Part 2 – O Tannenbaum
My father was born in Germany, but to be quite honest, I know very little about my German heritage. Much of what I do know comes from the holiday dishes that my Oma artfully puts together every year. While duck, potato dumplings, and warm red cabbage make me a very happy girl, the true stars of the holiday season are Oma’s cookies. Every year for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has baked cookies for Christmas. When I was a little girl, my Oma lived in New Jersey and each year when the package would come in the mail, my dad would gracefully cradle the package, open it up and give my brothers and I each one cookie–then hide the tin. I wish I was kidding. He would either hide it or place it so high up that we couldn’t reach it. Cookies were then used to reinforce positive behavior–like dog treats.
I remember staring up at the cookie tin with my brothers, drooling with desire and intent on finding a way to reach that treasure chest of sweet goodness. After painstaking planning and acute execution only a Weissenberger child could pull off, we’d manage to snag a couple from the tin. I’d take the tiniest bites possible, savoring every morsel, careful not to drop a single crumb. Then I’d wait, tummy full of sugar and guilt, for my dad to come home. He’d sneak into the kitchen, fully aware that being caught with the tin might mean he would have to share. We held our breath as he opened the sacred tin, hoping just this once he wouldn’t have a mental count of the remaining cookies. He always did.
“Who touched my precious….”
(Yes, this is a picture of my dad morphed with Gollum. I really need to work on my Photoshop skills.)
My mom, using skills learned only through year after year of working with small children, would calmly and patiently intervene: “They are just kids/It’s Christmas/Those cookies aren’t just yours/Learn to share.” Every year, it was the same thing until, finally, my mom explained the situation to my Oma. Graciously, she offered to make us each our own bag of cookies for Christmas. None of us are very good about sharing them.
This year when Oma asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I could think of nothing I wanted more than some Almond Crescents–my absolute favorite of all the Christmas cookies. I cannot express the joy that came when I opened that tin to see the familiar crescents nestled in their neat bed of parchment paper. The crescent shape, according the research I did while writing this blog, is very common in German baking. Legend has it that when the Austrians defeated the Ottomans, they celebrated by making the crescent shape which adorned the Ottoman flag. If war had a referee, I’d call that “excessive celebration” – Unsportsmanlike Conduct. If you can’t spike a ball while staring down a defender, you shouldn’t be able to make such utterly taunting cookies.
I imagine the flavor of these cookies to be similar to that of angel poop (angel poop would taste delicious since they only eat clouds and love). So if you ever wondered what angel poop tastes like, here is a recipe that I found online for these cookies. Note: This is NOT the recipe used by my Oma. Sorry, but I am my father’s daughter and I just can’t share that.
1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
2 1/2 c flour
1 c almonds; ground
Beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 T of dough for each, shape into logs and bend into crescents. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
A toast, to traditions that keep the soul fortified in this tumultuous world.
“Because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
~Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof)