It’s Christmas time and that means one thing. Cookies. Usually, I wait for inspiration to tell me when to get my baker’s hat on and whip up a few (or 20) dozen but this year it came in the form of a present. I got my hands on a copy of The Gourmet Cookie Book. Gourmet magazine put together a lovely compilation of the best cookie recipe of each year of the publication from 1941 to 2009. Never being one to back down from a best-of list, I briefly considered baking them all from oldest to newest but quickly narrowed down to three must tries.

The first were lemon thins (pictured above) from 1976. Looking at the recipe’s simple ingredient list of eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, butter and flour I wondered how these would differ from the tiny shell-shaped frou-frou French morning biscuits called madeleines. The difference? No shell shape. So, I guess 1976 meant throwing off your inhibitions (or moulds) and baking your cookies au naturel. These are exactly like Madeleines right down to having to beat the eggs and sugar together for the length of a whole Sigur Ros song.

The second recipe I tried was the ginger snap cookies from 1965. I assumed that these would be classic ginger snaps. With a healthy dose of molasses, ginger, cinnamon and cloves these are a no-brainer. The recipe’s author explains that if you make your cookies a bit thicker and cook them for a bit shorter time you can make your ginger snaps into ginger chewy cookies. Yum! This is a great recipe if you have a tiny pair of helping hands, as there is the last step of dipping the dough in sugar before placing them on the baking tray. These were a hit with all three generations living at my house.

The last recipe I tried was the one that intrigued me the most. The 1942 honey refrigerator cookie recipe was the product of wartime sugar rationing. This meant using honey as the cookie sweetener. My Scottish grandmother used to make a version of this cookie every Christmas, so when I saw this recipe I knew I’d make it. I also knew it would be different than what I was used to. It called for brown sugar and walnuts, and hers was a classic white sugar and honey cookie. The Gourmet recipe also called for the dough to be cut and baked. However, my grandmother’s were rolled out and the cookies cut into Christmas shapes.

The dough takes a bit of time to prep, and then there is the torture of letting it chill in the refrigerator for one or two days. Not hours people, days. Still, I was prepared to commit. Strangely, once these were finally sliced and baked they tasted much more like my Italian grandmother’s honey nut biscotti than the Scottish honey cookies. Barely sweet and a bit crumbly and soft, I really liked them. Serendipity I guess — I had been looking for a good biscotti recipe anyway!

What will I bake next? I’m not sure, but I left the cookbook out and my cookie tasters pointed to the strawberry tart cookies from 1993, the pecan treats from 1981 and the chocolate hazelnut brownies called gianduia from 1998. I aim to please.

Alana Marchetto


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