Chock-full of childhood

Published November 29, 2006

Christmas cookies are bite-sized explosions of memories.

One tiny taste of doughy, braided candy canes or frosted sugar cookies can hit the tripwire of reminiscence. Instantly, we are transported to Grandma's sweet-smelling kitchen or standing at mother's side while she carefully creams butter and sugar, then warns us to wait until the cookies cooled. As if we could.

Take Jana Beth Mir's Cream Wafers, one of two-dozen reader recipes published in today's fifth annual Christmas cookie issue.

"I grew up baking these cookies with my grandmother, and the memories are just as sweet as the cookies," the Palm Harbor resident wrote.

The flaky sandwich cookies, which are a bit fussy to make, won rave reviews from tasters. They actually tasted like bygone days perfectly re-created in a 375-degree oven.

Glenna Boyette of Gulfport has the warm and fuzzies for a 30-year-old recipe for Fruity Cookies, flavored largely by Jell-O. We used seasonal cranberry Jell-O when we tested them and found the cookies delightful and especially kid-friendly. Indeed, Boyette used to make them with her sons and their friends.

"Describing these morsels brings back very fond memories of a bunch of wonderful kids who are now approaching middle age," Boyette wrote.

New traditions are good too. Maybe you are like me and have found favorites from Taste's annual offerings. My family has already asked if I'll be making Peppermint Wands this year, a gift from reader Marion Haupt of Zephyrhills in 2004. The answer is yes.

In August we asked readers to submit favorite cookie recipes, and by the end of September 500 were piled high. Nuts, chocolate and candied fruit were well-represented, along with every shape imaginable: drops, bars, cutouts, balls, folded and slice-and-bake.

A team of highly trained Taste elves with a penchant for sweets whittled the stack of entries to about 50, which was then cut to 30 for testing. The best 24 made today's paper.

We were surprised how many recipes included coconut and pineapple this year. A tropical trend, perhaps. Hawaiian Delights from Kandi J. Gartley of Valrico made the cut. We were impressed with the rich flavor from the three-ingredient cookie: refrigerated cookie dough, macadamia nuts and shredded coconut.

Cherry Nut Slices from Karen Shampaine of Odessa were the favorite of Karen Pryslopski, our chief cookie recipe tester and a photo editor at the St. Petersburg Times. She liked them best because they surprised her most. Candied red cherries aren't her thing, but earthy Brazil nuts and walnuts dialed back sweetness.

Other favorites of our testers were Molasses Krinkles from Ronald Conradt of Tampa and Lemon Nutmeg Meltaways from Lola Kuslansky of Largo. Both were light and flavorful and begged for a cup of steaming tea.

My favorites this year are Lucy's Apricot Bars from Alexandra Hemming of Belleair, Black Mountain Cookies from Marlene Hagstrom of St. Petersburg and the ridiculously easy and addictive no-bake Snow Caps from Marilyn Harrity of Clearwater.

After five years of cookie recipes, it's wonderful to know there are new taste treats out there.

I can hardly wait until next year.

Happy baking!

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at 727 893-8586 or  jkeeler@sptimes.com