So, I don’t know if anyone else heard about the Barnes ’N Noble My Cookie Story Contest. But, I saw it on Molly Yeh’s Instagram so I checked it out. Seemed pretty cool, write a story about a cookie and share it with the recipe, and you could have your cookie featured in Barnes ’N Noble Cafe and win money. My kinda thing. So, I wrote a story and I made a recipe. I went to submit the story on Monday, the day of the deadline – only to realize the story was limited to 200 words! 200 words! How can you even tell a story in only that many words!? So, I had to literally cut it WAY down, and then I didn’t even know if it’s a good story anymore, but I had no more time haha. So, I decided to share it here instead with the recipe so it didn’t go to waste! I created a Gingerbread Spritz Cookie recipe to go with it, which is just perfect for Christmas. Read the story (a true story from my childhood), and find the recipe below.
The Spirit of Christmas
Growing up sledding wasn’t just an outside activity, it was life. Living on the South side of Chicago, sometimes we didn’t even get a full covering of snow for Christmas. But as soon as the snow started to fall, and we had any resemblance of a white hill, we were outside sledding. My best friend Celeste, who also happened to be my next-door neighbor, had the best sledding hill in the neighborhood. Our pure love of winter and everything it brought on, including Christmas, was just one of the many reasons we were friends. When we weren’t sledding, we spent winter days decorating each other’s houses together, making snowmen for our yards, trimming our trees, and baking cookies. Winter made us even more inseparable than we already were.
One day after a long afternoon outside, we went back to my house to warm up with hot chocolate. And what goes better with hot cocoa than cookies? Nothing, of course. So, we were rummaging through my floor to ceiling pantry looking for the gingerbread cookies my mom usually had stashed. I knew all her hiding places, even if she didn’t think so. We were craving those crisp, buttery, and perfectly spiced cookies in the white bag that just melt in your mouth. So, when they weren’t in their usual hiding spot, we started looking deeper in the pantry. We even pushed a stool over so we could look on the top shelf. When we came up empty handed again, we moved even further North; to the two cabinets above the pantry. I would have settled for a piece of licorice or a sole chocolate chip at that point. I was determined to find something sweet, and oh boy did I ever find something. But sweet would not be the word I would use to describe it.
When I pushed aside the extra boxes of cereal, crackers, and tea that were being stored in the North Pole of my pantry, something shiny caught my eye. There shouldn’t be shiny things in the pantry, I thought. But my curiosity got the best of me. I had to see what it was, especially because Celeste was down on the ground asking me if I’d found anything yet. When I pushed aside the rest of the food boxes, there it was for all to see. The Christmas present I had given Santa Claus last year! I starred at the brightly colored snowflake mug that was meant for the big guy in the red suite to drink his hot chocolate in each morning. It was in the wrong pantry.
When my gasp was louder than I anticipated, Celeste screamed too. I pushed aside the mug and I found more – every single hot chocolate mug I had given to Santa for the last five years! They were all just sitting there collecting dust in the corner of my pantry. In my defense, I thought that’s what the man would have wanted, given how much hot cocoa he must drink. I imagined his mug collection would be spectacular, a whole cabinet dedicated to it. And he would open the weathered wood door of the glass cabinet each morning. He would look his collection up and down with pride until he settled on the perfect mug for his mood that day. I almost fell off the stool. As I wobbled my way down, I felt sick to my stomach knowing I had to explain to Celeste the horror I had just seen. She asked if I found a dead mouse. Worse, I told her, much, much worse.
Being the older one, I took to making the hot chocolates. She was following me around like a lost puppy, asking me what I had seen in the pantry. When my face told her it was bad, she didn’t even get up on the stool to look for herself. As I struggled with the words, I knew I couldn’t lie to her as we were best friends. But I also didn’t have the heart to tell her what I had found either.
We sat at my kitchen table, cookie-less. Nothing between us but our empty hot cocoa mugs, and a slew of other mugs that did not belong to us. After a long conversation about why my mother would have all those mugs, we could only come to one conclusion. When we were positive about what we saw and what we now knew, we walked across the yard to find answers. And we knew those answers could only come from Celeste’s brutally honest, don’t care about your feeling’s kind of dad, Bill.
When we got to the Faber house, we found Bill in the sunroom sitting in his chair reading the paper. When we asked him the loaded question we had been dreading all afternoon, he didn’t even flinch. He folded his paper up and set it on the table beside him. Then he looked us both in our wide eyes, and told us that our theory was right. Our jaws dropped. But then he asked us, “What does Christmas mean to you?”
We both just shrugged our shoulders because we were feeling defeated and let down, and I could feel the tears building from behind my eyes and I could see Celeste’s watering. Bill went on to say that Christmas wasn’t about Santa or presents. But, it was about the Spirit of Christmas, because this time of year is magical all on its own. He asked us how we felt during the holidays, warm, loved, appreciated? What made this time of year so special?
As our moods started to lighten a little, no words came out of our mouths. But, as I thought about it, he was right. Christmas wasn’t just special because of presents, and surely not a man I now know my dad paid to dress up in a red suit at our Christmas parties! No, Christmas was special because we spent it with family and each other. We gathered over food, decorated our houses with things passed down from generations, played games, baked cookies, and shared stories together. We bought presents for each other because we cared and wanted to show our love and appreciation in the form of a gift. We both agreed that picking out a gift for someone was just as fun as receiving one.
Were we going to let one small fact change the way we felt about our favorite time of year, he asked. We looked at each other; and without saying a word we agreed we weren’t. Because we felt the magic. We had been feeling it all day, even if it was all about a witch hunt, or a Santa hunt in our case. And even if we found out the man in the red suit was a myth, we found out together and we had fun while doing it. We asked Bill if we could have some cookies. He said of course (he never said no to cookies). And he asked if we wanted gingerbread. He said we could eat as many as we wanted that day, as long as we never let go of the spirit of Christmas.
Gingerbread Spritz Cookies
Makes 36 cookies
1 cup (226 grams) organic salted butter, softened
170 grams (3/4 cup) organic packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
1 organic large egg
255 grams (2 cups) organic all purpose flour
1 teaspoon organic cinnamon
1 teaspoon organic cloves
1 teaspoon organic ginger
organic powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, dark brown sugar and vanilla extract. Mix on low until combined and there are no butter chunks. Mix for 5 to 7 minutes or until the butter has turned light in color and is fluffy (the dark brown sugar will also be lighter in color). Add the egg and mix until combined.
Add the flour, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and mixture and mix on low until combined into a cookie dough.
Put Ateco tip #846 into a piping bag and fill the bag with a quarter of the cookie dough. (If you put it all in at once, it can be too hard to squeeze out.) Or you could use a cookie press.
On two cookie sheets with parchment paper, pipe little dollops of cookie dough about 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Bake for 13 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top after coming out of the oven.
Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
High Altitude — Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.