When I was growing up, we had a tradition of making lots of different kinds of Christmas cookies for serving on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My grandma Marion, who lived with us, shared some of her favorite recipes with us.
She was the sweetest grandma. She loved cookies. During the rest of the year, she kept a special cookie jar full of our favorites. However, she usually did not bake the cookies herself. She absolutely loved to go grocery shopping. It was her hobby and her joy. She would buy peanut butter cookies, fudge shortbread, and a few other varieties.
In her small apartment in the basement of our home, she had a three-part cookie jar. Each compartment held a different kind of cookie. My brother and I had a pact. Whoever reached the end of the driveway first, after getting off the school bus, would go to grandmas and get two cookies. We would eat one ourselves and then save one for the other.
I think that she hung on to the novelties of the 1950s as her guide. She loved new food technology. She was always clipping coupons for the latest frozen and packaged items. It was funny as you usually think of a grandma as one who cooks from scratch. That is something she usually only did as part of the holidays.
She was a quiet and unassuming figure in our household. She was always so sweet and did not want to bother anyone. She was one that you loved to help because she truly appreciated you. Sometimes she could express something to you without words. That is a beautiful thing.
She would often buy different ingredients when she went shopping, and I knew that she wanted me to make some cookies. If she bought some cereal, I knew that she wanted me to make her favorite cookies with it. Those cookies were called ranger cookies. They were a combination of wheat flakes cereal, coconut, and a few other ingredients. I still have that recipe, and whenever I see it, I can picture my grandma.
When I was in middle school and throughout high school, I was the designated cookie baker for the holidays. I would start around Thanksgiving, baking and freezing lots of cookies. Some of the cookies would be given away as gifts, and others would be kept for our family gatherings. There was never a shortage of goodies, and there was always a great variety to choose from.
Every year I would make the traditional favorites, from spice cookies to sugar cookies. I also loved to innovate and try new recipes as well. I was delighted to create a spectacular spread of goodies each time. There is something special about Christmas treats. They evoke so many memories. Each recipe handed down helps us remember times spent with grandma, an aunt, or other family members.
On Christmas Eve, it was our tradition to have Swedish food. That meant Swedish meatballs in consomme, sweet and sour beans, a creamy potato salad, rolls, and more. The meal was always topped off with a giant cookie buffet. It was so comforting to look forward to these familiar foods. It brightened the cold winter nights.
I remember loving the dinner but always saving room to try each and every cookie creation. It was paramount that I savor each bite. Every morsel of sweet delight had different flavor sensations to behold.
These cookie bars are unique. Other than my recipe, I have not seen anyone else make them. They are easy to make, yet they are elegant enough to make a great gift.
What I love about them is that they have a very soft, toffee-like shortbread base. The bars contain gooey chocolate in the middle and are topped with a light, fluffy meringue! They are a perfectly simple cookie to make, yet they are elegant and refined at the same time.
I hope that you enjoy making this recipe for your family this holiday season and drop some off at family and friend's homes as well. They will appreciate the effort you make this year.
Half and Half Cookie Bars Recipe:
1/2 cup butter, softened (put whites and yolks in separate bowls)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
One 10-12 oz. package of semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Butter a 13x19 glass baking dish.
- Mix butter with 1/4 cup each of brown and granulated sugar until fluffy in a stand mixer.
- Add egg yolks and all of the other ingredients except for the egg whites and remaining brown sugar.
- Place the shortbread cookie dough mixture in the pan and press to form a cookie base. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over this.
- Beat egg whites with an electric mixer in a bowl until frothy. Slowly add in the last 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Beat until the mixture is smooth and meringue-like.
- Spread the meringue mixture on top of the cookie base/chocolate chips.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the meringue on top is golden brown.
This year we may be far away from our family and friends. However, through sharing recipes, treats, and memories, we can be closer than ever. This is a year of focusing on what we do have and treasuring it. We are being called to enjoy all of our abundance this year.
My wish for you is that you enjoy making these cookies, share them with others, and share the recipe far and wide. I know my grandma is smiling down on me today as I write this. She passed away many years ago, but she lives on in my memories. Perhaps where she is now, she gets to enjoy a cookie buffet every single day, much as we did on Christmas Eve.