A Neophyte’s Guide to Christmas Cookies

Among the reasons I know I’ve turned into my mother: the cookies.

Yes, I am the middle-aged mother who bakes only sugarless, oatmeal-raisin cookies.

This may be the reason I’m simultaneously fascinated with, and grateful for, the Christmas cookie mania that overtakes many friends and colleagues this time of year.

I have heard of mythical basements in otherwise ordinary homes, which contain fabled freezers packed with buckets upon buckets of tiny, exquisitely shaped morsels of refined flour and white sugar.

I love Christmas cookies, but grew up on de facto oat cakes. There was no parental modelling for the Christmas cookie craze that starts just before the last stray pumpkin seed has been cleaned off the kitchen floor. In fairness, my parents grew up in a tropical country where ovens and home baking were rare.

I subscribe to the “eyeball” method of baking; as an alternative to proper measuring instruments, one uses a drinking cup and a soup spoon to visually approximate the required quantities. I’ve been known to free pour vanilla. This works fine for good old oatmeal, but not for the more delicate varieties that present themselves at Christmas.

Johanna Smith, by contrast, sets the standard for Christmas baking. Her passion came to my attention a few years ago when she casually reported that she and a friend had recently baked six different types of cookies in one session.

“I just love making cookies,” the mother of two explains. “Christmas is a really good excuse to have a freezer full of cookies and to put cookies out for dessert.”

Smith, herself, is no stranger to the oatmeal cookie, but says Christmas is a time to break out the specialty ingredients.

“During the year, I make chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies,” she says. “For me, it’s an opportunity to make whatever I want, I can just make cookies because it’s fun and exciting. Christmas is an opportunity to indulge without feeling regret.”

In addition, Smith, unlike me, comes from strong cookie-making stock.

“There’s a history of cookie-making in my family,” Smith explains. “For ever, we’ve hosted a cookie swap. Twelve families would make 8 dozen cookies in half-dozen packages and we’d do a potluck and sing carols and everyone went home with 12 different types of cookies.”

Smith, however, rarely participates in cookie exchanges as an adult. She likes variety.

“I would rather make six different cookies than make six dozen cookies of the same kind,” she says. “The process of making the cookie is what I find fun and then I can put out an assortment of cookies and know that they’re all good and that there are no dud cookies.”

Whoa. Did you catch that? “No dud cookies.” She’s talking about me.

But she’s got a point. My scant artistic ability, combined with low patience, a disregard for food science and general laziness has made me no friend to cookie exchanges throughout Whitehorse.

My all-time low came the year I neglected to buy brown sugar, deciding to replace it with white sugar while making a bark recipe. The resulting colour was, unsurprisingly, an insipid beige instead of the golden-brown I was aiming for. After rummaging in the depths of my spice cupboard, I struck upon the idea of adding some copper coloured food colouring.

And so, the angel said unto them, “fear not, for behold unto you is born what we shall call Coppertone Brittle. And this shall be a sign to you. Ye shall not substitute ingredients any longer.”

Eventually, it was not performance anxiety in itself that ended my cookie-exchange days. It was the fact that, in my anxiety, I started my baking several weeks in advance, in order to give myself a few trial runs. As a result, I ate buckets and buckets of unsightly but otherwise tasty cookies before the date of the exchange arrived.

No regrets, though. I have years of oatmeal cookies to compensate for.

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