This photo was taken this time, last year. Let’s go back in time for a minute to this post…
When I was four years old my uniform was simple: brown velour, everyday. My mother tried to push the pastels, but eventually gave up. She chose her battles.
Fast forward all these years and here I am again, sitting in a velour track suit. I’ve shifted from brown; this one is a dark seal grey. It’s familiar, lounge-y, and with a gold chain strung around the neck, it’s ‘seventies man chic’. My tom-boy young self loves it. And now that I’m deep into holiday cookie mode, I see why I love it so much. I’ve been making my grandmother’s double ginger crackle cookies, and these cookies – from the fluffy, buttery molasses phase, to the final, lumpy cookie studded with golden, candied ginger and coated in just a hint of sparkle- feel velvety to me. A velvety track suit.
I’m whipping them up for our cookbook club’s first annual cookie exchange. Every member has been in an exchange like this before. We’ve all stayed up late baking until the tenth dozen is finished. We’ve tried new recipes and regretted it, sweat on the brow, wondering why, oh why, didn’t I just go with the tried and true? We’ve all made too little, too many, and swore we’d never do this again. But here we are, and this time it feels right. I’m in velour protected by an apron, music is on, and I’m making something that’s the low-key highlight of any holiday cookie tray. And when this is all over, my freezer will be filled with tried and true cookies from everyone else’s kitchens.
I slip out of the velvet tracksuit and put on something festive just before everyone arrives. After all, I can’t away with velvet everyday. I clear the kitchen island and tell google to play some holiday tunes. I turn the coffee on, and watch as the windows fill with steam. Outside cold rain is pelting down, but inside, George Michael is singing Last Christmas. Before I know it, the room is full, coffee is flowing, and the kitchen is filled with the best cookies ever …
Fast forward three hundred and sixty-something days and I’m still sitting here in a tracksuit. (I haven’t taken it off since March, to be truthful.) There won’t be a cookie exchange this year, but the windows are steamy, coffee is on and instead of George Michael singing Last Christmas, we’re listening to Jenn Grant’s new album, Forever on Christmas Eve. Her voice is very fresh and new, but also a throwback to the 50’s, to Patsy Cline, to the Bing Crosby albums my mother used to play this time of year. Maybe it’s Jenn in a Santa hat and bow tie surrounded by a wreath of holly. Maybe it’s because I’m listening on vinyl. Whatever it is, it’s taking me far away from this Covid Christmas.
So in the spirit of nostalgia, I’m making something different this year. It’s based on a cookie my father’s cousin used to make – chocolate espresso – that I’ve turned into Oreos with the help of a slick of mint icing between two cookies. They’re a perennial treat, as I discovered last April when I made them during isolation. I loved them so much I put them in our Food + Reflection cookbook below, and here, to give you a little taste…
Not pictured in @justinebarnhart’s gorgeous image below – that velour tracksuit, made special with golden earrings. It’s the little things that add sparkle during this weird time. We need sparkle. We need velour. We need Christmas cookies, and we need music that will sweep us away.
Photo above @eatwithjessie
Fresh Mint Oreos
Yield: 30 ‘oreos’ or 60 biscuits
For the fresh mint icing:
This is a thick, subtly fresh-mint icing, the perfect texture for ‘oreo’ filling. Add a drop or two of food colouring if you’d like a true green icing. Below is the natural version – I call it creamy beige.
12 fresh mint leaves
Pinch of brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (113g) soft butter, divided
2 cups (250g) icing (powdered) sugar
Muddle the mint leaves with a pinch of brown sugar in a mortar and pestle. The sugar will add the extra grist needed to break down the mint and release its flavour. Alternatively, use a small bowl and pound the mint with the back of a wooden spoon. Spoon crushed mint into a small food processor. Add ¼ of the butter, milk and vanilla. Whiz until butter is smooth and flecked with tiny bits of mint.
Meanwhile, beat remaining ¾ cups of butter with icing sugar until smooth. Add the minty butter mixture and continue to beat until blended. Set aside.
For the cookies:
1 cup (120g) flour
½ cup (25g) cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (30g) room temperature butter
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (40g) white sugar
½ cup brown sugar (50g)
1 ½ tablespoons instant espresso powder, or instant coffee (100g?)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white
Sift flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda into a small bowl.
Beat butter until creamy. Add sugars, espresso powder, vanilla and beat until blended.
Whisk in the egg white. Add dry ingredients and beat just until blended.
Knead dough until smooth. Form dough into a firm log (around 36cm), wrap in parchment and refrigerate for 1 hour. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Slice log in ½ cm thick rounds and bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets for 7 minutes, or until just cooked. You will have about 60 cookies.
When cool, spread a slick of icing on the under-side of a cookie and top with another. My sister likes to dollop the icing on, squish two cookies together, then run a knife around the edge to catch the excess, and use that icing for the next cookie. You’ll find your way.
Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container, or freeze in said container for up to 2 months.