The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas
by Jeff Smith, William Morrow and Company, Inc. NY, 1991
Jeff Smith passed away many years ago now, and though he had some real legal issues later in his life, I like to separate his personal life from his teaching, so the final book I would like to recommend this holiday season is The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas. Like so many, I grew up watching Jeff Smith on PBS learning how to make the perfect roux, why a roux whisk is better than a balloon whisk for making one and how to use a Turkish coffee grinder for making freshly ground black pepper... so many things. His interest in other cultures and their history, both secular as well as religious, makes reading his books or watching his, albeit now dated, television program more enlightening than any classroom lecture I ever witnessed. His conversational style of writing is refreshingly warm and inclusive, like you know all the people he is talking about personally.
No, Virginia, you cannot eat these cookies. The dough is made of salt and flour and it will last several years. Our secretary, Dawn Sparks, gave us this recipe from her daughter-in-law, Becky. It works very well. A tree decorated with cookies is one of the most delightful things a child could ever see, even though he cannot eat the cookies. Nevertheless, he understands that Christmastime is to be a time of endless enjoyment. Yields 1 dozen ornaments
1 ¾ cups hot water
1 cup salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten with 3 Tablespoons water
Pour the hot water into a bowl with the salt and stir for 1 minutes (I use my KitchenAid mixer). The salt grains will reduce in size, but they will not completely dissolve. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few minutes until it is smooth and pliable. Keep the dough in a plastic bag if you do not plan to use it after the 5 minutes resting time.
Roll the dough out 3/8 inch thick on a floured surface and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Place the cookies on a nonstick baking sheet and brush lightly with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated 300° oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until golden brown. You can also press the dough into lightly oiled fancy ceramic molds* or lightly floured wooden molds and bake as instructed by the manufacturer.
* Decorative ceramic cookie molds can be obtained from Brown Bag Cookie Art by Hill Design, Inc. 7 Eagle Square, Concord, New Hampshire, 03301. [Brown Bag Designs is still in business and can now be found online at http://www.brownbagcookiemolds.com]