In the comedown of Thanksgiving, on the cusp of crazy December, we puttered around the kitchen of the house where Danny grew up, warming up with one more cup of coffee and assembling turkey and candied ham sandwiches whenever we got hungry. That is, whenever we pulled ourselves out from under two layers of down comforter. Plus wool socks for me.
But the brisk air (14 degrees one morning!) does a lot to set the scene for the holidays. Seasons are static in Miami, much like the humidity, and a break to the Midwest for a holiday instilled the Christmas spirit in me. Cool temperatures and a little snow on the ground make it more romantic, somehow. A visit to his hometown, visiting his old haunts, makes Danny more sentimental, too. It’s the most nostalgic time of the year.
After the turkey, the smoked ham with a candied pecan shell, the scalloped potatoes, and brussels sprouts, we needed something that more plainly conjured up thoughts of Christmas: cookies. And since we were in Iowa City , where better to get a classic cookie recipe than from Danny’s family? His parents, Kathy and Rich, pulled out family cookbooks and journals, and it was like the past spilled right into the kitchen.
Kathy showed me one of her mom’s cookbooks. The pages are barely held together, with clipped recipes and photos that evoke another time, another lifestyle. She says her mom baked a pie every Sunday and often made ice cream, churned by hand. Her collection of recipes include a contest-winning orange kiss me cake, pickled cherries, and meatloaf. Actually, it looks like she pickled everything.
Rich, known for his showmanship, showed off a notebook labeled as his cooking journal. He said it’s more of an experimental lab book than a recipe book. There seems to be a Christmas ham for every year going back to at least 2003, with tweaks and substitutions along the way.
A page for porchetta is a mess of feverish scribbles, so it must be good; Danny has made me a version with duck. A recipe for low carb pancake no. 1 is crossed out with the word ‘BAD’ on the side to warn you. (At one point he yelled out, ‘This is blogashit! Get your camera!’ and throughout the weekend offered up many other blogging tips/ideas, including a future blog post called Eat Your Houseplants, inspired by the kahlua pig plant.)
One of the recipe collections in a small binder belonged to Kathy, and among the recipes sourced from friends and relatives, she had her Swedish grandma’s recipe for so-called cookie jar gingersnaps.
So we got to work. We borrowed baking soda from a neighbor (oh Iowa, you’re so sweet) and set out the cinnamon, ginger, and butter. The dough is thick and sticky, but it’s also easy to form into balls and roll in a plate of sugar.
Before you know it the cookies are out of the oven, having puffed up, spread out, and finally crisped up when allowed to cool by the window. They are deeply brown and rich with molasses, and good just as they are, but I really loved these cookies with a cup of coffee. They dunk well. And I have a feeling they’d do great as an ice cream sandwich. I tried a mulled cider ice cream recently that I loved. Maybe that version of an ice cream sandwich will find its way here at some point. After all, this space is my own experimental lab book of recipes.
cookie jar gingersnaps
This cookie recipe comes from Grandma Peterson, Danny’s great grandma on his mom’s side. We made her gingersnaps during the comedown of Thanksgiving, and they were a perfect way to ease into December. The cookies crisp up soon after they’re out of the oven and they are a perfect cookie to dunk into coffee. This recipe has been in Danny’s family for some time, and now I’ll hang on to it, too.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling the cookie dough in
1/4 cup molasses
Heat oven to 350°F.
Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
Use an electric mixer to cream the butter, gradually adding in the sugar and gradually increasing the speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and molasses, just until combined. Gradually add in the dry ingredients, stirring until combined. The dough will be a deep brown and slightly sticky.
Use your hands (and a scoop, if you want, for the sake of uniformity) to form small balls of dough. We kept ours about the size of big cherry tomatoes, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll the balls of dough in sugar to coat. Place 6 to 8 dough balls on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of space between them.
Bake until cookies have spread out and are a deep brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cookies cool completely on a wire rack, allowing them to crisp up. Serve or store in an airtight container for up to a few days.
Makes 3 dozen cookies.