Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Smiley Giveaway





The nice marking folks at Eat ‘n Park have offered to ship a free box of Smiley Cookies to one of my U.S. readers as a giveaway—my first one!  It’s a good, free way to sample Smileys for your own wedding or—if you’re like me—a good excuse for eating too many iced cookies.  To win, you’ll need to visit Smiley’s website, http://www.smileycookie.com/, browse the Smiley cookie categories and post a comment on ThePittsburghCookieTable about your favorite shape of Smiley Cookie.  For instance, if your favorite Smiley is the Steeler Smiley, just post something along the lines of: I really like the Steeler Smiley.  That’s it.  If your comment number is my lucky number, you’ll win the cookies.  For example, if my lucky number is 6 and yours is the sixth comment, you win.   Ok, let’s see who will win a free box of Smileys.  Good luck! 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Smiles on Your Wedding Day




I remember my first Eat ‘n Park Smiley Cookie.  I was about six-years-old and my family—mom, dad, and younger sister---had just moved from Pittsburgh thirty minutes north to Cranberry Township. Farm country, we considered it back then.  After a day spent lifting and unpacking boxes, Mom announced that if we wanted to eat, we’d have to go out.  We settled on an Eat ‘n Park, one of the five options in our new town.  At the end of our meal, while my parents sipped the final third of their decaf coffees, the waitress appeared with our bill and two wax paper envelops.

“Cookies for your two little girls,” she said, setting them side by side on the table.

“Oh,” said Dad, furrowing his brows. “But we didn't order any cookies.”

“They’re free for children under six,” she replied.

My sister and I grinned at each other and slid our cookies out of their wrappings.  They were round cookies with a white glaze and piped with a smiley face.  Mine was orange; Jackie’s pink.
    
“It’s huge,” I said, comparing it to my hand.  “I don’t think I’ll eat it all.”

I took one bite, then another.  The sugar cookie was firm, but the icing made it softer.  It tasted buttery, like my grandmother’s cut-outs.  My sister and I chewed on the cookies even as we left the restaurant. By the time we reached home, they were gone.

My hands have long since outgrown Smiley’s circumference and I’m confident that today I’d be able to eat two cookies instead of one.  But since high school, Smiley Cookies have been absent from my dessert repertoire.  I went to college in a town without an Eat ‘n Park and after graduation I moved to Greece, where although there were no Smiley Cookies, I did run into a Smiley Baklava once.  Really.  Next came Grad School and before I knew it I was an adult, too old for Smiley Cookies.  Or so I thought.
This summer when I began writing The Pittsburgh Cookie Table, I focused on favorite regional cookie recipes. When someone suggested that I write about the Smiley Cookies as a possible cookie candidate, I was ashamed that I hadn’t thought of it myself.  With its history and ties to Pittsburgh, of course Smiley Cookies should be part of the Pittsburgh wedding tradition.  

Joining Eat ‘n Park restaurants in 1986, Smiley has been a Pittsburgh kids’ treat for over 25 years.  My generation remembers them as fixtures at birthdays, church socials, and school holiday parties.  I think most Pittsburghers have a fond memory or two of the colorful smiles.  If you’d like to learn more about Smiley,  the Eat ‘n Park Hospitality group created a nice YouTube video about the cookie’s history here.

It’s easy to add Smiley Cookies to your cookie table tradition.  At Smiley’s website, www.smileycookie.com brides can order dozens of Smiley Cookies in just a few steps.  With a choice of twelve colors for both the smiley face and the base, the cookies can be customized to virtually any wedding color combination.  The order ships to any address in the U.S. and you can request the date of their arrival.  My parents were lucky enough to receive a box of the cookies in the mail last week.  Below are some pictures.







Just beautiful and yummy.  My mother said they arrived at her door in a plastic air tight box and not a single cookie had broken.  Good to know. 

