Sweet Memories of Christmas Past
Barbara Van Bogart
Walter Steinkraus, Uncle Stoney to my cousins and me, followed in his dad’s footsteps by owning a bakery in my hometown of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. It was always such a delight to walk into his little bakery and be at the receiving end of his baked goods. Such a lovely memory of opening that old screen door and heading over to the glass front case, filled with such tasty treats.
Standing behind the counter, dressed in his white baker’s clothes, he was always generous, offering up small square white cakes covered with icing and rolled in finely chopped nuts, brownies, elephant ears or a cookie for my friends and me after we worked up an appetite riding our bikes or playing baseball during the summer or skating up and down the frozen river in the winter.
The bakery is long gone, but the sweet memories still linger. At the top of the list of Christmas favorites were his spritz cookies, decorated with red or green sugar sprinkles. I wonder how many dozens of these were baked each Christmas season—more than just a few, I know.
Several years ago, while talking with one of my cousins, I happened to mention those cookies. Lo and behold, she had his easy recipe with ingredients adjusted for home bakers. They have been a Christmas staple ever since.
The word spritz originated in the 20th century with the German “spritzen” meaning “to squirt.” A spritz cookie press comes with an assortment of nozzle tips to squirt out a variety of shapes from the soft dough to make these cookies as pretty as they are tasty.
My father’s side of the family came to the United States from Sweden in 1902, bringing cookbooks full of family recipes. Among my favorites is the pepparkakor cookie, a flavorful, thin and crisp spice cookie that takes a little more effort than the spritz to make. You are subsequently rewarded with a cookie ready to be dunked in hot coffee for an especially delicious taste treat that is well worth the effort.
Uncle Stoney’s Spritz Cookies
1 pound butter (half butter, half Parkay margarine makes it easier to “spritz”)
1 cup white sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together well and use spritz cookie press to place on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired. Bake at 350 on middle rack of oven for 10 minutes and top rack for two minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Cool on wire racks. Spritz cookies freeze well.
Aunt Signe’s Pepparkakor Cookies
This recipe makes several dozen and can be halved. They can be baked ahead of time and frozen.
2 tablespoons fine, dried orange peel
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
¼ cup shortening
1½ cups white sugar
1 cup dark Karo syrup
2 small beaten eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon ginger
6 cups all-purpose flour
Heat syrup to boiling and add orange peel. Place butter, shortening and sugar in a large bowl and pour heated syrup mixture over. Let cool and add beaten eggs. Mix soda, spices and flour. Blend into butter mixture; dough will be stiff. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. An hour or so before baking, remove dough from refrigerator. Divide into two or three sections, and roll out each section to ⅛-inch thickness on a lightly floured board. Cut out with cookie cutters, place on ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375 for five to seven minutes. While they are cooling, put on a fresh pot of strong coffee and enjoy these tasty cookies, dunked in coffee, like Aunt Sig used to do.