In the kitchen of my youth, my mother’s cream colored KitchenAid stand mixer was just as much a sign of Christmas as were the tree, the stockings, and the flakes of snow that would inevitably drift, and then dump on our yard in Colorado. By memory, it seems that, in the last weeks of December, each afternoon would proceed when my mother had made herself a cup of tea, tied on her apron, tied one onto my siblings and I, and had opened up her green recipe book to one of the well worn pages where even our little fingers could find our favorite recipes on the pages.
When we were very small, she used to make gingerbread boxes to hold our most precious gifts. (I know, she is AMAZING) but as we grew older, the recipes that filled her sterling silver cookie tray each year were those that we could all bake by heart: the snowballs, or italian wedding cookies were my favorite, followed by the pumpkin penuche, gingerbread (decorated by my brother, sister and I,) and her famous sugar cookie recipe. And then, there were a handful of guest stars that would shine their way onto the plate — thumbprints, or bourbon balls, or some creative caramely, nutty delight that she would play with in hopes of it earning its way into the traditional line up.
Twelve years ago or so, when my mother learned of her wheat allergies, baking the traditional cookies became a bit less fun for her and more fun for me. It was these first efforts to maintain our holiday baking traditions in a gluten-free/wheat-free way that inspired me to become a pastry chef, and still does. These memories, and the experience of baking with my mother for the holidays are amongst my most prized possessions and so it goes without saying that they are very much alive now that I have my own home, and my own holiday baking to-do list.
This year, we’re hosting a Grand Cookie Exchange here in Berkeley (to take the homage to holiday cookie baking that much further) and I’m still tossing with what to make, but here are a few ideas that I’m toying with. Maybe they’ll enlighten your afternoons with a cup of tea, tied into an apron, with the chill outside and the oven churning within.
And, for those of year hoping to take your holiday cookies to the next level this year, here are a few tips for perfect cookies. Bake on!
I do have a few classics to add to this list so stay tuned!