No idea how this got started, really. But every year since we started “dating” (can it still be called that after 9 years?), my mother or myself or both of us in tandem have bought Jay a little bag or a little tin of coal and put it in his Christmas stocking. It was just an ongoing joke about him being naughty that we both found hilarious, and over the past 8 Christmases, the poor guy ended up with a drawer full of coal because he didn’t want to just toss it. I hated to give up the joke, because it really was funny to see him get halfway through the stocking & pull out ANOTHER container of coal… but I felt bad. That’s a lot of coal. And it really does just end up in the trash.
But it was pretty funny. My poor Jay. Picture it: he’s opening gifts, all happy and excited, and he gets halfway through his stocking and BAM! There it is. Another. Freakin’. Piece. Hilarious. Once I even stuffed the stocking with other random crap like weighed-down tissue paper instead of gifts, leaving just the coal at the bottom! Ohhh, Christmas coal. Providing laughter… and tears… for centuries.
The practice of giving coal to naughty children dates back to one of (at least) five possible origins:
One of the many origin stories begins in Italy where they believe in La Befana (a witch who delivers presents) instead of Santa Claus. When Jesus was born, La Befana saw a bright star in the sky and gathered some toys and other presents to give to the baby Jesus, but she couldn’t find the stable. Every year she goes around looking for Jesus and leaves toys for good children, and coal for bad ones. These days, Italians use a candy, called Carbone Dolce, to turn the legend into a joke. The dark, rock-like candy looks exactly like lumps of coal.
Some people say that the lumps of coal story started in Holland in the 16th century. Before Christmas, children would put their clogs by the fireplace before stockings were used. When a child was bad they got a lump of coal, but if they were good they got a small toy, cookies or candy.
In the 19th century, most of Europe was powered by coal, and most household furnaces were coal burning. A pan of hot coals would often be kept under the bed to generate heat in the middle of the night. In England, while the children of rich families got candy and toys in their stockings, those who were poor (believed to have been made poor by God, as punishment for their family’s bad deeds) would get coal, if they were lucky.
A proud but poor nobleman had three daughters ready to marry. The problem was, he had no dowry to give them. Saint Nicholas secretly gave the family enough money so their daughters could start their lives out with their new husbands. He did this by placing the money in some stockings that were drying by the fireplace. When word spread about this miracle, everyone started hanging their stockings by the fire in hopes that the secret benefactor would visit them. He did visit those houses, but for those who Saint Nicholas knew to be bad, he left them with a lump of coal instead of gold.
Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish bad children during the Christmas season, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards nice ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair. The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated in parts of Europe on December 6. In Alpine countries, Saint Nicholas has a devilish companion named Krampus. On the preceding evening, Krampus Night or Krampusnacht, the hairy devil appears on the streets. Sometimes accompanying St. Nicholas and sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes and businesses.The Saint usually appears in the Eastern Rite vestments of a bishop, and he carries a ceremonial staff. Unlike North American versions of Santa Claus, in these celebrations Saint Nicholas concerns himself only with the good children, while Krampus is responsible for the bad. Nicholas dispenses gifts, while Krampus supplies coal and the ruten bundles.
So it’s been around a long time, and a lot of people have been getting a lump or two of coal in their stockings in the last couple of hundred years. But this year, I think Jay will be far more pleased to find a big ol’ jar of it in his stocking. Because this year it’s not real coal, just chocolate cookies that look like coal.
What a great offbeat- and a little bit edgy- Christmas cookie idea. You know I have a tendency to lean towards a dark side. And this time of year, there really isn’t a lot of room for that, unless you do the Nightmare Before Christmas angle which is a bit overdone (I love the movie, but seriously…). These cookies, however, have a bit of a sinister twist to ‘em. Especially given the history of the coal, but also because they’re black. You don’t see a lot of black around Christmastime, do you?
What I did was I baked up some dark chocolate cookies, shaped ‘em all rough and then put them in a jar I decorated with a label I designed and topped with a black-painted lid. Super easy. I just took one of my mason jars, glued the two-piece lid together, and painted it black. But you could also use an old, cleaned-out spaghetti sauce jar and paint the lid, or buy a mason jar with a one-piece lid at a craft store. I just made a 2″ x 2″ round label & printed it out, then used Elmer’s glue to attach it to the jar since Elmer’s is water soluble & will come right off. You could also print it out on a self-stick jar label if you’ve got ‘em (Attention fellow geeks: the font I used in the label is called ‘Stamp Act’). You can also download a printable label from eighteen25.blogspot.com if you’re not as savvy with Photoshop as I am.
Another gifting idea for these? Use a little cheesecloth/muslin/burlap bag instead of a jar. There’s a little how-to at chicaandjo.com that can help you out with that. But, you know I love anything in a jar. Especially cookies.
And… this little coal concept also takes the edge off taking photos of misshapen dark chocolate cookies. You know, they either look like poop or, well, lumps of coal! Might as well capitalize on it, right? Thanks so much to Make Bake Celebrate for the idea, and to The Salty Spoon for the (adapted) recipe. Also these cookies are gluten-free, so they’re perfect for anyone you may know with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
It’s such a cute idea it makes you wonder why you never thought of it yourself. Unless you have.
LUMP OF COAL COOKIES (adapted from The Salty Spoon who adapted it from Bon Appétit, June 2008)
- 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder- preferably dark (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
- 1/2 teaspoon black food coloring (probably less if you’re using Americolor)
- 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment or a Silpat. If you have more than one cookie sheet, prep another as well. This recipe makes more than a single sheet’s-worth of cookies and will necessitate baking in two batches. If you don’t have two cookies sheets, don’t worry about it – just let the sheet cool down a bit between batches.
- Measure 1 cup of the chocolate chips into a glass bowl. Microwave for 1 minute, stir, then zap for another minute while watching closely. When things start to look really shiny, pull it out and stir again until the chips are completely melted. Stir in the black food coloring. Set aside.
- Beat the egg whites to soft peaks with an electric (or stand) mixer. Leaving the mixer running on medium, sprinkle in the sugar in three or four additions so you work it in gradually. Crank it up a notch and keep beating until it looks thick and creamy.
- In another medium bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Crank the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients in a few batches until fully incorporated.
- Stir in the (now slightly cooled) melted chocolate and the remaining chocolate chips. If the dough seems stiff at this point, proceed to the next step. If not, set it aside for 10 minutes or so – it will continue to gain body as it sets up.
- Plop them by the teaspoonful on a prepared cookie sheet, 2″ apart. Bake 10 minutes, until they are puffy and the tops have cracked.
- Once you pull them from the oven, let them cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Then, take each cookie and smoosh them into a “coal shape” (basically a rough, uneven, lumpy ball). They might still be hot inside, so put them back on the rack for another 5-10 minutes once they’re shaped.
DON’T OVER BAKE THESE. If you over bake them, they’ll be too hard once you form them into “coal” and your children will break their tiny little teeth.
I used my hand mixer to make these, from the egg whites all the way through to the final dough, but I will say that most of you should opt for using a stand mixer. The dough gets very stiff when it “sets up.” That means it might be too much for the average hand mixer. My hand mixer- also known as “He Who Must Not Be Named”- happens to be a beast: a KitchenAid digital 9-speed Architect model. But if you’ve got a not-so-powerful one, you might want to just go right for the big guns. I’ve ruined many a hand mixer overestimating it’s power. Learn from me.
And there you have it. They taste just like brownies, look like lumps of coal, but they’re cookies. Figure that one out, Santa!