Christmas Cookies

“Memories of special events which regularly return become more real to each of us with the passing years. In every family, often repeated meals, vacations, visits to relatives or special places eventually become traditions. The great glory of being an American is that within our families we have the thoughts, customs, and behavior patterns of every country from which to establish our traditions.”

“One of my greatest “grandmother joys” is the memory of the holiday season when our middle son and his family were living with us for a short time. As the children came in at the end of the day, each would take a small plate, open a paper napkin upon it, and collect an assortment of cookies to eat as they watched television until dinner was served. It is a joy beyond describing to watch each new toddler, grandchild, and now, great grandchildren, find that Springerles are always stored in brass-colored can almost too large and too tall for him to carry. Each child finds that working hard to remove the cover will open to him an almost bottomless supply of beautifully embossed cookies, and he can ask, “Tell me the story?'” – Excerpt from “Christmas Cookies by Alloa Anderson

Interview with Alloa Caviness Anderson for the Leelanau Voices Oral History Project with the Leelanau Historical Society. Recorded March 28th, 1997.

Alloa Caviness Anderson was born on August 12th, 1900 in Battle Creek, MI. Alloa attended the School of Architecture and the School of Literature, Science and the Arts at the University of Michigan. On February 2, 1925, she married Leigh C. Anderson of Muskegon. They had three sons, Leighton, Peter and Robert, and lived in Ann Arbor until 1981, when Leigh retired from his duties as a professor of chemistry and chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Michigan. They became permanent residents in Leland after retirement.

Throughout her life, Alloa was very interested in genealogy. She published a history of the Eastern Star in Michigan, and two textbooks on genealogical techniques. Alloa was the organizing member of the AAUW Genealogy group in the nation, a founding member of the Ann Arbor Genealogical Society, and president of the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society. She also taught Genealogy I and II at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City for 10 years (until she was 92). Her skills in teaching and researching new material led her to be the first first recipient of the Lucy Mary Kellogg award from the Michigan Genealogical Council in 1992. Alloa lived to be 103 years old and passed away on April 26, 2004.

Inspired from reading and listening to Alloa’s baking tales, LHS Staff picked two recipes to give a try.

Almond Crescent Cookies – by Elizabeth

I chose the Almond Crescents because of my own Polish heritage. I don’t recall my grandmother making them, but I was happy to give them a try.

From the words of Alloa, the recipe is as follows:

Cream 1/2 # (lb) butter
Add 1/2 to 3/4c. sugar (superfine is better)
Add 1c. grated, blanched almonds
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 c. flour, sifted (Keep as soft as possible)

Pat and roll into a block about 1/2 inch thick; cut with a 2-inch circle cutter to make crescent shapes. Gently place on cookie sheet.

Bake at 325 about 20-30 minutes, until delicately colored. Gently slide by wide spatula into a pan of 10 X sugar; shake carefully to coat. Store in an airtight box.

N.B. These seem to be one of the few recipes in which butter is a better ingredient than margarine. Do all of the work by hand to keep the texture fine and moist; even a Dover beater in the butter-creaming stage works too much air into the mixture and makes for a drier final product.

This recipe was pretty straight forward. Instead of grating and blanching my own almonds, I used store-bought almond flour instead. Im not fond of overly strong almond flavor, so I cut what the recipe called for in half. The dough was very sticky and I added about 1/4 c. more flour as I was patting and rolling it out. Room temperature butter works best if you are going to attempt mixing this by hand! I certainly didn’t wait for my butter to warm up, and instead beat it quickly with an electric mixer. I am not disappointed with the results. Friends and family really enjoyed these cookies, and I like them best with my morning coffee! I would definitely make them again.

Springerle Cookies – by Emma

I chose to make Springerle, a German Christmas cookie. They’re a bit more work than your average cookie, but with the added anise seeds for a delightful flavor, they’re certainly worth it.

From the words of Alloa, the recipe is as follows:

In a large bowl beat stiff:
8 egg whites
8 egg yolks, one at a time, keeping the mixture as stiff as possible.
Beat in, in small amounts:
2lb of sugar

Remove the beaters
Fold in:
1 stick of butter
3 or 4 tsp, whole anise seed

Stir in:
6 cups flour, or more, mixed with
4 tsp. Baking powder.

On a floured board, work in only as much flour as is needed to provide very sharp edges when the dough is cut, or pressed with the fingers. (Too much — dry and tough; too little — soft and not good patterns). Roll about 1/4 of the dough to 1/2 inch thick, using a mixture of flour and cornstarch as the duster. Using this same “duster,” press the well-floured molds into the dough with enough pressure to make sharp patterns. Cut apart with a knife or pastry shell . Set on a flour-dusted table or pans, to dry overnight. In the morning, bake on greased cookie sheets in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 12 minutes. They should “explode” with a fine impression on the surface, a soft cake-like interior and should not color very much. When cool, store in an airtight container.

These cookies needed a little more prep than your standard cookie, but it was well worth it! I did not have any molds, so I used a rolling pin that had floral designs on it instead and used a scalloped cookie cutter to create the shape, and the results are similar to using a mold. The rolling pin created pretty cookies but if you have the traditional molds at home I think that would make for a more Christmas-like cookie.

Instead of the flour and cornstarch mixer, I used powdered sugar and it worked just as well, with a sweeter taste too) I skipped the step of letting them dry overnight. Definitely do this! I didn’t wait as long and it resulted in my cookies not puffing very well.

And remember, if your cookies don’t turn out well the first time “there always is another baking.”