Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Grandma Esther’s Spritz Cookies. I have wonderful memories of baking many different types of cookies with my grandmother, but making spritz cookies for the holidays was special.
I remember going to grandma’s house to help her make these small almond flavored cookies. The process began by putting on aprons for wearing apparel protection. Next long hair would be restrained by being tightly pulled back into a pony tail and held there with a rubber band from the used plastic bag drawer.
Once the baking crew of various experience levels had been organized and was properly attired, the ingredients for the bake would appear out of cupboards. Flour and sugar in canisters, milk in an old quart Mason of Ball canning jar, sticks of made in Minnesota Land’O Lakes butter or as we called it “creamery butter” and eggs in a bowl resting on a clean flour-sack-cloth dish towel fresh from the hen house.
For a woman who only completed four years of formal education, Grandma Esther was a great teacher. Many children quickly learned about mathematical fractions at that old kitchen table baking with grandma. It wasn’t too long after you started baking with her that you knew that two 1/2 cups equaled a cup, a 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup equaled 3/4 cup, and that four tablespoons equaled a quarter cup. Baking was and still is a great way to teach children math and fractions.
Baking with grandma was just plain fun. There was the sifting and leveling. It was delightful to put snowy white flour into a sifter and create your own mini-blizzard inside of a big mixing bowl. There was real satisfaction to be gained by using the back of a table knife and employing a quick swipe to smoothly level off ingredients in a measuring cup.
Once everything had been measured and dry ingredients sifted, the real work began. Grandma did not use an electric mixer, we creamed our sugars and butter with an old hand=held rotary beater.
A rotary beater has a handle on top, two inter-mingled beaters on the bottom and a crank handle attached to a fly wheel that makes the beaters spin. To use a rotary beater the operator latches one hand onto the beater’s top handle as their other paw frenziedly wheels the beater’s turn crank around with all of the might they can muster. Many a little elbow painfully protested as it grew increasingly weary from turning the beater’s crank handle.
Often, grandma’s little helper, while standing on a chair, would become so focused on efficiently operating that old beater that they would lean into the task until their shaggy little head almost disappeared into her old brown pottery cookie-making bowl. As they determinedly tried to make the beaters spin faster and faster as visions of setting new Olympic and world speed records for rotary beating danced in their brain, grandma would calmly remind them to, “Keep the beater blades in the bottom of the bowl or we’ll have cookie dough sprayed all over us and the kitchen!”
Then, with a twinkle in her eye and a slow shake of her head, grandma would mutter something about this is why aprons and Windex window cleaner were invented before she began adding the eggs.
As the youngster kept those beaters whirling at the speed of light, one by one grandma would add the egg yolks. With each addition of those bright orange egg yolks the dough would become a richer shade of gold.
After the eggs, sugar and butter where combined and the child exhausted, grandma would grasp a very old hand-carved wooden spoon and gently folded in the dry ingredients.
Quality control is always important and before any cookie dough ever went onto a cookie sheet, it had to be taste tested. Cookie dough tasting in grandma’s kitchen was just that…a taste. Just like licking out the bowl consisted of…a lick. Whether it was a taste or a lick, the sample was always a lesser amount of dough than needed to make a cookie. Waste not, want not. That was her motto. A hard lesson she had learned surviving the 1930’s depression and two World Wars. A lesson shared.
Spritz cookies are molded so a cookie press must be used to get the desired holiday shapes of trees, wreaths and poinsettia flowers. It takes considerable hand strength to push cookie dough out of an old manual cookie press. I still use her cookie press.
Grandma’s old arthritic hands with bent fingers could scoop just the right amount of dough out of the mixing bowl. Into the press it would go, then the lid would be screwed on using the palm of her hand. It can be tricky to get spritz cookie dough out of the press and stuck onto a cool ungreased cookie sheet. With spritz cookie baking, experience matters. I believe that is why all of my grandma’s cookies were perfect.
Once the dough entered the cookie press, but before it landed on a cookie sheet, the exhausted young helper was revived with a drink of Kool-Aide. As grandma placed the dough neatly on the cookie sheet, it was the helper’s job to decorate them with a variety of colored sprinkles.
Grandma was very particular about sprinkles. Not too much, nor too little. Neatness counted! The sprinkles were to land only on the cookies, not on the cook, child or cookie sheet.
After each cookie passed sprinkle inspection by grandma, it was time for them to go into her electric oven. At this point in the baking process she always complained that “her electric” never baked as good as her old wood stove.
As soon as the cookies came out of the oven, Grandpa would sample a few and declare the decorations the best ever! Then, we would package them up to freeze in reused plastic bags or containers to be given away to neighbors or elderly relatives as a much anticipated and loved holiday treat.
The day would end with a happy, cookie-filled, tired child that did not care in the least that her hair had formed an absolute rat’s nest around the rubber band in her pony tail and would have to be painfully removed before a much needed bath, because her day of cookie baking with grandma had been magnificent.
One of my most precious treasures is my grandma’s old brown cookie-making bowl.
Grandma Esther’s Spritz Cookies
In a large mixing bowl combine thoroughly:
1 cup soft shortening (mostly butter)
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla flavoring
2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
Once the dough is soft and well combined, put it into a cookie press to create desired cookie shape. Press onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake at 375 degrees until set, but not brown. Makes about six dozen cookies.