All us kids got into the act, sloppily looping circles and criss-cross designs and daisy flowers and dots on the fragrant butter vanilla cookies. My older sisters were more adept and carefully outlined the shapes, and every now and then my mom would come to the rescue when a bulging icing cornucopia began oozing sticky frosting from its seams or out the top from being held and squeezed by untutored hands like my own. None of them even remotely looked like these beautiful designed-by-professional-food-artists-to-make-the-rest-of-us-feel-like-incompetent-losers types, but we were excited about them just the same.
We never got to use sprinkles, much to my disappointment. Mom must have thought them gimmicky or something, but it was still always a joyous occasion and after we finished and the icing had hardened, she carefully packed the cookies away in large coffee cans, putting waxed paper between the layers, and tucked them away on the highest shelf.
Except for the few that were surrepticiously sneaked and eaten, that was the last we saw of the cookies until the Christmas Eve, when they were set out buffet style after the traditional oyster soup dinner (which all of us kids hated), along with (luxury of luxuries!) a box of Whitman's Sampler chocolates, a platter of homemade fudge, and, for the more savory-minded, potato chips and onion dip, and bottles of Coca Cola. There was no bacchanalia featuring dozens of varieties of homemade cookies and candies, and the chocolates were strictly drug store, but we felt ourselves well and truly feted.
Molasses cookies or ginger cookies were something we had more generally throughout the year, I seem to remember. Mom wasn't one to roll them out and cut into gingerbread men; she was a practical sort with a large family so she baked them in 13" x 9" pans, iced them with pretty pink frosting, and cut them into diamond shapes.
For years I tried to duplicate those particular molasses cookies without success, but a few weeks ago I dug out an old recipe booklet put out by Arm & Hammer Baking Soda during the 1970's or thereabout, "All-Time Baking Soda Favorites". I found a single copy of this available on eBay; I'd show you my own but it's covered with the baking spatter stickiness of decades--not a pretty sight!
This time, I knew I'd hit the proverbial nail on the head! The recipe for "Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies", though intended as a roll-out cookie-cutter type recipe, worked perfectly for the bar cookie recipe I was trying to duplicate. Indeed, now that I think about it, this was probably the very recipe my mom used. Here it is as given:
Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lard, melted
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/3 cup boiling water
Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Combine molasses, lard, butter and water in large bowl. Add dry ingredients to liquid and blend well. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.
Turn onto well-floured board. Using floured rolling pin, roll to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with 3 1/2 inch floured cookie cutter. Sprinkle with sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in 375 degree oven 12 minutes. Cool on racks.
Makes about 3 dozen 3 1/2-inch cookies.
That's how it's written. I make the following changes:
First, I don't bother sifting. Just spoon in the flour, level it off, and stir the dry stuff together. I do tend to add more spice--I like a lot of ginger flavor.
Secondly, don't chill the dough. Slap it into a greased 13" x 9" pan (or pans) and spread it like you're making brownies. It can be a bit thin in places because this will spread. Bake at 350 degrees until done--like brownies, this takes about 30-35 minutes.
While still warm, frost these with pink or white icing (I have no recipe per se, but it's nothing complicated--just mix a dab of softened butter, lots of powdered sugar, a spoonful of vanilla, then dribble in some milk until it's the thickness you desire, and a drop or two of red food coloring and spread on the warm cookies, where it will smooth out and attain a pretty gloss.) Cut when cool.
Memories are made of cookies like these...