Friday, August 7, 2015

When you're hot, you're hot - The Very Best Butter Cookies

No cats were harmed in the making of this blog post

And when you're not, you're still hot.  This is Florida, mind you.  Here in Central Florida, we have two seasons - summer and winter - and winter lasts for three weeks.  I have lived here for almost 24 years, and I do not own a winter coat. 

Heat tolerance is a relative thing, and it was my relative, Aunt Ceil, who explained it to me a very long time ago.  She told me that after two years, your body adjusts to the heat - she stated "your blood thins out" - and with that, you would be able to tolerate constant high temperatures.  Of course, as I have found to my sorrow, you also lose the ability to tolerate cold.  The coldest spot in Kissimmee is in front of the new courthouse in January, in other words, down the block from here. With the wind that gets caught in the space formed by both courthouses and the county administration building, we have a real wind chill factor.  Maybe 45 degrees. A New Yorker would laugh at me - heck, 30 years ago I would have laughed at myself - but once the temperature dips below 50, it starts to feel chilly.

So as we speak, it is only 81, or maybe it is 84 already, but still, good temperatures to be outside pulling weeds.

I know there are several people, who reading this, are shaking their heads and muttering, say what?  I was always hypersensitive to heat, and anything over 75 was uncomfortable.  When I was nine years old, spending my third summer at Camp Anawana, I passed out during a line-up.  Hit the deck.  Weird feeling, first time I remember ever having that happen.  It was blazing hot, the humidity was high, and it was all too much for that chubby little body.  I was embarrassed, but I got an ice pop out of the deal, so I got over it.

Around 1976, when I was a single girl with an apartment (!) and a strained budget, my father, may his memory be for a blessing, took pity on me during that terrible summer and gave me money so I could ride the express bus from Howard Beach to Manhattan.  I thought it was because of the wretched heat, which Pop knew destroyed me on a daily basis.  It was only later that it occurred to me his concern might also have something to do with 1976 being the Summer of Sam.  New York, I love this town!

We didn't have ghosts or Sumarian demi-gods, but we did have a serial killer, and he (David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam) had all of us in a tizzy. A well-founded tizzy.  True, he was targeting young couples, and I wasn't part of a couple, being between husbands, but I was a young and temporarily attractive female, and back then we didn't have "Criminal Minds" around to tell us that a serial killer stays true to his profile.  

Another time ... okay this is the last one ... this was also in the mid-seventies.  There I was, a native New Yorker who had never been to the Statue of Liberty.  My friends Mark and Sandy had invited me for a day of fun, checking out odd lines of the subway (Mark and I are both subway aficionados), on our way to the southern tip of Manhattan for the ferry ride to Liberty Island.  Halfway up the stairs, the heat and closeness of the structure got to me, and I started to hit the deck when Sandy caught me.  Between the two of them, they got me out of there and I started to feel better; fresh air and Moo Shu Pork did the rest.  I have fond memories of that day. Good times.

So I was saying that it is a good day to garden, except the golden moment passed, and now it's not.  Rob and I went out to do some necessary shopping, and by the time we got back things had changed somewhat.

Clearly, there was nothing else to do but bake cookies. Not just any cookie, mind you, but The Very Best Cookies In The World.  These are my mother-in-law's butter cookies.  I first tasted them when I was dating Rob, circa 1972 (oh yes), and continued to consume them in impressive quantities through our engagement and first marriage.  When Rob and I separated in 1975, I was devastated.  Besides feeling like my life was destroyed, I had never gotten that cookie recipe from my mother-in-law.  I tried to find a recipe that would come close, but to no avail.

Eventually, Robert and I came to our senses and remarried, and as a splendid bonus, I finally got that recipe.  It is not true that I remarried to get that recipe ... but it didn't hurt.  (Just kidding, sweetheart.)

Rob and I, his brothers, and all my ex-sisters-in-law call these Mom's Butter Cookies.  The cooking grandchildren, my nieces Mara and Adina, call them Grammie's Butter Cookies.  Simpler, then, to call them "The Very Best Butter Cookies In The World."  Because they are.

Cat on a Hot Glass Stove

So while I'm working on the cookies, I had a visitor.  He's black, he's white, he's short, and he's entirely too fond of the heat given off by the oven.

The recipe is easy, the list of ingredients short, but you must follow the instructions precisely to produce this ethereal treat.  Trust me.

Mom's Butter Cookies (aka The Very Best Butter Cookies in the World)

1/2 pound butter (not margarine or any other substitute. Real dairy butter or nothing.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (the real stuff)
3 cups sifted flour
strawberry jam, or apricot preserves

First and foremost: bite the bullet and sift the damn flour.  If you don't, if you believe that the flour is "presifted", you will end up with dry and heavy cookies. You have been warned.

Second and nextmost: yes, these are thumbprint cookies, but if like me you have acrylic fingernails, don't bother trying to use your thumb or any other digit.  Instead, haul out the hardware:

You're also going to need a stand mixer or hand mixer.  Cream the butter; add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and the vanilla, and beat everything together.

Now add the flour in 3 or 4 batches, mixing well to incorporate it.  If you have been using a hand mixer, you may need to incorporate the last batch of flour by hand.

No, seriously, BY HAND.  Time to play with your food.  Wash those hands and dive right in.


Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator for at least five minutes.  With a small scoop, make balls about one inch in diameter.  Roll them between your hands, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Make an indentation with your thumb, a tomato shark, or a round-bottomed 1/4 teaspoon measure, and then fill with the jam.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-18 minutes. With a spatula, remove to a cooling rack.

You're welcome.

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