In our family, there is really only one kind of cookie, and their appreciation is not relegated to only Christmas. However, no Christmas would be complete without Mom’s sugar cookies – green frosted trees with m&m ornaments, yellow stars, bells and snowmen dressed with hats and buttons, that just beg for you to bite their head off.
Cookie baking is a tradition and traditions are most fun when they are being passed on to younger generations. Cookie baking and little girls “licking the spoon” go hand in hand. My first memories are of baking cookies with my mom, and my niece has been baking those same cookies every time she goes to Grandma’s house. I always invite the youngest over during the big Christmas cookie baking extravaganza. But the most special of cookies take years of tutelage before any female in our family is allowed to even consider trying to bake them herself.
The secret recipe is just as much a measure of patience and knowledge as it is ingredients. Knowing just when to take the cookies out of the oven, lest they become crunchy. Ensuring that the butter is soft but not so soft as to require the addition of more flour…. the proper thickness to roll the dough… how to keep them from getting too fluffy… how to store them when traveling, etc. The lessons are many but the results are truly amazing.
Throughout my childhood these cookies moved mountains. My brother used to sell or barter them at school. I am certain that they were the reason I was invited to go to the “popular” girl’s birthday party in seventh grade. They may have even played a role in me getting a date to the dance (I can see it now… my brother probably said…. No, you can’t have any of these cookies, but I will let you take my little sister to the prom.) My Mom… once lovingly referred to as “The Dragon Lady” at work is revered as “The Cookie Fairy” when she brings them to the office. To this day, even my Dad will momentarily forget “The War” that was waged (aka the divorce) and smile when we get him one of mom’s cookies. It takes us all back to happy moments.
When my parents were married, homemade baked goods were our family’s gift to extended family, neighbors and friends. Everyone knew that mom had adapted the cookie recipe in a way that had far surpassed the basic ingredients of its origins. Accompanied by a variety of goodies, the sugar cookies were always the crowning jewel of the gift. For many years, I have continued the Christmas cookie tradition.
I have learned to identify the exact moment to take the cookies from the oven… but am blessed with a great oven that has extremely even and consistent heat. So I set the timer. I have been baking these cookies for 20+ years with my mom and could likely make her very proud. They are consistently the right thickness, hardly ever too dry from flour, and usually travel well even with all of the frosting.
But something stops me… I make the cookies but skip the special ingredient. I only make them occasionally. While I am thrilled to have the knowledge, I am waiting my turn, patiently. Mom is teaching the grandkids how to make the cookies. My niece made her first attempt at home a few weeks ago, and while the flavor was great… she still has a few more years of learning left before they are perfected. Mom has many years and lots of lessons to teach my daughter. Sugar cookies are a rite of passage, but not one that should be a competition. So I use my mom’s recipe – sans one ingredient change – and leverage all the tips and knowledge to make one heck of a sugar cookie. I am content to know that nobody can really do it better than mom. And because I am smart enough to acknowledge that, I am usually rewarded with a dozen cookies saved just for me. YUM.