My recent quest for five great holiday cookie recipes surfaced lists like “Our favorite 100”, “Tbe 88 best”, “49 Christmas cookies you’ll love”. Can anyone really have 100 favorite varieties of Christmas cookies? I can barely name 100 varieties of cookies. Paul Hollywood may not be able to meet that challenge.
Since most already have their favorite recipes, you might wonder why I’m in the market for five new recipes. My quest has a back story.
I grew up baking Christmas cookies with an enthusiasm rivaling Buddy the Elf’s. My own kitchen years later looked like a full-on bakery at Christmastime. I’d mix up batches of my old standbys, and try one or two new flavors each season, as holiday carols fought to be heard over the mixer and bright lights twinkled indoors and out.
Tins with an assortment of five or six varieties shipped off to far-away friends and relatives. Small bags adorned with pretty ribbons and tags found their way into the hands of friends at work, something from my home to theirs. My cookies got rave reviews.
Then something sad happened. A few months after starting a new job, the holiday season rolled around and I baked and gifted my cookies as usual. The year hadn’t been my best and so maybe my batches hadn’t been the all-time best either. If so, I was unaware…until…
A friend among my coworkers told me – without any sugar-coating – that a) not only did my new co-workers not like my cookies, but b) they were the worst they’d ever had, and c) they were laughing at me behind my back about it.
There was nothing weird or unusual about my recipes. Most were traditional. I wasn’t reducing fats or sugars, or creating odd taste combinations. I understood they just thought they were bad. And they threw them out.
I still baked some cookies for a couple of years after, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t pass them out at work. I certainly didn’t box them and mail them to friends and family as I had in the past. I was literally ashamed of my cookies.
Many seasons passed, and when I did bake, I would make only a couple of batches, and not at the same time. Just some random batches during the season. In recent years, my holiday baking had dwindled to a batch or two of magic bars, pillsbury slice and bake sugar cookies with reindeers or Santas, and maybe some refrigerated chocolate chip cookies.
I’ve received plenty of cookies from others over the years, and I’ve always liked them. Did I just luck into having friends and neighbors who were outstanding cookie bakers? Could I have been that lucky? No.
It’s because gifted homemade holiday cookies are good. They convey that someone spent their time making something, and then cared enough about you to give it to you. Someone selected cookies they thought you’d like. They took the time to see that you got them. And after all, they’re cookies, and cookies are generally tasty.
So this year I made the long-overdue decision to put whatever happened in my past to bed. I made a whole-hearted return to holiday baking…minus the distribution. I mean, one step at a time, friends!
I made 6 varieties, with only one failure. The dough had been too soft, it spread too thin, and I was a bit heavy-handed with the peppermint. I tossed them, deciding anything that made me feel bad about baking would not have a seat at the table.
I’m pleased to say I enjoyed my Christmas cookies breakfast this morning. This plate was 20 years in the making. It looked like heart-won effort. I breathed in top notes of determination. After the final bites, a taste of resilience lingered.