The bustle of Christmas has descended upon us: parties galore, holiday markets, warm and/or boozy beverages, platters of cookies, bits of evergreen poking out everywhere. I love it deeply. We emerged from this past weekend — the Weekend of Holiday Parties, one might have called it — feeling all the more festive and only slightly more tired than usual. I am eager to finish the last of the homemade gifts and to package everything in pretty paper and to continue drinking tea whilst watching as many holiday films as I can. When it comes to Christmas, my friends, I am all in.
I must admit, though, that it has been a bit hard to be so far away from the cities in which I’ve celebrated all of my Christmases past. We’re heading home soon, but this part, the run-up to the eve and day we’ve been waiting for, this is as much a part of the splendor to me. I miss the snow — not the frigid cold and window-scraping and sheets of ice that come with it, but the way it makes me feel, cozy and nostalgic and so very warm when I am warm. Yet though I’ve not seen even one snowflake, nor have I become accustomed to palm trees juxtaposed with Christmas decor, at least I need a scarf these days. I am even compelled to stand in front of the heater on cold mornings, trying to warm myself as I would when I was a little girl, sitting on the vent behind the bathroom door before everyone else was awake, warm air billowing in the enormous t-shirts I wore to sleep. Mediterranean climate or not, I still get terrifically cold. That hasn’t changed.
But then there are the parties. Still lovely, still one of my favorite things. This year, however, they have been full of meeting and introducing and being brave, so unlike the last year’s gatherings, where I knew most everyone in the room. At holiday markets, I’ve missed having friends as vendors and bumping into dozens of people I know. But at one market this year, I ran into my lovely friend Annaliese, and at another, I met a blogger and designer I’ve long admired. And those things, here, matter all the more.
We hosted our small assemblage of friends for our own party this weekend, and it was a great success. I had taken full advantage of the opportunity to prepare a spread of holiday treats, happily spending the day in the kitchen to produce various cookies, chocolate bark coated in crunchy seeds, hummus paired with snappy crackers, spiced nuts and sparkling cranberries. Many of our guests were old acquaintances who also recently turned up in this geographic area and have become dear friends. Others we’ve only just met. Most of them didn’t know one another, but they congregated nonetheless over glasses of wine and mugs of hot buttered bourbon, chattering away here in our home, guests at our first party as a married pair of hosts.
The previous weekend, too, we had shared cookies with friends. Only on that occasion, we sat at our table here in California while Sara and Josh sat with their little and fabulous baby girl in their living room in Michigan. Our afternoon just beginning, we admired the fading light of the blue hour through their windows and asked about the snow. Sara and I had baked the same cookies, these delicious jam-filled wonders — a small but significant act that made me feel as though our kitchens were much nearer than they really are, drawing us onto the same plane as we creamed butter and sugar, rolled out dough, dolloped jam, smelled Christmastime itself wafting from our ovens. Cookies in hand, baby held up to be admired, we shared stories and news, our lives intertwined in a different but no less valuable way.
I hope that all of my life, exactly as it stands, can be reflected in the way I celebrate — the near and the far, old friends and new ones, familiar cookies and fresh experiments, melancholy and joy. That which is beloved, wherever and whatever it may be.
These cookies, by the way, are truly fantastic — as you would expect from the well-loved and well-revered kitchen of Dorie Greenspan. With buttery shortbread and sweet jam surrounded by a tender crumble, they really do taste like Christmas.
Beurre & Sel Jammers
In the recipe below, I’ve doubled the streusel called for in the original recipe, as both Sara and I found it wasn’t enough. An extra half batch of streusel was quite perfect for me, but the measurements are awkward, so I suggest this doubling instead. If you end up with extra, you’ll surely find use for it (individual crumble, anyone?), and a bit left over is preferable to the frustration of running out while preparing holiday treats! However, you can certainly make half of the streusel recipe that follows — just be a bit less generous when sprinkling the streusel on the cookies.
Note that you will need a 2-inch cookie cutter (or an appropriate sized jar/cup) as well as at least one standard 12-cup muffin tin (three would be ideal). If you’re interested in a larger cookie, these work perfectly in a large 6-cup muffin tin as well; this will yield about half as many cookies.
A final note: one of the great things about this recipe is that you can make it in stages. Doing so, you can have everything but the final assembly and baking completed up to two days in advance.
FOR THE COOKIE DOUGH
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
FOR THE STREUSEL
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 whole wheat flour (or more all-purpose flour)
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 – 1 cup thick jam, such as raspberry, blackberry, apricot or fig
In a large bowl, make the cookie dough. Using an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add both sugars and the salt; beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, and beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Add the flour, mixing gently until just combined. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky.
Divide the dough in half. Place each half between sheets of parchment. Flatten the dough into disks. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out until about 1/4 inch thick. Freeze it in the paper until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
In a medium bowl, make the streusel. Mix the flours, sugar and salt. Using your fingertips, rub the butter and vanilla into the dry ingredients until no large lumps remain and the butter is well incorporated. The streusel will be sandy and hold its shape when pressed between your fingers. Cover and chill. (This can be made up to 2 days in advance as well.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the frozen dough from the freezer and allow it to warm slightly. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds of the dough. Place the rounds in the bottom of the muffin cups of a standard 12-cup muffin tin, patting them gently to flatten. (If you, like me, only have one muffin tin of this size, pause to complete the recipe with 12 cookies and then return to this point to continue with the remaining dough while those cookies are cooling.) Continue cutting the dough into rounds; gather scraps and repeat the process of rolling out and cutting to make about 34 – 36 rounds. Cover the muffin tin(s) with foil and chill in the freezer until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Spoon about 1 teaspoon of jam into the center of each round of dough. Using your fingers or a small spoon, sprinkle 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoon of streusel around the edges of each cookie, trying to avoid getting it in the jam.
Bake the cookies, in batches if needed, until sides and streusel are golden, 20 – 22 minutes. Let cool in tins for 15 minutes. Then, run a small knife around the edges of the muffin cups. Gently remove the cookies and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Yield: 34 – 36 cookies