Over time, things change.  Cranberry Township is no longer countryside and my left hand now sports an engagement ring.  But the cheer Smiley Cookies bring has stayed the same and I think they’d make an excellent addition to any Pittsburgh cookie table.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Where I've been



Part of me can’t believe it.  Has more than a month passed since my last post?  Looking at the date of my last cookie recipe, June 27, I see that numbers don’t lie.   Well then.  It’s time for someone to get back on a writing schedule.

First it was the bridal shower my mother and sister threw for me in the U.S. Wedding etiquette books warn brides not to become involved with the shower, to prevent speculation that she’s campaigning for gifts.  But as I say here, I wanted to make something for the ladies in my life who gave up a summer Saturday to shower me with gifts and wish me well as the future Mrs. P. 

I made them these:


  Vanilla Lime cupcakes with Lime frosting 

Apart from a report that one cupcake melted in a hot car on its way home, I think they served as rather nice parting gifts.

Next was my big move to Greece.  I must have packed and repacked my suitcases twenty times, all to avoid overweight charges… they were overweight in the end.  And then the dress.  My sister, a costumer, sewed a special bag for my wedding dress’ ride across the Atlantic.  Not a single wrinkle when I arrived.
To shorten a long tale, in four weeks I rejoined my Spyros, landed a teaching position (yes, I found a job.  In Greece where unemployment has reached 24.4%), and am eating food like this:


And seeing sights like this:



And this: 



I am truly thankful for how everything has turned out but not all the roadblocks are gone.  Things are difficult here.  Every day we learn of another friend who has quit or is quitting Greece for the UK or US.  I’m hoping for the best but feelings are not positive here. 

On a happier note, I did have a publication accepted here in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the creator of the Peanut Blossom Cookie, Freda Smith.  Thank you friends and readers for your encouragement and support.  It means more than you know.

 Now that I’m in Greece cookie recipes will still be my focus, but because of my new location and where I am in my life, this blog will alter some.  You see, Spyros and I are preparing to move into a new house.  And until it is ready my oven access will be limited but the trade-off is just fine; my in-laws-to-be have graciously offered us their home along with copious amounts of free pasta and wine. Nonetheless, Greece has many foodie finds and I will post about them all.  I’m looking forward to the new direction this blog is taking and hope you’ll join me as I rediscover Greece.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wedding Colors




Colors, the choice of them, have pirated my attention this summer. I’ve spent… more hours than I care to admit, clicking through reception d├ęcor, wedding invitations, cakes, and floral arrangements in pursuit of wedding color schemes.  At my lowest point I spent an entire sunny, low-humidity Saturday—a rarity in Pittsburgh—at my desk, scanning slideshows of escort cards.  I’m pretty sure online browsing only hinders my making a decision. After a few photos, they all become a blur and I’m no better off than when I started.  Perhaps a multitude of options isn't always a good thing.  Add to that the construction of our new home and you’ve got a bride who’s tempted to devote entire weekends to looking for the perfect cabinet stain.  But I’m having a blast.  At what other time in her life does a girl get to focus on making things pretty?  Not many, I’m afraid.

  My obsession with color has found its way into the cookie table project. Early this week I realized that the cookies I’ve baked so far are the same color, a browned butter hue—cozy and appetizing but, sadly, a bit monotonous.  So this week I experimented with a recipe that would add some splash to the typical cookie table, strawberry bon bons.



Strawberry bon bons are not sophisticated cookies, I won’t pretend otherwise.   They will win you no culinary accolades nor much esteem in foodie circles.  No, these candy-like cookies belong in the category of sweets reserved for a child’s birthday party or a  girl’s baby-doll tea.  But these deterrents do not make me love them any less.

 I became acquainted with strawberry bon bons at a cousin’s wedding back in 1994.  They tasted tropical, of juicy strawberries, island coconut, and warm almond.  Like a Strawberry Almond joy (which makes me think that these cookies would be sinful dipped in bitter dark chocolate).  It was a breakthrough for me, a child whose favorite treats were coconut muffins.  I never did learn the recipe but remembered their taste and, most important, their appearance; bright red with a slight sparkle, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.  They dominated the cookie table.

