They were simple butter cookies decorated with multi-colored sprinkles. She packed them in round plastic containers with a gift tag that read, “Merry Christmas from Uncle Keung Ho, Aunty Esther, Patti and Cindy.”
Each of my mother’s eleven siblings and their families received a batch of these lovingly baked treats every year. Their rich, velvety texture, generous kiss of vanilla, and perfect crispness made other holiday cookies pale by comparison. These cherished gems also had a way of magically disappearing within minutes of their arrival.
When we told her how much we loved her cookies, my aunt would often half apologize: “We can’t afford to buy presents, so we gave everybody cookies.”
I wish I had been articulate enough to properly thank her for our only homemade present. How to put a price on time, care, a gentle spirit, an open heart?
Little did she know how everyone waited and waited for her cookies, and when they finally came, what jubilation! More than a gift, they symbolized another passing year, a sweet reminder of how lucky we were to have such a large, close-knit family.
These days, I don’t bake quite as many holiday cookies as I used to, but I usually try my hand at Aunty Esther’s butter cookies. And I say, “try,” because so far, I haven’t been able to duplicate them even using her exact recipe. Did she add a secret ingredient? Lightly tap the rims of her mixing bowls with a magic wand? Maybe it was her apron, a certain time of day, or her favorite music playing in the background.
I was a lucky child, blessed with many gifts each Christmas. Aside from a certain yellow sweater and a beloved Ruthy doll, I don’t remember most of them, but I still covet Aunty Esther’s cookies, which were flavored with her kindness, love of books and music, and appreciation for all things bright and beautiful.
1 lb. butter
2 cups sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons vanilla
Cream the butter and sugar well. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until batter is light and fluffy.
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add to batter gradually and mix well.
Shape into balls, flatten slightly with the back of a teaspoon and decorate with non-pareils.
Bake at 325 degrees F about 16 minutes.
*This batter can also be used to make thumbprint cookies. After rolling into balls, make an indentation in each cookie with your finger or the end of a wooden spoon. Bake 10 minutes, fill with your favorite jam, then bake 5-6 minutes longer.
TIP: Make these with someone you love, or share them with someone you love. Make a new memory. No one will ever be able to duplicate them!
“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.” ~ Alexander Smith
Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.