Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holiday Cookies 2011 and the answer to the question: "Mommy, where do cookies come from?"

After such a traumatic fall we are all ready to focus on something a little more fun and with the winter holiday season upon us, cookie making is just the ticket. It's hard to be sad looking at the smiles of the little kids that come through the shop, pressing their face to the glass display case with all the beautiful cookies lined up.
Most of us have, tucked into that warm cozy place in our minds, a happy memory attached to holiday cookies, whether it's standing on a chair, curling our tongue around the spines of the beater from the mixer as our grandmother bakes them or we are leaving the cookies and milk out for Santa. Cookies gives us that immediate sweet satisfaction while connecting us to a time, a place, an emotion. Little do we realize when we are gathered together making cookies to share for the holidays that we are expanding on a tradition that is more than 600 years old. Cookies themselves have been around as long as people have manipulated their food. Beginning, no doubt, as a type of cracker pressed together, made to travel. And travel they did, on through time, eventually sweetened and refined with more advanced milling technology which produced finer flours and sugars.
The earliest decorated holiday cookie can be traced back to the 1400's. The swiss made 'springerle' was a dry buttery dough that was pressed into molds or rolled with intricately carved rolling pins to produce beautifully detailed imprints on the cookies. These fancy treats moved quickly into the heart of European holiday celebrations, in Latvia in the year 1510 the 1st Christmas tree was believed to have been decorated with cookies. Because cookies traveled so well, they became quite well traveled, stacked in tins, wrapped in brown paper boxes clutched under arms or tucked into baskets, a perfect gift of food from one home to another. Through these edible gifts, they shared a bit of their lives. There were cookies in the duffels of those first immigrants coming across the sea to settle the wild new world. Their recipes for those cookies scribbled into tattered journals or burned on their brains.

gingerbread man!
Holiday cookies hit the shores of north america in the 1600, thanks to the Dutch who called their little treats 'koekje'...which was morphed into 'cookie' by the relatively new americans. And while that innocent little cookie may look like a simple sweet confection, it's production over the years has been fraught with politics and controversy.
On through the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, baking as a profession was very strictly regulated through official guilds. As with any trade, it took long hard years working through the ranks of apprentice, journeyman and master baker, each level documented and recorded by the bakers guild. What they were allowed to make and the supplies they were allotted were also tightly controlled. With the finest ingredients saved for royalty and the rich.  Many bakers fled to the new world to escape those rigid laws, bringing with them their rich holiday baking traditions. Still they were hemmed in by available ingredients and had to adapt their formulas to work in the 'new world'.
Another big influence on the American cookie scene came about when importing laws changed in the 1800's, along with more efficient shipping routes this led to a flooding of the US market of, among other things, cookie cutters. German made metal cutters with their fancy designs suddenly transformed the American tradition of holiday cookie making to what has become a national obsession.

green tea shortbread dipped in white chocolate
 And obsessed we are! Well, here at the bakery anyway. We clear the top rack of the big display case and line up trays and trays of delicious colorful cookies. 

It is a bit overwhelming, both for the purchaser ("Oh I just can't decide! Maybe I should get another pound.") and the producer ("what do you mean we need more coconut macaroons...I just made those yesterday!"), but overall it is a frenzy we are all embracing. The promise of delight that each of these sweet treats provides brightens even the dreariest day. And here there is something for everyone...soft and elegant chocolate-almond kisses, refined lavender or green tea shortbread and, yes coconut macaroons for those with a serious sweet tooth.
Look for some of our favorite holiday cookie recipes over on the recipe blog
If you need even more cookie inspiration, my friend Emilia over at ruhlman.com wrote a great post where she shares some family memories and a couple of special cookie recipes.

the most popular of all: coconut macaroons!
Want to buy some of our cookies? Come on down to the bakery (...sorry, no mail orders)
Cookies are $10 a pound and our selection includes about 20 different kinds. The official list is over at twosistersbakery.net  Call (907)235-2280 to order ahead

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