Holiday Cookies ~ A Family Tradition

Holiday sugar cookies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a young girl, my mom mixed dough each Christmas season, then cut the forms and baked cookies, while my siblings and I frosted and decorated. There was always competition, of course, with each of us trying to outdo the other producing the prettiest cookies. There were also a few accidents where a cookie broke, and mom let us eat those. That was the best part!

When I was a teenager, my mom bought me my first Wilton cake decorating kit. I learned to pipe frosting on cakes, and make my own flowers and designs using special tubes. My real love though, was decorating sugar cookies. Cakes just never appealed to me a whole lot.

After I moved away from home, I tapped into my creative side, learning new methods of piping frosting on holiday cookies. I often gave my cookies away to coworkers, friends, and neighbors. These cookies were beautiful labors of love, and people looked forward to receiving them each year.

Sugar cookies were how I won over my neighbor, Mr. Hughes. He was very crabby and often yelled at the neighborhood kids. But one day, I took a little plate of cookies over and knocked at the door. Finally, he opened it a crack and asked, “Whaddya want?” in a gruff tone. I explained I had extra sugar cookies left and thought he might like some. He snatched the plate and shut the door. A few months later at Easter time, I took cookies over again. This time I got a thank you from him but no chit chat. The following Christmas, I knocked at the door and he opened it wide with a smile I’d never seen before! He told me I could save a lot of work and not put so many sprinkles on them… because, you know, it’s not manly to eat a lot of sprinkles. So from then on, we were friends, and conversations helped me to realize that he really was not a grumpy old man, but rather a lonely person who was fighting cancer. The last Christmas he was alive, I visited him at his sister’s house. She said he didn’t have long and she wasn’t sure he would come out of his room to visit, but he did. And he smiled, and then got big tears and said, “I didn’t think I’d make it long enough to enjoy another one of your cookies”.

The house smells like sugar during cookie production. All sorts of beggars show up… including FD, who likes to eat the broken discards.
After the holidays I look for sale prices on sugars and sprinkles so that I’ll have a good stock to work with next season.

But over the years of baking sugar cookies, things got out of hand. People wanted to order cookies. Many folks wanted more cookies – they had families and “it sure would be nice to have more for the kids to enjoy”. I would go to the store for cookie supplies and ingredients and I’d be approached by people who had heard about my cookies or had gotten them in the past. And at FD’s workplace, his department seemed to acquire more employees each year. Decorated sugar cookies had been a good handmade gift that everyone seemed to enjoy – but with so many people to gift with cookies, I suddenly found myself making hundreds. To lessen the burden, I decided to cut way back on making fancy cookies with piping, and went back to mostly sugars and sprinkles.

My least favorite part of the process is rolling the dough out, cutting, and baking. It is two solid days of work. It works best to bake one cookie sheet at a time. Trying to bake two sheets at a time yields uneven baking and it’s very difficult to keep up the pace for so many hours.
Decorating is my favorite part. I’m up bright and early to start, and usually do not finish up until 7 or 8 pm.

Last year, the number of cookies baked and decorated reached 1200, and this year I topped out at 1330 cookies. I make twelve double batches of dough using my KitchenAid mixer, which takes about four hours to complete. Then, it takes me two days to roll out, cut, and bake the cookies. After that, it is another two solid days of frosting and decorating – from sunup to the time I hit the hay at night. I use about twelve pounds of frosting and I go through many containers of sugars and sprinkles.

This year, I only piped frosting on the snowflake patterns since piping takes a long time. And it takes another day or two to allow the frosting to dry. After drying, I pack the completed cookies in tins that hold anywhere from 34 to 40 cookies. Wax paper separates each layer of decorated cookies.

Back in 2005, cookie production was around 600. A spare bedroom was utilized for the drying process.
Last year, a Nebraska snowstorm blew in while I was visiting my brother Dale and his wife Omelea. I spent the day helping to decorate cookies, but boy is my brother ever particular about decorating! I have a feeling his artsy side is way more creative than mine!
I find that an unused bedroom is still the best place to dry cookies. I close the heat vents so the room is cold and the ceiling fan gently dries the frosting. Cookies are packed in boxes in here as well. This is (partially) what 1330 cookies looks like!

Christmas cookies are still a labor of love, and one I truly enjoy. My brother and two of my sister’s continue their own cookie baking traditions as well, though not on the large scale I do, but we all give away most of our cookies. I find it is a wonderful way to give people something handmade. And I sure hope Santa is watching, so that he will know why I am asking for a convection oven/microwave next year. And I would sure like the loan of an elf or two to help out as well!

© 2018 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


36 thoughts on “Holiday Cookies ~ A Family Tradition

    1. Ha ha ha!! Well, that room still reeks of sweetness… and I imagine it will take weeks for it to wear off. I wish you a wonderful 2019 as well. The weather forecast sounds like a very cold start to the New Year here. I’m hoping for warmer weather so I can hike to the river! Being stuck in the house is a misery!!

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      1. Aye, a cold and gloomy day we’ve had in Austin since morning. And now that brings to mind the ending of Romeo and Juliet:

        A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
        The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
        Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things:
        Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
        For never was a story of more woe
        Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

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  1. Wow! That is a whole lot of cookies!! I love your story and how, through your cookies, you got to know and connect with your neighbor. I hope you had a very merry Christmas!

