Of late, my hatchling sentiments of nostalgia have grown into the fully-fledged birds of homesickness. Short of impulsively buying a ticket home to Montreal, only one answer remained: to make Christmas cookies.
These feelings first started to hit on Thursday, so I broke out the wooden spoon, cleared off the table, left the butter out to soften, and went to town on the first batch of seasonal biscuits I’ve made in Korea thus far.
I decided on my Omi’s favourite, leipziger. Translated as “
thumbprints” (edit: “from the city of Leipzig” – I misunderstood my mom’s translation) from German, they have fingerprints indenting each ball of dough so that a dollop of apricot jam can nest on top. Luckily I had this homemade apricot jam made by my Omi herself and delivered by the faithful hands of Leslie and Andrea’s mom from the visits made by each respectively in the summer months. Infinite thanks to you guys, because they taste exactly like home this way!
Now I’ve had a bit of a tough time figuring out my oven microwave. Instead of letting you customize the Fahrenheit/Celcius temperature, it has pre-sets on it such as “Choco Chip Cookie” and “Ball Cake”. As such, a lot of the time I have to go by guesswork when popping my delicacies in the oven.
I chose the “Choco Chip Cookie” one for these, and while it could have turned out better, it could have also turned out worse. Downside was that it pretty much just melted them so that instead of neat toonie-sized medallions, they spread out like fat mammas on a massage table. They had to be in much longer as well so they got fairly rock hard – especially a few days later – but the apricot jam melted through and saved the day by giving an extra burst of chewyness.
In the end, they weren’t exactly like my Omi’s, but I was happy nonetheless with my baking exploits abroad. Gave some to my co-teachers in any case and they enjoyed them greatly. Ricky and I have also been going through them like water, so it wasn’t disastrous by a long way.
This past Sunday was dedicated to doing the remaining three types of cookies: Haselnussbusserl (Hazelnut Kisses), Vanillakipferln (Vanilla Crescents), and Linzeraugen (the Austrian equivalent to the Jammy Dodger).
For the first of those, I’d happily found the hazelnuts at the local World Food Store. Planning ahead has never been one of my strong points however, and seeing as I didn’t think to prepare the necessary 500g of ground hazelnuts prior to Sunday, it also only became apparent then that I lacked any and all nutcrackers with which to remove said hazelnuts from their hard-encased shells. But that was not to deter us: no, we had to get cracking no matter what (pun entirely intended) especially since our friend Jess was arriving in a couple of hours to help us bake.
And so it was that I grabbed the first half-baked plan that came to mind. I got out my wooden cutting board and the pieces of my Mount Fuji walking stick with the intention of pulverizing the shells similar to how an otter might use two rocks to crack apart clams.
I foresaw many obliterated hazelnuts, but we needed them smashed to smithereens eventually so this wouldn’t, I hoped, be too much of an issue.
Surprisingly this crude technique actually worked. Granted, we had hazelnuts flying left right and centre – and several exploded well across my apartment so I’m still finding bits many days later – but by the time Jess arrived, we managed to refine our attack so well that many came out completely whole. (This was useful because we needed whole ones for decorative toppings to the cookies).
The downside of this process is that it took a really long time. Luckily with the arrival of help in the shape of Jess we were able to rotate jobs between smashing, grinding, and preparing other ingredients though all our hands were remarkably stiff and threatening blisters by the end. At long last, Ricky expertly ground them into fine nutty flour and we were good to go.
Exhausted as we were by the hazelnuts, however, we decided to take a break from them and instead turn our attention to the Vanillakipferln. While this is my all-time favourite seasonal treat, it unfortunately is also the most difficult to make. Held together with only flour, sugar, butter, ground almonds, and the warmth of your own hands, it requires Hulk strength to mould into the logs my Omi rolls so effortlessly.
Eventually we worked out a system where I forced the dough together into the arguable form of logs and Jess crafted them into the delicate crescents for which the cookie is named.
Now it was time for the oven. With a stroke of unforeseeable luck, Ricky used his techno-savvy skills during the week whilst making stuffed peppers and discovered the secret to using my micro-oven! This saved not only the day, but all future baking days. Able to adjust my oven to the proper temperature meant that the Vanillakipferln didn’t get nuked like the Leipziger and came out absolutely perfect. More perfect than even my attempts back in Canada.
Once they cooled, Ricky coated them in vanilla icing sugar. Several taste tests later and it became apparent they tasted as good as they looked.
Next up were the Linzeraugen. The difficulty of these lay not in the dough – very simple and in fact nearly identical to the Leipziger – but rather in the shaping.
First we rolled them out with an empty wine bottle, then we cut them into circles using a water bottle cut in half, and last for those cookies acting as “top half”, we used a highlighter cap to cut in the eye shapes. Though my Omi uses a thimble, I unfortunately have no proper thimbles in my humble abode and therefore had to make do with my more ghetto alternative.
Part because I rolled the first batch way too thin, part because they are naturally fragile (especially the tops), it was very difficult to get them onto the baking sheet in one piece. Fortune smiled upon us, however, as Jess has lovely long nails and was able to pry the eyes out without much damage. By trial and error, later batches were rolled thicker and these turned out much closer to my Omi’s. In fact the only thing that wasn’t true to the recipe was that I used strawberry jam instead of raspberry as I was in deficit of the latter. Once they settled a day or two later though, that didn’t matter at all and they tasted just fine.
An icing sugar dusting later, and behold!
By this time we were all thoroughly worn and somehow as sore as if we had not been the ones kneading the dough but rather had had the dough kneading us. Not only that, but we’d run so late we didn’t even have a chance to complete our Haselnussbusserl (after all that nutcracking!). Jess, living in a separate town, had to leave to catch her last bus and so we called it quits around 9pm.
We thus scoured my apartment of piles of spilled flour and hazelnut shrapnel, packed Jess up with a container full of cookies, and waved merry goodbyes.
And henceforth my table has transformed into a sight worthy of my Omi’s countertops: platters of cookies covered in cling wrap and looking tantalizing whenever you go by – which is all the time in Korea’s one-room studio apartments.
Ricky and I have devoured an embarrassing amount already, to the point that I think I might have to make another batch or two if I’m going to be giving any to my principal, vice principal, and coworkers like I’d wanted.
Anyway just want to send high fives all around to Ricky and Jess for a Sunday well spent. Also a big thanks is in order to my mom and my aunt who were able to track down these recipes and send them across the world – and of course to my Omi who taught me how to make them in the first place (wish I could help you make your cookies this year <3).
Happy holidays, everyone!