By Marcia Pilgeram
’Tis the season for time honored traditions, when we set the ladder and reach high into the rafters seeking out the holiday boxes, brimming with carefully wrapped ornaments, childhood Christmas crafts and other objets d’art. Over the past few years, I’ve sorted and culled the collection I’ve amassed, giving my kids their favorite holiday treasures for their own homes and traditions. Along the way, in my efforts to downsize, I’ve also pitched or donated an odd remnant or two.
I’ve carefully ranked and numbered the remaining boxes, so it’s easy to pull down what I need according to the type of Christmas on my horizon: a full-blown extravaganza, a small gathering of solo friends or traveling with no decorating required. Opening these boxes stirs up myriad memories, some poignant and tender, a few bittersweet (my youngest, Casey, still longs for her missing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornament, heartlessly discarded by me years ago). But mostly the memories are sweet and heartwarming recollections of my small children, taking joy in Christmas preparations. There’s even a foggy memory or two of my own distant youth.
Regardless of unfolding plans, one box comes out every year. It includes my Christmas card list, holiday CDs and my coveted collection of a dozen holiday issues of Gourmet (RIP), Bon Appetit and Cook’s Illustrated magazines, reconnecting me to culinary projects that date back to my Montana ranch days. My favorites are the two oldest: Bon Appetit from December 1984 and Gourmet from December 1986, respectively. Every year, I greet them like old friends, ritualistically curling up in my worn leather chair with strong, hot coffee in hand to pour over every single page.
Sometimes the familiar and worn pages take me back to a specific time, like the brilliant moment in 1984 when I discovered I could adapt a recipe for white chocolate ribbons (which adorned a cake featured on the 1984 Bon Appetit Christmas cover) into edible clay for the children, now a holiday staple for my little adorables.
The ads still intrigue me, too. One that always caught my wishful eye with every issue was the Oster Super Pot Cooker. Though I longed for this new “wonder” pot that was a steamer, rice cooker and deep fryer, I knew that my well-meaning but ranch-practical mother-in-law, Monah, would deem it a superfluous appliance for a ranch kitchen.
There were all kinds of ads for various goods but no internet for placing your orders so, instead, if you wanted “Julia on Video,” you clipped the coupon, chose BETA or VHS, enclosed a check for $29.95 and before long you were learning to fold a French omelet at your own pace, instructed by the affable Julia Child. There are lots of other intoxicating ads, too, and I always intended to purchase the mouth-watering citrus fruits that would arrive in time to grace my holiday table; but, between small children and big ranch chores, I never got around to sitting down and writing a check.
I did, however, always find the time to try an alluring recipe or two. Unfortunately, it took me a few years to learn to avoid these projects when Monah was present.
I recall the first time that I made Italian biscotti, which is first baked, log shaped, then carefully sliced thin with a serrated knife before being baked again to a crisp and crunchy finish. There’s a knack to slicing the logs without breaking the edges, and with my mother-in-law watching over every slice, it was even more daunting.
Monah thought it was a complete waste of time to bake something twice. Once, while slicing through a warm log, I shared my newly-acquired magazine authority about the history of biscotti and the purpose of twice baking these gems. Biscotti, I explained, came from ancient Roman times, and, back then, they required foods that could be packed up for wars and long journeys. It was not uncommon to bake goods twice, to prohibit the growth of mold. To which she replied, “my cookies never lasted long enough to mold.” Touché, Monah.
This year, I’m spending Christmas in Chicago, so the boxes won’t come down. My baking is nearly done (including lots of triple chocolate biscotti), which leaves me some extra time for my annual pilgrimage: the thrift store ornament search. Wish me luck.
Triple Chocolate Biscotti • Makes approx. 4 dozen (depending on thickness)
This dough is versatile. You can add toasted, chopped nuts or dried chopped fruit. Just don’t over mix and don’t overbake!
• 2 cups all purpose flour
• 8 oz semisweet chocolate
• 4 oz milk chocolate chips
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 tsp espresso powder
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pulse flour, 4 oz semisweet chocolate chips, baking powder and salt in food processor until chocolate is finely ground. Stir espresso and cocoa into melted butter. Cool.
In bowl of stand mixer, beat sugar and eggs 1 at a time, add vanilla. Add cooled butter mixture.
Beat in flour mixture. Add milk chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips. Divide dough in half and, using metal spatula or wet fingertips, form two logs, 10” by 2”. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Bake logs until tops are dry to touch, about 25 minutes. Cover with barely damp kitchen towel and cool 10 minutes (covering will facilitate a moist top, to ease slicing).
Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. With a serrated knife, firmly hold log while gently slicing into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange half of slices, cut side down, on baking sheet. Repeat with other log on separate baking sheet.
Bake biscotti 8-10 minutes. Turn over, bake an additional 8 minutes. Cool on sheets. If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate or dip end in chocolate and coat with nuts or shaved chocolate.
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