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    1. Thank you! It’s a whole lot of work too, but it feels good to give something homemade to family and friends for the holidays. I hope you had a great Christmas too? Best wishes for a Happy New Year too!

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    1. That happened to me for a few years after I quit work outside of the home. I was bombarded with requests for cookies – people thinking I needed something to do I guess! But I did get burned out for about three years. I even gave away most of my cookie decorating supplies. In time I missed the tradition. It helps not to get so fancy with the piping and super creative designs. Keeping to just frosting, sprinkles and sugars is simple and less time consuming!

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  2. You are the most multitalented friend i have. Didn’t remember you made cookies.. Hope you guys have a Happy New Year. Let it be happy, healthy and filled with much love.

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  3. How impressive! I loved reading of the love you spread with homemade cookies. I made several batches one Easter after retiring. That was enough to cure me. Not really. Life just got so busy with the blog and our grandsons here for their school breaks. Maybe someday….

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    1. I took a break from holiday cookies about ten years ago. I got burned out. I even gave away most of my decorating supplies. But, eventually I missed doing it. I try to keep it doable and not complicate it too much.

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  4. That is very impressive Lori! Wow! I topped out at 14 dozen waaaay back about 40 years ago. It is so hot at Christmas here in Australia that my baking has gradually cut back until this year it was nothing. Ah, well, life is like that, things come and go. I love the story about your grumpy neighbour who became your friend over a plate of sugar cookies. Food really is something that binds us to each other. Very best wishes for the holidays and for 2019! xoxo

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    1. Thanks, Ardys. I’m sure when FD retires, I won’t have such great numbers to work with. Maybe by then I’ll be ready to cut back a lot. I still have one delivery to make – late as it is. I saved a few snowflakes for my friend Hillard, who is now in a nursing home. We will share a few cookies together over a cup of coffee!

      Best wishes to you too for 2019! I wonder what adventure will be in store for us? xoxo

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    1. Ha ha! Neither one of those two beggars are very scary. It’s more like they are pests. Lollipop has a permanent mask which gives her the look of a true bandit! Mr. T would have been begging too, but he’s afraid of slick surfaces and stays on the special flooring.

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  5. Lori, this is incredible- not sure how you hold out physically while making 1,330 cookies. I m supposing you put the dough in the fridge to chill before baking. My recipe had directions to chill the dough. I so wish I could find my recipe. My cookies were so light and very crisp. Anyhow, I like how you won your neighbor over with cookies. Must have given you a warm feeling to see how he eventually responded. The pic of the your pups is too cute. They have to be the best company for you and FD.

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    1. Yes, Yvonne, I chill the dough, though the recipe does not call for that. I set the dough out about an hour before I work with it. This recipe is very simple – in fact my mom and several of my siblings now use it because it’s easier than the original family recipe, and very yummy!

      Mr. Hughes just needed a little sweetening. I’ll never forget that man… nor the power of reaching out with kindness. These are acts of love our mom taught us. Especially being kind to the elderly.

      The addition of Oscar and Lollipop has been wonderful. Mr. T is more active than we’ve ever seen him, and he still gets to be the boss around here. The two young ones are a hoot. They have us laughing non-stop.

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  6. I love this post!! Truly those cookies are a labor of love, and a testament to your giving heart!! If we only lived closer, you know I’d gladly be your “elf” to help. I also love the story of winning over your neighbor; it just goes to show how much kindness matters!

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    1. Mom taught us well about being kind to others. It’s why we all continue this tradition of giving homemade treats during the holidays. But my goodness, I could never turn out the pretty treats that you do. The confections and candies you make are so delicate and beautiful a person hates to eat them!!

      Hmm, I happen to remember when you were about two years old. You were no help at all in the kitchen. In fact I think Mom wiped frosting off of everything from the floor up to the height of the table for a few weeks because some sticky frosting fingers moved all around the kitchen during cookie decorating! Ha ha! Good memories, Baby Sister! ❤

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  7. Wow, Lori, that is some dedication to the craft of cookie making. I love that you carry on this childhood tradition and that you share your cookies with so many appreciative fans. But, most of all, I love how your gift of cookies opened the door to that beautiful friendship with Mr. Hughes. God bless you for continuing to reach out to him, understanding within yourself that he needed this connection.

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    1. Telling the story of Mr. Hughes is one of my favorites! Too many sprinkles must not be manly because I have had a couple of other men who requested fewer or none on their cookies. I still have one delivery to make to my elderly friend Hillard, who is now in a nursing home. I have some snowflake designs left and will take a few and have coffee with him one afternoon.

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  8. Hi Lori, You certainly don’t do things by halves! You are right about home baked goods being a treat. My brother doesn’t bake, but in recent years began to keep bees. We look forward to the little jars of honey he distributes on special occasions. He has expanded his bee empire by installing hives in the gardens of two other siblings.
    I hope with ‘new eyes’, views will be clearer in 2019 and that your sister, Juli continues to recover well.

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    1. Bee keeping is something I’ve thought about – and maybe when FD retires. We just have so many other things going on right now. We certainly have the right formula for raising bees with all of the wild flowering plants in the area and in the orchard.

      I have not adjusted well to my progressive eyeglasses. I did replace one of my reader frames with distance lenses because I found I couldn’t work outdoors with the progressives on – it was too much head adjusting to see the ground beneath me. And thank you for thinking of my sister. She is still recovering, but is doing very well. Best wishes to you in 2019. I look forward to seeing what adventures you and Katie find in the New Year!

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