This Puts Most Of Us To Shame

Baking By ahuvas Updated 22 Dec 2008 , 1:30pm by Doug

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ahuvas Posted 21 Dec 2008 , 4:45pm
post #1 of 8


From the NY Times Magazine (there are a bunch of recipes at the end).

Tough Cookie

Dont even talk to Jean Scardina about all the Christmas shopping and baking you have to do. She will humble you with the hand-knitted dog sweaters she made for her daughters rat terriers, gingerbread houses and marzipan figurines of Santas workshop she makes as decorations oh, and the 6,000 cookies she bakes as gifts.

I had heard from a friend that Scardina makes 16 varieties of cookies. All petite and neatly decorated, they vary from Maida Heatters chocolate shortbread to Anisscheiben, a German anise meringue cookie that sits out overnight before baking, to Pfeffernuss to molasses crinkles to chocolate pinwheels to delicious Yugoslavian squares, layered with cookie, jam and crushed meringue.

Yet Scardina, who at 79 regularly stays up until 3 a.m. baking and knitting and whatnot at her home in the southern part of San Francisco, couldnt understand why Id want to write about her and the 500 or so dozen cookies she bakes, packages and gives out to a lucky 85 people every Christmas a tradition she started back in 1951. After much sweet-talking, she finally relented, but then there was the issue of photographs. None of her would be allowed, and none could be taken while she baked. I cant compromise the quality of my cookies by accommodating a photographer, she said.

Yes, maam.

I was beginning to see how she managed it all, raising four children and cooking dinner every night. Did I mention that she also works as a volunteer in the textile-conservation department of the de Young Museum and runs a knitting program at California Pacific Medical Center?

I was instructed to come to her house at 7 p.m., after she finished making dinner for her husband, Vince. I arrived to find a reserved woman wearing mauve pants, a mauve vest and mauve lipstick, her hair clipped in a bun, and her warm but protective husband, who insisted that I sit in the living room for a few minutes, presumably so he could check me out before unleashing me into the kitchen. There was a fire going, a pine-cone wreath above the hearth and, in the corner, a vintage chicken-feather Christmas tree from 1907.

This year Scardina was ahead of schedule Not for you people, she pointed out but because her department at the museum would be closing early for the holiday and she wanted to be sure that her colleagues would receive their gifts. The chocolate shortbread was one of the last things left on her list to do.

Scardinas kitchen is like a museum of appliances, beginning with a snazzy Bosch dishwasher and spinning backward through the George Foreman Grill, an original Cuisinart and a G.E. refrigerator with vertical doors. The pièce de résistance is a 1955 white enamel Wedgewood stove that she refers to as her baby. It contains one small oven. Frankly, she said, I couldnt keep up with a double. A small butcher-block counter is two steps away. There she rolled out the shortbread dough using listen up, Cooks Illustrated two quarter-inch-diameter dowel rods to guide the dough and make sure she rolled it to the perfect thickness. Then she used a plexiglass strip and a pizza cutter to slice the dough into squares. Not once did she use a timer for the oven. Baking is like breathing for her.

The cookie baking began the year Jean and Vince were married, right after she graduated from Berkeley. We didnt have much money, and it was a way to give people gifts without spending much, Jean said. She started with oatmeal and chocolate-chip cookies, and production ballooned quickly, at one point exceeding 600 dozen. That was the year we were still eating them in June, Vince said.

The recipes that make up her extensive repertory today come from friends and magazines and cookbooks, but Scardina has changed nearly every one, reworking the shapes to fit into her boxes and adding, for example, fresh ginger or nonpareils where desired. Each has been typed into a spreadsheet for easy tripling and quadrupling. She also has a shopping spreadsheet, detailing the 41 pounds of flour, 37 pounds of sugar and 11 pounds of butter she needs to pull it off.

During the year, friends collect spent Sees Candies boxes that Scardina then wraps with Christmas paper for packing the cookies. But thats as close to her kitchen as her friends are allowed to get. This is my own madness, and I cant see dragging anyone else into it, she said. This has meant finding her limits. Sometimes I would try do to two kinds in a night, but thats 70 dozen. By that time youre pretty pooped. Occasionally Vince would offer to help with the decorating, but when Jean noticed that the cherries werent placed just so, he found himself back in the living room in front of the TV.

Recipients, however, have it easy. All they have to do is eat the cookies promptly. No letting them sit around. And theres really only one way off Jeans list. You have to die, Vince said.

7 replies
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all4cake Posted 21 Dec 2008 , 4:57pm
post #2 of 8

That is an awesome story! Thank you VERY VERY VERY much for sharing it!

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KonfectionKonnection Posted 21 Dec 2008 , 4:57pm
post #3 of 8

Wow--what a neat article. I hope I have so much energy, and so many friends to share it with! Thanks for posting!

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cakeschmake Posted 21 Dec 2008 , 4:59pm
post #4 of 8

Wow, what a lovely article! I cannot even imagine baking that many cookies... I truly admire that woman!
(And what I wouldnt give to be on that list icon_wink.gif )

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Malakin Posted 21 Dec 2008 , 5:08pm
post #5 of 8

How sweet. I couldn't even come close to all that work.

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AKA_cupcakeshoppe Posted 22 Dec 2008 , 11:36am
post #6 of 8

WOW! Here I am dragging my lazy ass to bake a mere 10 dozens of cookies. This story has inspired me. Getting off my butt now. Thanks! icon_biggrin.gif

Merry Christmas!

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CakeWhizz Posted 22 Dec 2008 , 12:03pm
post #7 of 8

Thanks for posting this wonderful story. Even just reading it tired me out! She is such an example of generosity and selflessness!

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Doug Posted 22 Dec 2008 , 1:30pm
post #8 of 8

and what was the line from that 70s song....

go grannie, go grannie, go grannie, go!!!!

great story, great inspiration!

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