1 | A Christmas Mystery
The Thin Man (1934)
Pre-Code Hollywood films have been one of my most cherished discoveries during the pandemic. A brief period of “talkies” from 1927 to 1934 filled with humorous, suggestive dialog and strong, independent female characters. They are the kind of modern fun I didn’t expect from the heart of the Great Depression.
On its face, The Thin Man is a murder mystery solved by husband and wife duo, Nick and Nora Charles, who are drawn into the case while hosting a party on Christmas Eve. However, a large portion of screen time is dedicated to the comedic complications of life among blended families. A holiday sentiment that surely remains relevant 90 years later.
Egg Yolk Chocolate Chip Cookies
The chocolate chip cookie was conceived in the same decade Nick and Nora started solving mysteries. Like the murder mystery, it has become a tradition inviting experimentation. At least a half dozen have been popularized in the last five years: thick, thin, shortbread-style, filled with miso, made with wheat germ, made with chex mix and so on. Add to that list an egg yolk only version I’ve tweaked from the TASTE excerpt of The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak.
Freezing the dough keeps the cookies thick. Isolating the yolks with a healthy dose of vanilla and salt make for a rich balance other recipes lack. These haven’t met a party where they were not the star.
NOTE: Lisa Ludwinski of Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery has taught me that if you make cookies more than a few times a year, it’s worth investing $5 in a #40 purple cookie scoop. It cuts formation time in half, generates fewer burnt cookies because they are uniform in size and is a great stocking stuffer.
what you need
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened ◾ 1 1/2 cups sugar ◾ 1 tablespoon molasses ◾ 1 tablespoon vanilla ◾ 3 egg yolks ◾ 3/4 teaspoon baking soda ◾ 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt ◾ 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour ◾ 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) dark chocolate chips
what to do
Beat the butter, sugar and molasses in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium until well combined. Add the vanilla and egg yolks and mix well.
Add baking soda, salt and half the flour to the butter mixture and mix on low until combined. Add remaining flour and mix until dough forms. Then, add chocolate chips and stir until chips are evenly distributed.
Form cookies into 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon balls (using a #40 scoop) and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet or in a ziplock bag. Freeze for at least 1 hour, or up to a month.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pull the dough out of the freezer during the preheat.
Bake for 15-16 minutes, until the edges just golden. Remove from oven and cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
2 | A New Year’s Eve Lost and in Love
If you take the darkest moments of fatalism in It’s a Wonderful Life, mix it with a star-crossed love triangle sure to be found in a Hallmark Christmas movie I haven’t seen and set it in a 1970s prefabricated soviet housing block so interchangeable it’d be hard to tell if you were in Moscow or Leningrad (St. Petersburg), then you’d be ready for Irony of Fate.
Zhenya gets so drunk at the bathhouse on New Year’s Eve in Moscow that his friends put the wrong guy on the plane to Leningrad. When he gives the taxi driver his address, he ends up in a duplicate apartment right down to the wallpaper. Laughs, love and jokes about fish aspic abound. Overall, this widely loved two-part film is a lighthearted look into life during the period and a great intro to Soviet film.
Chocolate Salted Rye Cookies
Rye cookies are a textural revelation. Mine started in 2013 at River Valley Farmer’s Table in northwest Chicago. Rye’s fine linen grain sat snuggly between cottony AP flour and the wooly grind of wheatier blends, serving as the base for a roasted bittersweet and salty treat. In the same year Tartine Bakery published a fudgier version of the cookie. I've been making them regularly ever since.
This isn't the type of cookie you're likely to find behind the doors of a Brezhnevki apartment. However, these are the flavors you'd very likely see at a holiday party.
Chocolate was scarce for the 70 years of the Soviet Union and is still expensive. Naturally this means no celebration is complete without it. Rye is an ingredient so pervasive you can expect to see it in everything from cookies to soup. Need more convincing? Food scholar Darra Goldstein is calling her next book on the history of Russian culture and cuisine, The Kingdom of Rye.
Get the recipe from Tartine Bakery via Saveur: Chocolate Salted Rye Cookies
3 | Elves in Florida
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Warm climate Christmas can be disorienting. The weather doesn't match the visual queues. Eggnog is gross when it's 85 degrees. Palm trees are evergreen, but cellophane snow does not melt your heart.
This visual mismatch is probably what appealed to Tim Burton when deciding to shoot a holiday fairy tale in central Florida. Seeing a haunted castle built on a hillside in your hometown of 5,000 people is pretty magical when you're eight. Hearing your mom’s friend cleaned Johnny Depp’s hotel room is exciting at any age.
When I revisited the film recently I realized two things: how it serves as an allegory of community judgement and how Edward is an elf.
Stand him next to the definition from the scholarly journal on international folklore:
[An elf is] a type of humanoid supernatural being in Germanic mythology and folklore that generally seem to have been thought of as beings with magical powers and supernatural beauty, ambivalent towards everyday people and capable of either helping or hindering them.
Mr. Scissorhands most definitely qualifies.
EL Fudge-Style Sandwich Cookies
While we’re citing elves who were total bangers in the the early 1990s, the Keeblers need their moment in the sun. Everyone in our family had their favorite Keebler. Mine was EL Fudge. Buttery with deeper chocolate flavor than most packaged cookies, once they started double stuffed I never looked back.
Stella Parks has dedicated a career to the science of baking and the meticulous reproduction of American confections. Her cookbook, Bravetart, is an indispensable baker’s companion and her recipes on Serious Eats are exceedingly reliable.
Get Stella Parks’ recipe from Serious Eats: EL Fudge-Style Sandwich Cookies
Do you have a favorite Keebler cookie?
Reading - The (Ali)Gator Finds a Place at the Tailgate by Christina Morales (NYT)
Listening - An Evening with Silk Sonic by Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak (2021) because I can’t think of a better way to sashay into velvet season.
Watching - Pig by Michael Sarnoski (2021) which turned out to be an hysterical dramedy about the power of furry friends in the face of loss.
Smelling - A solid pot of now discontinued Amelie Mae by LUSH (2016) because I’m a sucker for ylang ylang and travel sizes.