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Christmas senses

Christmas time, for many of us, means a frenzy of cookie-baking, for parties, for gift-giving, or just because we needed an excuse for a sugar orgy.  Holiday baking often includes recipes that you wouldn’t think of fussing over the rest of the year, with ingredients that are a “splurge” in the budget.  I bake more with butter in December than during the rest of the year.  But this impulse to be extravagant is at odds with the other Christmas imperative:  to make sure that the best-loved recipes always taste the way they always did.

In our family, Christmas tastes like my mom’s iced shortbread cookies, a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook which is called “ice box cookies” although nobody knows what that name means.  They are melt-in-your-mouth delicious, especially with the pinch of cinnamon that Mom added to the batter, and a confectioner’s sugar icing–also with cinnamon–decorated with sprinkles and red hots to look like wreaths.

Mom baked with margarine, not butter.  I’ve tried this recipe with butter, but for these cookies, it just tastes wrong.  That’s not how Mom made them.  For these cookies, the most important thing to me is that they taste the same way they did 40 years ago. Last year I sent some to Dad, David and Danny, since I’m the only one who makes them now.

These are the same  cookies we always put out for Santa (we couldn’t imagine him wanting any other kind, and we must have been right because he always ate them, leaving a few crumbs). They’re the same ones Mom made for us to take to classroom Christmas parties.  (Sometimes she was really ambitious, she’d shaped them into hearts and send them for Valentine’s Day.  It was a huge bonus to get to have them more than once in a year.)

The first year I sent them to Paul’s kindergarten class for a “winter holiday party” (times having changed by then), there was that odd “‘full circle” feeling which must be part of the definition of adulthood–we are claiming the roles that our parents played before us.

My Mom’s Christmas Cookies (makes about 3 dozen)

3 sticks of margarine, room temperature

1 and 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

4 egg yolks (I sometimes use 2 whole eggs–practicality trumping nostalgia when I have no use for the leftover whites)

1 and 1/2 tbl vanilla

4 cups of white flour (mix with just a pinch of cinnamon)

1)  Cream ingredients in the order listed.

2)  Shape into circles about 1/4″ thick on baking sheets.  Since there is no leaven in these cookies, the size of your unbaked cookie is about the size it will be when it comes out of the oven.

3)  Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the very edges show a bit brown. Do not overbake.

4)  Cool completely and frost with confectioner’s sugar icing, and top with colored sugar sprinkles.  My mom usually put at least one cinnamon heart on each cookie.

5)  Taste…  Yup.  That’s Christmas.


1 tbl margarine

2 cups powdered sugar

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1 – 2 tbls milk.

Cream margarine w/ sugar and cinnamon. Add just enough milk to make a spreadable consistency. This should frost at least two dozen cookies.

SO…what tastes like Christmas at your house??


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