It’s Christmas cookie time in the city

It’s that time again. Christmas cookie time.

As I’ve written before, every year around this time the nieces and nephews and I get together and make Christmas cookies that we decorate, and then hang on our tree.

It’s a tradition in our family going back to the early 1960s when mom got the recipe, she thinks, from some lady back in our old neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. On further googling, I found that hanging cookies on the tree appears to be an old German tradition (among other cultures). So it’s quite possible we got the tradition, and the recipe, from them.

Here’s what I found in Encyclopedia Britannica a few years back:

Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. “The modern Christmas tree … originated in western Germany. The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples (paradise tree) representing the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the host, the Christian sign of redemption); in a later tradition, the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, too, were often added as the symbol of Christ. In the same room, during the Christmas season, was the Christmas pyramid, a triangular construction of wood, with shelves to hold Christmas figurines, decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century, the Christmas pyramid and paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree.”

Over the years, I became the watcher of the recipe, and the guy in charge of organizing the annual cookie making. Mom has these great aluminum (I think) cookie cutters from the 1950s, and I was able to go on eBay a few years ago and find more of them, so now each of us can inherit our own set in the end. (The silver ones are the originals.)


So, for starters, here is mom’s recipe:

mom recipe

This is mom’s original recipe card, going back decades. Any bakers out there will understand that the order is a bit mixed up.

First you whip the butter, then add sugar, then cream them until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. When I added the eggs, the entire thing fell apart on me, almost as if the mixture had curdled. Apparently this happens sometimes – it’s never happened to me in decades of baking, nor to my mom in some 70 years of baking. But if it does happen, just keep going, it will come together when you add the flour).

Anyway, add the vanilla. Next, take a separate large bowl in which you’ve well-mixed the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar, and slowly blend it into the butter-sugar mixture. We’ve found that you almost always need more flour than you think – last night we must have added 2 cups extra, often it’s one cup. Basically, you want the dough to be decently thick – to the point where, after you put it in the fridge an hour, or the freezer for half an hour, you can roll it out maybe 1/4 inch thick on a well-floured surface, and cut out the cookie shapes.



I found copies of my mom’s original metal cookie cutters on eBay, that way each kid can have a set eventually.

Using a spatula (and your hands) move the cut out shapes to a buttered baking tray.


Then decorate them with colored sugar and whatever you like (make sure not too much sugar is touching the sides of the cookie or it will stick).


Do not let the dog assist.


Then bake in a 375F oven, maybe for 8-10 minutes until it just starts to brown a bit on the edges. If you want to hang them on the tree, you’ll want to make little holes in them with a toothpick before baking, then remake the hole as soon as they come out of the oven. We use thread to hand them with. cookies-ready

Sasha Claus takes a much-needed sun-bath after a long day’s work.sasha-deck

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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11 Responses to “It’s Christmas cookie time in the city”

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  3. rmthunter says:

    Just don’t try it with your pony.

  4. emjayay says:

    Isn’t the bunny an Easter cookie?

  5. emjayay says:

    It’s Christmas. Give the dog a damn cookie.

  6. 2karmanot says:

    Ah, the old carrot trick—works every time!

  7. rmthunter says:

    My cats used to beg when I was eating, so I’d hold something out to them that I knew wouldn’t appeal to them — like a piece of carrot.

    They never stopped begging, though.

  8. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    My cat thinks she wants people food, and she’ll annoy me to the point of distraction in order to score some. When I can’t stand it any longer, I give in to her. I’ll put some on a paper plate and put it down for her. She then tries to bury it. She has never tasted it. I bet Sasha is smarter than that. Maybe smarter than me, because I keep doing the same thing over and over. Although, I really don’t expect a different outcome.

  9. Yes, it’s not entirely clear why Sasha thought she might get something — I NEVER give her people food. But hope springs eternal. :)

  10. pericles9 says:

    Merry Christmas, John and each/ all! I was never comfortable with pulling cookies off the tree, but after my dad opened all my presents, I gave up. Dad couldn’t keep a secret; he loved demonstrating my toys.

  11. 2karmanot says:

    That made my heart glow. Was that a little Sasha Elf eying those coogas?

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