Serious Eats: Recipes

Serious Cookies: Cocoa Snowflakes

Editor's note: I'm thrilled to report that erstwhile Serious Eats Roman bureau chief and Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma has returned to the Serious Eats orbit. We love Gina because not only is she one of the best pastry chefs on the planet but she is also a truly gifted writer. Welcome back, Gina. We missed you. Oh, yeah, these cookies sound seriously delicious. —Ed Levine

When Ed asked me to contribute some holiday cookie recipes for serious eaters, I instantly thought of something I haven't so much as glanced at for at least a dozen years—my mother's time worn recipe box that sits on her kitchen shelf. The irony is that the ignored recipe box exists entirely because of me; I made it for Mom as a Christmas gift when I was about 10 years old.

I don't recall why I decided that her existing recipe system was flawed, but I do remember asking her to take me to the local five and dime—no questions, please—as I carefully selected the box, the index dividers and a package of colored cards. I spent night after night locked in my room with a sign that said, "Keep OUT!" taped to the door, working my way through Mom's file folder of clippings from newspapers and magazines, typing them onto the cards using a portable manual typewriter, my two index fingers, and the indomitable force of a child's love.

After spending so many years caught up in the hype and frenzy of life as a professional chef, I forgot all about the Christmas of 1977. In reality, I had only made it through about 20 or so recipes before deciding I had sacrificed enough of my precious, pajama-clad TV time. Mom kept up the tradition over the years by making her own cards, using her steady, flourished script. But for me, that recipe file represented something that now seems all the more gigantic: my own participation in the life cycle of my mother's kitchen.

The battered box crept into my consciousness by becoming part of my everyday environment. I'm living with my mother right now, after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer over the summer. During the long months that have followed my surgery, I was unable to summon the will or the strength to do much reading. But as I've marched through chemotherapy, I found an indescribable comfort in revisiting my past through the pages old cookbooks. I ticked off the endless days of discomfort by thumbing through the stained, dog-eared books that line her bookshelves, as well as forgotten favorites from my own vast collection, only recently unpacked. In the process, I've rediscovered so much of what inspired me to become a chef in the first place. Slowly, even tentatively at first, I found that looking backwards is helping me to move forward. The proof positive is that I am here, back in the fold of Serious Eats. Thank you, Ed.

The timing couldn't be better, because the holidays are the perfect incentive to revive past traditions. The professional pastry chef in me is always trying to figure out how to keep up with what's new and notable, but this year, I think I am going to remain completely immersed in cozy memories. My holiday cookie plate is going to be filled with some oldies but goodies, and I am starting off with a gem from Evelyn's recipe box, Cocoa Snowflakes.

In the corner, next to the title, my mom wrote the word "good," and she wasn't wrong. These are not your standard crinkle cookies. They have a nice shot of hooch in the form of golden rum and a little kick from some grated orange zest. You can use any nut you prefer; I opted for some roughly chopped pistachios, studding the interior with a shot of holiday green. Bake them a few minutes longer for added crispness.

Cocoa Snowflakes

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