Christmas cookies – those wonderful delicacies that we make for holiday celebrate. Sometimes those recipes are recorded on special recipe cards or found in special books, and they are rarely made any other time of year.
I started my Christmas cookie baking marathon today. Our extended family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve’s Eve, December 23, so I can’t dedicate next weekend (I have to shop sometime, right?) and like most of us, I work all week.
Each year, when I begin to bake, my mind begins to reminisce about the cookie baking that took place when I was a kid.
Mom didn’t make the cookies by herself, nor did she bake the coveted Christmas cookies at our house. The cookie baking took place in my grandmother’s kitchen. It began the Friday after Thanksgiving with the cookies that would keep the longest: Swedish pepparkakor. Each cookie had its special tin or canister and could never be stored in a different container. The containers were then be stored in a small walk-in pantry off the kitchen to be brought out for special gatherings and arranged on large platters. These gatherings began around the middle of December and continued into the month of January.
For years, I knew that if I saw my grandfather’s green Chrysler New Yorker parked in the drive when I got off the bus, my mother and grandmother were deeply involved in the cookie baking process. I would get in his car and we would travel the short distance to that beloved cookie factory.
During the holiday season, Grandpa, in addition to being my official chauffeur, was the official cookie taste tester.
When my mother and grandmother decided to try a new recipe, they would place a few sample cookies into a metal pie pan, bake them, and then call my grandfather into the room.
“Elmer, what do you think?”
My grandmother would wait for his approval or disapproval. If it was a new recipe and he didn’t like the cookie, the batch of cookies would be finished, but never remade. If, however, he liked them, the recipe would be added to the list of cookies to make.
When I would walk in, Gram would be in a full apron standing at the mixer creaming the butter. Sometimes she would add the sugar and eggs with the mixer; other times she would insist that these ingredients must be stirred in with a large wooden spoon. My mother, the designated stirrer, would be seated on a step stool that had a padded vinyl lid and worked the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.
Grandpa was also the product control supervisor. When a pan of bar cookies needed cutting, he was the one for the job because he was better able to make the bars or pieces nearly the same size.
Most of the twenty to thirty different kinds of cookies were made within the first two weeks of Christmas so that they could be shared during Christmas season parties and get-togethers. If I was lucky enough to be at my grandmother’s when she was preparing for guests, I would get to ceremoniously gather cookie containers and place cookies on the platters. I would also get to have a few cookies myself, sometimes snuck.
I don’t make any where near the different cookies my grandmother used to make, but the fond memories visit my mind as I bake.
Gracing the dessert table for our small Christmas celebration this year will be a platter of sugar cookies (compliments of Betty Crocker), toffee bars, Russian tea cakes (found on an internet search), spritz and caramel spritz, and maybe the pepparkakor.
My Grandmother’s Caramel Spritz
(This was on an index card in her collection, but I don’t know of its origin.)
1 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg (unbeaten)
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Put mixture in a cookie press. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes.
My grandmother made cookie sheet long stretches and then cut them right out of the oven. (NOTE: If you don’t cut immediately, they will crack when you try to cut.)
It’s not Christmas in my house without Caramel Spritz.