It’s Christmas tree cookie hanging time at the Aravosis house.
Yesterday was our traditional Christmas cookie bake-off with me leading the nieces and nephews in baking mom’s ancient Christmas cookie recipe that she got back in the old neighborhood on the south side of Chicago back in the 50s or early 60s.
It’s almost a Snickerdoodle recipe-ish, and once baked, we thread a small string through the top of the cookie and hang them from the tree. Sounds weird, but they can last weeks – think Gingerbread men hanging from the tree. This year we skipped hanging them from the tree, as we didn’t trust any of the three dogs that were hanging out at the house on Christmas day.
I know in past years some of you noted that you hang cookies on the tree as well. I googled this once and found that there’s an old German, I believe, tradition of hanging cookies on the tree. Being in Chicago, it’s certainly possible that that’s the influence here. Actually, here’s a fascinating paragraph from the Encyclopedia Britannica via Wikipedia:
Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. “The modern Christmas tree … originated in western Germany. The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples (paradise tree) representing the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the host, the Christian sign of redemption); in a later tradition, the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, too, were often added as the symbol of Christ. In the same room, during the Christmas season, was the Christmas pyramid, a triangular construction of wood, with shelves to hold Christmas figurines, decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century, the Christmas pyramid and paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree.”
So here’s mom’s recipe, and a quick walk-through of the cookie-making.
This is mom’s original recipe card, going back decades. Any bakers out there will understand that the order is a bit mixed up. First you whip the butter, then add sugar, then cream them until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. When I added the eggs, the entire thing fell apart on me, almost as if the mixture had curdled. Apparently this happens sometimes – it’s never happened to me in decades of baking, nor to my mom in some 70 years of baking. But if it does happen, just keep going, it will come together when you add the flour). Anyway, add the vanilla. Next, take a separate large bowl in which yo’ve well-mixed the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar, and slowly blend it into the butter-sugar mixture. We’ve found that you almost always need more flour than you think – last night we must have added 2 cups extra, often it’s one cup. Basically, you want the dough to be decently thick – to the point where, after you put it in the fridge an hour, or the freezer for half an hour, you can roll it out maybe 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface, and cut out the cookie shapes. I found copies of my mom’s original metal cookie cutters on eBay, that way each kid can have a set eventually. You move the cut out shapes to a buttered baking tray, decorate them with colored sugar and whatever you like (make sure not too much sugar is touching the sides of the cookie or it will stick), then bake in a 375F oven, maybe for 8-10 minutes until it just starts to brown a bit on the edges. If you want to hang them on the tree, you’ll want to make little holes in them with a toothpick before baking, then remake the hole as soon as they come out of the oven.
The silver ones are mom’s original shapes we had.
Push down firmly to cut the dough.
My nephew doctoring the shape of one of the cookies.
More of my cookies, with the sugar removed from the sides of the cookies, so they won’t stick after baking (a q-tip works great to move the sugar).
My nephew’s cookies, which turned out a tad differently than mine.