Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nana's Lithuanian Easter/Christmas cookies

(l-r) my father, Nana, Josef Ambraziejus,
Dad's mother Anna, my mother.

Nana, my mother's mother, died more than three decades ago, yesterday.

Amilija Ambraziejus (née Jankus) emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century from Tsarist-occupied Lithuania. Her way - in slightly better quarters than common steerage - was paid by her four brothers, already in the United States.

Barely a teenager, she was expected to repay the debt by taking care of her brothers: housework, cooking, cleaning, house-repair, etc. A strong-willed woman, she turned the tables, and became the de facto head of the household in only a few years.

She married young, to a man over 20 years her senior, my grandfather, Josef Ambraziejus. My mother remembers Nana doing such things as the plumbing and tarring the roof ... in addition to the 'expected' household chores such as preparing the big meals for the extended family - which seemed to extend yet more on Sunday afternoons and holidays. During it all Nana would remain stylish in clothing and demeanor, and firmly in control.

Here's my mother's version of Nana's recipe for Christmas/Easter cookies, called "little ears", or ausukai (sometimes called kruscuki). Mom would cook these for our Christmas Eve Kucios meal; the preparing and frying were often as fun as the eating!

[UPDATE: Before following this recipe, check out this recipe.]


Ausukai

Yield: 3 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 3 1/2 TBS sugar
  • 3 1/2 TBS whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted white flour
  • powdered or confectioners' sugar
  • vegetable oil for frying
Beat yolks and egg together until thick and the color of lemon. Sift the flour with a pinch of salt. Whisk the flour, sugar, and the cream into the egg mixture. Allow to stand for a few minutes.

Flour the kneading surface and your hands. Knead the dough on the surface until no longer sticky. Roll out the dough until it's very thin. Then fold the dough into thirds back onto itself. Roll out again; fold again. Roll out again, very thin.

Cut the dough into small diamond strips, about 4" x 2". Cut a lengthwise slit in the middle of each strip. Pull the other end through the slit. It's not an ausuki unless you tie this knot!

In an oversize pot or a deep fryer, heat the vegetable oil to 350ºF. Fry for about 3-4 minutes, only a maximum of six at a time, so that the oil stays hot. When the ausukai appear golden, fry for about 20 seconds more. They should puff up. Do not brown!

Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with the powdered sugar (the part we kids really enjoyed!).

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