Baking with Grandma


What are your family's must-have holiday cookies? Undoubtedly, some of them have been passed down through the generations. This post is about my grandmothers, all the baking they did during Christmas, and the traditions borne of those recipes.

My maternal grandma made the best sugar cookies we've ever tasted. No matter how many seasonal cookbooks I scour when they come out each year, I never find a recipe similar to hers. Most sugar cookies are made with vanilla extract, but she created hers with lemon extract and lemon zest. Likewise, she put lemon extract in the icing. Oh, my, what a delectable treat! And so much fun to make! For hours, we would roll out the dough, punch out holiday-themed shapes with cookie cutters, bake them, ice them and decorate every single one. I inherited many of her recipes before she passed away, but her sugar cookies are, by far, my favorite. Our daughter happily joins her children in baking these sugary confections and it is now one of their favorite Christmas traditions. Painting and decorating each and every cookie allows their artistic talents to shine. My grandma lives on so long as these cookies are made and shared with others! And in our daughter's youngest's love for cooking and baking, for sure.

My paternal grandma, whose family was from Germany, used recipes for anise cookies that had been brought over from the old country. She made two kinds, actually. One recipe calls for rolling out dough with a springerle rolling pin (carvings in the wood leave impressions as it's rolled across the dough), but I always found this way too complicated. Her other recipe was for anise drop cookies. Much easier and actually tastier in my opinion. These anise cookies are my other favorite Christmas cookie. And my dad's. They have to be made a month ahead to give their flavor time to enhance, and only the two of us will eat them. Funny thing about anise — or licorice. You either love it or hate it. "More for us!" I always tell him. And it's the perfect coffee-dunking cookie. It just wouldn't be Christmas without them!

I have never believed in secret family recipes. A lot of love goes into food preparation and baking for your family. Food is meant to be shared! Sure, if you're a famous chef or corporate franchise restaurant owner and must have secret recipes, fine by me. I get that. But the holidays are all about family, and we should share food — and recipes — willingly. So, in the spirit of holiday giving, I am sharing my favorite cookie recipes with all of you. I think my grandmothers would be smiling to know these sweet memories of them live on!

Grandma Lorena Stenger's Sugar Cookies

Mix together and set aside 2 1/2 c. flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt.

1/2 c. butter (melted), 1 tbsp. milk, 1 c. sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tsp. lemon extract (lemon zest from one lemon can also be added)

Preheat oven to 325. Cream butter with milk, add sugar and cream well. Add eggs and mix again. Stir in lemon zest, if desired. Add the mixed dry ingredients. Add lemon extract and mix well. Chill for 1-2 hours.

Roll out dough on surface covered with flour and sugar. Set aside 1/2 c. flour and 1/2 c. sugar for this purpose and add as needed. I also dust my rolling pin and cookie cutters with the flour/sugar mixture to keep the dough from sticking to them. Cut out individual cookies and place on non-stick cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Keep checking for doneness. (If your oven gets hotter the longer it is on, your baking time might lessen by a few minutes. You might need the full 15 minutes in the beginning and less time toward the end for the cookies to be done. This is why it's important to keep checking them.)

Immediately transfer from cookie sheet to cooling racks. Once cooled, put cookies in air tight containers.


1 c. confectioner sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. lemon extract, 1 tbsp or more water. Set aside desired food coloring.

Mix together (to a consistency that easily can be "painted" onto the cookie), divide into separate containers and add food coloring of your choice. (I usually double or triple this icing recipe, as we make LOTS of sugar cookies and use several colors with which to decorate them.) Paint icing onto cookies and let dry completely before decorating with tube icing, sprinkles, etc. NOTE: Be sure to invest in high-quality paint brushes so they don't shed when icing the cookies.

Once the icing has dried, put the cookies back in plastic, airtight containers so they won't dry out. (These cookies have a tendency to dry out quickly, so I make them just a few days before Christmas.) Put waxed paper between layers, so the icing and decorations won't stick to other cookies. I make sure our cookies that look like artistic masterpieces are placed on top before the lid is sealed!

Grandma Marie Hamilton's Anise Cookies

This is a precise recipe. It must be followed to the letter for the cookies to come out right.

3 eggs (room temp), 1 c. + 2 tbsp. sugar, 1 3/4 c. pre-sifted flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. anise extract

Beat eggs until fluffy. Add sugar gradually and beat for 20 minutes (yes, you read that correctly — 20 minutes). Add flour, baking powder and salt and beat an additional 3 minutes. Add anise extract and continue to mix for a few seconds. Drop by teaspoon on greased and floured cookie sheets. Let stand overnight. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes until cookies are golden, not brown. Transfer immediately to cooling racks. Store in airtight cookie tin a month prior to eating them. To help cookies strengthen in flavor, loosely wrap an orange or tangerine in waxed paper and nestle in the middle of the cookies. Keep checking to be sure cookies do not get too moist. If they do, remove the orange.

When it's time to eat them, try dunking them in a cup of hot coffee or tea. Yummy!