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Annual baking day wasn’t ‘just’ desserts

We started out as co-workers, but soon became friends.

We were a group of young women, just launching careers, marriages and families, when we first bonded over shared deadlines and projects in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead newsroom 25 years ago. We worked in the same newsroom, so there was always something to talk, kvetch or laugh about.

We not only enjoyed hanging out at work, but after work, too. At some point, we decided Christmas baking would be less daunting if we squeezed it all in one day and did it together.

Our first Christmas baking day was in 2001 and was held in the cheery kitchen of my home in what I called “the suburbs of Kragnes.” With typical youthful zeal, we overestimated how much we could bake in one day. Each of us made two to three different cookies or types of candy, ranging from peanut butter bonbons and white chocolate-covered pretzels to soft, nutmeg-spiked cutout cookies and dozens of pecan tassies — each meticulously molded and filled as if we were making pecan pies for an army of Barbie dolls.

By the end of the day, we were bone-tired as we divvied up the cookies and sweets, but not too tired to declare that baking day would become an annual event. And, for a while, it was. Although the participants in baking day would shift slightly, we always found time in our busy December calendars for our yearly bakeapalooza.

Always held in my kitchen, it was a demanding but fun-filled day of Christmas music, raw cookie dough, hot chocolate and girl talk. We talked about challenges in relationships, struggles at work and our greatest hopes and fears. We laughed a lot and cried a little, too. It was the culinary equivalent of a quilting bee, except fabric and thread were replaced by fattigmann and thumbprints.

But life is never predictable. One friend moved away, some grew too busy with children, others moved to different jobs and developed new circles of interest. I’m sad to say baking day got lost in the shuffle. Eventually, even I moved out of the sunny kitchen, following my divorce. Life marched on, and I saw my baking buddies less and less.

And then: tragedy. Eunice, a founding member of baking day, lost her son in a car accident. The only positive outgrowth of this terrible thing was that it reminded us of the fragility of life and the importance of friendship. My friend “Lulu” and I attended the wake, and as we hugged our inconsolable friend, we all made a vow: We would bring back baking day.

We wound up scheduling it far in advance, on what would turn out to be my busiest weekend in December. As I thought about the work party I needed to attend that weekend, the house that desperately needed cleaning and all the gifts I hadn’t purchased yet, I briefly thought of postponing baking day. But I just could not let down Eunice. We had to stick to it.

And so we did. We gathered on that Sunday morning in my twin-home kitchen. Eunice put on a brave face but dissolved into tears in her first 10 minutes there. She told us she’d had car problems earlier in the week, and admitted she almost used it as an excuse not to come. But her family insisted on it, knowing how therapeutic it would be.

Everyone’s lives had changed so much. We were no longer idealistic young things out to conquer the world; in fact, we had been beat up a bit by life. We used to talk about potty-training and adult acne. Now, we commiserated over menopause and memory loss.

Yet, in so many ways, no time had passed at all. We shared the same sense of humor, the same concern for each other’s journeys and, yes, the same love of cookie dough. We parted that night with a vow that we would see each other soon, and there would absolutely, positively be a Baking Day 2020.

Here is one of our favorite “Baking Day” recipes. We hope you’ll make it the next time you bake with friends.

Peanut Butter Bonbons

Ingredients

2 cups peanut butter

2 cups powdered sugar

1 stick butter

3 cups crushed Rice Krispies

For the topping:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1 giant (7-ounce) Hershey’s milk chocolate bar

1/3 paraffin stick, sliced in thin shavings

Directions

Thoroughly mix together peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter and crushed Rice Krispies.

With buttered hands, form tablespoon-sized portions into balls. Place on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper and chill in refrigerator for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight.

Place chips, chocolate bar and paraffin in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute, stirring afterward. Continue heating in microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until mixture is completely melted.

Use fork, spoon or skewer to dunk chilled bonbons completely in melted chocolate, allow excess to drip off and then place on waxed paper to harden. Once chocolate is dry, you can drizzle swirls of melted white chocolate or almond bark on top to decorate. Best served chilled.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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