So many things about the holidays make me nostalgic – decorating the tree with ornaments that were gifted to us from friends and family members over the past 30 years, listening to Johnny Mathis’s Merry Christmas (the album we played every Christmas morning while the kids opened their presents), sending and receiving holiday cards with faraway friends, and baking Christmas cookies.
My cookie baking tradition has shifted through the years. When our now-adult children were small, we made lots of cut-out sugar cookies. They were fun for the kids to make and decorate and they looked festive, but they were usually the ones left on the plate. I’ve also gotten away from magic bars (the ones with a layer of butter and graham cracker crumbs, coconut, chopped nuts and chocolate chips smothered with a can of sweetened condensed milk), Santa’s Whiskers (a rolled cookie with lots of candied cherries, nuts, and coconut), Russian tea cookies, and pecan thins.
Years ago, I needed the equivalent of a Pittsburgh-wedding cookie table because we gave so many away as gifts – a cookie tray for Rick to take to the office, cookie trays to take to holiday parties, and cookie tins for all of the children’s teachers, bus drivers and Sunday school teachers. Nowadays, I’m just concentrating on making the cookies my family enjoys the most. And taking a couple bottles of wine to holiday parties.
First on the list is a cookie we simply call a Peanut Butter Ball. This is not to be confused with a Buckeye Ball, even though the outside appearance may be similar. Not to disparage Buckeye Balls…never mind, I am going to disparage them. Buckeyes are overly sweet and gross. Our Peanut Butter Balls are from a recipe my mother cut out of a magazine long ago. Probably Good Housekeeping or Better Homes. The magazine version was called Graham Cracker Delights, maybe because it was sponsored by a graham cracker company. Our kids christened them peanut butter balls and it’s a much more descriptive name. They do contain graham cracker crumbs, along with peanut butter (which I’ve doubled over the years), walnuts, coconut, butter and confectioner’s sugar. And then you dip the whole delicious morsel into a double boiler full of melted chocolate. Making these cookies brings back all the years of making them with my mom, who is now gone. It makes me happy in a sad kind of way. Is there a word for that? There should be.
Our second favorite cookie is the Pizzelle. These remind me of growing up in a primarily Italian-American neighborhood and my friend’s mothers cranking out cookies on the exotic-looking (to me, at the time) pizzelle iron. They used to store them in empty coffee cans, which were the perfect size. Too bad the Starbucks Veranda blend we use comes in a bag.
Our third cookie is a Holiday Biscotti from Bon Appetit magazine. I love this one because the combination of the red dried cranberries and the green pistachios make it look so Christmassy. And it tastes as good as it looks!
New to our cookie rotation this year is the Ma’amul, or Date Dome. It’s taken me a long time to get around to making this cookie. Probably 20 years ago, we were visiting Rick’s cousin in Maryland and she gave me a tabi, one of the molds used to make the cookie. Finally, this past spring, my son wanted to make a special cookie to contribute to a friend’s wedding cookie table. So we dug out the tabi, sourced some of the unusual ingredients (orange blossom water and a spice called mahlab) and were bowled over by the results. Making this cookie brings up that happy/sad feeling too because Madelyn, who gave me the tabi, is also gone. She was a lovely generous woman and a great cook who made intricate dishes like Ma’amul all the time.
So, that’s my cookie story. What’s yours? Do you make the same cookies every year?
If you would like a copy of any cookie recipe, let me know and I’ll happily share it!
Strike that:) I’ve had a few requests, so I’m going to post all of the recipes here! I thought about retyping them and making them look cute, but I’ve got presents to wrap and more cookies to make (the peanut butter balls are gone already!) and, you know, making merry for the holidays! So here are my recipes in their smudged, well-loved, unadulterated state: