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Early American Christmas Cookie

Early American Christmas Cookie

The recipe today is called a Christmas cookie. It’s from Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook, American Cookery.

Christmas Cookie

  • 3 ½ cups Flour
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Powdered Coriander
  • 10 ounces of Butter
  • 1 ¼ cups Sour Milk (If you don’t have sour milk, you can add 1 tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar to milk)
  • ½ teaspoon Pearl Ash

Mix together flour, sugar and coriander, then rub in butter.

Christmas Cookie (Time 0_02_10;14)

Dissolve pearl ash into sour milk then mix into other ingredients. Knead for 5-10 minutes adding flour as needed.

Christmas Cookie (Time 0_02_48;29)

Roll out to ½ to ¾ of an inch thick and cut as desired.

Christmas Cookie (Time 0_03_24;01)

Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

Christmas Cookie (Time 0_04_16;26)

Transcript from Video:

Recently in our “Exploring the 18th Century” series, we’ve been discussing chemical leavening and then going in depth into that topic. Today we’ll be starting a companion series of cooking episodes that goes with that. Thanks for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking with James Townsend and Son.

The recipe today is called a Christmas cookie. It’s from Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook, American Cookery. It’s very interesting here, a couple of different things. The first thing is that it’s called a Christmas cookie. It’s not something you normally see in an English cookbook. This is an American cookbook. She’s definitely got some Dutch influence here. You can also tell not only by Christmas being included in it, which isn’t a normal kind of big celebration in the 18th century for English, but also the word cookie, which is a reference to the Dutch word koekje, or their version of a cookie, and the third interesting thing about this recipe is that it uses pearl ash as the leavening agent and we have a pearl ash here. It’s an item that we’ve started carrying at the store. We have this available in little 2 ounce packages, so you can experiment with pearl ash too. Pearl ash is a refinement, or a component of the alkaline potash, which is extracted from burning trees or other vegetable matter. It’s typically used in soap making and in dyeing and other industrial processes, but when this alkaline component is mixed with an acid in baking, you get a leavening effect.

Now this recipe is a very simple one. We start off with 3 ½ cups of flour. To our flour, we will add 1 cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons of powdered coriander. For a lighter texture, I will rub in about 10 ounces of butter into our floured mixture. Our wet ingredients are very simple. I have 1 ¼ cup of sour milk. If you don’t have sour milk, you can take regular milk and add, say, a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to that. To our sour milk, let’s add ½ a teaspoon of our pearl ash. It needs to completely dissolve before we add it into our dry ingredients.

Once this is mixed well, it should be kneaded 5-10 minutes. If it’s too moist, add a little extra flour.

Once we’re done kneading this, we can roll it out to ½ inch or ¾ of an inch thick.

Once you’ve got it rolled out, you can cut this into any shape you like. I’m just going to cut simple rectangles.

Today, let’s bake these in a new product that we haven’t used before in the kitchen. Here is our little reflector oven. This is very similar to reflector ovens you see in the 19th century and we think they go back to the 18th century, but we’re not really quite sure exactly how far back they go. This is a perfect little tool for baking little items like this. In a home oven, you can bake these at about 325 for, say, 25 minutes.

Notice the wonderful crumb. This pearl ash makes a wonderful light and fluffy cookie. These look great. I’m sure they taste great. Let’s try them out.

Mmm, wow, that coriander flavor, completely different than what you’re probably used to. Very light and fluffy. These aren’t too chewy. They smell really nice. You should try these cookies out.   I want to thank you for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century.

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