If this post smells of butter and drool it's because I've spent about half the day baking cookies. The kitchen looks like Open House at the Keebler Factory, including the flour-covered resident elf who is typing this from a perch by the cooling racks.
I hope you can't get fat from inhaling near a pile of fresh cookies. I just got back into these jeans.
Oh, such a display. We have pinwheels, we have brownies, we have chocolate chips–courtesy (respectively) of Maida Heatter, Irma Rombauer, and Ruth Wakefield.
Piled highest, at the back, are the other cookies. The special cookies. You won't find the recipe for them in any published book; and don't bother asking for it, because after I told you I'd have to kill you. It's a family secret–as deep and dark as the one that keeps the Kardashians on the air, except ours goes better with coffee.
These are Grandma's Jennie's cookies.
Grandma Jennie, rest her soul, was my mother's mother.
She's on the right, in the bow. That's my mother on the left, and the howling lump in the center is me–a week old. (I was either hungry, or commenting on the prevalence of drip-dry polyester fabrics in early 70s fashion.)
We assume Grandma learned how to make the cookies from her mother. We don't know for sure. We never thought to ask. It's a bizarre recipe. I've got about 32 linear feet of books on cookery ranging from 1747 to the present, and there's nothing in any of them that comes even close. It starts out a little bit like shortcake, only without sugar; and then–
No, wait. Can't tell you. Would have to kill you.
These cookies were the first thing I ever baked. I was about ten or eleven, and my younger sister was my accomplice. Every pass of the rolling pin was an act of transgression. Mom wasn't home, we didn't ask permission to use the stove, and these were Christmas cookies. We made unsupervised, unauthorized Christmas cookies in May.
I know that seems piffling at a time when the second graders on "Gossip Girl" get their kicks by snorting cocaine and crushed Flintstone vitamins during little bitty orgies in the VIP room at American Girl Place. But back then, to us, it was thrilling.
My sister, once the sous chef, is now the master baker. She inherited Mom's gigantic yellow Tupperware bowl–you could take a bath in it–which holds the stupendous amount of dough produced by the full recipe. She has developed and perfected a system that allows her to keep one hand clean and dry while the other adds ingredients and kneads them in. And her cookies always have the proper amount of crunch on the outside, while the inside melts in your mouth.
We grew up rolling out the dough and cutting it into moons and hearts and trees, which is what Mom does. But we were surprised to learn during a visit to Grandma's that she didn't use cutters. She rolled the dough out into long ropes with her hands, then twisted sections of rope into curlicues, knots and braids.
Her hands flew. She twisted, we watched. My grandmother was a lovely woman; but she didn't like children mucking around in the kitchen. Baking cookies wasn't a game, it was work. Without interference she could produce six dozen in record time. If you were good, you might be allowed to help with the sugar sprinkles. If you got too enthusiastic and sprinkled the floor, you'd better run.
Susan and I still mostly roll and cut, but near the end of each batch we also make a few twists as a tribute. It's not a hospital wing or a fountain in Central Park, but there are worse ways to be remembered than through a cookie recipe. I think Grandma Jennie would have appreciated it. Especially with coffee.