Tips for making those delicious, sweet Christmas favorites

Pictured is a platter of the delicious Christmas cookies that have been a part of Judy Quirk’s family holiday tradition for generations. Quirk’s cookie-making methods are examined in this edition of At The Table.

Story and photos by Katherine Larson
It was Pauline Kiltinen who alerted me to Judy Quirk. “You’ve got to talk with her,” Kiltinen said. “For many years, we’ve been recipients of her marvelous Christmas cookies. They’re delicious, and she makes an amazingly varied assortment.” It’s not just the Kiltinens; the ringers of Messiah Lutheran Church’s bell choir, which she leads, are the happy recipients of Quirk’s generosity. So are many friends and neighbors.
This I had to see. How better to face December than with an array of delicious cookies?
Quirk invited me into her kitchen for some intensive hours of dough-making, baking, assembly, and finally eating. What a treat!
And what an exercise in efficiency. It starts when she plans out her strategy; for example, she prepares three different batters in a row without taking the time to scrub utensils in between. Quirk explained, “I try to line up things in an order that it doesn’t matter if there are remnants of dough in the bowl. So I’ll start with the dough for Lily cookies, which is quite bland. Then I’ll do the Kris Kringles, with orange and lemon zest. After that, I’ll make the dough for Peppermint Pinwheels.” Only after the bowl is infused with strong minty flavor will she need to wash it out.
“Most cookies are very forgiving,” Quirk said. She was working on the Lily dough. “This recipe calls for six and a half ounces of cream cheese, but cream cheese comes in eight-ounce packages. So I just cut it about here”—gesturing—”and that’ll do.” These are son Matthew’s favorite. “There’s nothing like a recipe that begins with a cup and a half of butter!”
These cookies have no sugar in the batter, but plenty of sweetness from their jam filling. “Plus I dredge them in sugar,” putting them in a sugar-filled bag and gently shaking them. “But you don’t always want cookies to be too sweet. I’ve even made some with pepper jelly for people who like that bite.”
After the dough had come together in the mixing bowl, Quirk turned it into another bowl which she covered with a layer of cling wrap. Then she placed the recipe card on top and held it in place with another layer of cling wrap. “I do this so it doesn’t get lost or confused in the fridge. If I have eight different batches of white dough…” She shook her head. This technique also means that she never has to hunt for the proper card; where the dough is, so is its recipe.
Examples of Quirk’s recipe cards are shown here. They reflect her vast cookie-making experience, letting an ingredients list and a few shorthand instructions suffice. They also reflect her invariable practices. “‘Shortening’ means butter, real butter. ‘Sugar’ means white sugar unless brown is specified.”
Quirk turned to the Kris Kringle dough as she talked. “Every year I have to decide whether to make them. They’re a bit fussy. But they’re pretty, and I like them.” She grated the zest of a whole orange, then the zest of a whole lemon. “You only want the part that has oil, the orange or yellow part. At first I couldn’t understand why my Kris Kringles weren’t as good as mother’s. So I watched her make them and I saw: you don’t want the whole peel, just the zesty bit.”
Christmas cookies have been important in Quirk’s family for generations. Her mother, of course. Then there are her “trove” of handmade cookie cutters crafted by uncles and great-uncles. “On my dad’s side of the family, we’re of Slovakian heritage. Like Germans, they loved cookies…


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