Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dad’s Refrigerator Cookies

My Dad’s cooking repertoire was classic for his generation — bachelor’s survival skills. Most of the things he knew how to cook came from classic American cookbooks, serving up beef stew, spaghetti or pot roast.

And even though he grew up in a Chinese-American family on Maui, he still tended to look up recipes for American dishes. I guess it was his way of assimilating.

Of course, when he married my Mom, he left the cooking up to her and she (also a new cook) learned to make dishes from her childhood in Hong Kong.

While my Dad rarely cooked, on the occasions that he did he would often like to bake. When it came to snacks, my Mom was all savory and my Dad was all sweets. So that’s why he’d often spend a Sunday afternoon making custard pies that were so piping hot we’d burn the roof of our mouths trying to gobble down the fresh light custard filling.

And other times, he’d make what was known as “refrigerator cookies.” Anyone else remember those?

The cookies, which are pretty much like butter cookies, get their name from the fact that after you mix the cookie dough, you roll it up in wax paper and place them in the refrigerator for a few hours. As a child, this was torture because it just meant hours before the cookies would go into the oven.

Looking back, I realize refrigerator cookies are genius for today’s busy parents. The ingredients are often really simple (usually involves a cup of butter or lard, vanilla and flour), and you can bring out the dough from the refrigerator and slice as many cookies you want to bake at that time, then place the remainder of the roll back in the frig for another time.

My Dad’s refrigerator cookies were always the best because he seemed to slice each one exactly the same thickness — about a quarter inch so that it’ll have a nice snap when it comes out of the oven golden brown.

My one regret after my Dad died more than 10 years ago is that I didn’t look for his box of recipes so that I would know the proper proportions he used for his sweet custard pies and crunchy refrigerator cookies.

I recently felt nostalgic for my Dad’s refrigerator cookies, so I looked online for a recipe and ended up using a really simple one I found. I figured, my Dad hardly broke a sweat making the cookies, so he probably also used a really simple recipe. I tried to fancy-up my modern-day version of his cookies by adding pine nuts.

Rolling up the dough in wax paper and placing them in my refrigerator brought a flood of memories of how my siblings and I would gather around to watch my Dad slice each cookie as we helped to line them perfectly on the baking sheet. The recipe I used actually turned out softer than I remembered, and it didn’t have as strong a vanilla flavor.

So I guess I’ll never be able to make refrigerator cookies as well as my Dad. And sometimes I think, why should I when the memory of his is still so vivid?

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and go bake some cookies for your kids!


Food, she thought. said...

What a lovely Father's Day story. I remember the crazy sandwiches my dad used to make using any old thing except the kitchen sink, and his meatloaf. Those cookies look like shortbread deliciousness!!!

foodhoe said...

awww, what a nice memory! my goodness your dad was very ambitious making tarts and cookies, that sounds pretty advanced. The only thing my dad ever made for us was chili that he learned how to make in the navy... and I did learn how to make a pretty good martini at a very early age. I thought you didn't have to bake refrigerater cookies, how shocking! But those look do look delicious.

Unknown said...

That's really sweet! How I wish my Dad can bake too!All he knows is eat and eat and eat! He's pretty huge! But I still love him. He's a great painter though. I'll have him read this awesome story and maybe he'd be inspired to try baking. :)