It’s too easy to lose track of the origin of some of the many wonderful recipes that we all love–but have no idea where they came from!
One of our Sisters, known for her love for cooking and her creative culinary skills, has a great intro to one of her favorite recipes… that lives on to this day!
“My mother, who came to this country as a young girl, first obtained a job doing housework for a wealthy family on 5th Ave, N.Y. The lady of the house had a special liking for a tall, moist, three-layered cake from a nearby bakery—with a creamy custard filling, generous swirls of maple-flavored frosting and lavishly sprinkled with finely chopped walnuts. My mother soon cultivated a taste for this culinary wonder also—and developed her own recipe for the cake by taste and instinct.”
And now, through the years, it’s been passed on to us, with modifications and adjustments, and continues to be the quintessential dessert for the right occasion.
Tonight, our Convent was humming with Christmas cheer as we readied our home for Christmas. Some wrapped presents to send to families, other Sisters spent time catching up with old friends as they penned their lovely cards. In the kitchen, we turned on Bing Crosby and poured over old fashioned family recipes as we pondered which cookies we would make this year. The royal icing was prepared and crispy butter cookies were being decorated with sprinkles covering every surface. I remembered a cookie that I hadn’t baked in years and a favorite to be sure. In fact, you won’t find this anywhere else on the internet, at least I couldn’t. Cut from an old magazine, pressed onto an index card and covered in plastic, this shows how treasured this recipe is. Sometimes baking can restore wonderful memories of times past and other times it just puts a smile on your face, honey in your belly and much joy for the adventures ahead. I love Christmas. The beauty, the magic and most of all the precious gift that is awaiting us in the form of a little baby on Christmas morning.
May the season of light be yours this year. Blessed Christmas!
To make the filling: In a small saucepan, combine the apricots, sugar and water and simmer for 15-18 min. or until the liquid is reduced by half and add the rum or brandy. Let the mixture cool slightly and in a food processor or blender, puree it.
Make the shortbread cookie dough. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate standing mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and the egg, beating the mixture until it is well combined. Slowly, add the flour mixture in stages and mix until just combined, but don't over mix or your shortbread will be tough.
Form the dough into a log, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hr. Divide the log into 4 pieces.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, place the dough in plastic wrap and roll into an 8 inch long rope - place on a parchment covered sheet pan and make a canal down the center with your finger so the log becomes a 8 x 2" rectangle with a channel in the middle.
Spread the apricot puree in the canals.
Bake the cookie sticks in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 min. until the edges are slightly golden.
Transfer to a rack and let them cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients and add just enough water to make a thick but pour-able icing - you want it to be on the thick side.
If desired, transfer the glaze to a squeeze bottle or piping bag and drizzle the icing over the cookies.
Cut the rectangles diagonally into 1" strips.
The cookies will keep in the freezer or in an airtight container for 1 week.
Since St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) is just around the corner on December 13th, we thought we’d share this special Swedish bread with you – fantastic for the Holidays. The celebration of the day comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. “St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head, so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.” (see note below**)
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day. It is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Thus, the wreath of bread dotted with candied “berries.” If you’d like you can also add small candles to the cake as well for a more festive look.
Years ago, we were asked by the local Episcopal church to help them with their annual Devonshire Tea, a lovely traditional English tea served every summer in the church gardens.
The lady who for many years had been responsible for them, met with me to discuss the details. The simple menu consisted of three items: biscuits, coddled cream, and strawberry preserves. Her main concern was the size and shape of the biscuits. To ensure their correctness, she carefully sketched them on a page from her personal notebook and gave the page to me.
The biscuits’ size and shape were of utmost importance! She was certain I would make the cream perfectly, and as far as the preserves were concerned, any I chose would be fine. My choice was a vibrant colored fresh strawberry jam sometimes referred to as “freezer jam”, although none I’ve ever made stayed around long enough to reach the
Perfect for the occasion, it met with great applause and added a most beautiful touch to this splendid event.
Recently, I had the privilege and gift of studying for a week in the Essentials of Pastry Arts at the International Culinary Center in New York City. Once known as the French Culinary Center, ICC has some of the most renowned pastry chefs in the United States – such as Jacques Pepin and Jacques Torres. Their alumni are some of the most noteworthy in the food and hospitality industry. It was a week of intense learning as well as exploring an area of personal inadequacy. Give me a savory dish over a fancy rolled fondant cake anytime! But, little did I know what a week of good, concentrated study could do to boost my confidence. Leaning into our insufficiency can sometimes prove “sweet” results.
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Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes
Tip - use a digital scale to weigh these ingredients and always be sure to "tare" your scale after putting your mixing bowl on it; that is, reset the scale to "0" before you start measuring ingredients