Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mermaid Butter Cookies

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen when I was a kid.  Kitchen was the heart of our house and that’s where I remember my mother being the most.  My brightest and probably the fondest memory of her were probably when I was seven or eight year old.  It was a sunny, warm weekend morning in May.  The sun rays streaming through our huge open window bathing the spring onions and hot red peppers we had growing on our window seal.  The fresh cut lilacs swinging in the breeze filling our kitchen with pure spring fragrance.   My mother was making brunch.  She wore her “happy” bright orange house dress, with little ruffles around the sleeves, her than long blue-black hair dancing on her back.  She was making salad.  Simple salad of what was bought at the farmer’s market that morning, crisp new radishes, thin sprigs of young scallions and the first cucumbers of the season.    I can still hear the crisp strokes of her knife as she cut into the fresh produce.  I can still smell the cucumber sent, cool, clean, it filled our kitchen with unduplicated freshness.  I have not met that sent since…  Every time I walk out into my kitchen I try to duplicate that one perfect morning of simple joy of cooking with my mother and every time I pick up my knife she is there with me.
I like making things she used to make.  Her recipe notes are tucked away, mostly unreadable now.  I like holding them and try to make out her shorthand notes… she never meant for anyone but her to use them.  Tiny, fragile pieces of yellowed paper are all I have to go on except for my memories.  She had a lot of simple recipes for sweets, things that I could make with almost no help when I was little. I remember making these butter cookies, she called them “Mermaid cookies”, she said the waves of the dough reminded her of mermaids hair or waves of the ocean…  I never had a luxury as an adult of asking my mother for a recipe, but I like that some things, like these cookies, I can make from memory, as though she keeps guiding me.
A simple butter cookie is all that my husband needs to be happy…. I can bake my heart out, create complex cakes and tarts, bake macaroons and croissants, and he will still long for a simple butter cookie of his childhood.   We are a family of children at heart… each trying to recreate that one perfect long-ago moment….  A glass of milk and a dunking cookie is his idea of peace. 
This is not a fancy recipe, but the one that brings me and my husband back to our childhood.  It is the “everyday”  biscuit to bring a little whimsical comfort to our very grown up lives.
It is also the only cookie for which I give measurements in grams, as I learned to make it in the world where there were no ounces or cups.  I can of course re-calculate it to more common measurements, but I don’t want to.  I like keeping it old fashioned, after all, my mother did not use ounces….

Mermaid Cookies
550 Grams of all-purpose flour
300 grams of butter at room temperature
250 grams of sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and the eggs and mix on low speed until well incorporated.  You may need to scrape down the sides a few times

Combine the flour, salt and the baking powder.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 or 4 installments, mixing well.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead with your hands for a few minutes.  This will be very sticky dough with the crumbly edges.   Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or better overnight.  You want this dough to be very cold before shaping the cookies.  You can also freeze it for up to 1 month, just make sure it is wrapped up very well.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F.  Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.   Using a meat grinder or a past cutting machine, feed the dough a little at a time.  You are looking for a collection of dough tubes. 

Cut the strands coming out of the machine with scissors, making the overall length of the cookies 2 to 2.5 inches long (you can make them shorter, but I like the dunking possibilities).
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on the cooling rack otherwise the bottoms get soggy.  Serve with a glass of milk or tea.

Think of your warm and fuzzy childhood day and dig in!

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