Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Demolition Derby in the Kitchen

(Please don't think I'm insensitive to last weekend's tragedy. I just can't cope with it right now and needed something light to help me get through the week. I may take up the topic later, but it will probably have been beaten to a pulp by then.) I love cardamom. True confession and the reason for the above. Several weeks ago, I found a cookie recipe - online - for Swedish ginger snaps, a.k.a. Pepperkaka. Eagerly printing off the recipe, I realized I actually had all the ingredients on hand, including an expensive little jar of ground cardamom. It was a little too close to Christmas to attempt something new, so I filed it away for a later time which turned out to be yesterday. For those of you who may not know this, I come from hardy Norwegian stock on my dad's side. Norway and Sweden have not always been on loving terms and there are old jokes to prove that, e.g. "Did you hear about Norway's new zoo? The put a fence around Sweden." Ha . . . Anyway, I hereby curse whichever Swede put this recipe out there for innocent me to stumble upon. By no means am I a new cook. I'm older than dirt and have cooked and baked my way through several different cuisines. I also have developed recipes of my own that I've shared with family members in a family cookbook. None have died, so far as, a result of eating any of my concoctions! So -- back to the Pepperkaka. It's a two day process. The recipe states that one must mix and heat an enormous amount of sugar, molasses, spices (there's the cardamom), a touch of water and a full cup of butter. No prob. The aroma of all that coming to a boil is beyond words to describe. The fun begins when one adds five cups of flour and a tiny amount of baking soda with an electric mixer. [I kid you not!] Now my hand mixer, being a hideous harvest gold color is also older than dirt, but still works. It vents through slots on the bottom of the mixer which is, of course, directly over the hot pot of sugar and butter now topped off by five cups of flour. Even at slow speed, flour blew up and out of said pot, straight up my nose. After a short break to blow said nose and to slap flour off my face and front, I returned to the electric mixer which very nearly died from the effort of incorporating five cups of flour. At that point, the directions say to cover the cookie dough and refrigerate overnight. Knowing I couldn't put my pot with it's long handle in the frig, I efficiently transferred the lovely smelling, warm, soft dough into my favorite mixing bowl. [I have had this Danish bowl since I bought it for serious bucks in a duty free shop on St. Thomas, USVI in 1973. I intend to pass it on to one of my nieces or nephews. -- It's special, OK?] We all know what happens to melted butter when it is refrigerated, right? Today, when I eagerly reached in to pull out the bowl of dough for the hour I was advised to let it soften up a bit, I thought it would probably take a bit longer because it had a whole cup of butter and five cups of flour in it. After two hours, I set the oven to preheat then approached the bowl -- my favorite bowl -- my most used bowl -- to scoop out some dough to roll and cut into perfect, delicate, spicy, yummy cookies. Peeling back the plastic wrap, I realized the dough had become roughly the consistency of a thick block of leather. There would be no scooping. This looked like a job for hammer and chisel, but it was in my favorite bowl! So, I let it sit on the counter for another hour. No change. By then our tiny kitchen was getting really hot, so I pulled out a table knife, planning to cut the dough into workable wedges. Yeah, right. Half an hour later I was searching for a sweat band and cursing words I thought I'd blocked from my vocabulary. It didn't help that I was standing directly next to a metal box that had been preheated (for a long time now) to 350 degrees. Nevertheless, I clawed out a chunk of dough and slapped it onto the counter to roll out. Good thing I have a serious rolling pin -- not one of those cutesy glass, marble or porcelain ones. Mine is silky smooth, seasoned, solid maple allowing for me to beat the dough into submission. I was really glad I'd found my sweat band because by the time I finished beating and rolling the dough into 1/8" thickness, carefully cutting perfect rounds and baking 600 dozen cookies (remember those five cups of flour) I was dehydrated and exhausted but glad I hadn't dripped onto any of them. Now all I have to do is let them sit in a tightly covered container for a month so they can develop their full flavor. Yeah, right . . .

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