The ancient art of baking holiday cookies

It’s the most wonderful time of the year when bakers take to their kitchens and turn out visions of sugar cookies. Sugar cookies aren’t the only ones either, linzer tortes, rudelach, ginger crinkles, peanut butter kisses, chocolate peppermint cookies and so many others roll out of the ovens and grace counter tops with their sweet promises.

The Go Lightly Gourmet
By Dana Zia

Holiday cookies have been around a long long time, even before Christmas. In the ancient days of yore, Winter’s Solstice was celebrated all over the world with food drink and little honey sweetened cookies. Then as Christianity grew in popularity it slowly inducted the long standing tradition of holiday cookies into its traditions. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, had just become available in medieval times as due to industrious trade routes. These spices were quickly adapted to bake heavenly spicy cookies that are still popular today for holiday baking.
I love this tradition and get so excited this time of year to bake cookies! I take advantage of this time to experiment with as many recipes as possible. I have no allegiance to any one cookie, I love them all. This isn’t my fault that I love so many types of cookies, it’s my family’s.  You see, my family is made up of travelers and rouges and a hallowed cookie recipe that was handed down for generations just wasn’t in the recipe box for us.  We adapted to the region we landed in like so many other immigrates and all old customs went out the window. (Along with any treasure, antiques and collectables. I only have a small teaspoon left from my granny that moved over 100 times in her 98 years of life!)
This has been a gift and a curse. I have some friends that don’t get all locked up with fanciful ideas of cookies, they just churn out the tradition cookie that great granny cooked and no one is surprised or disappointed. Simple. But me, no, I have to do something different and experimental every Christmas. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
I do have one traditional holiday cookie that I must make every season that everyone goes ga ga over. I met this cookie at the very first Christmas with my husband’s family. There was this glistening plate of ginger cookies on the dessert table. I bit into one thinking, “oh just another ginger cookie I bet” and was proven wrong. They were chewy on the inside, and little crisp around the edges and the perfect amount of spicy. Yes they were perfect. I had to have the recipe.
Come to find out, my husband’s family is as adaptable as mine and these perfect little cookies came from Alaska where many of them migrated to work after growing up. The cookies were born at the famous Fiddlehead Restaurant in Juneau that is now sadly closed, but has left behind this brilliant little cookie so not to be forgotten.  You will love it and maybe one day your great grandchild will bake them with joy and proudly share them as Granny’s or Gramp’s cookies that have been handed down. And I shall be immortal, at last. Happy Holiday cookie-ing.

Fiddlehead’s ginger crinkle cookies

Makes about 36 cookies

1/2 lb. butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses
2 3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2  tsp. salt
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp of fresh grated ginger (Optional. Just sub another tsp of powdered ginger if you don’t have any)
1/4 cup of minced crystallized ginger (MUST HAVE!)

Cookie sparkle
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees and arrange racks so they are evenly spaced. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and 1¾ cups sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses and beat some more till double fluffy, about 3-4 minutes altogether.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Carefully stir flour mixture into butter mixture. Fold the crystallized ginger into the cookie dough till barely mixed.

Form dough into walnut-size balls, roll the nugget in the cookie sparkle and place on an ungreased cookie sheet, sugar side up. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes. If you like these cookies soft in the center (which I do and so do most of the people I have discussed this with. Yes, I have cookie discussions.), remove from oven when cookie is puffed, very light golden brown, and cracked on top. If you prefer crisp ginger cookies (which I suppose is your prerogative, even if it’s crazy), bake 2 to 3 minutes more, until puffed cookie has fallen and is golden brown.