Magic is when your mom bakes. You know she means business when she brings out the flour, rolling pin, cookie sheets and pre-heats the oven. Maybe she puts on an apron. As a child, you don’t know or care, if the ingredients start with flour or if they start from a pre-mixed box. All you know is that something special is happening and you will benefit.
For me, the magic was when my mom made dreidel cookies. She did all of the above, along with pulling out the dreidel cookie cutters – plastic and blue. She’d form and roll out the dough into a circle, always adding flour for the “just right” consistency. Once she was satisfied with the depth and density, she’d carefully smack the cookie cutter down onto the dough cutting out the dreidel-formed cookies. Each circle pallet would yield about a dozen. She’d then move the sugar cutouts to the cookie sheet in preparation for frosting. The dough remnants from the cutouts would be balled up and rolled out again, circle style, for the next dreidel-formed set.
Frosting the cookies was like a game of Operation…it took a very steady hand. She’d squeeze the blue frosting from a tube and very carefully form the Hebrew letter Hay on each. I’ve attempted to reenact this step and my Hays look more like emaciated horses. She’d go through this process again and again as she’d make dozens of these dreidel delights.
When I was about four or five, I remember waiting for a taste of the cookies hot from the oven. It felt like hours, although I now know it took between 12 to 14 minutes. In that short amount of time, my Mom taught me the dreidel song. The song said dreidels were made out of clay. That first verse always intrigued me, as I wondered how fast a clay dreidel would spin. All our dreidels were plastic with raised Hebrew letters on each side. For luck, I’d trace the raised letters with my fingers convinced that by doing so I’d get the top to spin faster.
I asked my Mom if we could make clay dreidels, but she was a master at the art of distraction. She said maybe but then started the song over, encouraging me to make up new verses. She’d tell me she wasn’t too creative, and that I was the clever one. My mom was brilliant that way, always looking for ways to motivate my creative mind while keeping me focused on the project at hand…in this case the cookies.
Once the cookies were out of the oven and cooled, she’d let me sneak a few and then she’d put a handful in an oversized Ziploc bag. The rest were put in the freezer stored in large plastic storage containers that should have been used for soup rather than flat cookies. No bother, the cookies were safely put away for us to enjoy throughout the month and into the rest of winter. I’ll be honest; I have more memories sneaking the cookies out of the freezer when my friends slept over than enjoying defrosted cookies after a meal.
Here’s the thing…the dough? It wasn’t an old-country secret recipe written on scraps of paper smuggled away from a Hungarian army. Truth-be-told, it was Pillsbury refrigerated dough. My mom’s Hanukah menu was never a made-from-scratch event. In fact, the holiday’s traditional items – latkes, bagels, etc. – mostly came from either the refrigerator or freezer section. Growing up I didn’t know that her cookie recipe started with a refrigerated chub, and frankly I didn’t care.
Making those cookies was how my Mom greeted Hanukkah, and she made them with tremendous pride. Even when I went off to college, got married and had my own kids, she was still making and sharing the cookies with us.
The recipe? Well, here’s what I’ll relay: Grab your own chub of refrigerated cookie dough, a dreidel cookie cut out, blue frosting and some flour. Roll out and cook up those cookies, sing the dreidel song and store them in the freezer. Maybe even encourage your kids to sneak a few out at midnight with their friends. I can say with confidence that this recipe was simple and simply the best. Enjoy!
When I got married, my Mom passed along a stack of her go-to recipes, which I keep in a white three-ring binder. The collection includes a handful of her Mom’s recipes for the holidays – Jewish and secular – along with selections from friends, family, synagogue cookbooks and popular ladies’ magazines. My Mom passed away a year ago of pancreatic cancer. To honor her memory, I’m writing a series of articles featuring the back stories on recipes in my meal-planning rotation.