REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS COOKIES

When did this all begin?  Good question! I don’t remember my mother baking Christmas cookies and my grandmother’s cookies, I recall, were always diamond shaped butter cutout cookies, onto which she brushed egg white and then dusted them with blended sugar and finely chopped walnuts. My sister Becky corrected me and insisted that Grandma made many different kinds of cookies such as Lebkuchen and Spritz, Holiday Fruit cookies, Pfefferneusse (pepper nuts) or Springerle (which requires a special rolling pin or a board with designs imprinted on it). Becky said each family received a dress box full of Grandma’s cookies. Why don’t I remember this?

Grandma was from Germany, Grandpa from Hungary, so her baking was generally European—we grew up on a lot of strudel, often made with apples from her back yard. She also made doughnuts (especially for the Feast of the Three Kings, when we would find a coin in our doughnut)—but for the life of me I can’t remember anything except those diamond shaped cookies. I have her cookie cutter today—that and a small heart shaped cutter.

I got married December 6th in 1958 and don’t have any memory of making cookies that first Christmas, although I did begin to search for recipes. I clipped some holiday baking ideas out of December women’s magazines and searched through a Betty Crocker Picture cookbook that was a wedding present.  I think it highly unlikely that I would have attempted any cut-out cookies that first Christmas as a newlywed (did I even having a rolling pin?) but I might have made drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, cookies I was already familiar with.  In addition to the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, I had a Meta Given cookbook that had been my mother’s.  As I think back on that first Christmas, I don’t know if I even had baking equipment – cookie sheets or baking pans. It had been a very small wedding.

My first child was born in September, 1960 and I probably began baking cookies when he was a toddler.  What stands out most in my memory is that we had a wonderful big yellow stove that was popular in the 1920s. What wouldn’t I give to have that old stove today!  (We left it behind when we first moved to California—though we traveled across country with an ironing board tied to the roof of the car and the baby’s mattress laid across the back seat of the car so he could romp and play. What can I tell you? It was the early 60s. But I can’t for the life of me explain the ironing board. We must have looked like something out of Grapes of Wrath.

What I do remember, quite well, is the Christmas of 1963. By this time my son Steve had been born and we drove again across country to California a few weeks before Christmas, to avoid a heavy storm heading for the Midwest. We rented an apartment in Toluca Lake and friends came over on Christmas Eve to celebrate with homemade cookies and coffee. We didn’t have any furniture yet so everyone sat on the floor. Guests went home with bags of cookies – so sometime between 1958 and 1963 I did learn something about baking. We bought a small tree and some small toys for our two little boys. You don’t need much to celebrate Christmas. Cookies help!

As years passed, I began collecting cookie recipes – actually began collecting cookbooks in 1965—and it became customary for us to gift all of our friends and neighbors with tins of cookies and homemade candy, or baskets filled with cookies, candies, homemade jellies and jams, and little loaves of pumpkin bread. When I went back to work in 1977, I found an appreciative following in my coworkers—everyone loved whatever I baked, so it was fun to take something to the office for everyone to try with their coffee.  In the years when my sons were going to grade school and middle school, I had a girlfriend named Doreen with whom I shared cookie making and baking. I think we’d do about fifteen different kinds of cookies EACH and then bake everything and split it up. She lived around the corner from me in Arleta, when we lived on Terra Bella.  She’d come to my house or I’d go to hers, at night – so we could bake to our heart’s content.

I can’t imagine not making cookies for Christmas although one year we certainly did – it was in the 1970s when the price of sugar soared to $5.00 for a 5-lb bag. It cramped our style, I can tell you that – and I stockpiled sugar like some kind of hoarder for years afterwards.

And I don’t just bake cookies at Christmas – I baked cookies all year long. The husband of one of my coworkers always called me the cookie lady. “Are these cookies from the cookie lady?” he’d ask.  When a recipe doesn’t come out quite the way I want it, I like to tweak the recipe to see if I can fix it. (Someone is always willing to eat the rejects) – the only downside to tweaking recipes is that you have to remember what your tweak was. I tend to forget to write down the changes. J

I have been baking batch after batch of oatmeal cookies trying to find the recipe in which the cookies spread very thin and turn out crispy and crunchy—voila! I found it the other night in one of my notebooks. I was pretty sure this was the recipe and immediately started putting the ingredients out on the counter. I was so pleased when they came out of the oven – crispy and crunchy and very thin. I think I made these cookies last Christmas, dipping half of each cookie into melted chocolate to make Florentines. I’ve been eating them all by myself (it’s a good thing I’ve already weighed in for Weight Watchers for November, otherwise I might be in trouble).

Towards the end of my baking, I wondered if I chopped walnuts and dried cranberries into very small pieces, would the cookies still spread thin? They DID!

So if a crispy crunchy thin oatmeal cookie is something you would like to try, here it is:

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp cinnamon

8 TBSP (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

6 TBSP apple butter*

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.   In a large mixing bowl, blend butter, apple butter, and sugars until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla. Blend. Add the oat mixture and mix until blended. Drop batter, about 2 tbsp at a time (I use a cookie scoop) onto parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven; cool slightly on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

*I didn’t have any apple butter. But I do have jars of homemade apple sauce on hand (any kind of apple sauce should do) – I dumped a quart of apple sauce into a crockpot and added some brown sugar and molasses. I let it cook down on medium, with the lid off, until it was thick.

