Twenty years of holiday cookies

I don’t know when I became obsessed with holiday baking, and to this day I’m not sure if I’m obsessed more with holiday baking or with the image of walking into a home in December to the scents of cinnamon, molasses and ginger. Perhaps it’s a mental picture I’ve always had of the home I always wanted–the way I wanted to arrive home every day. To warmth, and sugar and love. And there it is. Probably. I think the reason I love to cook so much is that I love the way food makes people feel.

In my twenties, I started making six, seven, eight kinds of cookies a year. Then the feedback came, and I fed off of it. The varieties increased to 15 and 20. I would make schedules for myself of three kinds of cookies a night, making those that freeze best, first, in order to accomplish the amazing presentation for several days before Christmas. There were never more than six or seven of a specific cookie on a gigantic platter. The limited quantity of each kind on the Christmas Eve tray gave me the opportunity to show of so many different kinds and create demand. It was the era of Martha Stewart, and I bought into the insanity. I not only attempted to do it all, I seriously thought I could. Like labeling linen shelves.

After my son was born, I discovered that, silly me, it just isn’t practical to try to make that many cookies. Do we really need them all? Enter the bar cookie era. This was prompted by the MOST amazing bar cookie receipe I’d discovered years before on the back of a Pillsbury flour bag. In fact, I think I was about 22. Austrian Cream Cheese Bars. Wow. The bar cookie era kind of happened slowly because there were three or four years between Pillsbury’s winner and my discovery of the Magic Cookie Bar on the back of the Borden Sweetened Condensed Milk can. That condensed milk was my ticket to the big time, baby. You know how many cookies you make in, like, 15 minutes, with that stuff? Not only are there Magic Cookie Bars, there also are cookie bars with toffee chips, a fudge layer and crumbles, and berries. It’s so versatile. Another wow. Life was so much easier. I’ve tried other fruit-bar variations, and while they’re good, they don’t freeze well. You can’t make much if you can’t freeze ’em.

This past year, after too many years with a predictable repertoire of holiday cookie fare, I decided to branch out, yet, again, and experiment with some new varieties. I tried ginger cookies with raw sugar, peppermint cookies with red peppermint frosting and candy cane crumbles, blueberry crumble bars and citrus crinkles. By far, the best were the citrus crinkles. Lemony on their own, they’re blissful dredged in a lemon-zested glaze.

Lots of learning over the years. But as I said, that’s what cooking’s about, right?

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