For the first year ever, we're staying here in Vermont for the holidays. It was a hard decision to make, and I know I'll really miss seeing my family. But beyond missing the people that I love, I'll miss the Christmas cookies most.
In my memory, I associate family members with specific cookies that they've made over the years. My mom's steady contribution to the cookie plate is a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, her attempt to make a sweet virtuous with the addition of oats and whole wheat flour. In the past she made tiny butter cookies, squeezed into shapes of trees and Santas with the cookie press, then sprinkled with coarse colored sugars and round sprinkles. There were also thumbprints, soft, buttery balls dunked into egg white, then coarsely chopped walnuts, and finished with my small thumb making a dent in the center. They were always requested by my aunt Barb, and though I loved the cookies filled with jam, my aunt preferred them filled with frosting. Mom made frosting in pastel colors, flavored with extracts to make two or three flavors (usually orange, lemon, and lime) that we carefully dolloped onto the cookies, where it set into a crusty, sugary lump.
My grandfather's wife, Roselee, also made thumbprints, but only the jam-filled ones, and snickerdoodles, whose silly and seemingly made-up name appealed to me. The snickerdoodles reminded me of cinnamon toast, which I loved, and the fact that I only saw them once a year at Roselee's house made me covet them even more. My aunt Barb made peanut butter blossoms, peanut butter cookie balls with an entire Hershey's kiss pressed into the center. These were my very favorite cookies when I was young; I would carefully eat around the kiss, then savor the inner bites of soft chocolate and peanut butter mingled together.
My other favorite cookie was a sugar cake that my grandmother made. These were a simple, down-home cookie, soft and vanilla-y with a topping of colored sugar or cinnamon sugar. After she passed away, no one made them anymore, namely because shortening was an important ingredient. I decided to bring them back last year, changing the shortening to butter and oil and substituting buttermilk for the milk. I was so happy to bring them to my family and to share memories of Mama while enjoying the soft, cakey cookies. My husband couldn't understand the appeal of such a seemingly bland sweet, but each family has its own traditions and foods, and they don't necessarily make sense to others. And certainly, each family has its own cookie traditions, which is what made it so hard for me to choose only a couple this year. To start with, I'm making my aunt's peanut butter blossoms, and I'm trying a new cookie from Dan Lepard that I've been eyeing ever since I saw a photo of the craggy sticks. Lepard's bonfire cookies are filled with warm spices, perfect for a cold Vermont day, and perfect to warm my heart with memories of family and friends this Christmas.