When I was little, the cookies would come to us.
A week before Christmas, my grandparents' long, shiny Caddie would pull up in front of the house, and after spreading around the hugs, they'd pop the cavernous trunk and begin unloading more packages and parcels than could fit in Santa's pack. Each of us kids were piled up with presents multiple times, boxes towering and teetering in our arms as we headed up the front walk into the house. We'd rush inside, quickly assessing the weight and potential contents of each package before depositing it beneath the tree and heading back out for another load. It would be an eternity before we could open them.
Once the trunk was relieved of its contents, we'd move on to the Caddie's passenger cabin, still neat and tidy despite the thousand-mile trek from Indiana (much like Grandma's auburn beehive and Granpa's crisply creased slacks). Therein were the treats that we wouldn't have to wait for. In tins and Tupperware, packed tight with care, were dozens of Christmas cookies, all the family favorites. The selection was non-negotiable, not that anyone wanted to change it, and as sure as our stuffed angel would grace the top of our tree, we'd find Oatmeal Crispies, French Pastry Bars, Buttercreams and Toffee Squares in the back seat of that Cadillac each year.
Now that I'm a grown-up, there are no magic gift and cookie mobiles pulling up in front of my condo at Christmastime. I have to brave the malls just like all the other grown-ups I know, and bake my own cookies to boot. The former can be a hassle, but the latter is always a treat. My mom and I schedule a day each holiday season to bake, setting out butter to soften at the crack of dawn and carefully lifting the family recipes from their filed-away place in the original Joy of Cooking on top of the fridge. The cookies we make, the traditional selection, are simple and absolutely perfect. Don't get me wrong - we decorate other things, and over-decorate many things, but the cookies are wonderful just the way they are.
Baking Day is my favorite holiday event. We use the same recipes, from the same recipe cards, that my Grandmother used, and by some miracle they emerge unscathed each year. They are time-worn to a yellow tint, but have otherwise escaped harm (no dishwater dunking, no chocolate coating). I've scanned them for the first time today, to capture their beautiful simplicity for the blog. My very favorite are the Toffee Squares, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, so I've also shared that recipe below. It's a real, old-fashioned gem. Delicious and gorgeous, Toffee Squares make a wonderful gift. And, yes, the recipe really is that easy.
The gift of cookies always gets a smile. Right, Hott Rodd?
It seems as though Christmas used to take up at least a quarter of the year. Maybe half. As a kid, I remember waiting. Now that the season is filled with hustle and bustle and plain ol' work, however, it pretty much plays out in four fast-paced weeks, just as the calendar would indicate. Patience is no longer the key; these days, I struggle to keep up. My coupon-receipt from the drugstore yesterday offered 10% off holiday gifts and $2 off pain reliever - that pretty much sums it up. Toffee Squares are the perfect remedy. They take me back to long, sweet Christmases past, and I love to share that feeling with my favorite people.
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk (beaten)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
Mix in order and pat out on a greased 11 x 17 cookie sheet. (Cover the sheet completely, as though you were making a crust. Be sure to use a sheet with edges, as opposed to one that is completely flat.) Bake at 350 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
2 large-size Hershey bars (available on the baking aisle)
Remove pan from oven and, while warm, top with Hershey bars, broken into pieces. Be sure to distribute the pieces evenly across the surface of the pan. Wait 5 minutes for chocolate to melt, then spread out with a spatula and sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans. Press pecans lightly to adhere to chocolate. Allow to cool at room temperature, and place in refrigerator, if necessary, to set. Cut into squares.