This year, on December 26, the Mahaney clan will descend upon Grandma’s house—all loud, laughing, thirty-six of us. And this year, as with every year since my dad was a little boy, there will be Christmas cookies next to the punch bowl on Grandma’s sideboard in the dining room.
But these are no ordinary Christmas cookies. No siree! Just ask any Mahaney who is old enough to talk (and we usually start early)—these are the original Christmas cookies. All the rest, they’re just cookies.
The Mahaney Christmas cookie starts with the softest, chewiest, nutmeg flavored sugar cookie, slightly undercooked. Then pinky-red or soft-green frosting is lathered over the entire surface. But what really sets them apart are the red-hots (fresh, not stale, mind you) strategically placed on top. The key to eating one of these cookies, as every Mahaney knows, is to plan each bite to include icing and at least one red-hot.
And if these cookies still sound ordinary to you, it’s simply because you’ve never tasted one.
Several years ago, Dad asked Grandma why she had started using smaller cookie cutters. The almost-face-sized cookies he remembered weren’t as large as they used to be. But Grandma told him that these were the same cookie cutters she’d used since he was little. It’s just that he got bigger.
It’s a small thing that Grandma does, really. She makes Christmas cookies. And she makes them every year. But simply by doing it year after year, she gives her children, and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a special memory.
Sometimes, we try to make adult size memories for our children, and we exhaust ourselves doing it. We forget that the cookies that seem small to us seem really big to them. Little acts make a big impact. Especially when done year after year. We would do well to keep that in mind this Christmas.
Today I’m making Grandma’s Christmas cookies for Jack. They’re about the size of his face right now. One day he’ll probably ask me why I stopped using those big cookie cutters. And I’ll tell him they are the same one’s I’ve always used. It’s just him. He got bigger.
By the way, if you want to make a big memory with little work, here’s the recipe for Grandma Mahaney’s Sugar Cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg slightly beaten
¼ cup sour cream
½ tsp. nutmeg
3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
Work butter until creamy. Stir in sugar gradually, then beat until fluffy. Stir in egg and sour cream. Mix well. Sift together flour, nutmeg, soda, and salt; stir into mixture. Mix thoroughly. Chill one hour. Set oven for 350 degrees.
Roll out a small amount of dough at a time, ¼ inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with Christmas cookie cutter. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool. Decorate with colored frosting and red-hots.
In a medium bowl, stir together until smooth:
4 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons water
Adjust the consistency as necessary with more powdered sugar or water. Color as desired. To store, cover the surface of the icing with a sheet of plastic wrap. This keeps for up to 4 days at room temperature or about one month refrigerated.