I do hope you’ll give strawberry bon bons a try at your next party or as a snack.  They are easy to make and both kids and adults love them.  They solve the color conundrum, adding a pop of brightness to any cookie display.  Happy Friday, everyone!



Strawberry Bon Bons

INGREDIENTS:

v  1 8 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
v  1 10 oz. bag flaked coconut
v  1 6 oz. box strawberry gelatin
v  1 cup blanched almonds, ground
v  2 teaspoons almond extract
v  red food coloring
v  1 tube prepared green frosting

1 In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, coconut, 1/3 cup strawberry gelatin, ground almonds, almond extract and enough red food coloring to tint the mixture a strawberry shade. Stir with a wooden spoon until well-combined.

2 Chill in the refrigerator until firm enough to handle, about one hour.

3 Pour the remaining strawberry gelatin into a wide shallow dish, a pie pan or square glass dish should be just fine. With your hands, form small amounts of the mixture (about ½ tablespoon) into a strawberry shape.  Roll the strawberry in the remaining gelatin to coat.  Pipe a stem with the green icing and place the finished strawberry on a cookie sheet.  Keep refrigerated until serving.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Classy Cookie Displays--From The Mansion at Maple Heights


When I was growing up in the early 1990s, cookie tables were all about, well, the cookies. Nothing was more pleasing to an eight-year-old than a card table clothed in white crepe paper heaped with iced, sugared, and chocolate speckled treats.  But times have changed and so have weddings. Gone—or at least decreased—are receptions jammed with five-hundred guests at the local fire hall. Weddings today tend to be classier affairs with pared down guest lists—often without children—for greater intimacy and quality.  In Pittsburgh, the cookie table has experienced a transformation, too.  It’s no longer enough to present Tupperware boxes full of cookies in the corner of the reception hall.  Families and wedding venues now devote attention to cookie presentation, too.

Early this summer, I asked several Pittsburgh-area wedding vendors if they would consider sharing photos of their cookie table displays on my blog.  One of the earliest responders was Nicole Pope, event coordinator at The Mansion at Maple Heights in Shadyside.  Nicole graciously sent gorgeous shots of some of the Mansion’s past cookie displays  crafted by its exclusive caterers, Big Catering.  The Mansion at Maple Heights is a lovely venue for a Pittsburgh wedding.  Its oak floors and paneling, stained glass windows, and grand staircase evoke the Victorian charm that often characterizes historic homes in Pittsburgh.  The Mansion’s cookie tables are something special too and offer inspiration for anyone organizing their own cookie display or dessert bar. 



Trays displayed at varying heights lends different focal points—and 
maximizes space.






Love this display.  Colorful icings offer a fun contrast to the white, square trays.  I’m also crazy about the different shapes and textures.




Mmm, smores.  A wonderful idea for a fall or summer wedding.  



Navy blue, any shade of blue really, is a great background for food displays since it has a calming effect on the eyes and appetite.  In this case, the dark navy contrasts nicely with the paler-hued cookies while making bright pink cut-outs pop.




A tray of traditionals.  I detect lady locks, cream wafers, pizelles, kolacki, and Russian teacakes.  Does anyone know the name of the bar cookie?

I hope these photos gave you some ideas.  More to come soon.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Nut Horns, or How I Overcame My Fear of Shaped Cookies



Nut horns, crescent-shaped and stuffed with a wholesome cinnamon-walnut filling, these buttery pastries are a hot item on Pittsburgh cookie tables.  Known as roszke, kiflik, roski and roscici, nut horns are of Eastern European origin with the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Croatians all claiming the cookie as their own.  In my Slovak family we just call them nut horns and, like an aunt or uncle who lives out-of-town, look forward to seeing them at Christmas and weddings.

