Nearly every year growing up around the holidays, as many of you may remember, my mom would make a massive trip to Publix coming home with about 20lbs of flour, 40lbs of sugar, and God knows how much butter, eggs, vanilla extract, spices, etc. She would spend, I think, about a week of her vacation baking dozens upon dozens of cookies of all different flavors. She always made sure to have my brother’s favorite (chocolate chip cookies or shortbread cookies depending on the year) and my favorite (lemon star cookies). Every surface in the kitchen and dining room was covered with cookies and ingredients and the house was filled with the smells of the Christmas tree and warm cookies and the sounds of some angelic choir music. As I got older this tradition stuck with me – baking cookies means it’s the holiday season and fills me with the simple joy and sense of calm that few other things can. After college, I added my own tradition (and now Jesse’s and my tradition). In addition to some cookies (not as many varieties as my mom makes), I also make a gingerbread house with a different theme each year. We invite friends over to decorate the tree, the sugar cookies, and the house. We drink mulled wine and play holiday music and, when we have a fireplace, we have a fire roaring and make smores.
This year, in a different country with a different flavor palet, Cookie Time was just a little more difficult. Most Argentine pastries are of the dulce de leche variety and don’t include many of the spices we use, meaning that most supermarkets don’t have the ingredients needed for cookie time. After a little searching and asking around, I finally made my way to Doña Clara, a baking supply store on Avenida Corrientes. They have just about everything there from pans to spices to decorations and they actually ship supplies all over Argentina. But it’s really tiny. You walk in and have about a yards width between the counter and the other wall and when its crowded… well it reminds me of walking on Broadway through SoHo. Not fun and makes me feel a bit claustrophobic. But the workers there are really nice and even though it was well past closing time by the time my number was called (like most Argentine stores you can’t meander around picking up what you want, you have to take a number and then the clerk helps you find every item you want), the clerk was very patient with my spanish and many requests and I was able to get just about everything I needed there, including some rather delicious 70% dark chocolate. After a little incident with my handheld mixer and quick trip to the store to buy another, Cookie Time commenced and (if I do say so myself) was a success!
Because we are in Argentina, I took a big leap with the theme this year and decided to make the Casa Rosada (the Argentina “White House”). This was a bit more complicated than the houses in years past, but I had a really good time figuring it out. While I’ve always used caramel to hold the house together, this year I decided to skip the second degree burns that usually come with using hot caramel and I used the more traditional royal icing. I also used royal icing with food coloring for decorating the façade of the house. The holiday candy selection here isn’t the same as it is in the States (I couldn’t find candy canes for example), so we skipped the traditional candy decorations and just stuck with royal icing.
Who knows what design next year will bring or where we’ll be holding Cookie Time festivities! (Hopefully I’ll have my kitchenaid back. My hand mixer this year started smoking while I was mixing the gingerbread. I’ve decided this is the litmus test for mixer power. Can it mix gingerbread without smoking? Then it’s strong enough. 🙂 )
A little peak into the houses from previous years…