This post is to celebrate. Yes, I made these spiced crescent cookies to celebrate the solstice, but this post is more to celebrate the fact that I baked cookies.
You see, I am not a baker. A cook, yes. A preserver, yes. Baker, no.
I actually used to bake quite a bit when I was younger. But, then I started going out with my now husband.
Then I stopped. It wasn’t even a gradual thing, tapering off from “I bake every day” to “I kinda bake on the weekend…..when I have time…” It was a cold-turkey kinda thing.
Nope, dating my Mr. meant I no longer baked.
You see, when we met, he was working as the head pastry chef for an award-winning bakery. He didn’t go to school for baking, but it was something that he mastered over the years by simply being in the industry. And he is good. He can throw together a batch of cookies in seconds before I even have found the measuring cups. He can create his own recipes and work without one. He knows how to substitute stuff without batting an eye.
My husband is the kindest man I’ve ever known, but his questions and comments about my baked goods inadvertently made me feel like I was constantly being judged. Because I wasn’t weighing my flour or understood ratios and grams and all that other stuff that comes with working in the baking industry for years made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.
So I stopped baking.
But, before you start thinking poorly of my husband, it’s not like that was a great loss.
I was never a great baker to begin with. Actually, I was quite bad. Me and measurements usually don’t get along. I’m much more of an “eh, close enough” kinda gal. Which, obviously, doesn’t usually work for baking.
I also easily forget what I’m doing. I’ll read the recipe, walk into the pantry, and immediately forget if I needed baking soda or powder. I’m slow, literally having to read the recipe multiple times before I will work on the next step.
And, more than once, I’ve been known to pull a moment like Rachel in FRIENDS and make an English trifle with layers of lady-fingers, cream, beef, and carrots, because I followed one half of one recipe then continued on the second half of a different recipe.
So there was no point in me turning out crappy, half-assed baked goods when I’m living with a professional.
And that was fine. Instead, I spent my kitchen time learning how to cook, and I became a damn good one at that.
He’d bake, I’d cook. It’s been a great situation.
I decided I wanted to start baking again.
Because of a TV show.
It’s rare to hold a TV program in high-esteem. In fact, very little ever comes from bing-watching Netflix. But there is a rare occasion where some prerecorded program comes into your life and you can honestly say that it has changed you.
For me, that’s the Great British Baking Show. Are you familiar? It has exploded in my Instagram feed over the past few months, with friends proclaiming how great it was. It’s a simple PBS show, and actually several years old (but, I believe, newly released to Netflix). Normal, hobbyist home bakers undergo a series of challenges and are eliminated each week to leave the last one remaining as “Britain’s Best Baker”.
Always late to the party when it comes to popular culture, I didn’t start watching it until last week. And I love it. Because the people participating in are your average people but are capable of totally awesome things. And other times they produce something that looks like what I would make, or make normal mistakes like using salt instead of sugar. They aren’t like my husband, who are professionals, but people who dabble on the weekends.
They are, quite frankly, inspiring.
So I’ve started to explore the world of baked goods again.
While I occasionally turn out a pie dough for the nights dinner’s quiche or loaf of bread when I’m too lazy to go to the store (because yes, making bread from scratch is sometimes easier than getting in my car, driving the 10 blocks, and battling for a parking space at my natural food coop), I’m pretty sure the last time I made cookies was 2010.
I came across a version of these Spiced Crescent Cookies while trolling Pinterest in search of Winter Solstice recipes. While I don’t think they are particularly solstice-y, I loved that they were in the shape of a crescent moon. Normally, I celebrate the solstice by hiking, but I had a client meeting in the morning and anything after 12:00 means there are too many cars on the road and the trails near me fill with runners and bikers in too tight of pants, and I hate venturing out of the house.
Instead, I thought I would celebrate with food. Yesterday’s solstice fell on the waxing crescent phase of the moon, and the dusting of sugar reminded me of winter snow, so I thought these were a perfect way to honor the turning wheel of the seasons.
And they turned out just perfect.
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 sticks butter, room temperature
- 2 cups powered sugar (divided in half)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350º F
- In a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cardamom and cinnamon.
- Cut butter into small bits. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment (or by hand if you're hard-core), beat butter and ONE cup of sugar on a low speed until well combined and creamy.
- Add the vanilla to the butter, mix to combine.
- Add the flour mixture slowly to the butter and continue to mix until combined. This may take a few minutes for it to all come together.
- Add walnuts, and mix until combined.
- Use 1 tablespoon of dough, shape into crescent shapes.
- Place on a baking sheet, about 1" apart, doing several batches if needed.
- Bake until lightly browned, about 18 minutes.
- Let cool on a rack 5-10 minutes, or cool enough to handle.
- Place the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar in a bowl. Gently roll and sprinkle the spiced cookie crescents in the sugar until coated. Replace on the rack to completely cool.
- If desired, use a sieve to lightly shake additional sugar over cookies.
Your walnuts need to be chopped super fine. Because the dough is very dry, large bits will fall out and make the dough hard to shape. Mine were probably too large. Chopping in a food processor is your best bet.
To get an even size, use a measuring spoon to scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough, then form into crescents. I found it was easiest to gently roll into a fat sausage, then taper the edges and mold into a curve. You can also shape the dough into a ball instead of shaping into the moons.
Adapted from Sweet Paul Magazine