Friday, October 1, 2010

Cookies in Class

Have you ever been sitting in class, wondering what your professor is like in their everyday life? Have you ever wondered what they like to eat and what their cooking skills are? I have been lucky to take some courses where teachers would bring delicious food on the last day of class and have a relaxed discussion with us. One of those professors is Margreta de Grazia, who teaches in the Department of English.

Professor de Grazia specializes in Renaissance Literature and particularly Shakespeare, so she is probably the best instructor you could get on Renaissance poetry – the class I took with her in my sophomore year. She has written award-winning books of criticism and won several fellowships and prizes for distinguished teaching. I can see why – she genuinely cared about our performance, so every class she would assign one homework question to each of us. In this way, everyone had a chance to participate. I do not usually come up with brilliant interpretations on the spot, so having extra time to think made me much more active and engaged with the class.

On our last day before break, Prof. de Grazia brought us a basket of beautiful clementines and a tray of small brown homemade cookies. As I bit into one of those, the crumbly, walnutty goodness of the cookie swept me off my foodie feet. I instantly knew I had to have the recipe. So in the interim between the last day of class and the final exam I wrote a couple of emails to my professor almost imploring her in Renaissance verse to end my suffering and reveal the delicious cookie recipe. And she did! It turned out that it belongs to one of her grad students, still known to me only by the name of “Cathy from the cookie recipe”. I have decided that I should try to find Cathy and thank her for bringing these amazing cookies into my life.

And here is the recipe! When you bake the cookies, make sure you take them out of the oven as soon as their edges begin to turn light brown, or even earlier than that (if you have made them regular cookie size). Otherwise they get too crumbly and fall apart when you try to pick them up. Luckily, I figured this out from the very first batch. So later, when my professor wrote a study abroad recommendation for me, I was able to give her a delicious thank-you present!

Cathy’s Cookies (courtesy of professor Margreta de Grazia)

Sift together 2 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix the dry ingredients with 1 cup of creamed butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and 2 1/2 cups of ground walnuts.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
While the cookies are still quite warm (but not so hot they burn you or fall apart when you try to pick them up – I usually let them cool a couple of minutes), roll them in very fine sugar. Very fine sugar is sold either in the baking aisle or with cocktail/drink supplies, but you can also make it yourself by pulverizing regular sugar in the food processor or blender for a minute or two.
So far, I have only used powdered sugar and it has worked perfectly. Since it tends to get soggy when you roll warm cookies in it, I wait until they are completely cool.



  1. Zhana! It's Cathy from the cookie recipe! This was so delightful for me to read -- Margreta discovered this and passed the link on to me -- since these cookies have been my go-to teacher gift since I was a child (I also gave them as favors at my wedding), and since Margreta is, hands' down, the teacher who has deserved them the very most.

    The recipe comes from my mom's mom, who acquired it from (I think) a women's magazine in the 1940s (hence the slightly kitschy name they go by in our family: Nut Babies). She made them every Christmas as one of the NINE varieties of cookies she baked and mailed, in quantity, to each of her NINE children. All the cookies were good, but these were the undisputed stars. I'm so glad you make and love them.

  2. Wow, Cathy - it's so nice to see you here! I'm really glad that you found the post and that you enjoyed reading it. These are now one of my favorite kind of cookies and I make them for any occasion (or lack thereof). They do make a great gift, and my mother loves them too. I'm sure she'd love to hear their story :) Many thanks for a wonderful recipe that's brought so much joy to me and those around me! And many thanks to Prof. de Grazia for passing the link on to you.



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