A holiday with a Twist

This is a post from way back in 2006 on what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

My sister called me early last Saturday morning.

“What’s up, Sister Diva?” I asked.

She heaved a sigh before answering.

“It’s German Twist Day.”

We both genuflected.

I spoke quickly, knowing we didn’t have much time.

“Do you have all of your supplies? Your equipment, ingredients, Thermos of coffee and Red Bull? Did you get a sitter arranged? What about bodily function needs? I.V.’s? Catheters? Have you cross-checked your astrological charts? Tea leaves? Is the humidity level okay up there for baking? Barometric pressure? Have all the planets aligned? Are you sure this is German Twist Day??”

She assured me of her adequate preparations; we wept together, I wished her Godspeed, and then she hung up to continue the marathon day of baking. I haven’t heard from her since.

“German Twists” are my family’s culinary legacy. Not just a Christmas cookie, but an epicurean DNA test. You must successfully bake these yuletide morsels in order for our last name to be included on your birth certificate.

The German Twist is no ordinary drop cookie. It is made with yeast; so it is a living, breathing organism, and one does not “bake” it; one gives birth to it. Or at least that’s what it feels like after 14 hours of laborious work it takes to create a batch. And the dough is quite colic-y–it must be coddled, tended and loved incessantly. It must be gently rocked to sleep after its bottom has been powdered with flour.

The other challenge to the German Twist is not only must you be an executive pastry chef to execute it, but you must also be a mind reader and a translator fluent in little old lady because this is the recipe from my great-grandmother that you have to work from:

Not exactly copy written by Bon Appetit. It’s like listing instructions for open heart surgery as: 1 patient, 1 scalpel, a needle and thread; Anesthetize and pray for the best.

I almost decided not to bake the cookies this year. I justified it by telling myself I was pregnant and supposed to be taking it easy, so maybe a 4 day vigil in front of the oven with a Petri dish of chemicals and lead gloves wasn’t prudent. Slice and bakes would have to be on the dessert menu this Christmas.

But then I got a call from my 90 year old Grandfather. For the first time in 20 years, we will be spending Christmas Day together, something that we did every single one of my childhood. He and my grandmother, my Aunt and Uncle, my sister and parents would gather for Christmas Day and after opening too many presents, we would sit down to a feast. My Mom would have made a roast beef–something she was particularly good at–and my Gram and Aunt would have brought their obligatory dishes so that every course was filled with meaning and tradition. We even made some new ones along the way. But no matter what, a plate of German Twists would be there, as well as a colorful commentary on how this year’s batch turned out. Gram would laugh that we all still poured over that yellowing index card like the Rosetta Stone trying to decipher her mother’s handwriting, and we’d laugh that hers looked exactly like it. Over the years, we tried to perfect our technique, but after decades of rising, kneading, and rising again, we determined that the German Twist–like life–is not a science but an art and recipes are merely guidelines, not insurance for what comes out of the oven. The secret is always in the spices.

Some year’s efforts were better than others, but they were always something I looked forward to making with my family and then serving proudly on a poinsettia plate that my Grandmother made in a ceramics class with “1956” scrawled in that same illegible handwriting on the back.

When the alarm went off this morning at 4am and I crawled from beneath the pile of children and dogs that were my blankets this December morning, my husband asked, “SD, what are you doing up? It’s not even close to 11 yet.”

“German Twist Day,” I answered groggily.

“Godspeed,” he said, understanding.

And that’s what makes Christmas–and life–so delicious. Feasting on memories while serving up new ones.

©2006 Tracey Henry

Detailed recipe to follow….

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