When I was a kid, my parents would organise the best birthday parties - I mean, really, THE BEST!! Now, I'm going back a bit, and talking about a time long before a children's birthday party would set you back a few thousand dollars and would involve hiring bouncy castles, organising pony rides, bringing in Bobo the Clown or El Greco the Magician to entertain, hiring the best caterers, and unless you sent every child home with a substantial goodie bag then your own child was destined to become a social pariah.
Back in the day, Mum would do the food, which would almost certainly have included the standard party food that graced the table of almost every "Kiwi kid's" birthday table back in the 50's and 60s - fairy bread, pikelets (my mother's were legendary), chocolate-rice-bubble crackles, lamingtons, pizza, club sandwiches, sausage rolls and cheerios (with a bowl of tomato sauce for dunking). Ok, now I know at least half of you are all of a sudden thinking - "cereal dunked in tomato sauce, gross" - but, here in New Zealand, cheerios are a little sausage, rather like a saveloy, but about half the size.
While Mum was busy in the kitchen, Dad would be in charge of the games. Of course, there were the usuals - pin the tail on the donkey, blind man's bluff, musical chairs and pass the parcel (this was when the recycled wrapping paper from Christmas, which was always stored in a big box in the hall cupboard, would come in handy). Then there were the extra games that Dad made up and which every kid in the neighbourhood loved. There was "pass the grapefruit" - all the kids stood in a long line; Dad would pick a fresh grapefruit off the tree and tuck it in under the chin of the first kid in the line; keeping their hands behind their back, each kid had to then try and pass it on to the next kid, tucking it under their chin - if you dropped it you were out; and so on. Then the paddling pool was filled with water, and a whole lot of apples floated in the pool; we all had to try and eat an apple out of the pool with our hands tied behind our backs; first one to finish their apple was the winner. Pikelets, dripping with golden syrup were hung from the clothes line, and once again we had to try and eat them with our hands tied behind our backs - turned out very messy with golden syrup in our hair and all over our clothes, but we loved it. And last of all was the treasure hunt - all year long, Dad would put his spare pennies into a big jar, then on the day of the party he would hide them all around the garden for the hunt - this was everybody's favourite and, since it meant that no kid would go home entirely empty handed (even if they hadn't won a prize), it guaranteed that Geoffrey and I would be spared any possibility of becoming social outcasts.
Usually, round about the time the games were finishing, Grandad would arrive just in time for afternoon tea and would always bring a box of cakes. If he'd picked up the cakes from the bakery (actually, back then bakeries were called "home cookeries") in Mt Albert, then it would usually be a box full of cream horns; on the other hand, if he got the cakes from the little bakery in Sandringham (which was owned by a Swiss baker), then there would always be an assortment - my favourite being some little cakes that were like layers of sponge cake sandwiched together with jam and cream and then covered in marzipan (I suppose rather like petits fours - though we certainly didn't give them any such posh title). I still love marzipan, and that almond flavour never fails to transport me back to my childhood.
The highlight of the whole day of course would be the birthday cake. Every year, Mum would ask me what kind of cake I wanted, and the answer was always the same - Cherry Cake. This was really a simple vanilla cake with lots of glace cherries in it, which were one of my favourite things (to this day I have a bit of thing for glace cherries). It was very simply iced as I recall - there was certainly nothing grand about this cake - it wasn't frosted or decorated to within an inch of its life. Back then cakes didn't look like they could grace magazine covers, but I loved that cake. I've never eaten one like it since I was a kid, but I would gladly trade any cake I've ever eaten since for a piece of that cake.
All of that was a very long-winded way of telling you that our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Kid at Heart". We are continuing to cook with Giada de Laurentiis, and our challenge was to choose a recipe that awakens some of that childhood nostalgia and makes you feel like a kid again. As soon as I came across this recipe for Dried Cherry and Almond Cookies with Vanilla Icing, the memories began to stir and I knew this was what I wanted to make. As it turned out I couldn't find any dried cherries, so I used dried cranberries instead - they were a perfect substitution and didn't dampen the memories in any way. The recipe also called for toasting the almonds before using them, but I actually wasn't paying attention and completely forgot to do that - as it turned out they seem to get toasty enough in the baking of the cookies, and I think pre-toasting them would have been a completely unnecessary step. Also, I used raw sugar instead of white sugar - I don't actually know what the difference in result would have been if I'd used white sugar, but I was certainly happy with my finished cookies. They were crispy on the outside, soft (but not chewy) on the inside, packed full of fruit and nuts, and totally delivered on the nostalgia factor. Also, I halved the quantity of ingredients for the icing, and still had loads left over. I'm definitely making these again.
Cranberry & Almond Cookies with Vanilla Icing
Adapted from recipe by
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
For the cookies:
113g (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (I used raw)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries (or coarsely chopped dried cherries)
1/2 cup slivered, blanched almonds
For the icing:
1 cup icing (confectioners) sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water, plus extra as necessary
In a large bowl, using an electric beater (I actually used my food processor), beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, cinnamon and salt, until everything is light and fluffy. Then beat in the egg. Add the flour and beat on low speed (or just pulse if using a food processor) until the flour is only just incorporated. Stir in the dried cranberries and almonds.
Spread a sheet of plastic wrap out onto your work surface, and then transfer the dough to the plastic wrap. Shape it into a log, about 4cm (1-1/2 inches) in diameter. Wrap the log up in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours until firm.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F), and line baking sheets with baking paper.
Remove the cookie dough log from the fridge, cut it into slices about 1.5cm (1/2 inch) thick, and place them on the prepared baking sheets about 3cm (1 inch) apart. Bake for about 15 minutes until the cookies are golden around the edges and puffed (Note: Mine turned golden, but definitely didn't "puff" - maybe this was because of the sugar I used - anyway didn't seem to really matter). Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely before icing.
To make the icing, put the icing sugar in a medium bowl, and whisk in the vanilla extract and water. You will almost certainly need more water, but just add it a teaspoonful at a time, until you have your icing at a drizzling consistency. Then, with your cookies set out on a wire rack, drizzle the icing over your cookies using a fork, and then leave the icing to set before serving.
Interested in getting to know Giada a bit better? Then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all been cooking up ....
.... or check out Giada's Kitchen and many of her other titles, available from Amazon, Book Depository UK and Fishpond NZ