For the third year in a row, the French Fridays with Dorie crew has exchanged Christmas cards. In the first two years, a few of us have included recipes along with the cards and this year, we’ve made it into a full-fledged virtual recipe exchange. I’ve been receiving cards and recipes from Doristas from around North America and around the world and it’s been nice to come home to a mailbox stuffed full of good wishes over the last week or two. Thanks to Alice, Christy, and Candy for making this such a special event.
We were asked to share one (or more) of the recipes we were sent, or to share the one we included with our card. Because I sent my cards out a bit late, I chose the latter option.
Most of my mother’s family recipes, handed down to her by her mother in a black, coil-bound notebook, have been in storage since my parents moved. So, for the last two years, we’ve been baking other people’s family recipes at Christmastime. Some of the best have come from my mother’s friend Gina, an incredibly creative person. She gardens prolifically, propagating dahlias and fig trees (both of which are now in my yard, thanks to her), and enough produce to feed her extended family and many of the members of her branch of the Catholic Women’s League, too. She bakes, cooks, volunteers, and does any number of other things well. My mother finally got Gina’s shortbread recipe this year, so I’m passing it on to you.
Bea Hartel/Gina Alary
1 lb butter
½ cup cornstarch
1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
3 cups flour
Beat all ingredients together until consistency of whipped cream.
Drop on greased cookie sheet. (with teaspoon) Press down gently, make edges round if too jagged. Red or green cherries on top.
Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Makes 5 – 6 dozen.
Now, when my mother got the recipe, it was much simpler than this. These ladies come from a generation in which they expect you’ll already know how to go about making cookies. My Mom added some instructions, which you can see above.
I want to elucidate just a little bit more. I whip the butter in my stand mixer first, until it’s light and fluffy. Then, I sift the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of the mixer and run the mixer on low for a bit, just so the dry ingredients don’t go flying everywhere, before bringing it up to medium-high until the dough reaches the consistency of whipped cream. If you’re using the cherries, it’s best to halve or quarter them first. If you prefer not to use glacé cherries, decorate them with something with a little more heft than sprinkles or sanding sugar and keep it simple.
There is also an alternative to the drop method of forming the cookie. You can dust your hands with cornstarch, quickly and gently roll teaspoonfuls of the dough into balls, and press them down with a floured fork (just as you would an old fashioned peanut butter cookie). Then, instead of glacé cherries, you can decorate them with dragées, sprinkles, sanding sugar, edible glitter, or sugar stars. They won’t be quite as melt-in-the-mouth, but they’re still delicious.
And, since I wasn’t able to make any of the Dorista recipes I received for this post, I’m going to update a family recipe that I shared in 2011. Sucre à la crème is a French Canadian favourite that my mother’s family has been making for generations. There are as many versions as family members, it seems, and I’ve finally come up with my own favourite formulation. My mother’s family is Franco-Manitoban, so they use brown sugar in place of the maple sugar that’s more common in Québécois versions. Feel free to experiment with maple sugar if it’s easy to come by for you. You can see the versions I shared in my original post here.
Now, this isn’t the sort of fudge we usually think of in North America, in which you avoid the formation of sugar crystals so that it’s silky smooth. This fudge is more like Scottish tablet, in which the sugar crystals are part of the pleasure. So, you don’t have to worry about sugar crystals forming on the pan and stirring is encouraged.
Teresa’s Sucre à la Crème
3 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 tsps vanilla
Butter an 11 X 7-inch pan, metal or heat-proof glass work equally well.
Combine the sugars and whipping cream, whisk together until well-blended and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture starts to thicken, sugars the spoon (a metal one is best), and forms a ball when dropped into a dish of cold water. The lower end of the soft ball stage (234-236°F) is just right. Remove the pan from the heat and stir vigourously, adding the vanilla when the candy is just beginning to stiffen. When the scrapings are becoming solid, it’s time to pour the candy into the prepared pan. Chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight, then cut into small squares. It keeps for a week in the fridge or several months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before serving.
I made some sucre à la crème yesterday, after sharing a Boxing Day meal with my parents. I left most of it there for my Mom to share out with the family and took a small box home to share with a Québécoise friend who hasn’t had the genuine article in some time. There was also a bit for Kevin and me, but that seems to have disappeared. The shortbread is long gone, too, shared at all my parents’ holiday gatherings and even at a cookie swap.
If you try either of these recipes, I’d love to see your results – find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and share a photo.
I’d like to wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful 2015. I also want to thank my fellow Doristas for making my weekends brighter with our weekly virtual get-togethers. I’m looking forward to the final few months of Around My French Table with all of you.
You can find the rest of the Dorista recipe exchange fun here: Holiday Card/Recipe Exchange or Makeup.