Author Guest Post
A Short History of Christmas Cookies
I never gave much thought to Christmas cookies until I had the privilege of being asked to write a Christmas cozy mystery as an installment of my Beacon Bakeshop Mystery Series. Of course, I love Christmas cookies. I love making them with my kids; I love sharing them with family and friends. Most of all, I love eating them. I mean, how brilliant are the holidays when it doesn’t seem gluttonous at all to sample every variety of cookie on the cookie platter–from the humble spritz butter cookie dusted with green crystal sugar to the swanky turtle-topped shortbread cookie, and everything in between? There’s just so much flavor, variety, and history in every little bite.
As a lifelong amateur baker, I consider myself blessed to be writing about a bakeshop in a lighthouse in Michigan. For this new Christmas mystery, however, I just knew that I wanted to center the story around the Christmas cookie. Although there are many other stellar treats to be enjoyed at the holidays, to me the humble Christmas cookie—in whatever glorious forms it happens to take—are the traditional treats of Christmas. And that got me thinking. When did the tradition of making cookies at Christmas begin?
The progenitor of the Christmas cookie was, in fact, more like a biscuit than what we today would recognize as a cookie. In fact, the term biscuit is still used in the UK today when referring to cookies. What made these early holiday biscuits so special were the new, exotic spices, nuts, and fruits brought from the corners of the known world by the burgeoning spice trade. Ingredients that we take for granted today like cinnamon, ginger, anise, cardamom, black pepper, almonds, dates, and apricots, were so expensive and coveted in Medieval Europe that they were reserved for the most sacred of holidays where they could be served to family and guests or given as gifts at Christmas. I find it interesting that the most coveted spices back then, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, are the same spices that we associate with holiday baking today.
The tradition of baking spiced cookies at the holidays spread throughout Europe. By the sixteenth century most countries had their traditional favorites for the Christmas cookie plate. The Germans favored a cookie called lebkuchen. The Dutch loved their letterbanket. My grandmother was Swedish, so I grew up eating a peppery ginger cookie called papparkakor. My grandma’s recipe called for a little orange rind in the mix as well, and we placed a slivered almond in the center of every thin cookie before we baked it, because almonds were thought to bring good luck in the new year, or so my grandma told me.
When these early European settlers came to America, they brought their Christmas cookie traditions with them. The German and Dutch settlers seemed to be extra innovative when it came to Christmas cookies. Embracing their zeal for the holiday, they began to fashion little metal biscuit cutters into elaborate holiday shapes. Some even pressed their cookie dough into fancy molds before baking. In the early 1900’s these cookie cutters became popular in America, which sparked somewhat of a Christmas cookie revolution in the cookbooks of the day, giving rise to more Christmas cook recipes. The sugar cookie recipe as we know it actually came from the Amish and was perfected by Protestant German settles, known as the Moravians. I honestly don’t know who that first genius was who thought to cover that humble sugar cookie with delicious, decorative frosting, but they’re tops in my book!
It is thought that the tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus came from the traditions inspired by Saint Nicholas, a third-century bishop who was known for his kindness to children. After the Reformation, this generous saint was all but forgotten, but in Holland his memory was kept alive. He was known as Sinterklaas, and the children left out food for him on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, in a gesture to return the favor for his kindness. The Dutch brought this tradition with them to the American colonies and there it spread. However, it is believed by some historians that this tradition became popular during 1930’s when parents wanted to inspire their children to be generous to others and to be grateful for the gifts they are given.
These old-world traditions combined with a rising consumer class and some brilliant marketing, have brought about our beloved holiday traditions we celebrate today. The tradition of putting milk and Christmas cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve, with a carrot for his reindeer, is practiced around the world in homes that celebrate Christmas.
Do you have a favorite traditional Christmas cookie?
About Murder at the Christmas Cookie Bake-Off
Murder at the Christmas Cookie Bake-Off (A Beacon Bakeshop Mystery)
2nd in Series
Publisher : Kensington (October 5, 2021)
Mass Market Paperback : 304 pages
ISBN-10 : 1496731735
ISBN-13 : 978-1496731739
Digital ASIN : B08RX1V293
Tucked away inside an old lighthouse in Beacon Harbor, Michigan, bakeshop café owner Lindsey Bakewellis ready to make her first Christmas in town shine bright. But her merry plans crumble fast when murder appears under the mistletoe . . .
With the spirit of the holidays wafting through the Beacon Bakeshop, Lindsey thinks she has the recipe for the sweetest Christmas ever—winning the town-wide cookie bake-off. Unfortunately, striving for a picture-perfect December in Beacon Harbor is a lot like biting into stale shortbread. Low on staff and bombarded by visits from family, Lindsey can barely meet demands at work, let alone summon the confidence to face fierce competition . . .
Self-appointed Christmas know-it-all Felicity Stewart is determined to take the top spot in the bake‑off, and she’s not afraid to dump a little coal in everyone’s stocking to do it. Just as the competition heats up, everything falls apart when the judge is found dead—and covered in crumbs from Lindsey’s signature cookie!
Solving a murder was never on Lindsey’s wish list. But with her reputation on the line during the happiest time of the year, she’ll need to bring her best talents to the table in order to sift out the true Christmas Cookie culprit.
Includes Delicious Recipes!
About Darci Hannah
Cozy mystery author, Darci Hannah, is a native of the Midwest and currently lives in a small town in Michigan. Darci is a lifelong lover of the Great Lakes, a natural wonder that inspires many of her stories. When Darci isn’t baking for family and friends, hiking with her furry pals, Ripley and Finn, or concocting her next cozy mystery, she can be found wandering around picturesque lakeside villages with her hubby, sampling baked goods and breaking for coffee more often than she should.
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