Just sometimes… walking down the street and noticing a beautiful sky, riding the commuter train to my childhood home and hearing the station names called out just as they were when I would ride to work with my dad, listening my niece get upset over kids in her class copying her for this or that, and tonight it’s listening to the Muppets “A Christmas Together” with John Denver. If I had to collect five items from my childhood to carry with me through life, one item would be that album.
I decided to tackle Christmas cookies tonight. I don’t bake, let’s just say that right now. I will screw baking up like no one you’ve ever seen, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned previously. Except at Christmas. At Christmas, I must bake. Not bread, not crust. Cookies. My grandmother’s cookie recipe, specifically. I’ve never tasted another cookie like them. The lemon juice adds a nice little zip, but not one that would make anyone call them lemon cookies. They’re nothing fancy or impressive, but they taste like my childhood and with the exclusion of Red Hots and silver dragees, I use the same decorations that she set out for us on Cookie Day. I even inherited her cutting board for rolling the dough along with some of her cookie cutters.
Dipping the cutters in flour and stamping them into the soft, white dough I am eight again. I put on Gene Autry and Jim Reeves and think about Gigi (a nickname gained later in life from her great grandchildren. When I was little, she was Grandma HH) and how she passed away just when I was beginning to really appreciate and enjoy her as an adult.
So here it is, Penny’s Grandma’s Christmas Cookie Recipe. Plain and simple. The way it should be.
1c margarine (I find using margarine results in a puffier cookie and you want that)
2/3 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
1 T lemon juice (the real stuff – also important)
3 1/2 c flour
1/4 t salt
In a large bowl, cream margarine and sugar together until smooth and fluffy (I have done it by hand rather than with a mixer, it goes fairly smoothly either way). Add corn syrup and lemon, mix until integrated. Add flour and salt. Beat well until mixed.
Divide dough into thirds, wrap in cling film. Refrigerate at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 350. Roll each third one at a time to 1/4-1/8″ thick. Cut with cookie cutters, decorate. Place on baking sheet* and bake for 3-5 minutes** Remove cookies from oven when they are just starting to brown around the edges. The center will still be pale.
Dividing the dough in thirds sounds like not much yield, but you will be surprised at how many cookies you actually get. Consider that you will gather all the scraps when you’re done with the cutters and add it to the pile to be baked. You will actually wind up with enough leftover to form a fourth ball of dough and from that, a smaller fifth. Depending on how much you really want to get out of it, it is entirely possible that this recipe will yield roughly four dozen cookies.
*My grandma made these before the advent of AirBake pans so her single-ply pans meant a much shorter cook time. The time listed in the recipe is for a single-ply pan.
**I use AirBake pans and find that the cookies take much longer. At least 13 minutes total cooking time, and they never look fully cooked when I remove them but trust me, they are done at 13 minutes. They shouldn’t be dark. The photo above shows the cookies removed from the oven after cooking for reference (note Santa and the angel’s darkened corners).