By Julie Jacques
My Grandma overdoes it. She makes ten pounds of mashed potatoes for eight people, sending everyone off with heavy Tupperware and careful instructions for defrosting/reheating. But the effort she puts into meals is the most eloquent expression of feelings she knows.
Claire Bouchard, like most matriarchs, is blessed with the uncanny ability to hold a home together with food, and for that, I have always been grateful. Whenever I cook or bake, I try to channel that energy: love of food, love of family…
I certainly wasn’t given the privilege of helping out in the kitchen in my early years. As a child, I was banished with the swat of a wooden spoon– understandably of course, due to the pots of boiling water and counters covered in precariously balanced knives (perhaps I’m more accurately describing my own kitchen situation rather than my grandmother’s).
Years later, and I’m still not allowed into Christmas dinner kitchens. There’s too much going on, and so little space! The delicate pastry for our Tourtière du Lac St Jean and the 100s of potato donuts (sent home with everyone at the end of the night) are dealt with by my grandmother and godmother.
However, I’ve been privy to a few of my grandma’s secrets over the years. The perfect buttercream includes a splash of cream for the fluffy texture, and you have to whip your log cake batter for at least 7 minutes for it to gain enough volume. The perfect custard can’t be rushed, and éclairs au chocolat taste a million times better in bite size than in regular size, for whatever reason.
If you can’t tell, I’ve always preferred desserts. That’s why when Curiosities Editor Adela approached me to help her out with a recipe for this month’s section, I jumped at the chance! We brainstormed for a bit, looking for a straightforward, fun recipe to make, and I immediately thought of sugar cookies– simple but festive.
Of course, you might think, sugar cookies, huh? Somewhat overdone… Well, they can be slightly boring, but they’re only boring if you make them boring! So, Adela and I decided to come out of our comfort zones and try something we’d never done before: slice and bake cookies.
The concept of slice and bake cookies is quite simple, actually. You know when you buy those delicious Pillsbury cookies around Easter or Halloween, and they have a design in the center, something like a bunny or jack-o-lantern? Those are, effectively, slice and bake cookies, except they’re pre sliced for the consumer. To make them at home, you make sugar cookies, divide your batch, dye one part and use the leftover dough to cover it.
Adela and I had never actually tried this before, and looking back, we may have done some things differently. For example, the green food colouring we got was a lighter, almost neon green. We figured it would be fine to make trees with, but when they came out of the oven, we realized the green was way too light and the lines between regular cookie and dyed cookie were very blurred.
Also, we seemed to have trouble with the general size of our cookies. Our cutters were pretty big, so wrapping cookie dough around an already general cookie sized tree or snowflake proved to be harder than we thought.
Nevertheless, we prevailed! The cookies were delicious – soft, crumbly, with a nice wintry peppermint taste to them, kudos to some rare and precious peppermint extract.
Another thing I enjoy about baking: nothing is ever quite perfect. I’ve always found that motivating, but also, comforting. I know that if I accidentally scramble eggs in my custard or overproof my doughnuts, I can always try again next week. And, most of the time, as my grandmother often reminds me, mistakes still yield tasty treats.