Reliving my cookie period

lede01I don’t know that everyone goes through a cookie period, but I did. It was extensive, lasting from the ages of 7 to 18 and boy, was I prolific. Like many little girls, the first recipe I asked if I could make was chocolate chip cookies — the Tollhouse recipe on the back of the bag of chocolate chips. I had to pull a chair up to the counter to stand on and get the job done. After this, there was no turning back.

When I say prolific, it’s no exaggeration. At my peak (probably in high school), I was churning out dozens of cookies for friends, family and even organizations. I doubled, tripled and even quadrupled recipes (honing what little math skills I had). Though my signature cookie was a chocolate chip, I tried many, many others, from shortbreads to roll, refrigerate and slice versions (yes, there were recipes for these before the doughboy ever entered the picture with his infamous cookie logs).

mag01My cookie period ended, but each year as the holidays approach and the cookie comes center stage, it resurfaces, and I wonder why it ended. And I wonder why we feel so pressured to make cookies just during Christmastime, when the cookie — for the most part easy to make and store, and bringing such joy in its bite-or-two size — should be an anytime treat.

My enchantment for cookie baking began lying on the linoleum floor in the kitchen with my older sister. We were down there catching the warm, buttery breeze as my mother fanned us with her cookie sheets to cool them. She was making M&M cookies, I believe for a Tupperware party, and to this day, I feel that fanning, full of vanilla and brown sugar and my mother’s gentle smile down on us, secured my destiny as a baker (and even earlier, when, at age 3, I announced to my mother that I was going to be a “bakery”).

dools01Another significant impetus into my cookie period was a cookbook in my mother’s kitchen. McCall’s magazine released a series of magazine-format books with different themes — breads, casseroles, desserts. But it was the “Cookie Collection” issue that caught my imagination. Full of whimsical illustrations (including a series of photographs of a doll baking gingerbread) and alluring photos, I read the book before I could read it. In fact, I would say that my ability to read early came from my hunger to absorb all in my mom’s cookbooks, which, I’m afraid I wore down with enthusiasm over the years.

I did not make every cookie recipe in McCall’s “Cookie Collection,” but I did make a lot of them, often in the summers, which is off-season for cookies but when a girl on vacation from school had the time and inclination. A few of the recipes became standards and favorites that I made into tradition to share with friends and family.

dollar01To revisit my cookie period, I went searching for one source. The “McCall’s Cookie Collection,” 1965 version was available on Amazon for just a few dollars (inflated just slightly from its original $1 price). It was all I remembered, and in great condition. I read (and continue to read) my childhood book friend each night before sleeping. Such simple things can bring comfort, and there is comfort in that, too.

Three cookies stand out in this book as the ones I kept making all throughout my cookie period. I share them here with you,

rolled01Since we are in holiday mode at the present, I’ll begin with a roll-out sugar cookie that is not so terribly sugary as many sugar cookies can be. I made these cut-out Vanilla Cookies every year in the shapes of trees, Santa’s and wreaths, decorating them with green frosting and sprinkles. The wreaths were a favorite of my uncle Martin, who, at our house in December after hunting with my dad, would venture to the plate of cookies I had set out and chuckle, “I think I’ll have another one of these donuts,” as he helped himself a few times.

These cookies have the unusual method of cutting in butter to the dry ingredients — as you would biscuits and pie dough. It is a stiff, forgiving dough that shapes well. This year I made wreaths, a.k.a. donuts, to honor my uncle whose sweet tooth gave me confidence as a young baker.wreathfnl01

Vanilla Cookies
From “McCall’s Cookie Collection” (1965)
Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch cookies

1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift flour with baking poder, salt, baking soda, and sugar into large bowl.

With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut butter into flour mixture until consistency of coarse corn meal.

With fork, stir in egg, milk, and vanilla, mix well with hands.

Form into a ball. Wrap in waxed paper or foil; refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 340 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets. Divide dough into 4 parts.

On lightly floured surface, roll each part about 1/8-inch thick. Cut dough into desired shapes.

Using spatula, place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 7 minutes, or until light golden. Remove to wrie rack; cool.

Blogger’s Note: Depending on weather conditions, etc., you may need to add a little more milk to make the dough wet enough. This recipe originally said it makes 5 dozen cookies, but I found it to make far less. Though the recipe calls for greasing baking sheets, this practice is mostly unnecessary these days, so you can skip that if you wish. Also, feel free to frost and decorate these cookies as you desire!

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My second choice from the cookie book was one that I believe Martin’s wife, my Aunt Carol, first made and brought to a family potluck. I made these Oatmeal Fudge Bars (and another variation from a Betty Crocker cookbook) many, many times and they are one of my most popular.

image_5This bar cookie sandwiches a rich chocolatey walnut fudge between two layers of chewy oatmeal cookie. If this recipe is doubled, it makes a lot, and that’s OK, because you will want, no, need a lot for yourself and others. They are sturdy and can be boxed, mailed and gifted, and no one will like you any less for doing so!

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Oatmeal-Fudge Bars
From “McCall’s Cookie Collection” (1965)
Makes 2 dozen

Oatmeal Layer:
1/2 cup soft shortening
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 egg
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fudge Layer
1 pkg (6 oz) semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make Oatmeal Layer: Grease a 9-by-9-by-1 3/4-inch baking pan.

In medium bowl, with wooden spoon, beat shortening with sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.

Sift flour with ;baking soda and salt into sugar mixture; mix well. Sitir in oats and nuts.

Remove 1 cup mixture for topping. Press rest of mixture into bottom of prepared pan.

Make Fudge Layer: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In small saucepan, combine chocolate pieces, butter, milk, and salt.

Cook, stirring over lowe heat until choclate and butter are melted.

Remove from heat; stir in nuts and vanilla.

Spread chocolate mixture over oatmeal layer. Sprikle top with reserved oat mixture.

Bake 25 minutes, or until surface is lightly browned.

Let cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Blogger’s Note: I recommend doubling this recipe so that you can use the entire can of sweetened condensed milk. Just bake in a 13-by-9-inch pan. Though this recipe says to beat the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon, you do have permission to use a mixer. Also, shortening is used here (as it was often in older recipes), but you could use all or part butter for this recipe.

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I save my favorite cookie for last…the crown jewel of cookies are actually called Jewel Cookies. I remember my mom making these before I started baking. Of all the thumbprint cookies I’ve tasted over the years, these are the best, I think because of the rich brown sugar and extra vanilla flavoring the dough. It doesn’t hurt that I coat the cookies in chopped pecans and have, on occasion, filled them with my mother’s homemade jam! The end result is something of a flavor ecstasy of butter and fruit, all melting away in your mouth and causing you to forget why you may have ever been troubled by anything. And perhaps the reason to, if ever briefly, return to my cookie period.

Jewel Cookies
From “McCall’s Cookie Collection” (1965)
Makes about 2 dozen

1/2 cup soft butter or margarine
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoons currant jelly

In medium bowl, with wooden spoon, beat butter, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla until smooth.

Stir in flour just until combined. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using hands, roll dough into balls 1-inch in diameter. Dip in egg white; then roll in nuts.

Place, 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. With thimble or thumb, press center of each cookie.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until a delicate golden brown. Remove to wire rack; cool.

Place 1/4 teaspoon jelly in center of each cookie. (Diced candied fruit may be used instead of jelly, if desired.)

Blogger’s Note; If you are using unsalted butter, please add a pinch of salt to this recipe. To keep these thumbprints from spreading, I have used all or part stick margarine. The recipe calls for currant jelly, but you can use any of your favorite jelly or jam — mine is apricot!

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