My Aunt Florence lived just down the street from my grandfather’s house. She was his beloved sister, with wrinkles around her eyes and dark, dyed curls. Her front room draped in orange-and-brown yarned quilts. Her kitchen tiny, with cupboards that reached to the ceiling, and drawers that smelled vaguely of cedar and old house. It was there, standing in the kitchen surrounded by all the grown-ups that made me feel safe in the world, that I reached for a plate filled with Divinity and shortbread, and welcomed a buttery bite of Christmas into my innards.
The traditional Christmas Cookie plate reminds me of old things. Things that feel comforting and dear. Things like chestnuts and horse-drawn sleighs. The winter way through grandmother’s house. Memories I’ve made up, because I’ve sung about them, sewn them together with real moments of the past, laced in faces of people I adore, and conjured an idea of Christmas that never actually was–but feels real and tangible nonetheless. I wake each year, on a random December day, and want to recreate it all. To create Christmas. To make cookies and make magic and carol to neighbors wearing fur-lined ear and hand muffs.
But then. I remember I’m busy. Too busy to stop. Too busy to bake. Too busy to do much of anything nowadays. And still, that childhood feeling calls and cries until I surrender with happy balance. I carve out a moment from the morning, slide on slippers, and turn on the oven. Bring out a giant glass bowl and fill it with three simple ingredients. Butter-flour-sugar. Then, I bake and mix and remember the real memories. I scoop and cook until golden brown and make two dozen homemade cookies that melt in the mouth and beg to be shared. I wrap them haphazardly and tie a hand-scribbled note, “Merry Christmas! -B” then tiptoe a plate across the street to Otto, my 93-year-old neighbor.
Doorbell rung, I hear him shuffle to the threshold of his home, creak open the door. I peek through the crack and see his tiny kitchen down the hall. Smell that same almost-cedar smell I once smelled in Aunt Florence’s kitchen. Suddenly, it’s Christmas and I’m home.
Funny, isn’t it, how a simple cookie can do that. Can be that. Can taste like childhood.
Happy, happy Christmas.
3-Ingredient Shortbread Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
1 cup butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup raspberry jam (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter, flour, and powdered sugar in a stand mixer and beat until a soft, thick dough forms, about 5 minutes. Use a medium-sized ice cream scoop to gather the dough together and scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Press the center of each cookie with your finger and spoon a dollop of jam into the center of each cookie, if desired. Bake cookies for 9-12 minutes, or just until set. Remove and cool before serving. Enjoy!