Ah, HumanityHolidaysPsychoanalysis

November 29, 2010

Half-Baked Insights

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It finally happened:  After ten years, my springerli is a success.  I was missing an ingredient, the same one apparently that my mother missed for, I don’t know, 45 years. There’s a deep psychological truth in there but I don’t know that I have the energy to go looking for it.  Maybe it will surface later.

Of all the cookies my mother baked at Christmas , the springerli were the most peculiar and maybe for that reason, one of my favorites.  Which is odd because they were barely edible; on the other hand, my whole childhood was hard to swallow so that and the springerli were all of a piece.  I liked them because I liked the licorice flavor of anise and it was fun to nibble the hard little squares, or to pelt them at my brother.  Either way.

A month before Christmas, the pale, unbaked rectangles with embedded flower impressions appeared on cookie sheets in the cold little room off the kitchen.  After a couple of days, my mother baked them into hard little building materials.  She stored them in Tupperware with a slice of apple to try to soften them up.  She put a few on the plates of cookies she gave away and on the ones she served guests in December.  In February, the remaining springerli were either thrown out or used for war games.

About ten years ago, I bought a springerli rolling pin.  In case you don’t know, these are the rolling pins with designs carved into the wood.  A kitchen utensil to be used for one purpose, once a year: to make little cookies that no one wants to eat either because they fracture the teeth or because a surprising number of people in the world don’t like the taste of black licorice.

I don’t know what possessed me because the frigging rolling pins cost about $25.  I might have hoped it would help me uncover some deep psychological truth about my childhood for less than I was paying for analysis.  When I bought the pin, I told myself that I had to use it every year until I die, to make it worth the expense.  So for ten years I turned out hard little building materials, thinking this was the way life was.

But a few years back my first painting teacher, Molly Hashimoto, (http://www.mollyhashimoto.com/)  brought some springerli to our last class before Christmas.  She apologized for them, saying she didn’t think anyone really liked springerli these days.  I bit into one and it was chewy.

“Oh my God, Molly, how do you get them to be chewy?”   We went through her process step by step but I found no clues.

However it was a revelation to me: I began trying to get my springerli to turn out chewy, like Molly’s:  I varied the flour, the cookie thickness, the baking time, the beating time, the number of eggs.   I looked at recipes on the Internet but they all used the same ingredients I was using.  My mother had three different recipes in her recipe box and I tried them all, then I tried kludging together one recipe from bits of all three.  My springerli could still black an eye at close range.

For a while, I quit trying.  Then this week, I hauled out the $25 rolling pin, which doesn’t seem all that expensive in today’s economy, and found my tear-stained recipe card.  I went on-line one more time to search for a clue to what I was doing wrong.  The first recipe I pulled up said to use two teaspoons baking powder.  I had never used baking powder.  I don’t believe I had ever seen it on a recipe for Springerli.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, just that I had never noticed. When I added 2 teaspoons baking powder to my mother’s recipe, I got chewy springerli.  That was the homely ingredient that I had overlooked all along.

By my count, there are at least three psychological insights in this blog, not necessarily deep.  Can you spot them all?  And then tell me your favorite Christmas cookie.

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