It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single or married woman in possession of a Mennonite upbringing must be in want of a baking project.
I may have confused that quote with something else. Never mind. It’s still true.
It’s true all year round but, at Christmastime, we go into overdrive.
You might want to stay out of the kitchen.
For me, it all starts one sad day in November when I realize that First Advent has rolled around again and I have not yet begun my baking. Oh, the shame.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now, and have learned to adapt. Well, I have a bit.
I’ve already dropped the most traditional Christmas cookies from my list of baking. Were I to bake the dainties that followed my people through our diaspora, I would have to begin with an annual Quest for the Holy Baking Ammonia. A pungent white powder that renders our sweets leaven and our kitchens smelling mildly medicinal, it was widely used in baking by all in the nineteenth century and by Mennonites still.
My family knows better than to entrust this task to me as it is a very important one and ought to happen early in the season, well before my annual baking panic attack.
Were it not to happen, my family would have to face a season without our beloved Weihnachts piroshki, a cookie so obscure it evades even Google. Other families may laud their peppermint Gruznikje or ubiquitous honigskuchens, but we hold firm that none can match the Weihnachts piroshki in flavour and heft.
Yes – heft. This is no light and airy meringue or melt-in-the-mouth shortbread cookie, the sort of cookie so ephemeral that it speaks of fleeting days of hope and passing moments of joy. No – this is a substantial cookie to help get one through a solid 4-5 month winter of deprivation. It’s a serious cookie for serious times.
It’s also, admittedly, not the most aesthetically pleasing of all Christmas dainties. A mottled pinkish-brown tipped oval about the size of a goose egg after a bad fall, the Weihnachts piroshki is more reminiscent of a lump of raw sausage meat than a confectionery’s delight. I have scattered 4 of them into the picture above (thanks, Mom) amidst a selection of not-so-traditional Mennonite Christmas cookies. I trust you can pick them out.
If we just did the traditional baking, there’d be four or five types of cookies and a festive yeast bread. That’s it. We’d be in and out of the kitchen in no time. And ready to kick back for a cocktail.
Yeah, well. We don’t do that.
We keep baking. It is important to have many varieties of Christmas cookies, and a lot of each, in case of — you know — a holiday entertaining emergency. Imagine the horror of guests appearing at the door in December and there being no plateful of cookies to offer. I shudder.
It won’t happen in my house.
What will happen, however, is just as frightful. There will come a day of reckoning in early January.
On that day, I will know that my holiday spirit of hospitality has not been sufficient for all the aspirational cookies I baked in December. It never is. With my own family members lying about the house in varying degrees of a sugar coma, I will also know that I can’t stuff even one more pfeffernusse down any of their throats. They will look at me pleadingly and, though my frugality rebels with any inch of my soul, I will be merciful and send a few hapless cookies instead to their quiet graves in the garden compost.
It is sad. But that is the bittersweet ending to the Christmas season. Every year.
But, never mind all that today! It is not even Christmas yet and no time to be mourning the cookie ghosts of Christmas future. Between now and then, I will do my best to save as many of the little cakes as possible from that sad January fate.
By eating them, of course, alongside a Christmas cocktail. Let’s try this one first. It’s got the peppermint taste of a Gruznikje but not a hint of ammonia.
- 4 oz milk
- 1 oz heavy cream
- 1 tsp cocoa
- 1 tsp icing sugar
- 1 oz peppermint schnapps
- 1 oz creme de cacao
- whipped cream, cocoa, and candy cane to garnish
Heat milk and cream with cocoa and sugar until almost boiling. Stir well and add the two liqueurs. Pour into serving cup and top with whipped cream. Sprinkle cocoa over the cream and toss in a candy cane as a stir stick. Serve with cookies (lots of cookies).