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Suzanne Martinson: Reinventing the pinwheel without Martha

Thursday, December 14, 2000

Dishes piled high in the sink. Flour floating in the air, in the hair, everywhere. Belly to the bar, no, that's the kitchen cupboard. My thoughts turn to Martha Stewart.

I've always thought that Martha -- like Madonna, she only needs one name -- was a great gift to writers. She is so blatantly successful, so driven, so obsessively perfect that she is one of the few people on earth whom we can make fun of and not get angry letters. In fact, everybody and her frazzled sister probably got an online essay on how they would not be having a "Martha Stewart" Thanksgiving this year.

But where is Martha with her helpful tips, her resourceful staff, when I need her most? Like when I'm making Tropical Pinwheels.

Never trust a pretty picture. Double-never trust a food-styled photo with a perfect pinwheel, a pinwheel not found in nature, or least not found on my flour-saturated marble board. For once, I have remembered to wet a kitchen towel to put under the board, which otherwise can go flying off the counter from undue pressure from the rolling pin. Toes struck by falling marble boards are no longer toes at all.

I was having a rough weekend anyway. My husband, Ace, now that he's repotted, has been doing the shopping. He couldn't find the brazil nuts, or I should say, shelled brazil nuts.

"I bought 8 ounces in the shell," he says innocently.

How hard can it be to shell a few brazil nuts, I think, recalling the days when everybody had a nut bowl of unshelled walnuts, pecans and brazil nuts around the house at holiday time. My granddad used to go down in the root cellar to shell nuts for my grandmother. Gram did not allow Gramp to chew tobacco in the house, so in the privacy of the cellar, he'd do a couple nuts, spit, do a couple nuts, spit ... until either the nuts were shelled or he was at the bottom of the bag of Red Man tobacco.

If Gramp could shell, I could, too. I repair to the garage and dig out a hammer. If you've seen a brazil nut that wasn't naked, they're oblong, dark-colored nuts with tough, tough hides. It took several blows to break one open. The nutmeats clung to the shells like mosquitoes to flypaper. I realized that to remove them I'd need a nut pick. Where's Martha when you need her?

Come to think of it, the Brazil nuts always were the last ones left in the nut bowl. In the case of the cookies, I substituted walnuts for brazils and called it good.

But in a pinwheel cookie there is no way to substitute, say, a circle. You couldn't tell from looking at the photo in the spanking new Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, but this recipe requires math. I do not have math anxiety, I remind myself, I have pinwheel anxiety. Spatial relationships, that's what throws me.

Mixing the dough, no problem. Chilling it three hours, not hard. Rolling out, doable. Cutting into 2 1/2-inch squares, cheating required. If you are a carpenter, you can eyeball a square; if you are a baker like me, maybe not. I pull out my ratty wooden ruler. Cheating? Nope, it's survival. Though it pains me to do it, I cut away any dough outside the required square. My pain is increased by the knowledge that the "leftover" dough means that someplace, somewhere, the dough isn't as thick as it should be.

Never mind. I'm rolling now. Flour. Sticky. More flour. Still sticky. Then smooth rolling.

Cutting time. Visions of geometry flash through my head. The length of the hypotenuse is equal to the square of the sides, or it is the tangent and co-tangent walked into a bar where they met a ...

Now I have to cut 1-inch slits heading toward the center of the square. At first I measure, then I wing it. Maybe I'll make a carpenter yet.

OOPS, spoke too soon. Now it's time to fold in the little wings -- from fallen angels, no doubt -- into the center of the cookie. The dough is so rich it'd as soon break as bend.

If you lose count on folding every other pointy part, your pinwheel will look like a fractured butterfly. Taste is not affected, though.

Although our dough looked fractured in the occasional cookie, the rich dough tended to heal itself during baking. By the second sheet of dough, I was catching on. I tested the cookies with green sugar. I tested them with simply macadamia nuts. I drizzled on pineapple icing. Dazzlingly delicious.

Practice makes perfect -- isn't that what your home ec teacher told you? (That's what I tell my daughter, too.) Best of all, any failure is ours to eat.

Tropical Pinwheels

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
4 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup coconut
1/4 cup finely chopped macadamia nuts or almonds
Colored sugar (optional)
1 recipe Pineapple Icing (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed 30 seconds. Add the 3/4 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

Divide dough in half. Cover and chill the dough for 3 hours or until it is easy to handle.

For filling, in a small mixing bowl stir together cream cheese and the 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir in the coconut. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time into a 10-inch square. Using a fluted pastry wheel or a sharp knife, cut square into 16 2 1/2-inch squares. Place squares 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cut 1-inch slits from each corner toward the center of each square. Spoon a level teaspoon of the filling in each center. (We nearly ran out of filling. In two extra cookies, made from dough scraps, we used raspberry preserves as filling, which was delicious.) Fold every other tip to center to form a pinwheel, pressing lightly to seal the tips. Carefully sprinkle some of the chopped nuts onto the center of each pinwheel; press nuts lightly into the dough. If desired, sprinkle cookies with colored sugar. (We used green; plain was nice, too. The one in the photo was a tasteful yellow.)

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Cool for 1 minute on cookie sheet. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool. If desired, drizzle cooled cookies with Pineapple Icing and sprinkle with additional colored sugar.

Pineapple Icing: In a small bowl, stir together 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar and enough pineapple juice (about 1 tablespoon) to make icing of drizzling consistency.

Better Homes and Gardens
"Homemade Cookies"

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