Wednesday, December 5, 2012

she had a Manhattan

I haven’t taken many pictures lately, and I kind of regret it. The urge comes and goes. This time of year, I spend a large portion of my weekday hours driving the kids to and from school, hockey, piano; the light is gone by late afternoon. The days appear monotonous as I contemplate photographing them, when in fact they’re full of energy and stimulation, more subtly and intricately so than their counterpart warmer months. 

All afternoon, while Alexi and the boys were at hockey practice, I worked at my computer from a stool at our snack bar. I tried to keep the cats off my lap so I could concentrate, not wanting to go to our office where I could close the door but where there is only a view of the street. It was a pleasure sitting quietly, alone, watching the light fade. I had the transient thought that, in ten years, when a solitary afternoon like this one becomes more of the norm, it might no longer be so pleasurable. 

I ate a pre-made, previously frozen meal of Palak Paneer for dinner. In between bites and typing out paragraphs, I exchanged text messages with my sister. Her husband had a late meeting, so she stopped at a restaurant, alone, on her way home from work, as New Yorkers are prone to do. Her meal was a definite step up from mine: a salad of two kinds of lettuce with yams and walnuts, Nantucket bay scallops, and a Maker's Mark Manhattan. In one message, she described how someone old enough to be our grandfather had just hit on her. In another, she said someone else had just sent her a drink, so she was heading home. “Who knew that restaurant was such a frisky place?" I finished my meal up with a couple of sugar cookies.

I baked my first batch of holiday cookies yesterday, and as I did so I promised myself I would keep the baking down to a dull roar. December can start to feel like being on vacation in the sense of out-of-the-ordinary eating and drinking for a month straight. At the end of a vacation I’m always glad to come back to my own kitchen and eating habits; this December I want to 'stay home' in that regard. 

With this recipe, you get the great shapes that are the major appeal of sugar cookies, but with the addition of a fantastic citrus and spice flavor, and your home smells like Christmas after you bake them.

Orange and Five-Spice Sugar Cookies
adapted from the Seattle Times 2005 Holiday Cookie supplement

Chinese five-spice is a blend of star anise, fennel, clove, coriander, and cinnamon that has a warm, spicy flavor.

I wasn’t able to find orange oil anywhere. I ordered it online here.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons orange juice
Optional: 1 teaspoon orange oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
parchment paper
white sparkling decorator sugar

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, five-spice and cinnamon.

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, orange juice, orange oil if using, and vanilla. Beat just until blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients, beating until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Divide the dough in half, wrap, and chill at least 1 hour.

Roll out the dough between sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap to about ¼ inch thickness. Place the rolled dough on a baking sheet and chill 15 minutes in the freezer.

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment.

To cut shapes from the dough, remove the top sheet of plastic and invert dough-side down on a lightly floured kitchen counter. Remove the second sheet of plastic and cut out shapes as desired. Transfer the cut shapes to the parchment-lined sheet. Sprinkle the tops with decorator sugar. Gather the scraps, and roll and freeze them as described above before cutting again.

Bake in the center of the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are golden. Let the cookies cool on their baking sheets a few minutes before transferring to racks to finish cooling.

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies


Emily said...

Sometimes I long to take photos all the time and then other days, I think it must look so repetitive and it's nice to free myself from that obligation a little. Still, I'm so pleased that you've taken some to share with us here - I could look at the ones on this blog over and over without every getting tired of them because they're so beautiful. This year I probably won't bake cookies for the first Christmas in years because I won't see all my friends in Berlin to give them as presents but I'm sure there will be a good moment to try your recipe over the holidays. They look amazing.

Lecia said...

Emily: I know what you mean about the obligation aspect of photography. I always love glimpses into your life via your photos. Thank you for your kind compliments. xo

emily said...

amazing how amazon has become a go-to for gourmet food items - we buy our truffle salt on amazon. also, i am positively loving your writing lecia, as always but more so.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Love the look of your cookies and ingredient list. I applaud your four years of photographic dedication. I seem to need to play games with myself to reach my goals. Structure and I always seem at odds for some reason. I've been thinking ahead lately too. Sometimes I can't believe all I've done so far in this life of mine. I just don't want it moving too quickly. I'm thankful for your words and images here, Lecia.

molly said...

"a dull roar" -- I needed that sentiment right now. Thanks, Lecia. While our baking usually roars at a ferocious level, there is much to be done in maintaining normal, at meal time.

I do hope your December is off to a good start, warm and mellow and full of what suits.


KPiep said...

I don't consider myself a good enough photographer to do the everyday thing....but I've always loved your pictures!