With the holidays upon us and colder weather settling in, we often begin baking more and cookies are on everyone’s mind. Some are involved and resemble pieces of art, almost too pretty to munch! Others are quick and easy with positive results. Many family traditions are made at this time and what a great time to reminisce with time-honored handed-down cookie recipes.
My maternal grandmother always used a Spritz Cookie recipe and pushed the dough through her trusty cookie press. You know the ones with interchangeable press plates. My favorite was the plate that formed tree cookies. There were ribbons, flowers, snowmen and a variety of shapes. Nana’s cookie press, as most, was made of aluminum and I always remember the dough towards the end taking on a bit of grey color from the aluminum barrel. Hers had a knob on the end that had to be turned to push the dough through the template plates.
Granddad was quite crafty and handy with tools. My mom, Janet, was born on Christmas day making the day extra special! Granddad cut ad soldered cookie cutters one year when mom was a child. He presented her with two handmade cutters, a “J” (for Janet) and one of a pig. Nana used the same spritz recipe for dough which when rolled out is easily ready for cookie cutters.
Our annual cookie press event became easier when mom purchased a new press in the 50s, which much like a calk gun, had a handle with ratchet action making the process easier. But these were still made of aluminum so as the dough became warmer towards the end of our baking session, we’d begin to see the grey aluminum discoloration in the dough. Not sure how healthy these were, but as you know, not much thought went into it back then. (Heck, back then everyone smoked, even TV characters ad movie stars…..it was chic.)
Setting up the production line was fun too! Egg wash and a basting brush to hit each cookie with creating both a sheen as well as adhering the multicolored sprinkles of red & green decorating sugars, shiny silver sugar beads and M&M’s. Wire cooling racks lined the countertops ready for the mother lode of goodness in batches cranked out of the oven every 12 minutes! The sweet, mouthwatering aromas wafted throughout the house making it ever so hard to keep from stuffing the still-warm confectioner’s delights into our mouths. Even the raw batter was tough to resist!
We were fortunate back in those days as most moms were homemakers and were able to make time for these rich family fun times. Nowadays, most homes have both parents working and families are overly tied up with sport obligations and driving kids here and there. The easygoing life has gone by the wayside….the ol’ “not enough time” has taken over. Often now cookies are store-bought and Yankee or Dollar Tree “cookie” scented candles have taken over.
My husband and I bought a new cookie press made with no aluminum. Same trigger easy use and happily, all the same template plates came along with the gun! My mom assisted in the production at 87! In the midst of a rough cancer journey, she quickly tired out but not before enjoying the tradition and reminiscing of past years and Nana. We used her old “J” and pig cutters made by her Dad some 86 years before. Mom turned 88 on Christmas Day passing 22 days later.
Spritz cookies get their name from the German word, “Spritzgeback.” The word spritz was originally “spritzen” which means “to squirt” in English. Hence they are squirted through a press creating crisp, delicate treats with a wonderful buttery flavor. We’ve always added almond extract to our recipe but can be omitted if you choose.
**Nana has a notation: some recipes say 375 degrees-try oven at 400 degrees-bake only 10 minutes-look at them at 8 min- at 375 degrees they lose form and run out of shape”. I notice most recipes call for 400 degrees and less baking time, but we’ve all been using modern ovens which are more efficient than those of yesteryear. Also, the batter should be chilled-if too warm and overworked, the dough may stick in the barrel and cookies spread out.
Ingredients: 1 Cup butter, softened ½ Cup sugar 2 ¼ Cups Gold Medal all-purpose flour ¼ tsp. salt 1 egg 1 egg white (set aside-reserve yolk in the fridge for later use) ¼ tsp. almond OR vanilla extract **food color can be added but we prefer not to use
Decorating: Raisins, currants, candies, sprinkles, M&Ms, walnut halves (chopped), candied fruit(comes in colored small and diced), fruit peel.
1. Heat oven to 400. Beat butter & sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer or spoon. Stir in flour, salt, egg, and extract. Mix.
2. Place dough into the press-pack full-select template and begin to form cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet or parchment paper. Can add currants or fruit at this time.
3. Bake 5-8 min. or until set-careful not to brown. ASAP remove gently with a spatula to wire cooling racks.
4. When cool, in a small dish, add egg white and tsp. of water. Mix thoroughly. Using a small basting brush, gently & lightly, brush the tops of the cookies. This will give the cookies a beautiful sheen and help stick the sprinkles, etc.
Merry Christmas to all! Keep traditions going or start new ones. Make time for the simple pleasures in life and memories. And remember, cooking and baking with kids teaches! Reading and math skills are always more fun when cooking!