I met Suzen the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. We bonded quickly and for our fifth or sixth date she came to my house for dinner. I cooked. I believe the quickest way to a woman’s heart is to let her know she will not be the only one in the kitchen. So my courtship that evening included a high-proof beverage, a BLT with lots of B, and my favorite holiday cookie.
Suzen picked up a cookie, took a bite, and put it down on a plate. She looked at me and said, “We have to have an agreement.” Not good, I thought. Was it the B? How could she not like the cookie? “You can make these,” she pointed to the rack of cooling Maxines, “but only once a year. Do you understand?”
“Yes, m ‘am.” I almost saluted.
She picked up three more cookies, went to the front room, sat in front of the fireplace and calmly ate every bit. This Christmas will be our 25th, and I’m getting ready to make my once-a-year-under-some-kind-of-awful-penalty-I-never-want-to-learn-about batch of Maxines.
To give you an idea, a Maxine is refrigerator cookie. A log of sweetened chocolate and nuts is made, firmed in the refrigerated, then wrapped in buttery brown sugar dough. The wrapped cookie is refrigerated again, then sliced, baked, and consumed. Quickly. The aroma of the baking cookies in the last couple of minutes is unforgettable.
The recipe for Maxines, a gift to the world from Maida Heatter, is at the end of this blog. I’ve modified it a bit here, doubling the amount of chocolate center and tripling the dough recipe which I found to be a bit slight. Of course, if you can only do this recipe once a year, what else could you do but double down?
I have a fondness for things sweet, well, maybe an addiction. I love cookies and starting baking when I was six. When I look at cookie books, I first search for the brownies — no brownie recipe and I’m reluctant to buy. But, and I just realized this, I then look at whether there is a section for refrigerator cookies.
Refrigerator cookies. Yes, I know, you can go to your market, buy a roll and take it home. There is an urban myth that some people just buy and eat the whole log of dough, never bothering to bake. That is 100% totally disgusting and something I have never done. [Okay, a couple of times I was maybe 33% disgusting, but it was a long time ago before I met Suzen and …].
What is the magic for me about refrigerator cookies? I think they reflect care and a love of food. A regular cookie? You make the batter, spread it into a pan or drop it on a sheet and bake it right off. A refrigerator cookie is often a work requiring time, patience, and sometimes engineering skill. Wrapping the Maxine dough around the chocolate log and getting it perfectly round with no air pockets, well, that’s actually when Suzen steps in so I don’t mess things up. Once a year does mean you have to be careful.
Heatter’s refrigerator cookies, like the Maxines, are often works of art. Her checkerboard cookies are so precise and organized that you feel a bit guilty consuming them. But you do.
Perhaps it’s the delay. You make the refrigerator cookie dough, carefully wrap it in wax paper and then foil, and then you hide it from sight for hours. You have to invest in time, before you are rewarded with beauty and taste.
If I could make only one cookie for the rest of my life, it would be Maxines. However, as a husband who has kept his word for 25 Christmases, I stick to my annual double batch. The other 364 days can be filled with other flavors. Maida Heatter’s books are still in print. Filled with seriously perfect recipes. Give them a try. And, yes, look at that chapter on refrigerator cookies.
Yield: 48 cookies
Note: These proportions are not the original recipe. Here I am doubling the chocolate filling and tripling the brown-sugar dough
Chocolate Log Mixture
- 1 11 oz bag of milk chocolate chips
- 2 Tablespoons butter, softened
- 2/3 Cup sweetened condensed milk
- 2 Teaspoons vanilla
- 2 Cups blanched almonds, coarsely cut
Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a medium-sized double boiler over hot water on medium heat, cover, and cook until partially melted. Uncover and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. If using milk chocolate, the mixture will be very, very stiff. Do not worry. Stir in the condensed milk and the vanilla, then the almonds.
Tear off a piece of wax paper about 15 inches long. Place half the dough by large spoonfuls the long way down the middle of the paper, forming a heavy strip about 10 inches long. Fold the sides of the paper up against the chocolate mixture. With your hands, press against the paper and shape the mixture into an even round or square roll 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in the wax paper. Slide a cookie sheet under the paper and transfer to the freezer or refrigerator until firm. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.
Brown Sugar Dough
- 3 Cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 3/4 Teaspoon double-acting baking powder
- 3/4 Teaspoon salt
- 12 Tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 Cups light brown sugar
- 3 Egg yolks
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In the small bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat well. Beat in the egg yolks, and then, gradually, begin adding the sifted dry ingredients. Add until the batter begins to be crumbly. About ¼ cup of the dry ingredients may be held back.
Beat only until thoroughly mixed, but not dry. Remove dough form the mixer and press it together with our hands until it forms a ball.
Divide the dough in half. Place one half on a piece of wax paper a little more than 12 inches long. With your hands, shape it into a flattened oblong. Cover with another long piece of wax paper. Roll a rolling pin over the top piece of paper to form the dough into an oblong 12 inches long and 8 inches wide. While rolling, occasionally remove and then replace top wax paper; then invert and do the same with bottom wax paper, in order to keep both pieces of paper smooth and unwrinkled.
Remove the top piece of wax paper. Unwrap one chocolate roll and center it on the brown sugar dough. Using the wax paper, lift one long side of the brown sugar dough and press it firmly against the chocolate. Then lift the other side so that the sides of dough overlap slightly. If the dough does not fit perfectly, the excess may be cut off and pressed into place where needed.
Enclose the roll in the wax paper, then run your hands firmly over the roll to remove any air trapped between the dough and chocolate mixture.
Rechill the dough only until it is firm enough to slice. If the dough is frozen firm, it will crack when sliced.
Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375°.
Unwrap the roll of dough and place it on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut slices 1/2 inch thick — no thinner! Place the slices flat, 1 inch apart, on unbuttered cookie sheets. Bake about 12 minutes, until cookies are lightly colored. Reverse sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking to insure even browning.
Let the cookies stand on sheets for a minute or so until firm enough to transfer, then with a wide metal spatula transfer to racks to cool.