“Why do you call them Christmas cookies”, Francesca asked when we munched `Ausstecherle` yesterday. “Because we only eat them on Christmas and the weeks before.” “But why do you only eat them for Christmas? They are so delicious, you could eat them all year round.”
Feeling slightly stupid, I pondered this question for a night. Yes, of course, I could. As an adult, I don´t have a mother who hides the Christmas cookies in secret places so they will last till Christmas. Nobody will scold me when I snatch a Christmas cookie before time. And nobody prevents me from baking the cookies for a summer party at the beach. But do I really want to?
Often, the main part of attraction is limitation. Today, there are limited editions for about anything you can buy: cigarettes, tissues, joghurts, chocolate. They only thing I know that isn´t limited yet is toilet paper–though it was in the former GDR. As a marketing trend, I highly suspect limitation. On a private level, I enjoy it.
Strawberries in May and June, plumcake in September, onion cake in October, gingerbread and Christmas cookies in December– this seasonalization gives the pleasure of a “first” every year anew. When during the months since my last intake I have forgotten how a strawberry tastes, with the first bite the fruit seems to exlode in my mouth. Every cell in my body sighs: Oh yes, this is a strawberry. Sometimes I even purr over my first piece of plumcake with whipped cream. And the taste of the first Christmas cookie brightens every grey December day.
Historically I suppose that Christmas cookies where limited to a month of the year because the ingredients were rare and expensive. Tons of butter, sugar, nuts, almonds, and cinammon go into a good German Christmas cookie. Every family has its special assortment of cookies, the recipes handed down from mother to daughter. But the overall German Christmas cookies are “Ausstecherle”.
Ausstecherle are made from “Mürbteig”-piecrust. They consist of butter, flour, sugar and eggs, kneaded into a smooth dough and cooled for an hour. After spreading out with a rolling pin, metal stencils cut out dough shaped like stars, angels or Christmas trees. The baked cookies are covered with icing and dipped into chocolate- or sugar streusel (I just realized that the English word for a crumbled topping is the same as the German).
My mother always prepares 15 varieties of Christmas cookies. I do one.
In Germany, every child has the birthright to at least one Christmas cookie baking session a year. So I do it. I bake. Mostly because I feel that I should give my son the experience of actually making something by hand. But on the great day, I stand in my kitchen and wonder how this incredibly slow process of Christmas cookie making could be organized more effectively. It seems such a waste of time to spend three hardworking hours to produce a handful of Christmas cookies. The first and second part of the process I like: the kneading of the dough and the cutting out of shapes with stencils. For me, the work could very well finish with putting the cookies in the oven. But by then, I´m only halfway through. Now I have to dip every single cookie into the icing, then into the chocolate streusel, then put it on a drying rack. This is normally the time when my son vanishes into his room. To make 10 cookies is fun, to make 200 is real work. So I, who hate repetitions, am left with 190 unfinished cookies. Soon, I get annoyed about being left with the stupid work. I call my son, scold him, try to force him to help me, lose the fight, and finally finish the work on my own with red anger in my heart.
To make the matter worse, I can´t even moan about the Christmas cookie making. In Germany, you have to enjoy this quality time with your children – basta.
Though this year the no-moan tradition seems to change. Yesterday night the owner of the local sauna handed me a leaflet: “Special reductions for everybody stressed out by Christmas shopping and cookie making”. Tonight, sweating on a wooden bench, I will meet my peers.
I wonder where I can put pen and paper to write down all the new recipes for Christmas cookies.
But this will be another story.