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Sugar, spice and everything nice

There’s something about Christmas cookies and a tall glass of milk that makes one’s mouth water. And, if they’re good enough for Santa, why wouldn’t you want to dive into the cookie tin?

This holiday season, we asked six community members to dust the flour off their favorite cookie recipes that make this time of year special to them. Get your aprons and rolling pins ready.

Pat Boldt, philanthropist

In the late 1960s through ’80s, Pat Boldt was a lean, mean baking machine when it came to the annual bake sale fundraiser at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Appleton. The now 88-year-old community philanthropist and Appleton resident assembled and sold the baked goods.

“I was one of the bigger producers,” she recalled with a chuckle. “The one that I made the most, and was my signature cookie, was the spritz.”

Boldt’s spritz cookie isn’t your average spritz, however. Hers includes a mixture in the center and was adorned to look like a wreath. While Boldt still makes spritz for the holidays, she has retired her wreaths.

“I wore out one spritz maker, literally,” she shares of the original cookie press, which came from her mother who used it to decorate cakes. As luck would have it, Boldt was able to find a similar replacement at a rummage sale and has continued to bake “the cookies grandma makes,” which her grandchildren, ages teen to 30, look forward to each Christmas.

“I used to give cookies away like crazy,” Boldt says. “Most people want to make bar cookies now.”

Spritz Wreaths

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2½ cups sifted flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup finely chopped pecans
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon maple flavoring (optional)
  • Candied cherries, red and green

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Beat well. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Blend into butter mixture. Remove 1⁄3 cup of dough and mix with pecans, maple syrup and maple flavoring. Set aside. With star disk in cookie press, form 1½-inch circles, not too close together, on an ungreased cookie sheet. Place about ¾ teaspoon of the nut mixture into the center of each cookie. Trim with bits of candied cherries — one red with one green on each side — to simulate holly. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Remove immediately to cooling racks. Store in tins or freeze.

Makes 5 dozen cookies.

Gene Rosin, mayor of Kaukauna

The holidays bring Gene Rosin back to his grandparents farm, just north of Kaukauna, where the now mayor of the community recalls sledding down in the pasture in his youth.

“Whenever we would go back to the house, Grandma would always have something whipped up for us to eat and this would be my favorite,” shares Rosin of his maternal grandmother, Christine Verhagen’s, sugar cookies. He’d even assist her at times by going down to the barn with a ladle and kettle. “She would say, ‘Go out, and get me a couple dippers of cream,” he says. On occasion, eggs also would be needed to make the treasured treat.

Today, Rosin carries on the tradition of Verhagen’s recipe with his five grandchildren, ages 7 to 16. His eldest, has taken the most interest in baking, Rosin notes of his grandson.

“I think the ingredients with her using the farm-fresh cream and eggs is what I enjoyed most,” Rosin says. “There are a couple little secrets she always included. She had her notes at the end (of the recipe).”

Old-fashioned Sugar Cookies

  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter (or margarine), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons cream
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

First, beat egg in large bowl. Add sugar and butter, blend well. Add vanilla and cream. Add the rest of the dry ingredients. Roll out mixture on powdered sugar and use with cookie cutters or form into round balls. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-8 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Makes 2-3 dozen depending on size of cookies.

Diane Bishop, Community Clothes Closet

Handmade gifts from the heart often mean the most. For the past seven years or so, the Community Clothes Closet has made cards to send to donors. One year, 92-year-old volunteer Melva Rew of Menasha made the experience a little sweeter for Executive Director Diane Bishop.

“I had mentioned sugar cookies were my favorite,” recalls Bishop of a conversation that she had with Rew during a work session. The card theme for the year was a “snowman” and toward the end of making 6,000-plus cards, everyone was getting a bit slap happy. What Bishop didn’t expect was that Rew would recall what she had divulged and take the time to present her with a thoughtful, yet funny gift. That holiday season, a basket of cookies showed up. But, they weren’t just any cookies.

“She decorated them to look just like the snowman on the cards,” Bishop says noting Rew’s dry sense of humor. “That present meant more to me than anything else I received that year. … That’s one of the things that made it really special. She wasn’t one of those grandma types who made cookies.” While it may not have been “good for her waistline,” Bishop ate the cookies and kept the basket, along with an angel pillow Rew made her the following year to match that year’s card theme.

“Sometimes, the best gifts are made from the heart, given from the heart,” Bishop shares. Rew had volunteered for the organization for at least a dozen years prior to her passing last year.

Melva’s Sugar Cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

Mix the first 4 ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside. In a second bowl, beat sugar and soften butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Refrigerate dough 2 hours or until firm. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll dough on floured surface ¼- to ½-inch thick. Cut into shapes with your favorite cookie cutter. Place cookies 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 30 seconds. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Jennifer Stephany, Appleton Downtown Inc.

“When we were little, my mother (Sandy Froehlich) would bake a ton of cookies, caramels and candies each holiday season—starting at Thanksgiving,” says Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc. “The cut-out cookies we could decorate were by far my favorite, but the cream cheese cookies were so rich tasting they were hard to resist. My sister and I would sneak into the garage where my mom kept the cookies in Tupperware containers and sneak a few of our favorites. Good times!”

