Some recipes call out to be made even though they are not glamorous or what some would call ‘blog worthy’. This is one of them. I make it today out of pure sentimentality and not because it has any technical or visual merit worth sharing. Several readers have recently asked me when I’m going to jump on the holiday baking bandwagon and start sharing some fabulous Christmas cookie recipes. I’m not. Well, not really. I’m still going to post about this one and while I’m flattered that anyone would think I have the skill to pull some amazing cookie creations off, the sad truth is that I really don’t. This is probably due to the fact that I didn’t grow up with any real “cookie traditions” in my family. No annual cookie bakes, no recipes dusted off to exchange or share with co-workers and neighbors. Nada.
Grandmother Sis Boom wasn’t really what I would call a baker either (unless you count boxed brownies) and yet she always had home made cookies on hand for our visits. (She had Mint Milanos on hand too which she kept in a cookie tin causing me for years to think she had made these as well.) Her cookies were never anything fancy, certainly not by today’s internet chef standards – most of the time they were just your simple, old fashioned butter cookies. To my taste buds, however, they were simply heaven! My disproportionate love for them probably had a lot to do with the Stockholm Syndrome-like affection for the”whole wheat carob chip cookies” my health food, Adele Davis inspired mother pawned off on as as treats while we were young. (You know the saying, “when you haven’t tasted steak, peanut butter is just fine.” ) Grandmother’s butter cookies therefore were truly decadent if not also somewhat forbidden delicacies. Each visit I would devour all she had on hand.
To her these were just the cookies that her mother had always made to have with her tea and so it was only natural she would just do the same. I remember thinking how lucky my dad was to grow up without his childhood scarred by carob chips. Instead he came home from school to enjoy a cookie tin always full. What made grandma’s cookies unique to her (at least from my point of view) was the way she formed them. Taking her simple butter cookie dough, she would extrude it through the cookie press that was her mother’s fitted with a star attachment. It was the only attachment she had — all the others long gone from never being needed. This would create a long ‘rope’ from which she would then cut into 4 inch sections, wrapping them around to make the cookie. After a quick chill they would be baked up, cooled, and then always put into tins lined in waxed paper. That’s it. Her recipe never changed even though now I can tell you that this basic dough would take well to an infinite number of additions or tweaks. Orange or lemon zest? Thumbprints? Cocoa? Rolled out and frosted? Nope, not for her. Always the same thank you.
She never made dedicated Christmas cookies the way they are today. Occasionally she would make a persimmon drop cookie recipe that a friend had given her but usually at Christmas my grandmother would make her same cookie recipe only at this time of year she would stick a red or green candied cherry on it and all it a day. That was the extent of her specialized Christmas baking. It wasn’t much of an addition but we thought it was quite special. One year her press broke and by that time the old fashioned presses had given way to fancier ones that made wreaths and stars with a single pull of the trigger but no starred ropes. She tried to interest not just us but herself with these new, more “professional” shapes but to no avail. Just not the same. Then last year I found this vintage press on eBay and while even it was more modern than Grandma’s, I knew it would do the trick.
Guess who now has a cookie tradition?