Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What is it about this Pineapple Christmas Cookie Recipe?

Aunt Lee's car trunk at Christmas!
It's amazing how a an incidental moment, like a benign text, can transform you several years back, to a kitchen about a mile from my current one, where I spent years making holiday memories. Before life was interrupted, I would sit at the center island watching my Aunt Lee roll out cookie dough. The kitchen window sparkled with tiny white lights, wooden trees and reindeer's. A Christmas movie would be on the TV, and two young boys, enticed by the aroma, would take turns coming in to check on the progress. Good memories, all!

My Aunt Lee was the cookie queen. Baking for weeks before the big day, making festively decorated cookie trays as gifts for special family members! And she always saved some baking to do at my house, which was a gift in itself! But I have to be honest here, Lee Lee, as her nieces called her, was very generous with her cookie gifts, but not so much with the recipes. "Oh, a little of this and a little of that", she would say when pressed for details. "You'll figure it out." Only I never did. I love to cook but not strong on baking. If I had been, I would have mastered her fabulous Ricotta cookies, or my absolute favorite, Cucidadi Cuccidada, an Italian cookie filled with figs and raisins and iced with a sweet glaze. I miss these. I don't attempt recipes I find hard to pronounce.
Cucidadi Cuccidada! The best!

But, let's get back to the text from my sister Betty that led to all of this reminiscing. "Can you send me Aunt Lee's pineapple cookie recipe...I don't eat many cookies but I love these." She wasn't alone. This cookie was my Dad's absolute favorite, anytime of year. My brother Cee Jay's as well. I didn't have many of her recipes. But several years ago, on one bitterly cold December night, we had cleaned up the kitchen, and the two of us sipped tea and ate bagels (heavily buttered, her preference). She talked about this recipe and how it was her husband's favorite cookie as well. He had passed a few years earlier and Christmas was hard for her without him. Forgive me Lord, but I saw a softening in her cookie armour, took a shot and asked her how she made it. Her surprising narrative follows:

1/2 lb of soften butter (room temp, not melted)
8 oz of soften cream cheese
1/2 cup of sugar
2.5 cups of flour (it may be 2.75 cups, she added. If the dough feels a little soft or sticky, add another quarter cup of flour)
Jar of quality pineapple preserves (not jelly!)
1 cup of well crushed walnuts

Blend ingredients in a blender (this, she offered, is when you will know if you need more flour. 
Form dough into a ball and divide in half.
Put both halves in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours. Overnight is better.
When well chilled, roll out the dough and place the one half in the bottom of a 13"x 9" baking dish (bottom only, not the sides.)
Spread half the jar of preserves on the dough
Roll out second half and place on top of the pineapple spread
Brush top of second one with egg white
Generously, sprinkle the walnuts over the egg washed dough
Then, take a fork and prick the dough all over.
Place in 350 degree preheated oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on oven) until golden brown.
While the cookies are still warm, cut into diamond shapes but leave them in the pan. 
Aunt Lee, the Cookie Queen

I was so surprised that all of this information was coming out! I was writing quickly, trying not to ask questions that might break her momentum. And then, there it was, a start to finish, Aunt Lee cookie recipe! This was a coup! And unlike her other recipes where she might leave an ingredient or two out to throw you off, this one was perfect. A must try for cookie bakers! 

Until the day she died, Aunt Lee kept her reign as Cookie Queen. I actually don't know what happened to her recipes but it really doesn't matter. I have something so special. Memories of baking and chatting the winter days away, many Christmas's ago. Much better than a recipe.