Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Cookie Factory North

Down in West Virginia at this time of year, my almost-grandma Lenore turns her kitchen at the Homeplace into a cookie factory. She makes wreath cookies (my uncle loved these), eggnog logs, 7-layer bars, rum balls (although those have kind of become my thing), chocolate chip bars and brownies iced in white. Sometimes, if she is feeling ambitious, she makes cut-out cookies, too. I spent many happy hours laboring in the cookie factory with my mom & Lenore, then making deliveries to neighbors in the holler & up on the ridge.

Since with the advent of step-parenthood my Christmases are no longer spent in West Virginia, I have turned my Cleveland kitchen into the Cookie Factory North. This year, I have made candies as well. I started this morning with a batch of lemon poppyseed scones from a mix as a treat for my wife. Then, I moved on to peanut brittle. Next was a batch of cheese crisps. They are so hard to stop eating that I had to put them away.

Crazy-Good Cheese Crisps
4 c. shredded sharp cheddar
2 c. flour
2 c. crisp rice cereal
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or less, if you like less bite)
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 sticks butter, melted
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix everything together, using your hands. Form into 1" balls. Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Make criss-cross patterns on them by pressing down with a fork. Bake until the edges are golden, 10-12 minutes.

Next on my list was my first attempt at caramels. Aside from the pan being a smidge bigger than that called for, they turned out nicely! I had fun wrapping them in wax paper, too. Very festive.

Vanilla Caramels
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
1 c. light karo syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. vanilla
Butter an 8" square pan or a set of flexible candy molds. Mix everything but the butter & vanilla in a tall-sided heavy pan. Heat on medium, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add butter, stirring to melt. Cook, without stirring at all, to hard ball stage. Add the vanilla. Pour into the buttered pan (unless using molds, in which case pour into a measuring cup & into the molds from that). Let cool 1/2 hour. Remove from pan and cut into squares. Let cool about 2 hours before wrapping.

Next came my specialty, chocolate rum balls. Lenore & I developed these when I was in my early 20s and I have made them every year since.

Chocolate Rum Balls
1 c. pecan chips (or hand-chopped pecans, if you feel like it)
1 c. Oreo crumbs (I buy these already crumbled)
1 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. light karo syrup
1/4 c. rum
Granulated sugar to roll the rum balls in
Mix the pecans & Oreo crumbs. Add the rest, except the granulated sugar. Shape into small balls and roll in sugar.

I moved on to Lenore's cousin's fudge after the rum balls. The recipe makes 5 pounds, so if you are baking in order to give treats to friends & neighbors, it's a perfect recipe.

Fudge from the Homeplace
4 1/2 c. sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 c. butter
1/2 pound marshmallows
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
12 oz. sweetened chocolate
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 c. chopped nuts, optional (I never use them)
Put sugar, milk and butter in a tall-sided heavy pan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Be careful because this is prone to boiling over and makes a huge mess if allowed. Turn off heat, but leave pan on burner. Add marshmallows, stirring until melted. Add chocolates, one kind at a time, stirring each until melted before adding the next kind. Add vanilla & nuts (if using) and pour into buttered 13x9 baking pan. Cool completely and cut into squares.

J made her family's traditional Christmas cookie, worm balls. These are known outside her family as haystacks, slightly more appetizing to the non-avians among us.

Worm Balls
12 oz. butterscotch chips
5 oz. chow mein noodles
1 c. peanuts
Melt the butterscotch chips. Mix everything together. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto sheets of wax paper. Allow to dry 15 minutes.

All that is left to make now are marshmallow snowflakes and cut-out cookies. I think I will do those tomorrow since J wanted to help and is now napping on the couch. I'll be moving on to gift wrapping and dinner making for tonight.

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