There. That's very much better.
It's amazing, the difference a week can make. It may be only raining as I write, but by golly, bits of Christmas are playing peek-a-boo all around.
Two glittery trees are sitting pretty on the front porch. The made-in-kindergarten ornaments have been brought up and spiffed up and arranged for the duration. I've got butter, flour and sugar waiting on the counter, my own most best sign of Christmas coming soon.
There are pine needles in my socks most mornings now, thanks to the evergreen hauled up last week. It is twinkling with lights and almost completely ornamented. I've been working at hanging baubles since last Monday, but I seem especially slow this year.
Ahhhh, yes. sparkle by sparkle. I am easily distracted.
Restraint is not exactly my strong suit. So it is no small thing that we've not yet talked cookies. It is December 4th, after all, well past Thanksgiving, the first official day the flour's allowed to fly. My silence on the subject is downright upstanding, seeing as I'm already in two pounds of candied orange peel, a double batch of toffee, and at least a half dozen various and assorted biscuits.
In my mind, anyway. My empty tins are tattling.
Years have their own momentum, I find, and this one, thus far, is less mosey, more gallop. Pretty much entirely due to yours truly. Normally I wipe the calendar clean, come Thanksgiving, mentally marking up the month following with important appointments: "bake cookies", "repeat", "ditto", and "again". This year's a bit different. Plus. I'm off by a week.
And then, the sniffles. It happens. It sets me straight. Me and my silly sugar-coated agenda. Sometimes stuffed heads and couch naps take precedence over shortbread.
And then there's this heap of holiday baubles, calling my name. Right next to me, right now, begging for attention. Good stuff, but holy cow, how did I miss the fine print, the part that reads everyday living occupies precisely the same hours already allocated to baking/writing/bill-paying/cleaning/various appointments/sleep/et cetera.
By Monday, I'd wrapped up The Week of The Turkey, the last bits and broth turned restorative soup. Yesterday, we had our first dusting of snow. Wasn't much, and what there was had all melted by noon. But it lent the landscape that hello, winter feel, and put a little lift in my getting-better footsteps.
So, with my energy still down but less out, I began inching my way toward true Christmas spirit. Fancy-talk for I unwrapped my first pound of butter. I started small, just one batch of shortbread cut-outs, though the 'just' is another of those cock-a-mamie misnomers. Thing is, this is cardamom shortbread, and the cardamom is absolutely everything, here. I tend to get a little fast and loose with the italics (see lack of restraint, above), but it would be criminal, in this case, to tap out cardamom any other way. Dude, this cookie calls for two tablespoons of the stuff. Two. Tablespoons. Of cardamom.
I've been baking these going on ten years, now. I still can't get enough. If you don't know cardamom, straight up, you may as well know it rocks my world on a regular basis. It is heady and floral and complex and fragrant and absolutely intoxicating. Really, the only problem with cardamom is the way recipes tend to whisper its name. Pinches are standard, smidges the norm, two teaspoons enough for six cups of flour. Really? Really?
Not in my butter-spotted book. The more cardamom, the merrier, if you ask me. And between those baroque Tablespoons and two-plus cubes of butter? These are some seriously merry cookies, my friends. They don't look it, at all. They're a quiet kind of a cookie to look at. Basic brown, edged in brown, freckled everywhere with bits of, well, you get the idea. Even their sparkly topcoat of sugar can't deliver them from their essential dull-drab ho-hum. They are often the last cookies left on the plate, passed over for the fancy pants red-striped meringues and chocolate-anything. I've seen it many times, that look of resignation, that sigh of "I should've gotten here sooner. Now there's only this sorry old dog biscuit left". Followed by the wide-eyed surprise and delight, when disappointment meets tender crunch and melting crumb, and half a moment later, the bif-POW!-punch of cardamom. Not at all a bad way to wind down a cookie plate. Or to wind up a cookie-baking marathon.
I'll be back next week with more Christmas cookies. And more the week after, and ditto, and again. Until then, may your days include crisp air, twinkling white lights, and good friends.
2 Tablespoon cardamom seeds (or ground cardamom)
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons chilled, salted butter, cut into slices
1/4 cup granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Place cardamom seeds in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder, about 30 seconds. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place flour, sugar, butter and cardamom. Mix on lowest speed until the mixture goes crumbly and looks roughly combined, with bits of butter still visible, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from stand, and with clean hands, knead dough briefly in bowl to bring together. Divide dough into two 1" thick discs, wrap in plastic, and chill 30 minutes, or until firm.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place chilled, unwrapped disc on clean surface, lightly dusted with flour. Dust top of disc, also, then roll dough to a 3/16" thickness, rotating by quarter-turns (90°) every few passes to keep dough from sticking. Cut out cookies with desired shape and transfer to cookie sheet, spacing around 1" apart. Prick each cookie a few times with a fork (to facilitate even baking of centers), and cast a generous dusting of granulated sugar over all.
Bake cookies for 13-16 minutes, or until bottoms and the very edges of cookies are golden. If baking two trays at once, rotate (top to bottom, and front to back) mid-way through, and allow a few extra minutes.
Allow to cool completely before tucking into tins.
Cookies keep beautifully for 3 weeks or more.