Christmas Baking @ 68…

Shannon and her 2 business partners were planning this year’s Christmas party for their associates. An afternoon open house. Shannon asked if I would make an assortment of dessert finger foods? Guest list was under 40. Well sure, doesn’t sound like an enormous amount of work. I might have however forgotten my age once again. I am baker, hear me roar. Or whimper softly. 

My peeps outshine my baking-always. Shannon and John, 2018…

Shannon wasn’t fussy, she wanted fudge without nuts, (crazy, right?) cutout frosted Christmas cookies for sure. The rest was up to my discretion-until I mentioned Pecan Tassies. “Umm nobody likes them mom.” Well right there in a pecan nutshell is what’s wrong with society today. Who doesn’t love a 3 bite piece of pecan pie? Really. I love Tassies and dread the future December when I’m no longer up for that particular task. I have been eating Tassies for a half century (unfortunately that part shows). Heck, ever since I started dating Hubs. John’s mom, Mag was great baker and excellent cook. Or maybe the other way around, an excellent baker and a great cook. 

Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas tree, my Tassies how I love thee…

Every Christmas season Mag made a boatload of Christmas goodies. Homemade dipped chocolates, fudge, penuche, cookies and her famous Pecan Tassies. Let me tell you right here and now. For being so dainty, delicious and cute, Tassies are a royal pain in the ass. Way too time consuming. Way. Mag had 4 aluminum Tassie (tart) pans which each held a dozen Tassie shells. The shells are a mixture of cream cheese, butter and flour which has to be chilled before the shells could be formed. You pinch off a piece the size of a small walnut, roll it around in your hand, then plop it in one of the little tart openings. Heavens no, you’re not done. Not even close. Then you carefully use your index finger to pat the dough on the bottom and build up the sides just past in each individual top opening. The filling is beaten eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and lots of chopped up pecans. Why anyone in their right mind makes these scrumptious tidbits on purpose is simply beyond comprehension. You bake them at one temperature for a few minutes, then lower the temp for another few minutes. Royal pain. 

Penuche, delicious and super sweet…

Newly married, without a clue on how to cook or bake anything I eagerly embraced Mag when she was in a teaching mode. She had a lot of patience with me and there was a recipe for Tassies to follow which helped. Many things I would learn to make from Mag had nothing written down, and in those instances I needed to watch, listen and write shit down because she used terms like, “you just add a little sweet gherkin juice.” What? I didn’t even know what that meant. For a 20 something clueless girl, this could be anything from a teaspoon to a half cup. So watch her closely I did. 

Learning from one of the best. Mag & I, early 1970’s…

Practice, practice, practice. Each year I got better at making Tassies. Much of the grief and angst was caused by those dang pans. If one iota of filling bubbled over the top of the shell, you literally had to bring in the chainsaw from the garage to remove that buggar from the pan-because they had melded as one. I suffered through 4 decades of those miserable stinking pans until meandering through Meijer a few years ago and spotted a Wilton non stick Tassie pan. Are you kidding me? The sucker was huge and netted 2 dozen Tassies at a time. I bought 2 pans and haven’t looked back once. The Tassies never stick. Worth every dime. Only wish I would have had these pans when I made 100 DOZEN Tassies a year. (I was a stay at home mom, friends and fellow bowlers would each order a couple dozen Tassies every Christmas. Tough way to make a buck but I always enjoyed baking). 

Well back to this year’s addition of, ‘Christmas baking with Neese.’ As recently as 5 years ago, this little baking party foray would have been easily handled in a day and a half. Not so fast there, sloth-gram. The new Neese is beginning to recognize her limitations when it comes to standing in my kitchen for hours on end. I just can’t with these bum knees. Can’t. So I made one of my famous lists, doling out these six desserts over a few days instead of 36 hours. Listed first what couldn’t be done until Saturday, then it was just a matter of going backwards to my start time. 

The nutless batch…

First was a batch of Fudge. Yeah I know it was too soon to make the candy, but I needed to practice a batch. I do soft ball stage without a thermometer, so 30 seconds either way is the difference between a  beautiful, delicious firm batch of fudge and crap you can beat for two days but will not set up. This batch turned out perfect (which bodes well baker gram) and I thought long and hard how that soft ball looked and felt on my finger, just out of the cold water. Since cookie and Tassie dough have to be chilled, I made both on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday afternoon I baked 6-dozen-pain-in-the-butt-Tassies, freezing all but a few for the Hubs and me and the party tray I was sending-despite Shannon’s Tassie-less warning. Just something I had to do. Surely there are a few palates out in the therapy world who love these mini pecan pies as much as I do. 

So cute, so good, so dang time consuming…

Friday was a big day for getting lots done. I baked the cookies and made the frosting. I’m not one of those multi-talented folks who make 8 different cutout shapes, or uses non-pareils like there’s no tomorrow. I make 2 cookie shapes, bells and mittens-period. I dare say my frosting is better than most. I give all credit to my Kitchen Aid. I’m just the intermediary. And my cookies never touch each other once frosted (unlike my food which I like up close and personal with each other). So each cookie gets its own sandwich bag-always. In the case of this party I did buy cute cookie bags with Santa’s mug slapped on the front. I frosted the party cookies right before we left for Landon’s basketball game so the frosting would harden a bit. Bagged them when we got home. (Yes, Pioneer won easily so my star, Landon hardly played-not needed when they’re ahead by 30). 

Quite unimaginative but tasty…

Another batch of nutless fudge was on my Friday to-do list; because it’s touchy to get just right in case I needed a do-over on Saturday. My Penuche turns out perfect 98% of the time. Fudge maybe 85%, so I was assuming my Saturday batch of Penuche would be flawless. (It was). The fudge turned out great too, thus I was feeling pretty smug so I tackled the cream puffs too on Friday. They’re not much work, but I’d never made them so small before. I wanted the cream puffs to sit nicely in festive cupcake papers. A couple of them were really small which made the perfect dessert for Hubs & I with grilled hamburgers Saturday night. 

Bite size cream puffs…

Shannon was picking up all the sweet treats on Saturday at 1 and I don’t like to leave very much until the last minute. Makes me twitchy. I washed all the Christmas plates, made my favorite Cherry-Coconut-Nut bars which take like 15 minutes. Next was the Penuche (1 hour start to finish) which turned out perfect. Wasn’t worried about the filling for the Cream Puffs. I use Mom’s recipe for banana or coconut cream pie filling. Egg yolks, milk, flour, sugar, butter and vanilla. Easy-peasy. But I still needed to cut up everything but the candy and put all individual pieces in cup papers and arrange on trays. Plus drizzle chocolate over half the Cream Puffs and dust the other half with powdered sugar. Those 2 little steps would absolutely be done right before Shannon showed up. 

One of my favorites for decades…

My tiny hand held desserts came off without a hitch. Well, after dividing the work between 4 days instead of a day and a half. Sigh. Just have to accept that stuff and move on. I’m really grateful for the things I get accomplished, but sometimes it’s easy to get down because I want to do stuff like I used to. You know when I was young, full of stamina and ambition.

Hope they tasted as good as they looked…

Change is not easy. Especially when it comes to actual physical limitations. I really don’t see myself as getting older and slower. But I am. As sure as my hair continues to grow and show more gray/white. (Which hasn’t been as bad as I thought with an inch now clearly visible). Kind of makes me smile that I’m sticking to my decision. I fretted about my dang hair color for 20 years-then bam! I was simply done using hair color. Why did I stew about something so trivial for so long? I don’t have a clue. Happy baking and Merry Christmas…

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