Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Must-Have Cookie Map of My Life: Virtual Advent Tour 2010

To say that my mom is not a cook is a bit of an understatement. (I have a cousin who suggests that the EPA asks my mom to file an environmental impact statement before she enters her kitchen, but this is a scurrilous falsehood.) The truth is, my mother can cook, and the few things she makes well are really quite delicious -- she makes her own manicotti crepes, for goodness sake! The thing is, my mother usually doesn't choose to cook. Which is why the two bakers I knew best growing up on Long Island were Stella D'Oro and Entenmann's.

So how did cookie-baking come to mean "Christmas" to me? I can trace it precisely to a day while I was at Georgetown, when I grumpily mentioned to my roommate that it didn't feel like the holidays because I couldn't get Stella D'Oro Pfeffeneusses in Washington, DC. Her stunning response changed my Christmas perspective: "Why don't you just bake some, Col?"

Make Pfeffeneuses? She had to be kidding! But eager to avoid whatever paper was due next, I pulled out the only cookbook I owned, a battered, red and white checked copy of The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and checked the Index. What do you know? Pfeffeneuses. Better yet, we had almost all the ingredients on hand. Paper avoidance could continue for another hour or so! I decided to give home made Pfeffeneuses a try. Needless to say, our ravenous student friends were happy to scarf the cookies down. And the rest, as they say, has become my own little family history.

Pfeffeneueses were my standard Christmas cookie for years -- it wasn't Christmas until I baked a batch. When I met Lee, I shared my Pfeffeneusse tradition. But he's really not a big fan of the cookie's "warm" spices. So when we got married, I added a plain butter cookie to the pre-Christmas baking. Two must-have cookies.

When our oldest daughter was a toddler, our two cookies seemed fine. But then she went to pre-school and experienced her first cookie exchange. The colors! The variety! The Spritz Christmas trees were the most amazing things she had ever seen. Wouldn't it be fun to try and make them ourselves? A cookie press was purchased, colored sugar as well. Three must-have cookies.

Our second daughter was a toddler when I learned about the Brown Bag Cookie company. An article in a gourmet magazine sent me to the Internet, where I was able to acquire some of Lucy's collectible Christmas molds. One of my fondest memories of my littlest girl is of watching her face when Santa's toy-laden sleigh came out of the oven in perfect cookie form. Four must-have cookies.

You get the idea. As a refugee from New York, I have added some things to the list that I could easily get there, but can't buy here -- rugelach and Linzer tarts taste like "home" to me. Family travels and friends have introduced other cookies to the mix. This year, as the girls made their cookie list, reviewing past creations and new possibilities, they arrived at a new cookie total: 11 must-have cookies! The favorites can't be discarded, but who wouldn't want to try the pink confection laced with crushed up candy canes found by one of the girls? So eleven cookies it is.

At this time of year, our house is filled with the sweet smells of cookie-baking more often than not. And each recipe makes me think of a particular time and place in my very lucky, very blessed life. I hope that my girls will have the chance to share this Christmas cookie tradition with their own daughters some day. But even if they don't come to share my cookie-baking passion, I hope that when they pass the Stella D'Oro Pfeffeneusses in the cookie aisle, they'll think of family, and all the fun we've had in the kitchen together. I can't pass the Entenmann's display without thinking of my own mom!

Wishing you the sweetest of holiday seasons, with many thanks to Marg and Kailana for hosting this wonderful Virtual Advent Tour! I have enjoyed reading so many of the posts from around the world!



  1. Christmas just isn't the same without cookies,and I haven't even made any yet this year! My mom didn't bake much, but I got into it in my late teens,and many of the ones I make now I started making back then, so it does bring back memories.
    I loved hearing about your cookie experiences!

  2. Oh, they look good! I like how the tradition started- hungry students.

  3. Shelley -- You still have time to get a recipe (or two) done! I don't know if we can get all 11 done, but we have five so far. Last night we made the rum balls!

    Chris -- when my students turn in their final projects, I have cookies waiting. You just made me realize that feeding hungry students has become a habit!

  4. What a sweet post! I love baking cookies around Christmas too. Now how do you pronounce those cookies? :)

  5. It's feff-uh-nooses in New York, but I bet it's something entirely different (and far cooler) in German :-)

  6. cookie baking definitely means christmas to me! I almost never make cookies except at christmas. those pictures look great!

  7. Lovely how the cookie repertoire keeps growing! I only found out about this cookie thing through the virtual advent posts. No idea you US people went cookie-crazy! It's fun to learn new things, for sure. :-)

  8. Marie--Cookies are a seasonal thing for me too, except basics for lunchboxes.

    Judith--What's really interesting is the varied origins of the cookies. Everyone borrows ideas from their neighbors' recipes :-)

  9. I hope I'm correct in thinking that it was pfeffernusse cookies that I enjoyed so much when I lived in Germany...I can clearly remember lebkuchen, though, that soft gingerbread with a lemon glaze of the sad parts of Christmas being over is that all the specialty treats of the season go with it.

    Happy New Year, friend!


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col