It is December 4th–National Cookie Day!
Cookies are a big part of the Christmas tradition. My mom baked the best Christmas cookies with her hand blender and metal cookie press. The pantry shelves held five-pound bags of sugar and a colorful array of sprinkles and candied fruits. A crock was filled with flour. Mom’s specialties were thumbprint cookies, spritzes with melted chocolate tips sprinkled with tiny candies, and Christmas tree shaped butter cookies sprinkled with more tiny candies. She baked wreath-shaped cookies with a nutty filling in the middle. She patiently fried dough in the shape of bowties and dusted them with confectioners sugar.
Mom also accommodated special orders. Aunt Katy loved the fruitcake bites. Aunt Betty expected the chocolate crinkles. Our house smelled of baking goodness throughout the month of December. The aromas hugged us when we arrived home from school and lulled us to sleep at night.
Mom had huge glass jars and tins filled with cookies by December 24th. I don’t know how she did it between teaching, juggling five kids, and getting dinner on the table each night. The kitchen was always tidy.
Mom collected her recipes from Good Housekeeping and Women’s Day magazines. The Betty Crocker Cooky book was always opened after Thanksgiving. Her recipe box bursted with favorite and successful cookies. She copied most of the recipes on index cards and made notes as she tweeked the procedures. My sisters and I “helped” by stirring a double boil of chocolate or sprinkling colorful sprinkles on freshly pressed cookies. I also remember tasting a good deal of cookie dough. The waft of baked sweetness surrounded the happy scene.
When my daughters were young, I attempted to recreate those memories. I bought the same cookie press and hand mixer. I let my girls “help”, but between the licking of batter off the beaters, the overzealous spilling of sprinkles in and around the pressed cookies, and I dodging their fingers with the mixer as they added ingredients, the value of the assistance was lost. The bickering did not help set the happy scene. My kitchen had a cloud of low hanging flour dust and there was a scent of burnt confections.
Cookie baking takes precision, mindfulness, and care–not my best skill set. Unlike cooking savory dishes, I cannot toss cookie ingredients and adjust according to taste and looks as I bake. My way of measuring, or lack there of, ruins the consistency. I don’t know anyone who burned out handmixers on a regular basis.
Cookie baking is also an art. Those little treats are as much as a delight to look at as they are to eat. My mom’s cookies were always pretty and delicious. Mine were mis-shapened, had burnt bottoms and edges, and lacked detailed fine touches. Not pretty nor delicious.
I try to pass the blame on my oven, the pans, and ignoring the timer. Over the years I have come to terms with my shortcomings. Festive banana bread and peanut brittle are my mainstay recipes. I can bake a crunchy biscotti. They are sucessful only because they are supposed to be dipped in coffee to soften the cookie.
My granddaughter lives a distance away. We have found a fun commonality in baking cookies together. She has inspired me to try a little harder. I bought a counter mixer and found an easy gingerbread cookie recipe. When Lily visits or when I go to her, we bake gingie cookies. The batter somehow comes together. We roll it out. Lily happily stamps out the shapes. We press dough through a garlic press for hair. Flour and sugar dust us and we laugh all afternoon as we make warm memories. Yes, most cookies exit the oven a bit charred around the edges. Dressing the gingies with colorful icings and candies is evolving into a new Christmas tradition and hides the faults.
I leave the pretty butter cookie baking to those with those who are mindful, careful, and skilled. My daughter bakes lucious gluten and dairy free confections (yes, it is possible) and my sister is able to recreate Mom’s favorites with patience and artistry. Mom still bakes, although not the usual volume. She has supervised her interested grandchildren in the art Christmas cookie baking and fills her kitchen with the warm cookie memories.
Happy Cookie Day, Everyone!
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.