There are three things that simply make Christmas for me: the tree, Boomer’s 12 Days of Christmas (both of which will be documented here soon, I promise) and spice cookies (which will be documented here… NOW!)
Our family has a lot of cool things going for it, but one thing we’re completely lacking are family recipes. Dad invented an “Irish spaghetti” and a delightful original stew he called “Chicken Glop” but that’s about it. The one real recipe that’s been passed down to us by an older generation is these cookies, which come from Boomer’s mother’s mother. Because Schnookie hates baking cookies, it falls to me to produce a batch — or two, or four — every year. This is fine with me as I adore making them. They’re crazy easy to make, requiring no special techniques, although I feel like there are three steps that seem extra special to me.
The first is the spices: allspice, cloves and cinnamon. They get mixed into the flour and baking soda, but I like to take the extra step of putting them into their own little bowl, preferably the eggshell blue melamine one.
This way I can admire them. The cloves, in particular, are especially striking looking, I think. This year Schnookie treated me to fancy spices from Penzey’s. Even just smelling them I knew this batch would be the best one I’d ever made. (In this picture you can see how well-loved the recipe is; I always love seeing Gram’s handwriting on the little slip of paper every year.) I like to mix the spices together on their own, and then sift them into the flour. The flour-spice mixture then gets stirred together, making a beautiful looking, and even-more beautiful smelling bowl of dry ingredients.
The dry ingredients are mixed with the wet and almost instantly the dough turns into a really tough mess. I tend to forget this immediately after baking the cookies, so every year it’s a surprise. “Oh, right! This! Fun. Sigh.” Fortunately, I do remember that the dough is pretty nasty raw, so it’s not a surprise when I do the inevitable “oooh! Cookie dough!” taste test. The second special step is “shaping” the dough. This is a refrigerate, slice, then bake recipe. I learned to make these by helping Boomer when I was little. Boomer’s technique for “shaping” the dough was to slap a big hunk of dough on some wax paper and then squish it into some semblance of a log. Because the dough doesn’t rise or spread in the oven, the cookies come out looking just like the shape of the log. As a result, we grew up with spice cookies that weren’t perfectly round like the slice-and-back cookies you see in magazines or bakeries. We had cookies that were, at best, misshapen blobs. One year I tried making them round and it just seemed so, so wrong. So wrong.
Ever since I’ve stuck with the tried and true traditional blob-shaped log:
No, they’re not going to make the cover of Gourmet, but I’d rather they live up to being a family recipe, complete with the history of all the misshapen blobby cookies that came before them cooked into every batch.
The third step that seems special is the actual baking. These cookies do not change color while baking, so it’s a delicate, delicate matter making sure they don’t get over- or under baked. This year I was able to ascertain, thanks to Schnookie’s it-takes-a-rocket-scientist digital timer, that exactly 5 minutes and 43 seconds in our ovens is the amount of time to ensure the perfect spice cookie.
I almost didn’t write this post because I’m not convinced I can describe what they taste like. I’ve eaten them every Christmas for as long as I can remember, so to me, they taste like spice cookies! If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say they’re light (you can eat about 800 before you realize it), buttery and a bit dry (like a tea biscuit, almost). The spiced flavor is just strong enough but not overpowering. And to me, they’re Christmas on a plate.
Here’s the recipe for anyone who wishes to give them a whirl.
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 lb butter (or as the handwritten recipe says, “oleo”; it never fails to make me laugh)
3 eggs (well beaten)
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
Mix the sugars and butter until smooth. Beat in the eggs. Combine dry ingredients and mix into the wet ingredients.
Shape dough into logs and refrigerate for at least two hours. Slice into cookies about 1/4″ thick.
Bake 5-7 minutes on 425. The cookies will not change color much, so watch for them to appear cakey.
Makes a zillion cookies.