Maybe that’s why I whipped up more goodies than usual this month.
I began with my favorite snowballs, also known as Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes. It really doesn’t matter what one calls them, since they’re all irresistible balls of butter and flour dipped in a liberal amount of powdered sugar. Next was traditional shortbread, but rather than taking out my usual rectangular cutter, I chose another road. Instead, I used a cookie cutter shaped like a Christmas tree, and then, after finding a recipe for simple gingerbread man icing, decided frosting was in order.
There was a slight glitch here.
I couldn’t find my green and red food coloring, so made do with neon blue. But since we also celebrate the Festival of Lights around here, they became Hanukkah bush cookies.
Then came my most ambitious project.
We were having a guest for a Hanukkah night dinner, so besides the customary latkes, applesauce and sour cream on the table, I went all in with a three-layer candy cane cake for dessert. I haven’t made this since we moved to Oregon over three years ago and while assembling the ingredients, remembered why: it’s pretty labor intensive.
But the cake came out perfectly. Plus, having found itsy-bitsy pieces of red-and-white peppermint candy in the bulk aisles at WinCo eliminated one huge step. So, rather than having to carefully remove cellophane from individual candy canes and then hammering them with a meat pounder, these pieces were ready to go, and only needed to be folded into the batter and cream cheese frosting.
Then came Christmas dinner pie.
My choice here was a grasshopper pie, as pictured in full color in Betty Crocker’s Pie and Pastry Cookbook, circa 1968. The creamy filling comes from nearly three dozen large marshmallows melted on low heat in a bit of milk, and placed in the refrigerator to thicken. Whipped cream from scratch is added, and along with crème de menthe and white crème de cacao, the sweetness of the marshmallows was nicely tempered.
By now, I’d located my green food coloring, so added a few drops to the filling, giving it the desired mint green hue. Pouring the mix into a dark chocolate crust I’d baked earlier, this was an image to linger on.
I wasn’t finished yet.
For the last few Decembers, the Hubster has been jonesing for the chocolate drop cookies his mother made every Christmas when he was growing up in Ohio. While I love nearly all things chocolate, this flavored cookie has never appealed to me (Oreo Double Stuff is the exception).
But this year, my spouse did more than wax poetic about these cookies—he researched where the recipe might be; found it, and then sent me the link to it.
I knew then that I had to make them.
And so, I did.
Like snowballs, they weren’t hard to put together, and I topped them with royal icing, which consists of a lot of powdered sugar and a bit of milk to achieve the desired consistency. One recipe yielded over three dozen cookies, and the batch was quite festive after being adorned with red, green and blue sprinkles. Some of these treats will be gifted to the Hubster’s farmer friends, one who works at a creamery and another who supplies us with our weekly carton of fresh eggs.
One other thing made this year’s baking feel extra special.
When I decided to shape the shortbread into Christmas trees, I took out the identical white plastic cookie cutter that my mother used for hers so long ago.
The cutter has to be at least 50 years old and probably cost a nickel. Also, the handle had broken off a few decades back, but I’d never been able to throw it away.
This was A Very Good Decision, because the cutter was still quite useable.
But something more important and unexpected happened.
This simple act made me feel closer to my mom, who passed 30 years ago this coming year. She was quite the baker and I imagine she was closely watching me step-by-step, guiding me so that I’d get these treats down pat.
Thank you for that cutter, Mom.
And now, here’s to 2023—a brand spanking new year of adventures, memories and of course, recipes.
Here’s wishing that every single one turns out exactly the way we’re hoping they will.