It’s time again for Christmas cookies
Aspen, CO Colorado
Time once again for the annual Christmas cookie recipe, which I was given in 1977 by my childhood hometown German bakers, who said they had never given it to anyone else and warned me never to reveal it. Six months later, they were both dead and I found myself the keeper of an unwanted secret. Ten years after that, I decided to publish it to defuse the curse. The bakers called them “German Honey Cake Cookies” and they are delicious.
They also last pretty much forever (unless eaten up), so you can make them well in advance.
Here’s the recipe: Bring to a boil 1⁄3 cup molasses (light or dark), 2⁄3 cup honey and 1 cup brown sugar. Mind that it doesn’t boil over. Remove from heat and add 1⁄3 of shortening, stirring until it’s melted.
In a big bowl, beat 1 egg white with 2 tablespoons of water and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Add 2 tablespoons of ground up anise seed (I use a mortar and pestle ” a clean pepper mill would work), 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon of allspice.
If you don’t want to bother with the grinding, you can use anise extract (at least a tablespoon), but the seeds are better.
Add the warm honey/sugar/molasses mixture, which will foam up like a chemical experiment.
After eating your fill of the foam, you’re on your own. Add 41⁄2 cups (chewable) to 61⁄2 cups (for hard-as-rocks cookies) of cake flour. I try to aim for five cups, but often run out of steam and muscle. A Cuisinart with a bread-kneading attachment might come in handy for this phase.
Refrigerate the dough for days or weeks, or roll it out right away (less of a workout when it’s warm) on a floured surface. Cut with traditional cookie cutters, or a glass or a tuna fish can (cleaned) and bake at 350 degrees “until done” ” this will depend on the thickness of the dough you rolled.
My daughter Hillery likes them very thin and crisp (an eighth of an inch ” five or six minutes) and I like them thicker and softer (a quarter of an inch ” eight or nine minutes). A good nonstick trick that Hillery learned is to line the cookie sheets with parchment paper, something I’d never heard of which is available in the local grocery stores and can be used over and over.
For the icing, add a little hot water to a bowl of confectioners sugar until it is the consistency of house paint. The addition of a gently beaten egg white, or a half packet of unflavored gelatin softened in a little cold water, will keep the icing from getting brittle.
Slather the icing onto the cookies with a pastry brush (me) or carefully decorate them using icing tools, food coloring and camel hair brushes (Hillery). Either way, the cookies will be good.
For soft cookies, place them in an airtight container with a slice of white bread; for hard cookies, omit the bread.
This recipe comes with a free taste-test offer: Bring a few cookies in a plain brown wrapper, marked to my attention lest they be intercepted, to The Aspen Times and I’ll give you a personal evaluation.
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For the past five-plus years I have sat in a big chair in a small office on Hyman Avenue watching life in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley play out in front of me.