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.

Amber Bakery and Dressels

When getting cakes for birthday parties as a child for the kids, they were decorated beautifully. And it was always Ambers for the kids birthday party or school functions; a yellow cake with white frosting. Though I think I liked their cookies the best! The Ambers family lived across the street, owning a duplex and living on the second floor. I baby sat for the family that lived on the first floor. Ambers owned two shops; the South Shore location was at 2326 East 71st street and 9157 South Commercial Ave; the last address was the one we visited. Ambers did sponsor many school functions and celebrated the opening of Buckingham school in 1962.

I was never a strong cake lover because my favorite dessert, even to this day, is ice cream. Just recently, I read that ice cream is good for breakfast…can’t picture that yet. However, Dressels, really changed all that and a wonderful article in Lost Recipes actually has a home recipe for their chocolate whip cream cake. Mom would have this cake at parties when the adults were present. And Dressels was one of the first where their chocolate cream cake could be purchased and frozen called frig-freez cake. It was delicious and I passed.. on ice cream.. when we had Dressels.

Dressels were originally made in Chicago at a plant on the south side. William Dressel left home with his brother, Joseph, in Wisconsin,  to start a business in Chicago in 1913. Herman, their other brother, joined them 10 years later. There first bakery was at 33rd and Wallace developing the first whipped cream cake. In the 1940’s, Dressels was selling over 10,000 cakes per week and by 1963, Dressels was celebrating their 50th Anniversary. Dressels was also a leader in frozen foods with  annual sales of 3.5 million. Later in 1963, the firm was sold and expanded by American Bakeries Inc.

The Dressel’s cake is still being made at Wolf’s Bakery in Evergreen Park, which has been serving baked goods since 1939. In fact, Wolf’s Bakery at 3241 W. 95th St. has been selling its version of the cake since 2009. Many customers have commented that the cake tastes exactly the same.

Even though the hours are early morning as I write with my coffee, I am getting hungry. Not for breakfast food or ice cream either!!

Chicago Cookies

Every time I think of the butter cookie in the blue box, I hear the Salerno Butter Cookie song in my head constantly. It was famous in the 1960’s and continued on through the years though butter cookies were not my favorite. Though I did like putting them on my fingers like a ring.I have always been a chocolate fan especially a rich, chocolate chip cookie. But Salerno has been a favorite since 1933. The original factory was located at 4500 West Division in Chicago and Alyce Salerno was the last of the original Salerno cookie owner who died in 1985. Her father originally began the company. Since, the company and recipe has been repeatedly  sold  you can still get the cookies online and in many grocery stores.

Maurice Lenell: My Mom always served the pinwheel swirl cookie and jelly star cookies with coffee and for guests. Not sure why they were the rage since, again, it was always a chocolate chip cookie…even today. Maurice Lenell grew up working at a small Swedish bakery on the northwest side of Chicago. In 1937, when he struck out on his own, Maurice used his hands-on baking knowledge and many of the family recipes to produce his own cookie jar favorites. Maurice Lenell signature cookies soon became a Chicago institution.  In 2008. Maurice Lenell cookies finally closed its doors. The Cookie Store and ore opened in 2010 to serve as the unofficial outlet for the brand but it has been closed since 2015.

Lorna Doone is a golden, square-shaped shortbread cookie produced by Nabisco. It was possibly named after the main character in R. D. Blackmore’s 1869 novel, Lorna Doone. The original cookie recipe came from the Malloys. The couple came from County Cork, Ireland. Emily and John Malloy ran a bakery in Chicago. The couple came from County Cork, Ireland. Emily had created the recipe, but when they closed down the bakery, John sold the recipe to Nabisco.