Memory of my Grandmother’s Austrian Cookie Swap

There will be a lot of people who will dislike me for my coming statement, however, a girl’s got to do what a girl has got to do….It is 11 weeks until Christmas!!!! Baking with children today brought many sweet, aromatic and unforgettable memories to the surface of my mind….

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” Haruki Murakami

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I will never forget the way my maternal grandmother lived her life. She was a quiet, humble, helpful lady who did not become a diva due to clothes, pearls or gold. She was a true, born-to-be farmer-queen, with straight spine and strong attitude who, when facing difficulties in life, became even straighter and stronger. She never complained, she never blamed, she never even raised her voice. She worked hard, very hard, she loved with full capacity, she shared and gave everything she had to others. She loved uncomplicated food and brought out the best from everything – and everyone – she reached on her journey. She was religious, devoted and trustworthy. She was softly spoken, truthful and extremely kind. She was a true matron and pedantic housewife. She took simple care of herself, and even went to her deathbed with a plait coiled in a perfect hair up, hidden under intricately detailed headkerchief, at age eighty-four. She smelt like ‘home’, like crisp, breezy earth, sweet dawn-frosted grapes or freshly baked cakes, cookies. I remember staring at her as she dressed for working on their vineyard or attending mass. She methodically placed on her many skirts, petticoat, ironed blouse (…even when working on the fields) and smiled, smiled and smiled. She was really, truly beautiful, a classic dame. Thus, the method she lived her life influenced her baking: driven by natural elegance, keeping a traditional style, providing tasteful charm. I loved watching her whilst she was kneading dough or preparing cakes. I had a child-sized kneading board carved by my grandfather with a small rolling-pin right next to her large one and she always gave me a portion of her dough, but I just loved watching her wise, peaceful face. I loved the effortless whisking when she prepared the glossiest sugar-glaze for her clove scented Christmas cookies, adored seeing the playful, secretive way her fingers moved when she aerated flour and I am indeed grateful for her family history-filled, precious lessons. When baking, she transformed silence into a world of music. She had Austrian origin, spoke both German and Hungarian and her beliefs were deeply engraved in her soul. When getting ready for Christmas, she taught me the significance of Advent and preparation with all its customs. One purpose of the traditional Advent was getting prepared, and apart from the preparation of the mind, in the weeks leading up to Christmas her handwritten recipe book took a major role on Sundays. In Advent time “working”, meaning baking, on Sundays was allowed – as for the rest of the time farmer wives worked really hard with no spare time for baking.  For almost each weekend, it had a cookie (‘keksz’) recipe that need exactly the same weeks to mature its flavour, as many weeks were left to Christmas compared to the Sunday it was advised to be baked on. A larger amount of each was prepared, and then packed in pretty boxes, ladies visited each other and swapped their bakes, accompanied by a cup of sweet tea, a mug of aromatic coffee and a dash of heartwarming chat. By the festive times, each household owned a rather exciting variety of wonderful Christmas treats. As wonderful and sweet as my dear grandmother, who was – I am sure – a real angel…

“I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Sweet Scone
225 g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 110 g soft lard, 40 g granulated sugar, 1 tbsp honey, 110 g mixed dried fruit, 55 g raisins, 1 medium egg, 2 tbsp milk, sugar for sprinkling
Heat the oven to 200 degrees C/Gas 6. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large baking bowl, add the lard, and lightly rub together with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the dried fruit and mix so all ingredients are well incorporated. Add the egg, honey and 1 tbsp of the milk and mix to create a stiff dough. If the mixture is still dry add milk a tbsp at a time until required consistency. Line baking sheets. Using a tablespoon divide the mixture into 15 mounds evenly spaced on the baking sheets. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 mins or until golden brown and well risen.

Piped Cookies (makes about 40)
250 g flour, 2 tsp vanilla sugar, 220 g butter, 1 egg white, 2 egg yolks, 80 g powdered sugar, 10 g lemon peel, 50 g cornstarch, 200 g melted chocolate (optional)
Line baking sheets with baking paper. Preheat the oven 180 degrees C. Whisk soft butter, powdered sugar and vanilla sugar until light and frothy. Mix in eggs, egg yolks and lemon peel, then flour and cornstarch. Blend into smooth mixture. Fill dough into piping bag with star nozzle. Pipe different shapes onto baking sheets. Bake on middle shelf for 10 – 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove cookies on baking paper from baking sheets and allow to cool completely. Following personal preference, dip cookie tips or half the cookie into melted chocolate coating and leave to set on baking paper. (These taste best after 3 to 4 weeks in an airtight container).

Afternoon Dipping Cookies
150 g salted butter, softened, 150 g sugar, 1 tbsp honey, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 large egg, 225 g plain flour, ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda, ¼ tsp salt, 200 g plain chocolate chunks (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas 5. Line baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Put the butter, honey and sugars into a bowl and beat until creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract and egg. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt over the mixture and mix in with a wooden spoon. If chosen, add the chocolate chunks and stir well. Using floured hands, form small balls of mixture and place them well apart on the baking trays. Bake in the oven for 8–10 mins until light brown on the edges and still slightly soft in the center. Leave on the tray for a couple of minutes to firm up and then transfer to a cooling rack. Optionally, dip in melted chocolate and leave it to set.

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“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

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