In our smiley-face yellow New Jersey suburb, there were the cake moms: those whose artistry was demonstrated in a multi-layered masterpiece or a frosted Bundt. But my mom's kitchen currency came in the form of the cookie. Whether a Toll House chocolate chip, plopped onto a metal baking sheet with a stainless steel soup spoon, or a macaroon squeezed from the opening of a vintage pastry bag, there were obvious signs that we were a proud cookie family.
On weekends, while most of my friends were playing outdoors, seeing movies, or going to Turtle Back Zoo, my parents packed my older sister and me into the station wagon, with our pillows for car napping, and set out antique-ing. As they scoured the Northeast in search of needlepoint samplers and uncomfortable Shaker furniture, Becky and I knew not to touch or break anything. But we also had an assignment meant to keep us occupied: a never-ending treasure hunt for old tin cookie cutters, shaped into primitive eagles, roosters, and facial profiles.
When it was time for making the cookies, my mother soaked all of the cutters in warm, soapy water and dried them on paper towels. Becky and I would join her at the white Formica countertop in our kitchen and create an assembly line. (I have many memories about that countertop, including the discovery that I could write on it in pencil, and then quickly erase what I'd written before my parents noticed the gray markings.)
My mother or sister would roll out the dough on wax paper with great precision and place the beautifully shaped cookies on a buttered baking sheet. I had the finishing role of decorating with multicolored sprinkles, Red Hots, and other sugary confections. (I was, and still am, much less coordinated that my mom or sister, so I was assigned the "no fault" portion of the task.) While my lack of artistry may have caused some of the cookies to look more overdressed than others, my miscalculations did not impact the cookie's life expectancy.
During those hours of making cookies, my mother imparted several life lessons: that perfection was not always the goal, and it was the joy of making something together that was the real reward. She showed us the merits of diligence and creativity, both with our minds and our hands. This subtle instruction led my sister and me to interesting careers and lives filled with baking, sewing, writing, and creating things from scratch.
Cookies went on to play an important role in all of our lives. Baking them is what we do when we're happy and want to celebrate or when we're sad and need to mourn. Our chocolate chips and oatmeal raisins have been mailed around the world, reminding loved ones how much they mean to us.
In many ways, I view the cookie as a cake, just a little bit smaller and a little bit easier to share. And yes, I held on to the cookie cutter collection.
Deborah Brightman Farone is the chief marketing officer for a company based in New York City.
1 c. butter at room temperature
2 c. sugar
4 c. sifted flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. milk
pinch of salt
sprinkles or Red Hots for decoration
Preheat oven to 400 F.
In electric mixer, beat butter until smooth.
Add eggs, vanilla, and sugar.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Add dry ingredients to bowl alternating with milk.
Refrigerate batter for 2 hours.
Roll out 1/8 inch thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
Decorate as desired.
Place on greased baking sheet or use parchment paper.
Bake for 10 minutes and cool on a rack.
Decorate as desired.
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.