two three weeks, the stars have aligned against my putting up a post here. Despite being awfully busy, I’ve been maddeningly unproductive.
We spent a week at home for Thanksgiving, which I was of course excited about until we actually arrived. Then I wanted to go home. (Ain’t family great?) I can’t even think about going back for Christmas, and yet it’s happening.
On the flight home, a woman knocked my camera case out of the overhead bin while rummaging for a water bottle. It landed with a gut-wrenching thud in the aisle. It seemed fine, but I didn’t have time to check it properly because I walked straight off a red-eye flight into the insanity that is exam season.
Even though I just work for a law school and am not actually in law school, exam season is madness for me, too. I wrangle exams for two grueling weeks, herding students and proctors and crossing fingers that the testing software holds. Dry shampoo and instant oatmeal are my sword and my shield, sleep a distant memory.
In all the commotion, I forgot entirely about my camera until I finally got around to making these cookies.
These are some of my very favorite cookies: humble enough for lunchboxes and afternoon snacks, but also devoured with glee on any holiday cookie plate. These keep surprisingly well in a tin on the countertop, so it’s easy to ration yourself with the reassurance that they will still be good tomorrow. Cool weather all but demands the robust, winey complexity of dried figs, especially when enveloped in a soft, almond-flecked crust with bright notes of lemon zest to keep your spirits up.
I pulled them out of the oven just as the sun was fading behind the neighbor’s roofline. Just enough time for a few quick shots, I thought, unzipping the camera bag.
I took a test shot. Hm, my lens must be fogged up. I rubbed it with my shirt. Another. Hey, is this thing even focusing? Another shot. No, it definitely isn’t. I paused, momentarily dumbfounded. It’s broken. That stupid, clumsy woman on the plane broke my camera. I wailed for my husband.
Fortunately, J. is much more level-headed than I am in a crisis situation. He plucked the camera from my hands and started troubleshooting. As I sat across the table from him bemoaning the end of my photographing days, he toggled a switch, held the camera up to his eye, and snapped my photo.
“It’s not broken,” he said, looking at the picture he’d just taken.
“What?” I was confused. Of course it was.
“Look.” He flipped a switch back and forth. “It got bumped into manual focus.”
Dumbfounded, I took a test shot. Hey, he was right. Had some careless stranger not ruined my life after all? It was hard to believe.
Of course, the light was gone by this point, the kitchen descended into a twilit gloom. Not yet finished working miracles, J. started rummaging around in the coat closet as I halfheartedly shuffled my props around. Four task lamps emerged. He scurried outside, returning with a fruit box and the daylight bulbs from the lights in the hall. A piece of muslin and some duct tape later, and he presented me with a makeshift light box. And behold! They certainly aren’t the best pictures in the world, but we have photographic evidence of my cooking. Huzzah.
It may be getting dark at 4:30 and the dreaded holidays are upon us, but I can make my own light and there are holiday newtons to munch on. I think I’m gonna make it.
- ½ cup palm shortening, softened*
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup milk
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 oz. dried figs, chopped
- 2 oz. dried cranberries, chopped
- 2 oz. prunes, dates, raisins, or apricots, chopped
- ¼ cup dark rum
- ¼- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- For the dough: Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add cornstarch and mix well. Beat in milk and lemon zest. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix well. Divide the dough into 2 portions, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour.
- For the filling: Combine all filling ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring and mashing the mixture with the back of a spoon until thick and jammy, adding water as necessary. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment. Set aside.
- On a sheet of waxed paper, roll out one portion of the dough into a ¼”-thick rectangle roughly 9” x 15,” using a bit of flour to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. Do the same with the remaining dough on another sheet of waxed paper.
- Spoon the filling into three hills down the length of one piece of dough, leaving 1 ½” between them. Carefully peel the other piece of dough off the waxed paper and lay it on top. Use a sharp knife to slice the cookies into three long strips. Transfer the strips to your baking sheet, leaving 1” between them. Press lightly on the edges to seal the filling in the center of each strip. Cut the strips into 1” lengths, without separating them.
- Bake 18-20 minutes, until beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes, then cut cookies apart and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- You can use butter, but then they aren't vegan. Up to you.