Thursday, December 22, 2016

Expressions of love with a nod to the Woozy Works

At the beginning of December, while S was at work, I hunted down some hazelnuts at the local Fancy Grocery Store. My purpose: to surprise S by baking Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), the German Christmas cookies that most remind him of home. I toasted the nuts in the oven, then rubbed them between my hands so the bitter husks would drop off. This left my hands delightfully warm and soft, but used up all my baking energy for the day. I swore E to secrecy and hid the toasted hazelnuts in a container in the back of a cabinet. After two weeks, I pulled out the container, thinking I would make the cookies that evening--that rather than the cookies themselves being the surprise, the act of having found and toasted hazelnuts and kept them secret until I could bake the cookies could be the surprise. But S came home before I started baking, our evening turned to other things, and the nuts became snack food rather than cookies.

This morning, I finally pulled out the digital kitchen scale (because Zimtsterne are German cookies and therefore all about mass rather than volume). I supplemented the 239 remaining grams of toasted hazelnuts with 61 grams of raw almonds, weighed out 300 grams of powdered sugar, let four eggs come to room temperature, got sidetracked by a phone call, became further distracted by a text message from E about SAT tests, and took a break to gripe with friends about standardized testing. 

Then I pulverized the nuts in the 20-year-old Cuisinart with the recently recalled defective metal blade, separated the eggs, started whipping the egg whites, and then remembered that the recipe calls for setting aside 2-3 tablespoons of meringue which is NEVER enough. So I added an extra egg white, approximated an appropriate extra amount of powdered sugar, dumped all the sugar into the whipped egg whites WITHOUT sifting and all in one fell swoop rather than ONE f*&%ing TABLESPOON AT A TIME, beat for maybe 5 minutes max instead of 20, added the juice of half a fresh squeezed lemon (the recipe calls for "a few drops"--which, while quaint, are undetectable when facing off with two cups of powdered sugar and five egg whites), beat again, and set aside one cup of meringue.

Then I combined the ground nuts with the meringue and two teaspoons--meh, make that a tablespoon, close enough--of ground cinnamon. The dough was super sticky, as always, with a tendency to spread, as always (even when the recipe is followed to a T), so even though I love my family, I had zero interest in dusting the countertop with ground nuts and/or powdered sugar and pressing out the dough to cut it into stars before gently placing each star on a piece of Back Oblaten (thin flour-starch baking wafers that keep sticky batter from adhering permanently to baking sheets and of which we currently have none). Instead, I tossed a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet, spread out the dough, baked it for 20 minutes, took it out of the oven, spread the remaining meringue on top, put it back in the oven, and thought of my great great grandmother Jenny, of whom my grandmother Woozy reminisced fondly:
She analyzed her housework. It was clear that the children had to be fed, even though she was sure that a good and just world would find a more sensible way of doing it. There were some choices. She could mix eggs and flour, salt and water into a dough, hit it firmly on the table a hundred times to develop the gluten, place it in the center of a white tablecloth and gently with the backs of her hands stroking the underside of the dough, run around the table for an hour stretching the most gorgeous strudel dough on the block, and then shell and chop the walnuts, peel and chop the apples, soak seed and chop the raisins, mix in sugar and cinnamon, spread on the dough and dot with butter, roll and bake, but she said it not only killed the whole day but you ended up with a dead head too, so she put a bowl of apples and a bowl of nuts on the table and read Paradise Lost instead.
Pictured below: Zimtsterne 2016, cooling and waiting to be sliced into bars, which rhymes with "stars" and will have to do.

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