The finished product wasn’t the only thing that Stephany would swipe a bite of when it came to the cookies.

“I would steal little pinches of the dough and enjoy that almondy goodness,” she shares. “It’s a pretty cookie. It sounds so cheesy, but I love the cherry on top. I would pick that off first.” Stephany’s 4½-year-old daughter, Isabella or “Izzy” for short, started baking with her mom during last year’s holiday season and helping to add either candied cherries or Hershey’s Kisses on the top of each cookie. “Apron, rolling pin, the whole nine yards. It takes a little more time, but it’s so much fun,” Stephany says.

The recipe likely originated with Stephany’s maternal grandmother, Ruth Arnst. Stephany recalls starting to bake around 1st grade with her grandmother and mother. Froehlich no longer bakes since she is now coping with the effects of Parkinson’s disease. “That responsibility now falls to my sister (Cindy Braun) and I to carry on the holiday tradition,” Stephany shares.

Cream Cheese Dainties

  • ½ cup (1 stick) margarine
  • 1 3-ounce package cream cheese
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups Rice Krispies cereal, crunched
  • Candied cherries, cut in half or Hershey’s Kisses

Cream together margarine, cream cheese, sugar and almond extract. Mix all dry ingredients and add into cream cheese mixture. Chill for at least one hour. Shape into balls. Roll in cereal and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Make a little thumbprint and top each with a cherry or Hershey’s Kiss. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.

Makes 2½ dozen cookies.

Chief Tim Lambie, Town of Greenville Fire Department

Making cookies has always been a family affair for Chief Tim Lambie of the Town of Greenville Fire Department. He grew up making them with his brother and sister and went on to continue the experience with his wife of 36 years, Debbie.

“Both of us were brought up doing that, decorating Christmas cookies,” Lambie shares.

The couple started baking together and brought their now grown children into the fold when they were 2 or 3, he notes. Now, it’s a family day he shares not only with his son and daughter, but also his four grandchildren—two grandsons, ages 4 and 2, and two granddaughters, ages 4 and 2.

“The grandkids are in there too helping,” he says. “The older ones have been doing it a while and now the younger ones are coming in. It’s a neat experience. When we mention we’re going to make cookies they get excited.”

Among the recipes the clan mixes up each year is Debbie’s grandmother’s recipe for Santa’s Thumbprints, a sugar cookie. The only time the cherished recipes are made are during the holidays.

Santa’s Thumbprints

  • 1 cup shortening
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups oatmeal
  • 1 6-ounce package semi sweet chocolate chips

Beat shortening. Gradually add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and almond extract. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Stir into creamed mixture. Blend in oats. Shape dough into small balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Press thumb in top of each one. Bake 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Melt chocolate chips. Spoon a little chocolate into each thumbprint. Chill until chocolate is firm.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Jan Smith, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass

Passed from one generation to the next, Jan Smith is proud of a recipe that has been in her family for five generations, which originated in Sicily, Italy and has been carried on by her mother, Rose Smith.

“My mother actually put quantities to what was essentially an oral tradition,” shares Smith, executive director of the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. “I recall asking my grandmother, in Italian we called her, ‘Nana,’ for her biscotti recipe and she began with, ‘Well, I start with a 10 pound bag of flour …”

Smith is fond of the inexact nature of the Cuchidatti recipe, a filled cookie with a biscotti base.

“Sometimes, my mother or grandmother would be willing to give us a glob of dough and after we would have manhandled it for a while, they would throw it in the oven for us,” Smith says.

And, while it is a bit of an unusual recipe that requires extra work, Smith sees value in the end result.

“The finished cookie is delicious, but it is not the cookie itself that matters in the end,” Smith says. “It is the social aspect, the continuing of heritage and tradition, the creativity and the warmth of sharing the space in your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen with a cup of coffee, an enormous clay bowl, flour spilling about, the laughter and the sharing with satisfied tasters at the end.”

Cuchidatti

  • Biscotti dough
  • Filling
  • Powdered sugar glaze
  • Nonpareils

Cut out circles from the dough. Use about 1 teaspoon of filling per section of dough, depending on size preference of cookie, and fold over. Crimp the edges of the dough. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees until cookies are golden brown.

Cool and frost with a light powdered sugar glaze and decorate with multicolored nonpareils.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Biscotti dough

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla or ¼ teaspoon anise oil
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

Cream sugar and margarine in separate bowl. Beat eggs. Add vanilla or oil. Add eggs to sugar mixture; add flour and baking powder. Knead well until dough is smooth, but not sticky.

Filling

  • 1 14-ounce bag dry Kalamata or Calimyrna figs
  • 2 naval oranges, medium-sized (washed, quartered)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped

Grind figs and oranges together in a food grinder. Place mixture in a 2-quart saucepan, along with sugar and water. Cook until mixture thickens; about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, add walnuts and cool thoroughly before placing the filling on the cookie dough.

Powdered sugar glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter

Blend all ingredients together.

— By Amy Hanson

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