I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my daughter and her family tomorrow. She lives in San Francisco and I live in New York. We've been baking holiday cookies together for – gasp! — 30 years. She was only three when we first rolled out dough together.
What makes the best Christmas cookie? Not the finest vanilla, the freshest organic eggs, or the fanciest imported chocolate. What makes the best Christmas cookie is love.
Since Brook moved to the West Coast and got married, she comes home for Christmas every other year, and consequently we've both had to learn to bake cookies alone. I turn on NPR (no holiday tunes for me) and sometimes invite a friend over. But it's never the same. I'm glad that there are a dozen and a half families eagerly awaiting their box of cookies each year, or the effort might dwindle when Brook's not here.
We began baking decades ago with our only family recipe, my Grandma Kirstine's Danish butter cookies. It's the easiest cookie we make – just flour, sugar, vanilla and egg, plus more butter than I usually use in a month. My grandmother made hundreds of them, always the same simple wreath shape. There were plenty to nosh on at Christmas, but she never invited me or my cousins over to help her bake, and that's a shame. I wish I had the memory of pulling fragrant trays of cookies out of the oven with Grandma Kirstine in her sunny little kitchen.
Brook's son, Zeke – my first and only grandchild — is 16 months old. It's "our" Christmas this year, and he will be baking cookies with his mom and me for the first time. (Hopefully, his dad too; when he joined in the last time, Ryan proved to be the only other person who could shape the crescents to Brook's and my persnickety standards.) I bought Zeke a chair that hooks onto the counter, so he'll be right there in the middle of the action as we make holiday cookies from scratch. I imagine the poor kid zooming on a sugar high for a week and a half, but I also hope he'll catch a whiff of the magic of baking together.
We make two kinds of crescent cookies – one with almonds and my favorite – Viennese crescents with pecans (yes, the recipe calls for walnuts, but let's live a little). We make pinwheel cookies, substituting Kahlua for the brandy or rum. We bake rugelach, filling them with not just raisins but a medly of dried fruit. Traditionally, linzer hearts are filled with raspberry jam (be sure it's seedless), but I loved them the year I changed it up to use fig preserves.
Hope you'll try some of these yummy recipes with your own kids and grandkids.
Me, I'm hoping Zeke will be the one to finally conquer the tricky recipe for vanilla pretzels – my husband's favorite cookie, which his mom used to make. But probably not this year!