Wednesday was the girls' last day of school for the year. It was one of those days that tend to come at this time--there was family sharing where the girls got to show me lessons in their classrooms, then we came home at noon with Sadie's best friend in the center seat. There was a solstice party at five, and the every hour between those was filled with bouncing girls and carrot sticks and sisters not sharing and seven-year-old girl drama and festivity throughout. I needed to get a certain amount of book work done, and so I sat upstairs with my computer and my huge pile of first draft, and every time a question was hollered up the stairs, I just let go a "sure!" without actually listening. By 3:30, I had to abandon the pile of paper to go pull something together for the party, and so I walked into the remnants of the girl tornado, got out the nail polish remover to reverse some of the damage on the girls' skin, and I opened up the new Gourmet Cookie Book.
My aunt gave me this book for my birthday a few weeks ago, and every few days since I've been flipping through it like a Taschen art book. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend--it's just a classy and beautiful book. The book has each "best" cookie recipe for every year since the 40's, and they weave together world events and cookie recipes in a story both through the words and the images. It's hard to open the book at any moment and not abandon the current activity that one might be involved in in favor of pulling out the mixing bowls and measuring cups. I had resisted up to this point, and now it was time to give in.
The truth is, I've made so few recipes in the last months that have been separate from recipe testing for the book, that when I embarked on these little ginger shortbread cookies, I felt like I was taking off from the world and getting a pedicure. I chose it first because it is egg free and Sadie could be sure to have a treat at the party, but also because I just kept opening to it. It was like that game when you ask the bible or the dictionary or some other big and important book and question, and the open page answers you. I asked, "what do I need?" And the book kept answering "Skibo Castle Ginger Crunch". It seemed like a good answer, and quick to put together, and so there I was with butter in hand.
When the three girls learned that I was making cookies, they got quiet, and respectful, and they pushed their hair behind their ears with their excessively nail polished fingers and walked around the kitchen like little Zen Buddhist nuns in quiet meditation. I put on the the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, and baked to the light of the tiny Dr. Seuss Christmas tree in the corner, and by 4:00, it was dark out. The day calmed into the night, and I was thinking about Christmas and baking and cookies and why those all go together, and about how people must want to bake so much during the holiday because it creates quiet and space in its own little way. The world gets crazier at the same time that it is supposed to slow down, and somehow by preheating the oven and then setting the timer we say, "wait, hold on, in twenty minutes the cookies will be ready, and then I'll be back with you." And then there are cookies to give, and that of course, is another good other reason to bake cookies.
I know that by the time your reading this it's already Christmas, or even after it, but I want to tell you about this cookie anyway. It was so fabulous, light and gingery with so much crisp, and it would make a good new year's cookie or any day in the winter when you might need that little bit of cookie baking. It's one of those cookies that doesn't seem like it will hold up and work and keep together, but trust me, it will. And I hope that today, whatever and where ever you are celebrating (even if it's just saturday!) is a good day, a warm and restful one with the exact combination of elements that you hope for.
Happy holidays, friends. Have a cookie, eh?
Skibo Castle Ginger Crunch
for the shortbread:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
for the topping:
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Lyle's Golden Syrup
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9x13 metal pan (it's okay to go a little smaller than this too, if that's what you have).
Sift together the dry ingredients for the shortbread and blend in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press evenly into the base of the pan. It will be dry, and thin, but it will all work out--don't worry. Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes.
A few minutes before the shortbread is done, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the other topping ingredients until smooth. Bring to a boil, and then simmer while stirring for 30 seconds. Remove the shortbread from the oven and pour the topping over it, tilting the pan to get an even coverage. Cool the pan on a rack for at least 2 hours, then cut into 64 squares in the pan.