  I’ve wanted to make nut horns for a while now. My great-aunt Ann’s nut horn recipe was one I had hoped to master before I left Pittsburgh, to make certain I understood how the dough looked and felt before I needed to find a sour cream substitute in Greece.

 But I’ve hesitated all summer. 

You see, before I began this project, I was convinced that nut horns were for advanced bakers only.  The pastry, with its perfect balance of tender crumb to buttery density was, I thought, impossible to produce without ample trial and error and the advice of a polish-speaking grandmother.  The filling, too, seemed to require the knowledge of a quasi-professional.  Too much would result in burst nut horns, while too little would yield a cookie the flavor of Elmer’s glue paste.  I wasn’t sure my novice skills would suffice.  But on Thursday evening I told my inner critic to, please, go away.  In a year’s time I would be a wife.  I needed to overcome some of my fears, like, killing spiders, unclogging a toilet, and—in this case—baking fancy desserts.

So I got to work.  The pastry dough was simple.  I measured just four ingredients, clicked the mixer to low then medium and two minutes later, had a smooth, firm dough the size and weight of an infant.  Assembly was not impossible, either.  If you can shape Pillsbury crescent rolls on Thanksgiving, you can assemble nut horns. The only real challenge is the time it takes to fill and bake four dozen.  I began at 7:30 and pulled the last batch from the oven around 10:45.  I was sleepy but proud of the shiny, moon-shaped cookies crowding my counter.

Were they worth the effort?
 
Oh yes.  They tasted like gourmet Pop Tarts, the kind with the brown sugar and cinnamon filling.  I felt marginally better about eating them, too, knowing that they were preservative-free and made entirely by me. 

The next day, my sister and I organized a garage sell as a way to get rid of some of my stuff before my move to Greece.  We offered passers-by a nut horn or two.  One woman, a local nurse in scrubs on her lunch break, looked at me, wide-eyed and said, “Nut horns?  Oh my gosh, I love nut horns.”  Another woman said, “No.  I can’t.  If I have one I won’t be able to stop.” A man asked if he could buy a few for his wife.  By the end of the afternoon, half of my four dozen were gone.  Nut horns certainly don’t last long in this town.


Nut Horns
Adapted by Lauren Wadowsky
INGREDIENTS
Pastry
v 4 cups all-purpose flour
v 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly cold
v 1 cup sour cream
v 4 egg yolks (whites reserved)
v 1 teaspoon salt
Cinnamon-Walnut Filling
v 1 lb walnuts, ground
v 1 ¼ cups sugar
v 4 egg whites, unbeaten
v 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
v juice of one lemon
Egg wash
v  2 egg whites
v  3 tablespoon sugar, divided

METHOD
1 In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt with a wire whisk. Work in the butter using a pastry blender, two knives, or a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until the mixture resembles small crumbs.
2 In a smaller bowl, beat the egg yolks into the sour cream.  Stir it into the flour/butter mixture until a smooth, firm dough forms.
3 Tear off walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into balls.  Place in the refrigerator to harden for two hours or overnight.

4 For the filling, combine the ground walnuts with the sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and lemon juice in a medium bowl.  Add the four reserved egg whites and stir until well-combined.  Set aside.
5 Preheat oven to 350o F.  To assemble the nut horns, sprinkle a little powdered sugar on a dough-ball and roll into a flat, thin circle.

6 Drop a scant teaspoon of filling in the center of the circle.


7 Fold one side of the pastry over the filling to cover it, then fold over the remaining side.  Seal all seams well, and gently bend into the shape of a crescent.


8 Place nut horns on a greased cookie sheet.  Be sure not to skip this step, otherwise the cookies will adhere to the pan.  Brush the nut horns with an egg wash made by whisking together the two egg whites and one tablespoon of the sugar.  Sprinkle the tops of the horns with sugar for a little sparkle.
9 Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are light brown.  Cool on wire racks. 









