The holidays are well underway, which it means it’s time for the most delicious of traditions: cookies!
For generations, families have gathered in kitchens every December to bake together. It’s a custom I share with my daughter—one I shared with my mother, and she with hers. It’s magical, precious, and extremely exhausting.
But while the ritual has remained the same, the recipes certainly have changed—at least in my house. My daughter sends me links to recipe videos on Instagram showing cookies and cakes baked in a literal snap through the magic of video editing. She advocates for “unicorn poop” cookies she saw on YouTube alongside our traditional hand-cut and sprinkled sugar cookies and snickerdoodles. But many of the treats my mother made, and even more my grandmother made, are absent from our kitchen and from the snack trays and cookie swaps I have been privy to over the last several decades.
While recognizing that some of us do in fact keep these recipes going, it’s safe to say that there are many we simply don’t often see in our holiday samplers. Cookies that were popular back when it was acceptable to spell it with a y. (Which is adorable, by the way, and should be brought back.) Perhaps they were pushed aside for easier recipes, or those that can be quickly found through a generic online search?
And so, with the power of estate sales, let’s bring these cookies (cookys) back! We’re looking to a well-worn copy of Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book for inspiration (the 1960s-era food photography is enough to spark a person's nostalgic imagination). But I’m certain any baking cookbook from this era will do the trick, and allow you to remember the recipes the traditional cookies we, perhaps, don’t see around as often anymore. Recipes like…
Not only was this my first time making Spritz cookies, it was also my inaugural spin on the vintage cookie press I bought at an estate sale a while back. Because the box was worn and all the tips had fallen out of their labeled pockets, it was an adventure each time I tried a new one. And when I was finished, I couldn’t wait to get home and make more of these cookies with my daughter, who I was certain would find the vintage cookie press as magical as I did.
As my coworkers taste-tested my adorable—if inexpertly-pressed—cookies, they said they tasted just like the kind you get in the blue Dutch cookie tins. (You know the tins I’m talking about.)
The recipe is simple, as many vintage recipes are. It starts with a cup of butter, creamed with ⅔ cup of sugar, 3 egg yolks, and a teaspoon of vanilla. To the mixture, add 2 ½ cups of flour.
That’s basically it. Split the dough into fourths and add food coloring to each, if your heart desires. Then cram it into the cookie press and press away! Bake them for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Be careful not to over-bake. As I got the hang of my old press, the first cookies came out small, so they cooked quickly...too quickly.
If you want to really capture the Dutch cookie tin-effect, sprinkle some coarse sugar over them just after baking. I think it would really help.
(Protip: save the 3 egg whites from this recipe and turn them into Nitey-Nites when you’re finished baking for the day. It’s not a cookie—technically a confection, I believe—but was never absent from my grandmother’s holiday table. You can see them at the top of the blog—those fluffy white puffs containing both everything and nothing.)
Real talk: I never liked thumbprint cookies. I assumed no one else did either, and that was why I stopped seeing them in cookie swaps. But when I announced to the office that it was time to sample all the cookies I baked, I was surprised to find a coworker making a beeline for them. “Take them all,” I said, certain he was an anomaly because jelly has no place in cookies. I mean, that’s just science.
But then another coworker was disappointed there were none left for him an hour later.
So make thumbprint cookies at your next holiday baking extravaganza. They’re a hit, apparently.
Plus, they’re simple. Mix ¼ cup each of shortening, butter, and brown sugar with one egg yolk (save the white) and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Add a cup of flour and salt to the mix, and then roll them into balls (about one teaspoon in size). Dip the dough-balls into the egg white, and then roll them around in finely-chopped nuts (we used walnuts). Place them on a cookie sheet, and press your thumb gently in the center to create a little jelly-pit.
If you have comically giant hands like I do (not pictured), you might find the cookies too small for your thumbs. I found my thumbprints got a little lost after baking, so I used a teaspoon to re-divot the cookies. I probably should have used the spoon in the first place. But I guess “spoon-pit cookies" doesn’t have the same ring to it, huh?
Or does it? Maybe I'm onto something here.
Once they’ve baked at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, allow them to cool before adding the jelly of your choice.
Or you could fill the cookie-void with icing, rather than jelly. That feels more right with the world, doesn't it? But ultimately the choice is yours. #TeamIcing
Candy Cane Cookies
Another cookie that seems to have disappeared from holiday trays is the candy cane cookie. And after attempting these, I can understand completely if they have, indeed, fallen out of favor, because I know I’m never making them again.
The cookie itself isn’t bad. It’s delicious, actually. But making candy cane shapes is apparently not my forte. Thankfully, it is my coworker’s forte, so she made very lovely cookies (above). But it took her three times as long as it took me to make my monstrosities (below).
So while I have sworn off of these cookies for life, you might find them simple and relaxing to roll out. If you do, try not to brag about it too much. I'm still bitter.
To make them, mix ½ cup each of butter and shortening, 1 cup of powdered sugar, an egg, ½ tsp of almond extract, and 1 tsp of vanilla. Add in 2 ½ cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt. Divide the dough, and add red food coloring to one half.
Roll 1 teaspoon of each color dough into four-inch strips. Place them side-by-side, press them together, and twist them into a candy-cane shape and pattern. Bake at 375 degrees for nine minutes, and then sprinkle them with a mixture of equal-parts crushed peppermint candies (we used a hammer—it was very cathartic) and granulated sugar.
These are, of course, but a few of the forgotten cookies you can introduce or reintroduce to your family this year. Acquire your own vintage cookbook (or perhaps an old recipe box filled with tried-and-true family recipes) and discover your own new old traditions. Why not try rosettes, like we did last year? Maybe you might attempt a pfeffernusse. Or Russian tea cakes. Or maybe, dare we say it, a fruitcake!
Your options are practically limitless. Visit your local estate sales and get inspired!
And while you’re there, maybe you’ll get lucky like I did and come across a collection of old cookie tins that can be used to share your baked goods. I found mine in the last hour of a sale, and got a great deal on them. They were so inexpensive I can use them for cookie exchanges without getting upset if they're not returned to me.
But, seriously, I better get them back.
I took names.