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A Child’s Garden of Cookies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Twas the week before the week before Christmas, and all through the house everybody was talking about Santa Claus, and what he thinks of little girls who don’t keep their rooms picked up. Jennifer and Amanda were worried. They were the two prettiest, most charming little girls in the world, but they were notorious sluggards in the picking-up department.

“Whatever shall we do, Amanda?” asked Jennifer one day, setting her milk glass on the floor and brushing some cookie crumbs out of her lap.

Just then a miraculous vision appeared in their room, right over the pile of Dove Bar sticks. “I’m the Magic Picking-Up-Your-Room Pixie,” said the little man with the white beard, “and this is Xmas-Kwik Powder. Sprinkle it over the dust and everything will be as if Santa had just come.”

They sprinkled the powder all around the room, and behold--simple carbohydrates everywhere. Jam stains turned into candy apples, dust bunnies became cotton candy, piles of just plain dirt were changed into popcorn balls. The candy wrappers and comic books and broken crayons allturned into different kinds of cookies. The walls themselves changed magically into chewing gum.

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Best of all, the crumpled clothes and broken toys flew into the air and began swirling around the center of the room like a whirlwind until they turned into a coconut cake inside a box of blue candy with sugar Santas on it. Just then Harry the Hamster, who’d disappeared in the mess a few days before, showed up again, only now he had turned into a chocolate carousel!

The Magic Picking-Up-Your-Room Pixie smiled benevolently and said: “Through the magic of new, improved Xmas-Kwik, all the empty calories in these goodies are now full. You may eat as much as you want, and every mouthful will be nutritionally balanced.”

“Eeoo! Yucko!” said Jennifer and Amanda.

“Ha ha ha! Just kidding!” said the pixie, floating out the window. As he disappeared he called out, “Just remember, don’t ride on Mr. Spun Sugar Rocking Horse.”

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“You mean this guy?” said Amanda, and she walked over and sat down on the rocking horse, because she, for one, wasn’t always the most charming little girl in the world.

And then she said, “Uh-oh,” because in the twinkling of an eye all the candy changed back into dust and clutter. “Now what are we going to do, Jennifer?” she cried. “The candy is all gone and our room is dirty again.”

“Well,” said Jennifer, surveying the room and licking her fingers, “it’s not as bad as it was.”

Delicate candy clay sculptures are a labor of love. An expert in candy clay designs, Susan Holtz, owner and pastry chef of Dessert Design, Sherman Oaks, spends hours creating flowers, orchids and treasure boxes out of a glucose formula. The old-fashioned blue cake box with dancing Santa Clauses that holds Holtz’s carrot-pineapple cake on the cover took her 40 hours to make.

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Holtz won’t give out the candy clay formula--but she has given us the recipe for her carrot cake, one of the bestsellers in her pastry line.

SUSAN HOLTZ’S CARROT CAKE WITH COCONUT SNOW

1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts and almonds (or other mixed nuts)

2 1/2 cups peeled and finely shredded carrots

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2 (8-ounce) cans unsweetened crushed pineapple

5 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

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1 teaspoon salt, optional

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

12 eggs

4 cups sugar

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3 cups oil

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (7-ounce) package flake coconut

Thoroughly mix nuts, carrots and undrained pineapple in bowl. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt if using and cinnamon. Beat eggs with sugar and oil in large bowl, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture all at once. Beat until smooth. Fold in nut mixture.

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Turn batter into 3 (10x2-inch) greased cake pans lined with parchment paper (fill each pan only a scant 2/3 full, place any extra batter in small baking pan.) Bake at 350 degrees 55 to 60 minutes or until cakes test done when wood pick inserted near center comes out dry. Cool on rack. Fill and ice with Cream Cheese Frosting. Sprinkle all over with flake coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/4 pounds cold cream cheese, cut up

1/2 pound butter, softened

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2 1/4 pounds powdered sugar, sifted

1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla

Combine cream cheese and butter in bowl. Cream until light and smooth. Add powdered sugar, beat just until fluffy. Beat in vanilla.

There’s twice as much peanut butter and half as much flour in this recipe; Rose Levy Beranbaum says that when you bite into the cookies, it’s like biting into a peanut butter cup.

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PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY JEWELS

(From “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” cookbook)

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

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1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

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1 cup smooth peanut butter

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cherry preserves or Milk Chocolate Topping

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Sift together flour, baking soda and salt into bowl. Whisk to combine well. Beat both sugars in mixer bowl until well mixed. Add butter and peanut butter and beat several minutes until very smooth and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla, scraping sides of bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture just until incorporated.

Cover and chill dough at least 1 hour or overnight (to prevent dough from cracking when shaped). Roll 2 level teaspoons dough between palms of hands to shape into 1-inch balls. Place dough balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Using index finger or handle of wooden spoon, make depression in center of each ball.

Bake at 375 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned and set. For even baking rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking period. Cool on sheets few minutes or until firm enough to lift. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Fill centers with cherry preserves (reduced and thickened by boiling, if desired) or Milk Chocolate Topping. Makes about 5 dozen.

