Baking in December
December Baking is special. There's just something about it that can turn the normal bars, cakes, cookies and what-nots into something truly memorable. Baking for the holidays (whichever holiday you might celebrate) seems naturally infused with nostalgia. It's the time to take out those old family "once a year" recipes and relive those carefree days of yesteryear. You know, when calories meant nothing and neither did eating the leftover cookie dough (Salmon-ella? What's that? A female fish?)
For me, December baking growing-up meant the annual Cookie Extravaganza with one of my brothers (and any other family member we could con, I mean, encourage to join). We always attempted way too many dozens of way too many recipes. In the end, the kitchen looked like a small bakery had exploded with cookies on every conceivable surface and flour everywhere else. It was a delightful mess.
The Annual Cookie Extravaganza
The Extravaganza started a couple of days before Christmas or whenever my brother and I were both home from school, or as the years went on, off from work. We'd first conspire together on "the menu" combining a couple of new creations each year along with tried and true favorites. Back then, most of our recipes came from the Pillsbury Bake-Off Cookie Cookbook (©1967). We considered it the "go-to" for Cookies!
I still have the copy he gave me (above), now encrusted with flour and cinnamon fingerprints on favorite pages. Love that book. But I digress.
After we made our selections and did the grocery shopping, we'd pre-make any dough that needed overnight chilling or other prep work. The main event, however, almost always took place on Christmas Eve. We'd start early in the morning and not finish until dinner time, when, wiped out from too much kitchen-time and sugar (hey, we had to taste along the way), we waved the white flag.
There were some wonderful successes, and some awful disasters. We kept a few constants like the Butternut Balls (aka Russian Tea Cakes aka Mexican Wedding cookies) as well as the Chocolate Pixies and Stained Glass Cutouts.
Others we discarded, marking them off as either "try agains" or "never agains". The cookies were packed-up and delivered to friends and/or eaten by the family. By New Years, there was nary a cookie left in the house (and frankly I didn't want to see another Butternut Ball for another 11 months).
Memories Old and New
Over the years, as life and miles have separated us, the "Annual" Cookie Extravaganza has mellowed and become more sporadic. My brother and I still do try to get together, as schedules permit, to re-create the old Christmas Eve baking magic with at least a scaled down version. Although it's not often on Christmas Eve anymore, it's still special. Usually though, I'm on my own making new "Cookie" memories with my wonderful husband who has become a pretty darn good home baker himself (although I think he still prefers the tasting to the baking!).
This year, with friendly gatherings, cookie baskets, and edible charitable donations out, we'll probably have a very small "Extravaganza". But big or small, I'll still smile remembering the days in a small kitchen with orange formica countertops and Autumn Gold linoleum floors where my brother and I covered ourselves in just as much powdered sugar as the butternut balls and chocolate pixies. December baking was, and still remains, special. Here's hoping you can continue your own traditions, even if, like everything else in 2020, it might be a tad different this year! Happy Baking!