Saturday, July 7, 2012

What do in Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes and Independence Day Have in Common?


I spent my Fourth of July baking these.



While they baked, I parked myself on the couch and watched five hours of History Channel’s documentary, The Revolution.

I get giddy about historical programing.  The dramatic music, powdered wigs, and George Washington impersonators compel me to watch for longer than I really should.  The sad thing is I would gladly spend another afternoon in the same way, only next time I’d make sure to watch all thirteen hours.  That’s right, thirteen hours of Benedict Arnold, Valley Forge, and The Star Spangled Banner.  I’d relish all 780 minutes of it, just as my family and I relished these cupcakes.

 I’ve gone a little off course this week, tinkering not with a cookie but instead a recipe for cupcakes, one which I’d like to bake for my bridal shower next month.   I know I’m not supposed to interfere with the details of my own shower, that I should leave it to my mother and sister since guests might construe it as me petitioning for gifts.  But I can’t help myself.   I want to be involved.  I want to put my care into something for the ladies in my life who will lose precious time from a weekend next month, all to celebrate with me. 

So I did a trial run of these Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes with Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting  for my parents and sister on the Fourth.  It’s my adaptation of a recipe from the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars

The cake recipe is phenomenal, kudos to Lori Jacobs, the original creator.  It is dense with just the right sweet to tart ratio.  My cream cheese frosting, admittedly, needs a little work.  While the blueberry and almond are a dynamic flavor combination, the mixture becomes soft if kept out of the refrigerator for long.  But that didn’t matter to my family and me on Wednesday.  We all reached for a second cupcake.  My father took the remaining dozen to the office the next day and as was, by his account, “…a very popular man at work.”

Still, it’s back to the inspiration board for me until I find a recipe for a blueberry buttercream frosting that can withstand at least room temperature.  I only hope The Revolution will be on T.V. as I’m going through my test-runs, too.  




Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes
Adapted by Lauren Wadowsky
INGREDIENTS
Cupcakes
v 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
v 1 teaspoon baking soda
v ½ teaspoon kosher salt
v 1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
v 1 ½ cup sugar
v 3 jumbo eggs (or 3 extra large eggs)
v 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
v zest of two lemons
v 2 cups sour cream
v 1 ½ cups blueberries, washed and stems removed

Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting
v 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
v 8 oz. cream cheese
v 1 teaspoon almond extract
v pinch of salt
v 3/4 cup blueberries


METHOD

1 Preheat oven to 350oF.  Line regular-sized cupcake pans with paper liners. 

2 In a medium bowl combine all the dry ingredients except the sugar: flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3 In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy with the paddle attachment of a standing mixer.  I recommend using a stand-up mixer because the recipe eventually yields a lot of batter, too much to stir with hand held beaters. 

4 Add the eggs one by one, stirring well.  Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest.

5 In three additions each, alternate the flour mixture with the sour cream, beginning with the flour mixture and ending with the sour cream.  Mix in the blueberries.

6 With an ice cream scoop, fill the prepared cupcake pans 2/3 full with batter.  Bake 16-20 minutes, until a test comes out clean and the tops of the muffins are lightly golden.    Meanwhile, begin making the blueberry syrup for the frosting.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 In a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine fresh blueberries, teaspoon lemon juice, and sugar.  Cook the mixture until the blueberries pop and there is ample liquid in the pan.  About 6-10 minutes.   Cool completely.

2 In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Stir in the almond extract, salt and 6 tablespoons of the blueberry syrup.  Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. 

3  Pipe over cooled cupcakes.  Store in the refrigerator. 







Monday, July 2, 2012

Lemon Drop Cookies: Could Sweet and Tangy Be the New Sweet and Salty?

