For some reason, Grammy did not include her classic Christmas cookie recipe in the sheaf of recipes she gave to me. At the time, she was still baking, so I didn’t need the recipe. We got a tin-full instead. In 1994, however, after Grammy had stopped baking, no one but Grammy’s nephew Ted could put his hands on this recipe. I have Ted’s carefully typed-out copy of the classic recipe.

There were several types of cookies that showed up in December, but these bore the central title of Christmas cookies. Like the almond crescents, these rated a guilty grin from Dad as he popped one, whole, into his mouth. Oddly, the two cookies are very different. Almond crescents: Crunchy, delicate flavor. Christmas cookies: Soft, spicy, full-flavored. That contrast makes them a great pair on a cookie plate.

Now, I know I’m posting these after the fact, but these would also be a good January cookie. The recipe calls for a maraschino cherry right in the middle of the icing. I can’t stomach that. I made them with currants instead. You could use dried cranberries or cherries for a festive look, or for a January cookie, you could make them with a candied pecan or just a good walnut in the center of the icing. Muted, but delicious.

Aunt Helen’s Christmas Cookies

Makes 6-7 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped dates (from about 8-10 big dates)
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing:

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, or a bit more
  • Dried fruits, nuts or (shudder) maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs, molasses, soda mixed with hot water, nuts and dates. In a smaller bowl, mix flour, cinnamon and cloves. Add flour mixture to butter-and-sugar mixture; add vanilla. Mix well.

Butter cookie sheets, or cover with parchment paper. Drop batter by teaspoonsful at least two inches apart on the sheet. Bake 12 minutes. After removing pan from oven, allow cookies to cool on the sheets for a few minutes before removing to racks or a plate.

To ice the cookies: Heat milk in a small saucepan on the stove, until just under a boil. Stir in 2 cups confectioners sugar and cook for 2-3 minutes, until icing is smooth. Take off heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes; if needed, add a bit more sugar. Drop by scant half-teaspoons onto top of cooled cookies. Place dried fruit or nut in center of icing.

Recipe and photo copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC.

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