The charm of Christmas cookies

By Caryl Clem:

How the Christmas Cookie became a regular star during Christmas celebrations traces back to the Crusades. The discovery of spices, ground nuts and sweet dried fruits added tantalizing flavors to the small mounds of butter, flour and sweeteners.  During the Middle Ages only guildsman could bake gingerbread except during Christmas. The popular new flavors traveled from country to country. Gingersnaps are called pepparkakor in Sweden. In Germany, Lebkuchen combines spices, and honey.  Berliner Brot bars contain several spices, nuts, fruit and rum.

Intricate designs depicting Christmas symbols carved from wood were first made by German Black Forest craftsman.  Cookie molds of these Christmas figures were later lined with tin or aluminum.   The elaborate molds deceased while the popularity for using metal shapes to cut out cookie shapes evolved into a new era.  Germans are credited with hanging Christmas cookies on their trees first. By the 1600’s the Dutch were bringing their cookie cutters to America to make the stars, bells, angels, and Christmas figures to hang on their trees.   The early cookie cutter companies embossed their names on the cutters.   The Cookie Cutters Collectors Club sponsors National Cookie Cutter Museum in Joplin, Missouri.

In 1920, 2 brothers and a friend emigrated from Sweden to Chicago to begin a family recipe bakery, Lenell’s in Chicago. For example, homeland ingredients of butter, and flour combined with spices of cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and almonds kept growing in popularity. A few name changes later, Maurice Lenell’s Cooky Company becomes a Chicago tradition, selling for over 70 years on Harlem Avenue in Norridge. The top sellers were Pinwheels, Raspberry Jelly Swirls and Almonettes.  The business was struggling in 2007 and sold to a company. Etsy is currently offering a beautiful vintage 1970’s shortbread Christmas tin.

No matter what Christmas cookie is on your favorites list, it is time to start baking; December 4th is National Cookie Day. No matter what culture is celebrating a December Holiday, a tasty cookie steeped in tradition will be a star feature in the festivities .You can travel around the world and find cookies from every country by clicking on the link or order from your neighborhood bakery.  Timeout Chicago offers some great suggestions for bakeries in Chicago.

You can also check out The Chicago Cookie Store for old-time cookie favorites for the holidays.

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