Pictured: 1957 Lionel Flatcar courtesy of Earl aka Ole Sweetie-Pi
Do you like model or toy trains? We do. Ole Sweetie-Pi is a model train collector and now I've caught the bug. Model or prototype, there's just something magical about trains. Maybe because trains remind me of slower times, old-fashioned values, romance coming and going via rails, or maybe it's those black and white Christmas shows that had magical scenes of electric trains circling beneath glorious Christmas trees.
And no surprise to anyone, I am equally as interested in the foods served in the dining cars. (How handy to be able to tie in two interests.) To my knowledge, these cookies were not served in any dining car (those recipes will follow someday soon, I think), but they are called railroad cookies as their pinwheel look reminds some people of spinning train wheels. Whatever the origin of the name, these cookies are something special.
They remind me of a filled cookie in that they have a luscious, sweet date and nut filling. They are alternately soft and crisp at the same time due to the sugar cookie that encases the filling. These cookies take time to make, though most of the time is refrigeration time. I found the sugar cookie portion a little difficult to work with; it wants to crack and crumble as it's being rolled out, out and crack and crumble again it's rolled around the filling. I had to keep pinching the dough together as I worked with it so that the filling would not spill out. I found that the dough worked a little bit easier if I let it slightly come to room temperature before trying to roll it (even though the directions say otherwise).
In spite of my angst, I really like this cookie for its uniqueness and flavor and would definitely make it again. I think of this as a special occasion cookie, probably more for the holidays than for everyday.
(Heirloom Recipes by Marcia Adams)
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar
1 cup packed, light brown sugar
3 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Date Nut Filling
2 cups dates, finely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, ground
In a medium sized bowl, cream the shortening and the two sugars until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.
In a separate bowl, combine and whisk 2 cups of flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cream of tartar and salt. Add to the creamed mixture; beat well. Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of flour; dough will be firm. You'll probably need to do step by hand as the dough is quite heavy. Divide the dough into two equal parts, wrap in plastic wrap, and set in your refrigerator to chill, for at last two hours, or overnight.
When read, take out one of the halves. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 9" x 13" rectangle, 1/3" thick. Spread half the filling over the entire surface, then starting at one long edge, proceed to roll the dough into a cylinder. Cover the roll with plastic wrap and again refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Repeat with remaining second half of dough and filling.
Preheat your oven to 350F. Slice each roll into 24 slices, abut 1/2" thick and place on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cooking sheet. (I strongly recommend using parchment because the sugar in the filling can caramelize and make the cookie difficult to remove.) Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let it rest on the cookie sheet a minute or so as the cookies are soft and then remove to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a tightly covered container, with waxed paper between layers.
To make the filling
In a medium saucepan, combine the dates, sugar, and water and cook over medium heat for about three minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will become nicely thick but will still have some texture to it. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Cool. Add the ground up pecans and stir well.
When spreading the filling on the dough spread to the edges of three sides, leaving a narrow margin along one long side so that the filling does not ooze out.