Ginger cookies and shortbread would follow, but fruitcake was the first hint of good things to come.
When I was little, the first sign that Christmas was drawing near was the sight of my mom hauling out the roasting pan—the only vessel large enough to hold the batter—so she could mix her traditional dark fruitcakes. Studded with almonds, soaked in brandy, and carefully wrapped in cheesecloth, for the next six weeks they sat and cured, bearing silent witness to the approach of my favourite season.
Another sure sign of Christmas was the once-a-year box of mandarin oranges, each one nestled in purple tissue paper, stored in the unheated spare bedroom. Every time I entered the room I was greeted by the wonderful scent of those oranges. My own children, who eat exotic citrus fruits by the case, have no clue how much sweeter things taste when they are not so readily available.
However, they do understand the joy of baking. When it comes to spending time together, making memories, and giving gifts—all on a limited budget—home-made treats are hard to beat.
Finding the Right Cookie
Over the years we have experimented with many recipes. Some of them were rather fancy and involved many steps (chilling dough, melting chocolate, pressing, dipping), but these tended to result in melt-downs and tears (and the kids often got upset too). For our household, simple is best. Our hands-down favourite recipe is this classic ginger cookie with cinnamon and cloves, dark molasses, and (of course) real butter.
I started making these when my son started school and wanted to bring nut-free treats to his class Hallowe’en party. The cookies were such a hit, I just kept churning them out, gradually acquiring cutters for every conceivable holiday and celebration. Gradually, my kids and their friends grew to anticipate them, and kept coming up with new occasions, which accounts for why I have cookie cutters for Eid, St. Nicholas’ Day, St. Lucia’s Day, and even karate gradings. Although I have written out the recipe dozens of times, the best was when a boy in a grade five class asked me for it. I have often wondered whether these ginger cookies became part of his own family ritual.
More Than a Recipe
For me and my children, these ginger cookies have become something more than a treat. We have shared them with neighbours and given them as gifts to much-loved teachers. Together, we have made hundreds of ginger cookies for various bake sales in support of causes ranging from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to Amnesty International. On their own initiative, the kids have mixed and rolled and baked to raise money to buy milkweed for a school butterfly garden, and to purchase school supplies for children in refugee camps. Making cookies—as simple as it is—has become a way for them to see the needs of the world around them, and to help as they are able.
Spread a Little Light
One December evening a few years ago, the doorbell rang. When I answered it, I was surprised to see my neighbours from the other end of the street—a family I knew by sight but had not actually met. They were bundled up against the cold, hauling a wagon full of what looked like mason jars. One of the children wished us a Merry Christmas, and handed me a small jar full of cookies. Then they said goodnight and moved on to the next house. I watched them go with tears in my eyes. A dozen cookies and a bit of raffia and ribbon can really brighten a dark night.
This will be my first Christmas without my mom, so I have been thinking of her a lot lately. I have not managed to make her fruitcake, but I have got a bowl of mandarin oranges sitting on my kitchen counter. And my children and I will certainly stir up a batch of ginger cookies. Our house will smell great, we will have a few laughs, and deep down I will trust that we are creating something more than cookies.
Here is our recipe. We hope you enjoy it.
3 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 cup salted butter, softened
¾ dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
½ cup molasses (I like the dark, cooking molasses, as opposed to fancy molasses)
Preheat the oven to 325F. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg and molasses and beat well until the mixture is smooth. Add flower mixture gradually, beating after each addition, until just combined. Do not over-mix. Separate the dough into two balls and flatten them into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap, or put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for one hour, or until firm.
On a floured surface, roll dough out to ¼ inch thickness. With floured cookie cutters, cut dough into whatever shapes you wish and place the ginger cookies on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving ½ inch between them. If you want to add raisins or currants, do it now, before baking.
Bake from 9 to 11 minutes. Cool on a rack and decorate with icing, if desired.
Author: Laura Alary Google
Here are some of other Favourite Recipes! Please feel free to try them and comment on them as well.