A while back, I wrote this post about baking and memory and how entwined they are for me. I knew I'd written a post about the cookies, but I thought it had just been a couple of years ago. Here I am, six years after that post, still making the cookies. Last year, I wondered if I wanted to continue carrying on the tradition of making of the Sand Tart, passed to me by my grandmother -- cookie cutters, pastry cloth, recipe and all. They are challenging to make by oneself because they cook quickly. Also, If you aren't careful about applying liberal amounts of flour to both the pastry cloth and the rolling pin cover, one or the other will get sticky and you're dead in the water. You can't roll out cookies on a sticky pastry cloth.
Well, I went ahead and made them last year. Just one batch. That's enough for two tins. One for my mother and one for our family. I used to make several batches. I'd make sure to get one to my dad, even if I didn't see him on Christmas. And I'd give a tin to my father-in-law and to my great-aunt (my grandmother's sister). But my great-aunt has passed and I can't seem to find time to make more than one batch - which takes me hours.
Years ago, before I had kids, I'd make the Sand Tarts plus four other types of cookies. I baked and baked and baked. But in recent years, it's just the Sand Tarts. This year I knew I'd make them, but as I prepared, I wondered if maybe this would be the last year. I wondered if maybe over the years I'd imbued these cookies with more meaning than was due a simple recipe of flour, sugar and butter, rolled thin and sprinkled with colored sugar.
But here's the thing: Baking my grandmother's cookies is like a time-travel machine. I stand at the counter and roll the dough and I see her in her apron, scraping the dough from the sides of the bowl. I see my sister selecting the cookie cutter she wants to use. She would go for stars, but our grandmother preferred diamonds because you could get so many more cookies out of the efficient diamond shape. As I cut the cookies, I see my grandmother help me pull away the extra dough and pop a little in her mouth. After the cookies are light golden brown, I sprinkle them with the same mixture of green and red sugar. I see my mother move them from the cookie sheet, which was the only job my grandmother allowed her to do.
So much has changed over the years that I've been making those cookies. I think the time travel sense comes from the sameness of the experience. I'll make the cookies again next year. My sister lives too far away to bake the cookies with me, but maybe I'll get my mom to join me. She's retired now and she always was good at sprinkling the sugar and moving the cookies from the sheet to cool.
May this holiday season allow you to experience joy and peace. And some cookies. Below is my grandmother's recipe as she dictated it to me at least two decades ago.
Sand Tarts - Kitty Harlan. Makes about 2 tins of cookies.
2 sticks butter
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour and beat with electric mixer. Refrigerate overnight. Roll out extremely thin on pastry board with covered roller approximately 1/2 c. of dough. Dust with flour as needed. Bake until just slightly brown. Could 6-8 minutes on 325 - 350.