“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” complained Jo in the opening line of my favorite childhood novel, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I wholeheartedly agreed with the thought expressed by this literary character with whom I enthusiastically identified. By the time I reached high school, other novels and characters had risen to the top of my list of favorites, and I substituted cookies in place of “presents” in the familiar sentence from Alcott’s classic.
I’m not sure what triggered my obsession with Christmas cookies. It might have begun after reading a December copy of my mom’s Woman’s Day magazine or Ladies Home Journal. I always loved to study the colorful photographs of neatly packaged cookie gifts that contained a number of varieties of different shapes and flavors. I decided at some point that I should be able to do that too. I didn’t have much experience with baking, but I did love to wrap gifts up nicely. My father taught me how to estimate the amount of paper needed for each parcel as well as how to make perfect corners without any bulges. I got to be such an expert that my bachelor uncle hired me every year to do his Christmas wrapping. I eventually used my earnings to buy the ingredients for my cookies.
After baking and packaging my first successful batch of Christmas cookies at around age sixteen or seventeen (it was a long time ago), I was completely hooked. Every year thereafter no matter how hectic my real life was, I baked and gave away cookies during the holidays. Neighbors, postal workers, deliverymen and women, teachers, and anyone not on my regular gift list but whom I wanted to recognize for a service or with whom I wanted to share some good spirit was fair game. Who doesn’t appreciate a box or bag of homemade sweet treats during the festive season?
The very best part of baking big batches of cookies during the holidays is the leftovers. I store them in colorful tins that even now my grown up children love to see appear on the kitchen counter. And if someone shows up unexpectedly or gives me an unanticipated present, I can hastily pop some cookies into a tin or decorated box to spread Christmas cheer or to reciprocate.
Each member of my immediate family seems to have a different favorite. My daughter loves Polish tea cakes, my son always looks for anything lemon-flavored, my grandson can’t get enough of the sugar cookies that he helps decorate, and my brother must have his own little stash of chocolate chippers. Everyone enjoys the spice cookies. They were the first choice of both my mom and my husband. In their memories, I am sharing the recipe. I think I found it in a magazine many years ago.
3/4 cup of softened butter (the real thing works best)
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup of molasses
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Powdered sugar for dusting
Cream butter and sugar well and add egg and molasses.
Sift dry ingredients and stir into butter mixture with a wooden spoon. The dough will be stiff. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet leaving space between each for the cookies to spread. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 — 10 minutes. Cool on a rack and dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 40 cookies.
Note: You may want to refrigerate the dough for easier handling and then press each ball of dough down a bit on the sheet before baking.