Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Christmas Cookie Recipe (with a dash of History)

At work tomorrow, we're having a Christmas party with a decorating competition, Christmas cookies, Christmas music, ugly Christmas sweaters, etc. As the events planning head, I created the sign-up sheet for people to bring Christmas cookies and put my name at the top of the list. I knew immediately which Christmas cookie recipe I would make: Twists. My mom, sister, and I have made twists at Christmas for as long as I can remember and my grandma made them for as long as my mom can remember.
I called my mom up to get some history about the recipe. The recipe is from the Eighth Grand National Pillsbury Best baking competition cookbook from 1957, my mother's birth year. I did a little sleuthing around the internet and found out that the competition is still going strong, except now you win $1 million instead of the $50,000 at the 1949 start of the competition.
Here's a quote from the cookbook: "Get out your pie pans, your cake pans, your cookie sheets, your casserole-and, of course, that bag of Pillsbury's Best flour...and good baking-good eating to you!" The original name of the cookie was/is Starlight Sugar Crisps. My mom wasn't exactly sure how the cookies came to be christened "twists" apart from their shape. But they are delicious in every way and fun to make. Here's a little step-by-step twist tutorial with pictures. 
I recommend making the dough the day before because it has to chill for at least two hours. When you're ready to bake, split the dough in half and mix two bowls of sugar with vanilla. 
Roll the dough out with 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar mixture underneath and then fold it into three parts after sprinkling a tablespoon of sugar on the top of the rolled-out dough. Roll it out again and repeat the same folding and sprinkling process.

After rolling the dough out for the third time, use a pizza cutter to cut strips. Feel free to make them more even than mine.

Then twist each strip and lay on an ungreased cookie tray. See all those lovely layers in the picture? All of that rolling and folding creates thin layers of dough with vanilla sugar between each crispy, sweet layer.

Put the cookie sheet in a hot oven and you'll get these...

Golden, crispy, sweet twists.

Here's a photocopy of the original recipe. It's faint, but you can see my grandma's handwriting to the side where she made notes on the recipe.

And after several batches into and out of the oven, you'll get this, a glorious stack of twists!

As Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"
Starlight Sugar Crisps (Twists)
Bake 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Soften......Soften one package of yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water.
Sift together......3 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt into a mixing bowl.
Cut in......1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup Crisco into flour mixture until particles are the size of small peas.
Blend in......2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Cover; chill at least two hours or for up to four days.
Combine......1 1/2 cups sugar and 2 tsp. vanilla.
Roll out......half of chilled dough on a pastry cloth or board which has been sprinkled with about 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar. Roll out to a 16x8-inch rectangle. Sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon more vanilla sugar. end of dough over the center. Fold other end over to make three layers. Turn 1/4 way around and repeat rolling and folding twice, sprinkling board with additional vanilla sugar as needed.
Cut......into 4x1-inch strinps. Twist each strip 2 or 3 times. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
Repeat......entire process with remaining dough and vanilla sugar. 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until light golden brown (watch carefully...they get dark quickly!)

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