Oof. Readers, Hugo was up four times last night (10:15 pm, 12:50 am, 3:00 am, and then 5:30 am, at which point he started to do this adorable cooing, chattering thing that really is the sweetest thing on the planet except that it's 5:30 in the morning, child, and you have kept me up ALL NIGHT GO BACK TO SLEEP GAH), so, actually, I thought if anything, this day's overwhelming emotion would be one of mild exasperation and slight crankiness (on my part). Instead, as the day wound down and we did our little nighttime ritual, I was overcome with melancholia. It's all going so fast, you see. Too fast.
He'll be six months next week. Wasn't he just born? Wasn't it just yesterday that I saw his little face for the first time? Already, I can list little things that he no longer does, that he's grown out of: No more funny wheezing when he naps in the stroller. No more falling asleep in my arms when I carry him around. No more needing to be nursed to sleep at night. I'm already starting to forget what he felt like in my arms when he couldn't hold his head up on his own. When I realized the other day that Hugo was no longer a newborn, and hadn't been one for some time, my mouth went all dry. Slow down, baby, I heard myself thinking, echoing millions of people before me. Slow down, please. Stay my tiny love a little while longer.
Following Hugo's lead, I put him down tonight for the first time without nursing him. I sang a song, stroked his head once or twice and then said good night and left the room. I was steeling myself for his tears as I walked out, but none came. I stood in the hallway for a while, listening to him coo and then grow quiet. I should have felt so proud, I know, of my boy, not even six months old, now able to fall asleep on his own. But all I wanted to do was cry.
Silly, right? I know. And yet. The heart is a funny thing.
Hoo! It's probably apparent to everyone that someone else here needs an early bedtime tonight. But before I go, I just need to tell you quickly about these cookies. The thing is, I'm pretty picky when it comes to Christmas cookies. I really mostly just like to eat the ones that Joanie makes. Every year, to be a good sport, I try out new ones, but they're mostly just for show. You know? I'd never really consider adding them to the lineup.
Until now. Seriously.
I'm sure you've heard all about Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's new cookbook, Jerusalem. It's on practically every Best-Cookbook-of-2012 list, on every food blog in creation, heck, there was even a profile of them in the New Yorker last week. I don't have a copy of the book yet, so I can't say a thing about it, really, except that the recipe for Spice Cookies alone (that I found online) is so good it's worth the price of the book alone. As my father likes to say, you really only need one good recipe to make a cookbook worthwhile.
Ottolenghi and Tamimi say that their spice cookies, stuffed with brandy-soaked currants, grated chocolate, winter spices and iced with a sharp, lemony glaze, are meant to be kissing cousins of that old German classic, Pfeffernüsse, and an Italian spice cookie that they found in Nancy Baggett's International Cookie Cookbook. I say that these spice cookies are one of my favorite things I've baked all year. And get this: I'm going to be taking some to Joanie's later this week, when we get together for another round of baking. I can't wait to see what she thinks of them.
The recipe is a little funny. It calls for only half an egg and a whopping 1 1/2 teaspoons of cocoa powder and you "soak" currants in brandy for all of ten minutes, which doesn't really plump a thing. But none of this matters. Just follow the instructions. Whisk together all the dry ingredients, then beat the butter with sugar and citrus peels and vanilla until a heady, fresh scent drifts upwards from your beaters. The dry ingredients are mixed into the wet until a dark, moody dough forms. It looks like freshly tilled earth. It smells like Christmas.
You form the dough into largish balls. I made the mistake of questioning the size of the balls that the authors call for. Surely, no one would want to eat a 5-ounce spice cookie, I thought. I'm going to make one sheet of cookies as they call for and another in the bite-sizes that I'd like. Silly woman. Don't make my mistake. Make the cookies big.
[Freddie totally photo-bombing the cookie dough.]
When you bake the cookies, the dough balls collapse outwards and then puff up, little fissures forming on their tops. I'd err on the side of underbaking them ever-so-slightly - a few minutes too long in the oven and you'll end up with a too-dry cookie with too-browned bottoms. 15 minutes should be perfect.
While they're still warm, you make a lemon glaze and then spoon it over the cookies. I had to do this a few times (I suspect my cookies were still too hot) to get the thickness I wanted. If you're more patient than me, only once will probably do. Then you glue a few cubes of candied orange peel to the top of the cookies and you let them rest until they've cooled completely.
When you break one open, you might think they look a little dry. Maybe even a little boring. But one bite, one richly flavored bite with the faint zing of citrus and a winey pop of currant against the spiced, chocolatey dough, will cure you of that thought in an instant. The texture of these cookies is a revelation - velvety is the one word that keeps coming to mind. The thin cap of icing provides the most delicate of snaps. If you took away my beloved Lebkuchen for eternity and left these gems in their place, I'd be grateful. That's how good they are. You know how else good they are? So good I've decided not to bake a single other thing for Christmas except for them, again and again.
And with that, folks, I'm off to bed. My preshus will be up in a few hours to ruin my sleep and I must be prepared.
Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies
From Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Makes 16 large cookies
Note: I grated the chocolate by blitzing it to rubble in the food processor.
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) currants
2 tablespoons brandy
Scant 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons best-quality cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (150 grams) good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
1/2 cup (125 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (125 grams) superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 large free-range egg
1 tablespoon diced candied citrus peel
3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup (160 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1. Soak the currants in the brandy for 10 minutes. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate.
2. Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest to combine but don't aerate much, about 1 minute. With the mixer or beater running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together.
3. Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it is uniform. Divide the dough into 1¾-ounce (50 gram) chunks and roll each chunk into a perfectly round ball. Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about ¾ inch (2 cm) apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still soft. Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for only 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.
5. While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing forms. Pour a tablespoon of the glaze over each cookie, leaving it to drip and coat the cookie with a very thin, almost transparent film. You may want to repeat this step for a thicker glaze. Top each cookie with 3 pieces of candied peel placed at the center. Leave to set and then serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.