We all romanticize some things about our childhood and for me, it is the memory of my Grandma’s cutout cookies at Christmas time. I remember the smell of her house when she was baking, sweet anise filled the air along with the smell of the soft sugary white cookie in the oven. Her dining room table was filled with cookies, in all shapes and sizes of holiday symbols, once they were decorated by my sister and me. Of course, we tasted along the way, asking permission to stop and nibble a warm cookie right out of the oven or one laden with the heavy hand of a child with a larger than necessary dollop of homemade frosting.
Santas, trees, stars, mittens, crosses, wreaths, and train engines covered the table along with chicks, candy canes, and mittens all decorated with loads of colored sugar, jimmies, nonpareils, and cinnamon imperials. It was a fun family activity and a delicious sight when we were done. We proudly would pick out one of our favorites to eat or present to another family member as a gift that “we made” (cut out and decorated). Grandma never complained about the mess or told us we were putting on too much frosting or too many sprinkles. It was, I realize now, an act of love.
So every year, at this time, I go back in my head to my Grandma’s kitchen and dining room filled with the scents and sights of making holiday cutout cookies. The images are so clear, I can almost taste the cookies! But, one thing is lost.
My grandma’s recipe has disappeared. I know I had it on a recipe card and I know it was a difficult recipe to make because the ingredients were not exact – 4-5 cups of flour and 4-5 eggs were part of it. It is a soft dough, requiring refrigeration for several hours before rolling out. The cookies are soft too, more cake-like, and lacking the iconic biscuit snap that Paul Hollywood from The Great British Baking Show would require in a cookie. But, they remain one of my favorite cookies and I’ve been trying to replicate them for years.
This morning I dug around, once again for the recipe. I knew I did not have it. And, I have two or three others that I’ve used over the years as a close, but not quite there, replacement. The anise flavoring is an important part of this cookie memory and I must add it each year. The cookies just don’t taste like Christmas cutouts to me if they are not flavored with anise. Currently, the dough is in the refrigerator where it will stay until I’m ready to cut out shapes from the past. I have some of my grandma’s cookie cutters and a whole slew of my own as well.
When I think about holiday traditions and baking, the soft, white, cake-like, anise-flavored cookie that my grandma made lives on in my heart, my mind, and my kitchen.