Cookie baking was a sacred tradition in our house when I was growing up. My mom and her mom would gather the ingredients weeks ahead of Christmas. They would sit in the corner of the counter, serving almost as a decoration each year. In the weeks leading up to Christmas they would begin to transform the ingredients in to many different wonderful cookie treats.
Sand Tarts were the last cookie baked, usually the Saturday before Christmas so dad could help too. One of his jobs was keeping the Christmas music flowing from the record player. After everyone washed their hands under mom’s watchful eye and put on an apron, it was time for the cooking baking to commence.
In addition to following the ingredients listed on the recipe, mom had strict guidelines for decorating as well. When brushing egg white on the cookie it could not touch the edges. The dough had to be rolled thin. I roll them a little thicker now because that is the way my husband likes them. I always explain this out loud for mom to hear since I know she would be saying they aren’t thin enough!
The nuts were always fresh and first had to be shelled. Dad and I usually got this task. Once shelled, the nuts needed to be chopped to a certain size that met mom’s approval. A small piece of walnut was pressed in to the clapper of the bell shaped cookies that had been sprinkled with red colored sugar. A pecan half went on the cookies shaped like the four card suits. Hearts and diamonds got red colored sugar and spades and clubs were sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. As far as I know black colored sugar was not available when I was a kid. This is the one rule I have broken since I have access to black sugar, my suit cookies are red and black. I think mom would approve.
Each shape had it’s own design that mom stuck to, explaining this is how her grandmother made them. I think this is why these were kind of the Holy Grail of our cookies. They evoked special memories for my mom from her childhood and baking with her mom and grandmother. We used the same cookie cutters mom did when she was a girl. Her favorite was a lion which was sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and then given a raisin eye. Santa was trimmed with red sugar and then white sugar was carefully added for trim to his suit and as his beard. The tree was lightly sprinkle with green sugar for the background, multi colored round sprinkles added decorations to the tree which would be topped with a small round red candy. The star was sprinkled with red. I don’t remember what they are called, but each point of the star received one of those little round silver balls. The round shape was a wild card, we could decorate them however we wanted.
Our cookie baking rituals were times of great fun for us. When the cookies were cooled they were put in large decorated tins and stored in the kitchen closet. I confess that a certain little girl would sneak a cookie or two before Christmas. When I got married I baked some cookies on my own, but still would go home to help mom make Sand Tarts and Rocks, another of her favorites.
Before my mother passed, only my oldest daughter got the chance to bake with her Nana. When Laura turned 30 I presented her with her Nana’s rolling pin, which can be seen in the picture above. I told her this way Nana was holding her hands when she baked. The magic continues, Laura makes wonderful Sand Tarts and pie crusts with that rolling pin. Jenn and Jess joined in the cooking baking tasks as they grew. Hubby likes helping and taste testing. Our cookie baking crew expanded as our three granddaughters came along. Sometimes it is hard to think I am the Nana now, but I know the spirits of my mother and grandmothers are right by my side when my holiday baking is in progress.
This is the recipe my mother got from her grandmother, Sallie Brenneman Mundis:
- 2 C sugar
- 1 C butter
- 4 eggs, separated
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 3½ C flour
- colored sugar, chopped nuts, raisins
Cream the shortening, add gradually sugar and egg yolks and 1 white. Sift flour and baking powder together and add to wet ingredients. Mix well. Chill if needed. Roll out to desired thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Brush cookies with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar & cinnamon or colored sugar. Nuts and raisins can be pressed into cookies as well. Bake at 325º for 10-12 minutes. Baking time depends on thickness and size of cookie. Watch carefully after 8 minutes! Remove to racks to cool. Store in airtight containers.
NOTE: Mom never doubled the recipe, just made numerous batches. She said it did not come out like it should if doubled and I agree.