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Milk Chocolate Topping

2 (3-ounce) bars milk chocolate

2 (3-ounce) bars bittersweet chocolate

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

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Break chocolate into squares and place in top of double boiler. Set over hot not simmering water. Stir until chocolate begins to melt. (Return pan to low heat if water cools, but be careful that water does not get too hot.) Stir until smooth. Cool until no longer warm to touch. Whisk in softened butter.

Pipe chocolate into centers of cookies or use small metal spatula to spread on dollop. Allow to set until firm.

“This classic cookie,” says Beranbaum, “combines buttery tender Scottish shortbread and English lemon curd. The problem has always been getting a firm enough topping and avoiding a soggy shortbread base. The special technique discovered for this recipe virtually guarantees success. The clean, refreshing flavor of lemon makes these the perfect sweets to follow a rich Christmas goose dinner.

ULTIMATE LEMON-BUTTER BAR

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1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled

1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/4 cups flour

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Lemon Curd Topping

Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and return to refrigerator. Process 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and granulated sugar in food processor fitted with metal blade 1 minute or until very finely ground. Add butter and pulse until creamy. Add flour and pulse until little moist crumbly pieces form and no dry flour particles remain. Transfer mixture to plastic bag and press dough together. Remove dough from bag and knead lightly until it holds together.

Line bottom and 2 sides of 8-inch-square baking pan with 16x8-inch strip heavy-duty foil for easy removal of cookies. Pat dough into pan and pierce dough all over with fork. Bake at 325 degrees on middle rack of oven about 50 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and top is pale golden (do not brown).

Remove shortbread from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Pour Lemon Curd Topping on top of shortbread and bake 10 minutes longer.

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Cool pan on rack, then chill 30 minutes to set completely before cutting. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar through strainer over bars to form thick, even coating entirely covering surface.

Run small metal spatula between sides of pan and pastry on 2 sides without foil. Use foil to lift out shortbread. Use long, sharp knife to cut it in thirds, then in half other way and then each half in thirds. (Powdered sugar will be absorbed by lemon curd after several hours but can be reapplied before serving.) Store bars in airtight container at room temperature, refrigerator or freezer. Keeps 3 days at room temperature, 3 weeks refrigerated (if each is wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent drying), 3 months frozen. Makes 18 (2 2/3x1 1/3-inch) bars.

Lemon Curd Topping

4 egg yolks

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3/4 cup sugar

Juice of 2 1/2 large lemons

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Dash salt

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2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Have strainer suspended over bowl ready near stove.

Beat egg yolks and sugar in heavy non-corrosive saucepan until well blended. Stir in lemon juice, butter and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, about 6 minutes or until thickened and resembles hollandaise sauce (196 degrees on candy thermometer), stirring constantly. It should thickly coat wooden spoon but still be liquid enough to pour. Mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on yellow color on back of wooden spoon. Do not allow to boil or mixture will curdle. (Mixture will steam above 140 degrees. If steaming occurs, remove pan briefly from heat, stirring constantly, to prevent boiling.)

When curd has thickened, pour at once into strainer and press with back of spoon until only coarse residue remains. Discard residue and stir in lemon zest.

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Note: For mixer or hand method, whisk together sugars in large bowl. Add butter and cream until light and fluffy. With fingers or with electric mixture, mix in flour until incorporated. If using mixer, add flour in two parts.

Martha Stewart, author of seven books about food and entertaining makes a children’s tree for Christmas, decorating it with large popcorn balls and lots of green paper ribbon bows. “About 10 days before Christmas, Stewart writes in her Christmas book, “some of my littlest friends came by to help make the popcorn-ball decorations.” The popcorn balls can also be made smaller and stacked while still warm to build a tree shape.

POPCORN BALLS

(From Martha Stewart’s Christmas book)

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1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 (10-ounce) bag marshmallows

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

3 quarts popped popcorn

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Melt butter in large heavy pot over low heat. Add marshmallows and brown sugar and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Place popcorn in large bowl and pour on marshmallow mixture. Toss well. Butter hands and shape popcorn into balls of whatever size desired. Set on wax paper to dry. Wrap in plastic film wrap or cellophane and tie with ribbons if desired.

Note: To make Christmas tree popcorn balls stack balls to form tree while still warm after shaping so they stick together. Make as many batches as needed. Garnish tree as desired.

Prop and Model Credits for Cover

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Child models: Adrienne and Juliana McBride.

Candy clay candy boxes, poinsettias and blue cake box with dancing santas by Susan Holtz, Dessert Design, Sherman Oaks.

The following showrooms at the L.A. Mart, where the photo was taken, supplied these props:

Vincent Lippe Inc.: Christmas tree, little green hutch, Christmas wall frame and stuffed elves.

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Marichu Inc.: Carousel horse.

Silvestri Christmas: Red merry-go-round and pedestal fruit bowl.

Kurt Adler Inc.: Fabric- mache Santa with wooden basket.


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