Oliver turned three a few weeks ago, and we had a birthday party for him at the local children’s museum with his closest friends. That morning we ate satsumas for breakfast as he helped me make the chocolate frosting for his cupcakes and put the sprinkles on each one. I told myself not to worry about the mess; three year olds aren’t known for neatness in the kitchen (or anywhere).
As with most kid birthday parties, it was exhausting and I barely had time to chat with any of the parents or even take many photos. You get home too overwhelmed to think about dinner and wonder why you went to the trouble in the first place. But then, of course, Oliver had a great time and was talking about it for days, and that’s really all that matters. We settled into the birthday weekend with a special lunch and O’s first haircut, and I baked up some of these Pecan Pie thumbprint cookies to test out for the holidays. They’re basically pecan pie in cookie form; what’s not to love?
In planning Oliver’s birthday, I made the mistake of not writing “no gifts, please” on the invitation, so he did get quite a few generous gifts from his friends and tore through them when we got home. Kind of mindlessly but joyfully, as three year olds are known to do. Grandparents also sent gifts, of course, as did Aunts. I tend to be a minimalist at home and hate clutter, so kid toys are a challenge for me and while we’ve started to think of smart ways to store everything, we’ve also started to think about really intentional gifting during the holidays and what we want that to look like for our kids.
At three years old, Oliver doesn’t have a concept really for what to expect from a holiday like Christmas. And I feel very conscious of the fact that now is the time to start setting a precedent. I read recently of a family who chooses a gift you “want, need, can wear and can read” and I LOVE this and want to adopt it. When our kids are a bit older, I’d love to plan a family trip instead of doing lots of gifts.
So as we sit here in the first week of December, we’ve got the tree up and the lights strung (with the yearly quarrel, errrr conversation, about white lights vs. colored lights – Sam being a champion for the latter) and are working to think of traditions we’ll continue and new ones we’ll make versus what big present we’ll get Oliver (or each other) this year. The zoo has a holiday lights celebration and we’re going to ride the Santa train to Snoqualmie to visit Santa (I may be as excited about this as Oliver). We’ll bake lots of cookies and visit the reindeer at Swansons. I’m hosting a ladies cookie exchange at the house with all the moms from our parents group, and hope to have at least one dinner party. All more memorable than the latest gadget or toy, for sure.
Those of you with kids: do you set any limits or constraints around gift giving in your house? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Truly. In the meantime, let’s bake!
A few tips for successful cookies: So these cookies are straight up delicious — or I wouldn’t share them with you. The actual cookie / thumbprint dough is perfect. You could fill these with your favorite jam if you’d rather. But if you’re going the pecan pie route, just take a few steps to make sure your filling doesn’t seep out of your cookie.
First, better to have a little too little filling than too much — don’t let it overflow when spooning it in. And thumbprint cookies always want to kind of crack a bit on the sides as you’re forming them — try to really minimize and smooth out the large cracks so the filling doesn’t seep out. Last, cookie scoops help speed things up here and make uniform cookies. I use a medium cookie scoop (about 1.5 tablespoons); it’s a great investment if you’re going to be doing much baking this season. Onward!
These cookies are a great one to pull off last minute as the dough doesn’t have to chill and there’s very little fuss. The number of cookies your recipe will yield will depend on the size of cookie scoop you use. If you use a smaller scoop than the one linked to above, you’ll yield more cookies (and, likewise, you could make larger thumbprints and only yield, say, ten cookies). It’s all good either way – just something to be mindful of if you’re baking for a crowd or aiming to get a very specific number of cookies.
A sidenote: I typically find recipes that call for 1/8 teaspoon fussy, but you’ll see that noted in the crumble topping below. Feel free to just use a generous pinch of each spice instead of digging for your 1/8 teaspoon, and you’ll come out just fine.
For the Filling:
For the Crumble Topping:
For the Cookies:
For the filling: In a small saucepan, combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the pecans and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool while you prepare the crumble and filling.
For the Crumble Topping: In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and salt. Add the butter and using your fingertips, work the mixture together until all of the ingredients are combined. Fold in the pecans (the mixture will be quite crumbly, but there shouldn’t be any floury bits). Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Cookies:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together both flours and salt and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using electric hand beaters), cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the yolk and vanilla and mix until just combined.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture, continuing to mix only until all the dry bits are combined. Scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl to make sure there aren’t floury bits on the bottom.
Shape dough into even balls using a medium cookie scoop (or, if you don’t have one, use a heaping 1 tablespoon), placing them on prepared cookie sheet about 2-inches apart. Using your thumb, gently form an indentation in the middle of each cookie (start with a small indentation here. Be careful not to press all the way through to the pan and try to avoid deep cracks along the sides of the cookies as the filling can seep out).
Bake for 5 minutes then remove from the oven. If the indentations are starting to disappear, reinforce and widen just a bit with your thumb, again taking care not to cause cracks along the sides where the filling could seep out.
Spoon pecan filling just to the top of each cookie (don’t overflow!), and scatter a generous spoonful of crumble topping over the tops of each. Bake for an additional 5-8 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. The filling will firm up as it cools.
Cool on pan 5 minutes, then move to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies are best eaten within 3 days, and can be stored, covered, at room temperature.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.