Growing up in a Jewish household and going to a Jewish private school and having all Jewish friends, I really had no idea about the heart-warming history and beloved traditions that make up the true meaning of Christmas. Up until I was about 18, I thought there wasn’t much more to it than the Christmas trees I saw through my neighbor’s windows, the fake Santa at the mall, and the songs I heard on the radio.
As a Jew, Christmas meant getting to see the biggest blockbuster movies opening on Christmas Day without having to wait in line, the awesome clothing on Boxing Day, and going out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve.
But as I emerged into the secular world, my knowledge about Christmas grew...and most of it focused on the food. At the age of 20, I was invited to a friend’s house for Christmas dinner and had my first taste of honey-glazed ham. From there, the tastes of Christmas emerged fast and furious: fruitcake, panettone , eggnog, Christmas trifle, mincemeat pie, and a plethora of cheese ball recipes are just some of the seasonal delicacies I have
I have be honest: this foodie’s opinion of Christmas was not a good one; perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t understand how spongy, precooked meat, raw egg-laced milk, and cement-like cake can be considered delicacies.
I had pretty much given up hope on enjoying the tastes of Christmas.
Yesterday, I participated in my first-ever Christmas cookie exchange. A colleague tried to explain it to me and from what I understood, it sounded like a pot-luck lunch where all you eat is cookies.
“Not quite,” she responded. “You don’t actually eat the cookies, you just exchange them.”
She told me to just bake four dozen of my favorite cookie recipe, bring them in on the designated day, and just go with the flow.
On the day of The Exchange, I walked into the staff room and was greeting by mountains of at least 10 different kinds of home-made cookies. I was handed a box, and told to fill ‘er up with as many different cookies as I wanted until the total number of cookies I took equaled that of the number I brought.
Oh. My. God.
There were Hello Dollies, meringues, coconut-jam thumbprints, and at least 3 different chocolate chip varieties, just to name a few. In a very elf-like manner, I pranced around the room collecting cookies, feeling like a kid on Christmas morning….at least I think that’s what a kid feels like on Christmas morning.
Finally, after 39 years, I truly understand the meaning of Christmas.
Thank-you cookie-exchange fairy.
Here’s what I brought to the cookie exchange:
Chocolate Fudge Crackle Cookies
This recipe was found on a box of limited edition holiday-themed Ziploc bags.
1/4 cup butter or shortening
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup icing sugar
1. Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a glass bowl in microwave, melt shortening and semi-sweet chocolate chips on Medium (50%). Add in sugar and then eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Let cool for 5 minutes.
3. Mix in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Add next 4 ingredients; mix well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 ½ hours up to 8 hours.
4. Sift icing sugar in a shallow bowl. Between palms of hand, roll pieces of chilled dough to form 1 ¼” (3 cm) balls. Drop balls into icing sugar and toss lightly until well coated-do not shake off the excess. Place on prepared baking sheets and flatten very slightly. Repeat with remaining dough and remaining icing sugar, spacing about 1 ½” (4 cm) apart on baking sheet.
Bake each sheet in preheated oven for 10 - 12 minutes or until just beginning to feel firm when pressed in centre. Let cool on baking sheet on wire racks for 5 minutes. Transfer crackles to wire racks to cool completely.
PS. The above posting was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I enjoy and admire many of the traditions of Christmas and respect its true religious meaning. And I don’t hate trifle that much. Fruitcake on the other hand…