For all the yule logs, plum cakes and mince pies that adorn a festive table, there’s nothing quite like a batch of holiday cookies to assure that Christmas is just around the corner.
The tradition of baking cookies has been synonymous with the most wonderful time of year since Medieval times when Christmas was an occasion to visit family and friends, while farmers got a break due to the harsh winter. Unlike other desserts, cookies could be easily baked in large batches for guests. The time-honoured tradition of putting out cookies and milk for Santa was borne from the same seasonal spirit, with some accounts tracing the practice back to the Great Depression when parents used this simple act of sharing as a way to inculcate gratitude in their children.
Cut to now and cookies remain as integral to the holidays as they did back in the day, with many recipes epitomising the timeless Christmas flavours that were popularised in the Middle Ages through wider availability of spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
The meaningful stories behind recipes are often just as enchanting as the cookies themselves. The origins of gingerbread is particularly fascinating. Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I commissioned a royal gingerbread maker to create gingerbread men representing foreign dignitaries and other individuals in her court. During the same period, gingerbread men were prescribed as “love tokens” in folk medicine to help young women in their quest to have men fall in love with them!
The full repertoire of holiday cookies is an expansive one, with different cultures and countries imparting their own unique touch to elevate these special-occasion bakes. I love the Linzer cookies sitting elegantly on porcelain tea stands in cafes where afternoon tea is still taken seriously; and I absolute adore the snowy caps of chocolate crinkle cookies with their fudgy brownie-like texture. I revel in the simple pleasures of thumbprint cookies filled with fruit preserves just as often as I seek out the sultry creaminess of Alfajores de Dulce de Leche (sandwich cookies layered with luscious caramel).
Most of all perhaps, my home is partial to the cosy scent of Snickerdoodles—a riff on Christmas sugar cookies, dusted with a warming mix of cinnamon and sugar before baking. The exact origins remain disputed, although many accounts suggest that the word “snicker” hails from the Dutch word snekrad, or even the German word schnecke, describing a snail-like shape. I often bake a batch for my husband as a nostalgic throwback to his days at a boarding school in Massachusetts, where these cookies are a holiday classic.
By popular request, my go-to recipe is now an eggless one. If you have cream of tartar on hand, do add a pinch for the signature tang characteristic of the original Snickerdoodles, although these chewy cookies do taste just as delicious without it. Serve these while they are still warm from the oven with cups of coffee (or a glass of cold milk).
This cookie has the heartwarming flavours of your favourite festive latte.
Half cup salted butter, slightly softened
Half cup caster (super-fine) sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 and half cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Half tsp baking soda
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Use a stand mixer or hand-held mixer to beat the butter and sugars together until fluffy.
- Mix in the milk and vanilla extract until well-combined and creamy.
- Sift in the all-purpose flour, cinnamon and baking soda (this helps remove any lumps in the flour); and gently fold these dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Don’t over-mix the dough as this can cause the gluten to develop and the cookies to harden.
- Scoop out the dough and roll it into evenly-sized balls.
- Add cinnamon and sugar in equal parts (or according to your desired ratio) in a bowl. Mix well until evenly combined. Then, roll each cookie dough ball in the cinnamon-sugar until liberally coated.
- Bake for 8-9 minutes or so, until the edges of the cookies have started to firm up but the centres are still soft to touch. Don’t worry if the cookies seem to be under-baked when you remove them from the oven as they will continue to firm up once outside (from the residual heat).
- Let the cookies cool slightly, and serve while they are still warm.
Also read | Christmas cookies from a Goan home