookie sheet would do? Next time I’ll try that. (caution: baker’s parchment is often used when the cookie would spread too much other wise – so be careful about this.) However, if you like chocolate, you’ll love this cookie – and don’t try one without a glass of milk at the ready.
Of course, you don’t make Christmas cookies for yourself – of course not – you make them to give away. This is stated up front in order to justify having to make 20 dozen. This plan allows you to freely give away lots of cookies, and somehow still have enough left over for whatever. And well into the new year, you’re still eating Christmas cookies. Each year, sometime around March, I tell myself that next year we won’t make so many Christmas cookies – but, … the thought is long gone come Thanksgiving.
You know, I’d be willing to say that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without butter. Can you imagine a Christmas cookie without butter? No – it’s really part of the definition of Christmas, and has been for 100s of years. Christmas has become America’s premier holiday, and as such has acquired a luxury reputation, thus the necessity for butter – and the Butter Season.
So, get baking!