Every year Chris's Grandma (and Grandpa) would make a huge batch of these very basic cookies for the holidays. This was before I knew them or Chris at all (actually, I never met Chris's grandpa as he passed away before we met). Anyway, when Chris and I first got married, his grandma gave us a big tin full of these cookies on Christmas morning. Our second Christmas together, we were living in Missouri, and she sent a tin to us there, with instructions not to open them until Christmas morning (I had to hide them from Chris). She passed away five months later.
Yet, the next year, we still received our tin, this time, from Chris's aunt, who took over the making of "Grandma's cookies." Each year we would receive our tin, and each year I would hide them until Christmas morning when we would eat them for breakfast.
When we moved back to Jersey in 95, I was indoctrinated by Chris's aunt into the making of "Grandma's cookies." The first year or two, I pretty much just watched but as Ann got a bit older, and her shoulders a bit stiffer, I began to assume more of the responsibility. We make a huge batch, and there's a lot of dough involved that has to be mixed (too much for my stand mixer), so we end up kneading it, almost like bread dough).
Now, on Thanksgiving, we pick a day to get together to make the cookies. We try for a weekend when the girls can help (they've been indoctrinated too - so much so, that this year, we even let Becky knead but mostly they crank the machine, shape and dip the cookies into the seeds, aka sprinkles). If we end up on a weekday, due to busy schedules, it takes Ann and I about three to four hours to bake about maybe 15 - 16 dozen (maybe more I've never really counted). When the girls help, we can get done in under three hours.
This year, Becky grabbed her camera and documented the event.
To start, I can mix the dough in my stand mixer until there's about 5 cups of flour. After that it's by hand, on the counter-top, floured liberally, and using a bench scraper.
You can see it gets a bit messy.
And Fala patiently waits beneath me, hoping for some droppings. But she usually ends up looking like a reverse Dalmatian by the end.
You need some seriously strong shoulders to "knead" this dough - I'm amazed that Chris's grandma did these into her 80s.
Now here's the contraption. Before Chris's grandma bought this in Little Italy (it's a meat grinder with an attachment that gives the cookies ridges - better for holding powdered sugar), they rolled and shaped all the cookies by hand. At the end, we take whatever dough that won't fit through the machine and roll it by hand - a memoriam.
Do you know, it's kind of sad. Before Chris's aunt left this year, she told me where she stores the machine in the basement, "in case I ever want to borrow it." As if she won't be here to tell me where it is when I do "borrow it?"
Okay - so the dough goes into the top of the machine, and someone cranks it to send out the "extruder." Then someone else breaks the dough off and shapes it.
Here's one more shot of Ann and Sammi working together - we all take turns at every station, except the oven, which I man.
We shape the dough into "u's" "s's" "p's" and whatever else comes to mind.
We dip about half the cookies into "seeds" (aka nonpareils - can anyone tell me what a pareil is, if these are "non").
After they come out of the oven and cool a bit, we put them in containers and sprinkle heartily with powdered sugar but for now, here they are on the cooling racks.
After that, I hide them until Christmas morning when we break them open for breakfast.
Now for the recipe, which sits on a tattered piece of paper in my kitchen drawer, it may gross some of you out because of it's use of crisco but what can I tell you - I guess it's a consistency thing.
- 18 eggs (beaten)
- 3t vanilla
- About 5 pounds (roughly 15 cups) of flour
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every cup of flour
- slightly less than 1 can of crisco (we used to use the entire can but I used a bit less this year and then what was left, we used to grease the cookie sheets)
- about 3 cups of sugar - we don't like them overly sweet, especially since they have the powdered sugar at the end so I usually end up somewhere about 2 3/4 cups
You can see that the measurements are rough because at the end it comes down to feel.
Okay - so cream the crisco and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla - beat to blend. Mix the flour and baking powder then add in cup fulls to creamed mixture and mix until it's just past tacky but not dry. If it's sticky, it won't go through our machine. Bake at 350 until lightly tan or brown. Cool. Store and sprinkle powdered sugar on - now I put the sugar on when I store them. Ann sprinkles the sugar on just before serving - so you decide.
This makes a lot of cookies (like 3 humongous tin fulls), that are great with a cup of tea, cocoa or coffee.