Who Cares About Cookie Cutters?
Well, I do. They're common enough tools, but I value those snippets of bent metal, from the early tin ones to the modern steel or aluminum ones. Don’t get me started on the tacky plastic ones; they have no soul. I own about 300, and the collection goes on. Some are my great-grandmother’s, my grandmother’s, my mom’s, mine from my childhood. Others are travel souvenirs: a moose from Alaska, a palm tree from Florida, a sea turtle from Hawaii, a crab from San Francisco, a snowflake from a magical December getaway in the mountains. Each has a memory, a story in its shape.
When we designed our house, pushing out the bow window left a weird overhang, a flat wall about 15 feet long and ten inches tall. The builder lamented, “It’s holding up the roof. I just can’t fix it!” Fix it?! Clearly, that was designed for my cookie cutter collection to be displayed, part of it anyway. In the center is my family. I found a cookie-man, a cookie-woman, a cookie-girl, and two cookie-boys, one smaller than the other, representing my daughter and two sons. I arranged them under a temple cookie cutter, and above a sideways broom. That’s a nod to my southern years; jump the broom, get it?
My latest book is a multi-generational story told through the perspective of an elderly woman, the keeper of the antique cookie cutter collection. I’m enjoying the research phase! Did you know the most –expensive cookie cutter, called Running Slave, sold for nearly $8000 in a heated auction? As I bring the story from Queen Charlotte’s period to current times, my heart is drawn to the generations of women who baked cookies for their families. Some were servants in England, other indentured servants in the New World, some slaves in America through no wish of their own. Mothers made cookies for their children, early nurses gave the harder ones to fussy babies to teeth on. Some women made them to sell, including a couple of enterprising women who used their baked goods as a way to slip messages under the noses of King George’s troops in Boston, triggering the timing of the Revolutionary War.
My own mother always had cookies in the cookie jar. Mom is an orderly soul; she likes identical cookies. When I was a child, milk and cookies was a common way to sit with a child after school and ask How Was Your Day, Honey? One of my favorite memories was when my family was traveling when I was a child. We stopped for a gas in a very small town somewhere in the Midwest. As soon as we stepped out to stretch our legs, we were engulfed by an overwhelming lemon-cookie aroma. The gas station attendant laughed and said Ma, the owner of Ma’s Cookies, always turned her vent fans toward the gas station when she noticed travelers stopping, and wouldn’t we like to go to her bakery across the parking lot? We drove away with warm lemon cuts outs, bags of them.
A simple tool, it’s unlikely many people count cookie cutters as anything worthwhile, just a faster way to make same-shape-same-size cookies in a hurry. I see the story in them, a memory tied up in each. And I find it hard to talk about cookies without wanting one, so here’s a recipe for you:
Sugar Cut Out Cookies
· 1-½ cup butter
· 2 cups sugar
· 2 whole eggs
· 2 whole eggs yolks
· 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
· 2 teaspoons almond extract
· 4 cups all-purpose flour
· 1 teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
In a mixer, beat butter and sugar until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add in 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks and mix until combined. Mix in vanilla and almond extract until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly (about a cup at a time) add flour to butter mixture and combine. Just mix ingredients until they are combined, so as not to toughen the dough. Cover and chill at least one hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out, cut out cookies, and bake for 6-8 minutes. Drizzle with a simple glaze or frost as desired.
Glaze: stir one cup powdered sugar with enough orange juice or milk to make a pancake-batter consistency. Drizzle over cooled cookies with a fork.