Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My go-to Christmas cookie, Part One

I don't ever remember a Christmas without Snappy Turtle cookies. My mother made them every year, only for Christmas, never any other time. When I got married, she copied her recipe for me, along with her Snickerdoodle recipe (that's my go-to Christmas cookie, Part Two). Sometimes I made them and sometimes I didn't. I was, um, somewhat flighty and irresponsible during my early adult years.

Nothing and no one lasts forever, though. She didn't make any cookies in 1989; she was dying of cancer, although I didn't know it at the time. Fortunately I was just barely sober by then and was able to help her and tell her it was okay, we could live without Snappy Turtles this year. Her other favorite Christmas thing to eat was chocolate-covered cherries, and I remember that both my sister and I brought boxes of them to her.

Sometime during my flighty and irresponsible years I lost her recipe. I counted it as a small but painful consequence of my alcoholism. No one else I knew ever made them. I figured I'd never get to eat another Snappy Turtle cookie again.

When I moved to West Virginia in 1997, my husband's home was completely furnished, and in the "den" was a shelf of cookbooks. You know what's next, right? In the Cookie chapter of The Southern Living Cookbook, was a recipe for "Snappin' Turtle Cookies."
The recipe is slightly different from hers – she used maple flavoring, while the recipe calls for vanilla, and she cut the number of pecans down from five to three. Probably because pecans weren't cheap, but maybe because five pecans was too many. I think three are perfect.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? You haven't even read the recipe. Heh.

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Snappin' Turtle Cookies
The Southern Living Cookbook, 1987
Makes 30 cookies.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
90 pecan halves
Frosting (recipe follows)

Cream butter; gradually add brown sugar, beating at medium speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg, 1 egg yolk and vanilla, beating until well blended.

Combine flour, soda and salt; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Chill dough at least one hour.
Arrange pecan halves in groups of 5 on ungreased cookie sheets, resembling head and legs of turtles.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and dip bottoms in remaining egg white. Press gently onto pecans to resemble turtle bodies.

Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Spread frosting on tops of cookies.

2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
About 1-3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Combine chocolate, milk and butter in a small saucepan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Add powdered sugar; beat until smooth. Yield: about 1 cup.

Yes, these cookies are a little fussy. Busy working moms probably wouldn't make them today, but moms in the '50s and '60s didn't, as a rule, work outside their homes, so a putzy production like this wasn't out of the ordinary.

And yes, I know it's a little early, but we're having guests for dinner tomorrow night and an early family Christmas celebration over the weekend, so making treats was on yesterday's to-do list. I felt happy (but tired) at the end of the day that my granddaughter will get to eat a Snappy Turtle.

Maybe you'll eat one, too. You can snag a .pdf version of the recipe here. Merry Early Christmas.


Elizabeth Parker said...

I have never met anyone outside my family that knew of the Snappy Turtle Cookies! I am delighted. We loved them always. And mother also made team ONLY at Christmas. I have made them for years myself. Good memories.

Debbi said...

Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth! It's been a while since I've made them, but I think this might be the year to get started back with that tradition!