Friday, June 25, 2010

Retro Recipes, Part One

Drinking bird.  Retro enough?

I think it started last weekend when we were in Florida.  My mom is from St. Pete and we visited every summer when I was a kid living in the northeast.  I also went to school in Tampa and lived/worked there for several years thereafter.  Visiting last weekend was a true flashback for me since I hadn't been there in years.  I made poor Henry drive for miles (he was really gracious about it) so I could re-visit all those places that held memories for me.

Here's a picture of my grandparents' house.  It wasn't fancy, but we had great times there, playing Kanasta on the back porch and eating simple, delicious food.  My grandmother was a great cook (I'm sure that's where my "cooking gene" came from) and she was the original farm-to-table advocate.  She had a huge peach tree, an avocado tree, a mango tree and a grapefruit tree.  As a kid, I loved nothing more than walking around with her as she carried her basket and selected only the ripest, juiciest fruit.

I started cooking when I lived in Tampa.  I had two cookbooks which were my bibles.  I made everything from cheese fondue (c'mon, it was the seventies!) to roasted turkey and chocolate souffle.  Not everything was a huge success, but I taught myself a lot and created the backdrop for a lifelong joy of cooking (yeah, I had that book, too).  Too bad the guy I was married to then subscribed to the "eat to live" philosophy instead of my "live to eat" credo.  Guess that marriage was doomed from the start!

Alright, I'll get to my point now.  (Sorry for the ex-husband rant).  When I got home, I pulled out those old cookbooks and thumbed through them.  I came across the butter crisp cookies I used to make from the McCall's Cookbook.  I decided they would be my next experiment.

Mind you, the original recipe was good enough.  But I tweaked it a little and now it's even better.  These are crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and not crumbly like shortbread.  When you bite into one, you get the crunch of the sides and bottom, a hit of the mace (crucial to this recipe) and just a teeny-weeny hint of salt.  I substituted vanilla paste for the vanilla extract and it resulted in a little extra crunch of "vanilla bean-i-ness."  If you can't find the paste, pure vanilla extract will do just fine.

BUTTER CRISPS (adapted from The New McCall's Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Sift flour and mace together.  Set aside.

In electric mixer, beat butter, salt and vanilla paste until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Scrape down bowl often.

Gradually beat in sugar, the flour mixture.  Beat just until smooth.

Flatten dough into an oval, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled.  Using a 1-1/4-inch ice cream scoop, form dough into small balls.  Place on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours (note:  you can keep these, well-wrapped in the freezer for up to six months).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.  Place frozen balls on baking sheet, spacing them 2-inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes or until sides are just golden but tops are still pale.  Cool slightly, then remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Yield:  approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Please don't overbake these (that seems to be my mantra recently).  When you take them out of the oven, they should be slightly puffed and just golden on the sides.  If you wait until the tops are golden, then you have blown it!

BTW, there is a freshly baked batch of these sitting in my kitchen right now.  Oy veh.  Will she or won't she?

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