While I love the current trend for sweet and salty flavor combinations (it really doesn’t get much better, or weirder than chocolate-chip bacon cookies) I discovered another worthy flavor duo this week that is well suited to the hot and humid weather currently parked over the northeast; sweet and tangy, married together in this recipe for Lemon Drop Cookies.
It’s a simple recipe for an unfussy cookie, the kind you’d stick in your child’s lunchbox as a toothsome afternoon treat. I came across this recipe, written on a small notecard, in my grandma Helen’s recipe box while visiting her home in North Pittsburgh last week. “That’s a good one,” she told me, nodding.  “The dough calls for sour cream and it makes a rich, sweet cookie. Yum.” 
Lemon is Grandma’s favorite flavor so I consider her the expert on citrus baking. It’s a unique cookie, and I knew I had to share it with you.
The recipe creates a soft, airy dough the consistency of mousse.  You will fear you’ve not added enough flour but don’t despair.  And don’t, out of anxiety, place the bowl in the refrigerator for an hour.  It should be sticky and batter-like.  Remain confident.  Drop rounded teaspoons of the fluffy substance on greased cookie sheets and bake.  When you open the oven door, you will be met with rows of rounded, cake-like cookies and a waft of lemon-scented hot air.
The icing is what really makes this cookie, so be sure to include it.  After it dries, it becomes absorbed by the cookie, making it sweeter and softer still.  Lemon Drops are a refreshing summer afternoon snack, eaten on the back porch with a glass of iced tea.  It’s not one of the traditional Pittsburgh wedding cookies, but I think it would make an adorable addition to a summer wedding.  I’ve been eating these things for days and lunchtime has just arrived.  I know what my dessert will be. 



Helen’s Lemon Drop Cookies
INGREDIENTS
Cookie
v ½ cup butter
v 1 cup sugar
v 1 cup (8 oz.) regular sour cream
v 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
v 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
v 1 teaspoon baking soda
v ½ teaspoon salt
v ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Icing        
v 1 ½ cup powdered sugar
v 2 tablespoons water
v 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
v ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

METHOD

1 Preheat oven to 350oF

2 In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar at the medium speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Blend in the sour cream and lemon juice, scrapping the bowl often. 

3 Mix in the flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg until well combined.  The dough with be light and airy, like a heavy mousse.

4 Drop rounded teaspoonfuls two inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.   Bake for 14-15 minutes until edges are brown.  Place on wire cooling racks and cool completely.

5 Prepare the icing.  In a small bowl add the powered sugar, water, lemon juice and nutmeg.  Combine with a whisk or a fork.

6 Spread icing on cooled cookies with a butter knife.  Allow icing to dry, about 1 hour, and store in airtight containers.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What is a Cookie Table?



My friend Marie asked a good question the other day:  what exactly is the Pittsburgh cookie table tradition?  I realized then that I hadn’t yet addressed this fundamental question on my blog.  How silly!

The cookie table is a popular wedding tradition in northwestern Pennsylvania.  It is usually a table (or two, or three, or four) covered with trays of cookies for guests to snack on throughout the party.  The veritable cookie buffet is, of course, in addition to a proper wedding cake which many guests do not even eat, wrapping their slices instead in paper napkins to take home for breakfast the next morning.

Some cookie table displays are extravagant.  A wedding vendor I interviewed told me of a mother-of-the-bride who, on the morning of the wedding, delivered 10,000 cookies for the venue staff to arrange and plate just six hours before the reception.  Now the vendor charges a set-up fee for larger-than-usual quantities.    

The vast quantities of cookies are produced by obliging aunts, grandmothers, cousins, and sisters of the bride who begin their work months before the wedding, freezing their creations until the big day.  Sometimes they designate a few weekends and do their baking together.  It’s a good excuse to spend time with one another, chat, and relax before the wedding.

