This blog post isn’t for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love you to love these cookies.
But this really isn’t about you. It’s about my grandma, Evelyn, and the most sought-after, fought-over treat she makes.
Two weeks ago, Evelyn celebrated her 90th birthday. I was so happy to be back in Nebraska celebrating. Evelyn is a quintessential farm wife who grew up in Nebraska during the Depression. Well into her 60s, she was still driving farm trucks and helping out on the farm (Update: my dad informs me she was “pushing 80” when she finally gave up driving trucks, and noted that she still brings out supper during harvest sometimes). To this day, you’ll still see her overexerting herself in her garden and flowerbeds.
If there’s such a thing as a genetic sweet tooth, there’s no doubt I inherited it from her. The cookie jar and candy dish were never empty. She’d often say, “I think we should have dessert first, so we’re sure to have room.”
Every Christmas, Grandma made plates of holiday cookies and candies for family and friends. Of all the treats you might find on that plate — peanut butter blossoms, divinity, sugar cookies, fudge — the first to disappear on our plates was always the candy cane cookies. There were never enough. We’d beg her to only make candy cane cookies and cut out the rest, or at least make a double-batch. I don’t think we’ve ever succeeded.
On Christmas Eve, we had to be the first ones to our grandparents’ house, not so that we could inspect the presents under the tree (although my brother did plenty of that), but in hopes of sneaking an extra candy cane cookie. If she delivered cookie trays to our house or wanted us to come pick them up, I angled to be part of the transaction. I’m surprised these cookies have never used for outright bribery or gambling.
Grandma thinks she’s had this recipe at least 50 years. The first time I asked for the recipe, I had to call and ask her what a “slow oven” was (around 300 degrees).
Just yesterday, she confessed to me that she likes making the cookies, but doesn’t like frosting them. “Do you want to come over and frost these for me?” she asked. Note to family members within driving distance: missed opportunity!
The irony is that these cookies are the antithesis of a Christmas cookie: they aren’t buttery, gooey, indulgent, glittery, or magazine-photo-worthy. They’re dry and rather plain. Outsiders don’t get it. An in-law politely said, “I’m not really fond of them.”
I’m more than okay with that. These cookies are nothing special, and that’s precisely the point.
Besides, that means more cookies for me.
Candy Cane Cookies
Yield: 18-24 cookies
1 c butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 Tbs. water
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c oats
For powdered sugar glaze:
1 1/4 c (or more) powdered sugar, sifted
2-3 Tbs. (or more) milk
Red food coloring
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream butter and vanilla. Add powdered sugar; blend well. Add water, flour, salt and oats. Mix well. Shape into canes and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until set and lightly toasted. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Combine 1 cup powdered sugar and milk to make a glaze to desired consistency. (The thinner your glaze, the more it will be absorbed into the cookie.) Dip cookies in glaze and place on waxed paper to set.
With the remainder of the glaze, add red food coloring and a few more tablespoons powdered sugar to make a thick glaze. Spoon glaze into a Ziploc bag, snip the corner, and pipe stripes onto the cookies.