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Monday, December 17, 2007

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

As a musician, celebrating the Holidays is inconceivable to me without the music of the season. By late September, I have already begun to immerse myself in Christmas hymns, carols and cantatas, preparing for the numerous concerts, recitals and various other programs on my schedule. By far, my favorite of them all is the Messiah. Christmas just isn't Christmas to me if I haven't sung at least one Messiah! It is like a dear, old, favorite aunt that you only get to visit with once a year. Preparing for the visit is time-consuming and takes a lot of hard work, but once she arrives, you have the most wonderful and special time together.
One of my favorite Christmas hymns is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". It is a beautiful song with powerful words and a haunting melody. If you would like to hear it (and even sing along), click on the title above. The lyrics, which I have shared above, were originally written as a poem entitled "Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on Christmas day in 1864. Our country was in the midst of the Civil War, and Longfellow had just received the news that his son had been injured on the battlefield. Having recently lost his wife as well, he was firmly planted in a state of depression when he wrote the piece. The text speaks to the underlying sadness and sense of despair felt by all during that bleak time in American history. This song is as much an anti-war song as it is a Christmas song. The original stanzas 4 and 5 refer to the battle, and are usually omitted from most arrangements.
Why, you ask, am I telling you all this? This is a food blog for Heaven's sake, not an 8th grade history text book! Because, my friends, we are at war. I am not just talking about the conflict in the Middle East, although that, in and of itself, is bad enough. We are at war on so many different levels - on our own respective turf. Take a walk through a domestic violence or homeless shelter and you will see war. Visit a Hospice house, and you will see war. Look at the American foster care system and again, you will see war. Speak to the mother of a sick child, afraid to go to a doctor because she has no health insurance and you will hear about war. Look into the beseeching eyes of a hungry child in any part of the world and war will be reflected back to you. Medicare = War! Drugs = War! Senseless Crime = War! Global Warming = War! People chatting on their cell phones while driving = War! (one of my biggest pet peeves) Get the idea?
What possible relevance could this all have to a post about Christmas cookies? Well, these are not just any old cookies. They are World Peace Cookies! If I were writing the ultimate fairy tale, one bite of these crunchy, buttery and intensely chocolatey morsels would magically cure all the ills of the World. The wars would end. Suffering, despair, sickness and violence would cease. Everyone would have what they need. The World, and all who inhabit it, would be finally, blissfully, at peace.
If only it were that simple. If only a delicious chocolate cookie could be the catalyst for peace.
These cookies are a creation of the incomparable Pierre Herme. They are a butter-rich, sandy-textured, slice and bake member of the sable family. These little babies are made with silky, smooth cocoa powder and are chock full of deep, dark bittersweet chocolate chunks, with the merest hint of saltiness from a little fleur de sel. Oh, my! I think I need a moment......
This recipe was first printed in Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets and again in her baking bible, Baking From My Home to Yours. Originally called Korova Cookies, they were dubbed World Peace cookies by Dorie's neighbor, who claimed that, "A daily dose of Pierre's cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness."

The dough was super easy to make. It literally took me five minutes to put together. I used the Fauchon cocoa powder that I got in Paris last summer, and Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate that I got at.....are you ready for this.....Publix! The hardest part of making these cookies was not diving into that dough and eating it raw!
The finished product was nothing short of sublime! Enough said.

I am submitting these cookies to Susan from Food Blogga for her Christmas Cookies From Around the World Event. If you haven't checked it out, please do. She has done a great job with it! I posted briefly about it here the other day.

World Peace Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

  • Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

  • Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

  • Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

  • Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  • .
  • Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them — don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

  • Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.


Susan from Food Blogga said...

Susan, thank you for a powerful, heartfelt post.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I have baked these and they are really wonderful!
Your cookies are beautiful and the Santa tin is lovely!

Laurie Constantino said...

Beautiful cookies, excellent ingredients, and worthy cause. Loved your post - thanks!

Susan @ SGCC said...

Susan- Thank YOU for hosting such a great blog event. I can't wait until next year!

Patricia- Thank you. I got the little tins a few years ago at Wal-Mart for $1.00 each. How could I resist!

Laurie- Thank you. Those cookies were good! They flew out of the plate like hotcakes! I'm glad you liked my post. Sometimes, you have to rant a little. ;)

bakeorbreak said...

I've been wanting to make these. Yours look delicious!

Unknown said...

Thanks for putting me in the spirit! Happy Holidays!

Unknown said...

My church Christmas music had this song in was my favorite. I can't believe that the 4 and 5 stanzas were left out me, they were the best ones! They show the hope that we have.

Hope you have a very Merry Christmas. The cookies are just beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I didn't try the cookies, but I loved your article about Xmas bells, war, health care !!

I fully agree !!

I love Fauchon (too expensive !)

Susan @ SGCC said...

Jennifer- Thank you. You should make them. They are really easy and they are delicious.

Columbia Foodie- Anytime! Happy Holidays to you too.

Claire- Thank you. This song is in my church hymnal too. I agree with you about v. 4 & 5. Hope is a powerful thing! Merry Christmas to you too.

Anonymous- I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes, I just have to get on my soapbox. It is very cathartic.

Fauchon is pricey, but I'm making it laaaaaast! ;)