Grandmother's Christmas cookies a gift from the heart
Holidays, food and families have interwoven themselves, like braids on a loaf of challah or strands of colored beads on a Christmas tree, since time now forgotten. That continues to be true for me.
When I was a kid, this season’s parade of holidays always stepped-off with Thanksgiving and since my folks couldn’t decide whether we should be with Mom’s or Dad’s family, we settled on -- both. This didn’t happen just once, but for many years. If you ever wondered how I got to be over 300 pounds, knowing just that bit of holiday history should be enlightening.
I don’t know when Grandmother Mauer began making Christmas cookies for Christmas gifts, but I do know the only thing that could stop her Christmas baking required she no longer answered, “here,” when earth’s daily roll was called. Today it’s hard to conceive of the, literally, thousands of cookies she made, baked and stacked in tins up her back stairs during the weeks and days leading up to each Christmas.
For decades before I was even a glimmer in my father’s eye, my maternal grandmother, Nana, made what most folks now know as “the dreaded” fruitcake for Christmas gifts. I am told rows of them were lined up, wrapped tightly in waxed paper, mellowing with time and alcoholic spirits until just the right moment when they could be given away.
Both my grandmothers believed in gifts from the heart, which is why it has been a long time since I bought anyone an expensive holiday gift. For 13 years following Grandmother Mauer’s passing, my wife, Susan, and I made cookies and candy from her recipes and gave them as gifts to family and close friends every year. I know that to the last person, those handmade yet short-lived treasures were appreciated far more than anything store-bought.
For years my family faced the same seasonal dilemma at Christmas as it did at Thanksgiving: with which side of the family would we spend Christmas Day? Until one side of the family accepted Christmas Eve as their holiday of choice, we tramped to both sides consuming two meals and opened gifts.
Even though getting together had been problematic, I miss those family holiday times. Making a batch of Grandmother Mauer’s cookies refreshes those memories in a warm way and gives a pinch of substance to ghosts of seasons past. Over the years I‘ve played with Grandmother Mauer’s cookie recipes doing my best to lower the fat and calorie count. It may seem obvious, but after all that experimentation, I don’t believe it’s possible to cut all the fat out of Christmas cookies and end up with anything that tastes better than the proverbial “lump of coal.”
However, I’ve found great success with many cookies by using half the fat and substituting an equal amount of drained, unsweetened applesauce. This technique alone makes significant amounts of fat and calories vanish into thin air. Holiday cookies frequently require the addition of nuts. I’ve learned that lightly toasting half of the nuts a cookie recipe might require can also reduce the fat and calories while minimally decreasing an important flavor note.
Finally, if your cookie recipe calls for more than one whole egg, I suggest using one of the whole eggs and replacing each of the remaining whole eggs with one egg white.
At this time last year I shared a fat-and-calorie-reduced recipe for Grandmother Mauer’s “Apricot Buttons.” Some of you then emailed me to ask for the original, full fat, full-calorie recipe.
This year, I wish to share Grandmother Mauer’s recipe for “Frosted Oatmeal Cookies.” This cookie may seem a tad plain for a holiday cookie, but it’s fairly easy to make, looks nice when it’s frosted and tastes better than any oatmeal cookie I’ve ever tasted.
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Grandmother Mauer’s Frosted Oatmeal Cookies
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups quick oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted after measuring
1 tablespoon strong coffee
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place the oven rack in the lower-middle position and begin heating the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with vegetable oil. Set aside.
For the cookies: Add the flour, salt and baking soda to a medium mixing bowl and whisk together until combined, about 30 to 45 seconds. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars on medium to medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes until the texture becomes light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed for 25 seconds. Stop the mixer, add the flour mixture, oatmeal and nuts and mix at low speed until moistened, and combined, 30 to 45 seconds.
Drop the dough by the teaspoons-full about 2 inches apart onto the prepared sheets or pans (about 15 cookies to the sheet or pan). Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until light brown around the edges. Remove the cookies from the pan onto cooling racks, continuing to bake until all of the dough is gone.
For the frosting: While the cookies bake, add the butter, coffee, cinnamon and vanilla to a small mixing bowl. Add the confectioner’s sugar and, with an electric mixer, mix together until smooth. Spread about a half-teaspoon of the frosting on top of each cookie, I like using a small rubber spatula. Cool completely. Store in airtight containers or freeze. Makes about 60 cookies
Nutrition values per cookie: 59 calories(44 percent from fat), 2.8 g fat(1.3 g saturated fat), 7.9 g carbohydrates, 0.3 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, 9 mg cholesterol, 28 mg sodium.
* LeanNotes: If you wish to trim the fat and calories in this recipe here’s what to do.
- Use a half a stick of butter (1/4 cup) and drain enough unsweetened applesauce (about a half-cup) to have a 1/4-cup of drained applesauce. Beat that 1/4-cup of drained applesauce with the 1/4-cup of butter and the sugars just like the recipe describes.
- Use a 1/4-cup chopped pecans, but toast them lightly in a small skillet over medium heat and cool them before adding them to the batter.
Those two simple alterations cuts almost 700 calories and over 75 fat grams from the whole batch, while also reducing the percentage of calories from fat to a very acceptable 30-percent.
Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at email@example.com.