*I finely chopped maybe half a cup of walnuts, and half a bag of dried cranberries to add to the batter towards the end, to see if it would still spread thin. It did. I will put the cranberries and walnuts into the batter at the beginning next time.

To make a fancier holiday cookie, melt chocolate and dip the cookies halfway in. I have a Wilton Melting Chocolate pot and it’s wonderful for keeping melted chocolate at the right temperature. (Pick one up when you have a 40 or 50 percent off coupon—it’s the best time to get yourself one. My daughter in law loved mine so much that she bought chocolate pots for herself and her sisters last year, after using mine.

*One more note: this recipe says bake 18 minutes. Well, by trial and error, I have learned that what may be 18 minutes at sea-level will burn to a crisp in the high desert. These cookies baked completely in 12-13 minutes where we are (3000 ft altitude) – I can’t tell you how many sheets of cookies or batches of candy I burned the first couple of years living in the Antelope Valley.  When I was making pralines, 234 degrees on a candy thermometer is too much at this altitude—I had to get the candy off the stove a lot sooner. I couldn’t believe that our mere “3000 ft elevation” could make that much difference—but it does. Just sharing that with you.

Looking for a long lost cookie recipe?  Maybe I can find it for you!  My collection of cookie recipes is gargantuan. And I love searching for recipes.

–Happy Holiday Baking – Sandy

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6 responses to “REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS COOKIES

  1. Another fun post. My mother never baked Christmas cookies, but I was inspired by German and Hungarian neighbors who always had a tin to offer to visitors and started the tradition when I married in 1952.
    Lillian

    • Lillian, the only cookie I remember my mother making was oatmeal and I think she used bacon grease in them instead of butter or margarine. This sounds far-fetched but my penpal in Okla homa found an oatmeal cookie made with bacon grease. I tried making them once. ew, ew, you cannot go home. So great you had German & Hungarian neighbors to inspire you–I guess I did too; my grandma was German and grandpa was Hungarian–my (paternal) grandmother made dishes from both Ethnic groups. We kids t hought it was all German food. I had to discover European cookbooks to learn that we had been eating foods from both countries all that time.

  2. (We left it behind when we first moved to California—though we traveled across country with an ironing board tied to the roof of the car and the baby’s mattress laid across the back seat of the car so he could romp and play. What can I tell you? It was the early 60s. But I can’t for the life of me explain the ironing board. We must have looked like something out of Grapes of Wrath.

    It certainly reminds me of some of our family moves to/from NYS and Alaska. The second move we had 3 boys (ages 7,5, 9 mo.) and had a pickup truck – just one seat. Can you imagine driving about 3700 miles like this with 3 children? Back of truck piled high with our stuff. I remember I ALWAYS took my wringer washing machine as it was such a necessity with a family!

  3. This reminds me so much of our moves. I figured we moved 12 times in 25 yrs of marriage. 1st to CA from Ohio in 1961–back to Ohio in 1963 (I was pregnant & flew home with oldest son that time) but we drove back to cA in 1963 in the dead of winter. Then a lot of small moves around the San Fernando valley before moving to FL in 1979 w/ a truck towing a Uhaul & my son & his friend driving a truck pulling our car–from So CA to Florida. Then BACK to California in 1982 but I flew back with youngest son because I had a job waiting. Then we bought a house & 3 yrs later divorced, so the house was sold & I moved to a rental house for the first time on my own. In 1989 I moved to the Arleta house & the kids & Bob & I lived there for 19 yrs before I bought a house, on my own, in the high desert. I always thought I was the restless one but I know now it was my Ex. He remarried about 10 yrs ago and last month they moved to Las Vegas. I am staying put from now on; I have a home of my own. But I still wonder about that ironing board–I can only guess that it was because I ironed all our clothing–no perma press yet. lol. Oh, I think driving to alaska would have been far more difficult. Our trip to Florida was with all 4 kids. it was an adventure for the two youngest boys.

  4. I think I beat you with the moves. I kept a log once – we had moved 20 times in the first 12 years of marriage. And like yours, many times they were LONG moves. Three times to Alaska, twice back to NYS. Once from Alaska to CA and a year later back to NYS. And many, many, MANY moved within NYS and a couple each in Alaska and California. When I was divorced I bought this mobile home and I’ve been here 33 years and IF I ever move again it will be to an apartment.

  5. Marge, you win. I can only add 3 moves to my original 12 with Jim. After we divorced I moved into a little house in Van Nuys. it was my 1st experience of acquiring a place entirely on my own. Then we moved to the Arleta house & spent 19 years there (but I lived in that house from 1974-1979 with Jim so I have another 5 yrs to that house (which is the place I have loved the most) – then from Arleta it was here, to the high desert, my 1st experience buying a house on my own. I can’t even imagine moving to Alaska 3 times!!! (But I sure would love to go there!!! – Thanks for writng. Sandy

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