Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Cookies

Sometimes called New York Cookies since several New York authors, including Washington Irving, included the imprinted cookies in their fiction.  He wrote that Rip van Winkle was stamped on one side and St. Nicholas on the other of the cookies given out on January 1.

In Salmagundi; or, The whimwhams and; opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Irving wrote "New Year was celebrated with great festivity during that golden age of our city, when the reins of government were held by the renowned Rip Van Dam, who always did honor to the season by seeing out the old year; a ceremony which consisted in plying his guests with bumpers, until not one of them was capable of seeing. ... In his days, according to my grandfather, first were invented these notable cakes, hight new-year-cookies, which originally were impressed on one side with the honest burly countenance of the illustrious Rip; and on the other with that of the noted St. Nicholas, vulgarly called Santa Claus... These cakes are to this time given on the first of January to all visitors, together with a glass of cherry-bounce, or raspberry-brandy."

Rip Van Winkle, first published in 1819, Irving claimed to come from the research of Diedrich Knickerbocker whose "memory may be appreciated by ... certain biscuit bakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their new year's cakes, and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to the being stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a Queen Anne's farthing."

A story The Baker's Dozen relates that "Baas [Boss] Volckert Jan Pietersen Van Amsterdam kept a bake-shop in Albany, and lives in history as the man who invented New Year cakes....on the last night of 1654..." encountered an old woman who demanded a dozen New Year's cookies. He sold her twelve, but she kept insisting on one more making a dozen.
Myths and Legends of our own Land. Charles Skinner. 1896

New York Cookies
Take a half-pint or a tumbler full of cold water, and mix it with half a pound of powdered white sugar. Sift three pounds of flour into a large pan, and cut up in it a pound of butter; rub the butter very fine into the flour. Add a grated nutmeg, and a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon, with a wine glass of rose water. Work in the sugar, and make the whole into a stiff dough, adding, if necessary, a little cold water. Dissolve a tea-spoonful of pearl-ash in just enough of warm water to cover it, and mix it in at the last.

Take the lump of dough out of the pan, and knead it on the paste-board till it becomes quite light. Then roll it out rather more than half an inch thick, and cut it into square cakes with a jagging iron or with a sharp knife. Stamp the surface of each with a cake print. Lay them in buttered pans, and bake them of a light brown in a brisk oven. They are similar to what are called New Year's cakes, and will keep two or three weeks. In mixing the dough, you may add three table-spoonfuls of carraway seeds.
Eliza Leslie. Directions for Cookery, Phila: 1840

In 1857 Leslie included a slightly different recipe using soda and tataric acid, and wrote:
"The bakers in New York ornament these cakes, with devices or pictures raised by a wooden stamp. They are good plain cakes for children."
Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book. Eliza Leslie, Phila: 1857.

New Year Cake.
Mix together three pounds of flour, a pound and a half of sugar, and three-quarters of a pound of butter; dissolve a tea-spoonful of salæratus in enough new milk to wet the flour; mix them together; grate in a nutmeg, or the peel of a lemon; roll them out, cut them in shapes, and bake.
Elizabeth Ellicott Lea. Domestic Cookery. Baltimore: 1851

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