One of the ways I remember her is like this: walking up the jetway toward us, carrying shopping bags filled with shirt boxes of cookies. We’d hug her, and she’d smell powerfully of sugar. Inside those shirt boxes were cocoa-dusted sugar balls, a no-bake, hand-rolled cookie made principally from crushed Nilla Wafers and walnuts and melted chocolate and orange juice — then left to “ripen.” Lillian’s cookies, which were (and are) a featherweight butter cookie dusted with red or green sugar. Also, cream wafers, a tiny, deeply fussy sandwich cookie with raw-yolk icing …
In a pinch, you can use almond extract, but then they’re not anise cookies anymore. Take yourself to the fancy spice store and get anise oil — after that, the rest is pretty straightforward. These are a simple rolled cookie, probably best cut with a smallish cookie cutter in a simple shape like a star. We use a moon-shaped one with a tiny dent in it; it’s at least 70 years old.
Yield: 3 to 4 dozen cookies.
2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt ¾ cup sugar ¼ cup shortening (GG preferred butter) 2 eggs, well beaten 2 drops anise oil
Preheat oven to 375°. Sift flour and blend with other dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until particles are the size of large peas. Then stir in eggs and anise oil, mixing completely with hands.
Divide the dough in half and roll it out, one portion at a time, on a lightly floured board. Cut into desired shapes and place on ungreased baking sheet about ½-inch apart. Brush with melted butter or margarine. Bake 10 to 12 minutes.
This retro spin on a classic is my family’s addition. Last year, I drove almost to High Point to get the last green and red fruitcake cherries on any grocery shelf anywhere. We use somewhere between ½ and ¾ of the sugar that the recipe calls for, and although these cookies are good when they’re big, we prefer to use a scoop well smaller than a golf ball. After all, Christmas cookies are meant to be crowded onto a plate, 20 at a time.
Yield: About 3 dozen cookies.
2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 cup sugar 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed 2 large eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 3 cups oats (not instant) 1½ cups candied red and green cherries
Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Using a mixer on low, combine butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until fluffy and light in color.
Stir the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture until fully combined; do not overmix. Add the oats and cherries, stirring to incorporate.
Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to measure out dough, about 2 tablespoons at a time. Drop 2 inches apart onto a baking sheet prepared with nonstick spray. Place on center rack of oven and bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until golden but still moist beneath cracks on top.
Remove from oven; let cookies sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
These cookies are straight from the land of the TV dinner. They’re quick and easy and, to our modern sensibilities, maybe a little gross, but it’s not Christmas without them. They’re no-bake, and if you do them early enough — four or five days out — that OJ “ripens” into something a bit cheerier. Again, we pull back on the sugar: My notes say to just use ¼ cup.
Yield: About 5 dozen cookies.
1 (6-ounce) package semisweet chocolate morsels (1 cup) ½ cup sugar 3 tablespoons light corn syrup ½ cup orange juice 2½ cups small vanilla wafers, crushed 1 cup finely chopped nuts Instant sweet-milk cocoa
Use a double boiler to melt chocolate morsels over hot (not boiling) water. Remove from heat; stir in sugar and corn syrup. Gradually blend in orange juice. Add vanilla wafers and nuts; mix well. Chill until firm enough to handle. Form into 1-inch balls; roll in cocoa.
Let balls ripen in covered container for several days.
The cream wafers are the fussiest. The cookies themselves are tiny, and you have to make what seems like several hundred, and those are rolled and cut and fork-pierced and then sugar-dusted. Then you make the icing — and yes, we use raw egg yolk at our house. Maybe don’t use all of the powdered sugar called for here. They take all day. Well, they take me all day. I only bake like this once a year.
Yield: About 5 dozen double cookies.
COOKIES 1 cup butter, softened ⅓ cup cream, light cream, or evaporated milk 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
FILLING ¼ cup soft butter ¾ cup sifted powdered sugar 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Red and green food coloring
For the cookies: Mix well butter, cream, and flour. Chill. Heat oven to 375°. Roll out dough ⅛-inch thick on floured board. Cut with 1½-inch cutter. Roll out only ⅓ of dough at a time; keep the rest refrigerated. Transfer rounds to waxed paper heavily covered with granulated sugar. Turn each round so that both sides are coated. Prick with fork about 4 times. Bake 7 to 9 minutes. Let cool.
For the filling: Blend all ingredients together. Use a drop or two of food coloring to tint pink and green. Sandwich between two cooled cookies.
These are lacy wonders that my wife loves with morning coffee and that I love with anything, any time of day. Aunt Nancy would make red-, green-, and cinnamon-sugar-dusted. We made four colors last year — red, green, blue, and yellow — because we ended up with a too-fancy container of decorating sugar and thought, Well, why not? For years, I did the egg-white wash on the bottom of a glass to press out the cookies before baking, but finally, last year, I took to just mashing them with my fingers — and you almost couldn’t tell. They stick to the glass. Using the glass is a misery. I’ll never use the glass again.
Yield: About 100 cookies.
½ pound butter 1 cup sugar 1 egg yolk 1¾ cup all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream butter and sugar; mix in other ingredients. Using about ¾ teaspoon of batter, shape into balls, and place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Slightly beat egg white, dip bottom of a glass into it, and flatten each. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or colored sugar. Bake at 325° for 10 to 12 minutes.