I seldom bake. Germany has the greatest bread on the planet. France may have baguettes and croissants, but for sheer choice and variety nothing beats German baked goods.Why make something mediocre when there’s a bakery on every street corner?
As long as Uwe can recall, every week his mother made two cakes. It’s a German tradition, and women of a certain time period created great desserts that were works of art.
Before we visited, Mama always called to ask what kind of cake Uwe wanted. Sometimes I got to choose and I’d request Black Forest chocolate cake or a Bienenstich, a honey and slivered almonds cake that’s one of my favorites.
When it got to be late November, after each visit Mama Hartmann sent us home with tins full of Christmas cookies. She baked at least ten different kinds. Those cookies became cult. Friends would casually ask, “Have you gotten Christmas cookies from Uwe’s mom yet?” The idea was that I’d bring out a plate filled with said cookies for visitors to sample. “You tell your mother-in-law that these are damned fine cookies!” someone ordered happily.
Whether they had a thumb print of jam in the middle, or were layered with chocolate and ground nuts, or were perfect little crescents tasting of vanilla with a dusting of sugar, each cookie was delicious.
The supply ran low really fast because our friends consumed all of them, rather than politely taking one or two. Uwe finally told me it had to stop. No more offering cookies to guests!
Mama’s days of baking are behind her. We’ve brought her to a nursing home in our village so we can see her more often. But in the last winter before she had to move, I wrote down the recipes and helped her make cookies. I imitated her steps for each one.
Well, what I baked bore little resemblance to the miniature works of confectionary art that my mother-in-law took out of the oven.
I discovered something. To bake like a professional takes years of making cakes. Preferably two a week, plus cookies every Christmastime. This last Christmas I knew Uwe would be missing his mother’s cookie tins. I was way too intimidated to try to bake Mama’s cookie recipes, so I came up with an acceptable alternative.
I baked one of the few cookies she didn’t: peanut butter with chocolate chips. They’re quintessentially American in their peanut butteriness and chocolate chips, and one cookie I can make and actually have turn out right. While it’s not a Mama Hartmann traditional recipe, it tastes like the holidays.
I like to think that maybe someday I’ll set out Christmas cookies for friends. But really you should try making Mama Hartmann’s Walnut Squares. With practice they’ll be perfect when the holidays roll around.
The Cookie Dough:
250 grams Butter
200 grams Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla
300 grams broken Walnut Meats
250 grams Flour
3 teaspoons Baking Powder
250 grams Powdered Sugar
2 teaspoons Instant Coffee
3 tablespoons Brandy
2-3 tablespoons hot Water
100 grams Walnuts
Pour batter into a flat pan and bake at 200° (Celsius) or 390° (Fahrenheit) for 15-20 minutes. Frost the cake, cut into small cookies, and place a walnut meat atop each one.
NOTES:  For variety and yumminess, bread from India is a very close second.
Photo Copyright © 2015 Pamela J. Campbell.
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