No one is sure where the cookie table tradition began but it seems to be practiced in cities with large enclaves of Italian and Eastern-European immigrants. Perhaps it was a custom the newcomers brought with them from their home countries.  Another theory suggests that the cookie table grew out of the Depression.  When families couldn’t afford a wedding cake, guests chipped in by bringing batches of cookies, as a way to round out and make an otherwise sparse celebration, special.

For many, the cookie table is the best part of a wedding celebration.  Guests enjoy seeing what cookies the bride’s family has baked as they usually reflect her origins and tastes. Every guest secretly, or not so secretly, compares the lady locks to their grandmother’s recipe.  They are never quite as good.  In Pittsburgh the cookie table is an event in itself.  It’s a unique quirk which, as Pittsburghers marry outside the region, other cities are adopting adopt.  And it’s about time.  Who doesn’t appreciate a good cookie?   That’s right, no one. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cherry Coconut Shortbread Bars


 A recipe slipped out of my late grandmother’s Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook as I paged though it last week.  Hand-written on lined notebook paper, it was a recipe for cherry bars.  The letters were clear and slanted; the paper was crisp, as though grandma had written it a week ago.

Was it Grandma Eleanor’s handwriting? I wondered.  It was possible. I read the instructions and imagined her voice—cheerful, but raspy from cigarettes—guiding me though the instructions.

Sift flour, sugar.  Cut in Oleo. And press into an 11” x17” pan.

Grandma Eleanor was my father’s mother.  Her hair was bobbed and white and she wore oversized gray glasses.  I was convinced that she was Mrs. Claus and, come December, was extra cautious in her presence.   She died when I was seven, before I really knew her, but some of my fondest memories include baking cut-out cookies in her kitchen.  

  The cherry bar recipe was like a conversation she and I never had. Grandma dictated the instructions, and I visualized myself following them.  The handwriting mesmerized me, I could have looked at it for hours.  A handwritten recipe is different from letters on a computer screen or a cookbook’s printed text; it’s personal and undeniably the words of another human.  A cook communicates her personality in the way she loops her Ls and ends her words with an upward swoop.  A happy, organized woman penned this recipe, of that I was certain. I added cherry bars to the top of my must-try list, for purely sentimental reasons.

It was a strange recipe.  Grandma listed baking powder, flour, and flaked coconut as ingredients for the cherry filling. The shortbread crust called for powdered sugar.  I shrugged at the ingredients and gathered them anyway, Grandma was the expert. I followed the recipe exactly.  Well almost. The sugar I reduced by half, the maraschino cherries I replaced with Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries in Light Syrup.  Instead of Oleo, I used my favorite baking fat, unsalted butter.

My apartment smelled like a bakery after I put a pan of them in the oven.  For the rest of the afternoon, I was happy indoors. 

 The next day my mother dropped by and I cut her a piece.“Mmmm. It tastes like a moist cherry shortbread,” she said, picking it up with her hands. “I want another piece.”
 I handed her the recipe and asked if the writing was Grandma’s. Mom glanced at it.

 “No, Honey, I’m sorry,” she said.  “That’s not her writing at all.”

Sometimes I’m too romantic for my own good.

Still, it is a wonderful recipe, perfect for breakfast or a late afternoon snack. The crust is a powdery pastry, the kind that clings to the sides of your mouth and begs for a glass of milk.  Laden with toasted almonds and held together with chewy coconut, it is a most satisfying treat.



Cherry Coconut Shortbread Bars
2 cups flour
½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, unsalted
Preheat the oven to 350oF.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and sugar.  With a pastry cutter, paddle attachment of a standing mixer, or two knives cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press the mixture into an 11”x17” pan and bake for 10 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake the crust.  It should be underdone at this point, to allow for more baking later.

Filling:
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 cup chopped cherries in light syrup
1 cup flaked coconut
¾ cup chopped, toasted almonds
Combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and beat in the eggs.  Fold in the cherries, coconut and nuts.  Spread over the half-baked dough and bake for 30-40 minutes at 350oF.  Serve plain or topped with sweetened whipped cream.