The holiday cookies of my youth were non-denominational, merrily traditional. Some were piped from a cookie press, others coaxed into an 8” square pan, but most were dropped from a rounded teaspoon onto a non-rimmed cookie sheet. Fragrant with vanilla from a small red capped bottle and rich from sticks of Land O’Lakes butter, I baked cookies alongside Jessie and my grandmother, Minnie. Under Jessie’s tutelage, I learned the intricacies of the Mirro Cooky Press, mastering the art of the spritz. Mama Min was the one responsible for teaching me the twists and turns of cream cheese rugelach. Sugar cookie cut-outs were inspired by a drawer full of vintage cutters, some crafted out of tin with green wooden handles, others belonging to my grandmother Dorothy and handed down to my mother.
Regardless of the season, homemade sugar cookies were unadorned; no silver, no gold, not a lick of red edible piping gel, nary a dragée. We didn’t dabble in royal icing or painstakingly rolled fondant. The cookies were stored in a square red cookie tin, with the words Carr’s Biscuits imprinted on the underside. Layers of wax paper prevented the chocolate spritz cookies from co-mingling with the sour cream jumbles and the cinnamon-walnut rugelach. Jessie spent most afternoons replenishing the cavernous tin, only to have the contents exhausted by my brothers, my sister, and myself.
Over the years, my baking career shifted dramatically from casual cookie-ist to retail professional. Christmas cookies were an integral part of my workdays (and nights) at bakeries, farm kitchens, and restaurants. The cookies cooling on my commercial baker’s rack at home were primarily tucked into brown paper lunch bags but also meant for sharing; sometimes packed in corrugated boxes, glassine bags, and college bound tins, never via social media. Homemade cookies were also the requisite holiday gift of appreciation for the elementary school bus driver, Bob.
Without the benefit of Christmas food memories, I find myself turning (and returning) to cookies that prompt joy. My cookie mentors are many; those I have had the pleasure of working with side by side, and just as many smart cookies whose words and recipes I have devoured through their books and at one time, a steady stream of magazine articles.
This year, holiday cookie-ing has been enormously therapeutic for many of us. My sister has created a veritable Cookie Lab in her Toronto kitchen, sharing her triumphs and her cookie works-in-progress with the two people I’m missing most in this crazy, can’t-cross-the-border year. As I layer cookies between sheets of parchment paper in the same red cookie tin that Jessie once filled, I seal the lid with equal parts nostalgia and cautious optimism, In my all too quiet kitchen, I brush the cookie crumbs from the corner of my mouth and raise a glass of milk to 2021.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm