My mother-in-law had her own beloved baking traditions. I wanted to create my own.
molasses gingersnaps
Credit: Patricia S. York

When you are a young mother wanting to start holiday traditions in your own household, creating culinary memories in the kitchen is always a good place to start. That was my intention, many years ago, as I thumbed through an old Southern Living Cookies Cookbook. Never one to make "fussy" cookies (chill, flour, roll, cut, chill again, etc.), I have always enjoyed the recipes that allow you to simply mix, scoop, and bake, such as oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies. But I also very much enjoy cookies that taste amazing with flavors that recall a certain time of year. So, on this day, many years ago, I was looking for an easy, delicious, seasonally appropriate cookie that could become my Family Holiday Traditional Cookie. No small order, right?

My mother-in-law had her own long-standing tradition of baking a huge assortment of sweet treats for the holidays. Around the time of Thanksgiving and throughout the month of December, she would bake tempting indulgences such as peanut butter balls, tea-time tassies, hermits, and snowballs. Every night after supper a festive platter of these goodies would be offered as dessert. And if you stopped by in the afternoon for a visit and cup of coffee, you couldn't leave without one or two nibbles. I loved every single one of her special recipes, and I was looking for my own.

Looking through the cookbook, the recipe for the King-Size Gingersnaps caught my eye. There is not another cookie in the world that smells like Christmas more than the gingersnap, and here was, what looked to be, a relatively easy recipe for this holiday classic. The number of ingredients was about average; since I was already a pro at making sweet potato casserole (the dessert that masquerades as a side dish), I had molasses and the warm, seasonal spices in the pantry. I read the instructions before deciding to bake (my Mom had taught me well) and was pleased with how simple the recipe appeared. No chilling, no cutting, - just mix, scoop and roll into balls, and bake. I was hopeful that I had found my soon-to-be traditional Christmas cookie recipe. I tied on my apron, plugged in my trusty hand-held electric mixer, and went to work.

Perhaps I should be humble and report that my first batch of King-Size Gingersnaps was a dismal failure, but that would simply be a lie. As I pulled each baking sheet out of the oven and stood guard over them while they cooled, I was amazed and elated with these cookies. Perfectly round. They didn't burn! They lifted from the pan so easily! I was thrilled. And the taste? They were fabulous. Beautiful, crackle-faced cookies that carried the flavors of Christmas in every bite. These cookies were a hit with the family that holiday season, and I knew I had found The Recipe.

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Over the years I have replaced the old hand-held mixer with a heavy-duty KitchenAid stand mixer, it handles that thick cookie dough so much easier. I no longer scoop and measure the shortening from the tub now that it comes in those handy measuring sticks. Although the recipe calls for light molasses, sometimes I use the dark. They both work fine. And sometimes I roll the balls a little small and the cookies aren't really king-size, but they still get eaten. I have baked these cookies late at night after everyone has gone to bed or early in the morning before breakfast. I have shared them at family dinners, sent them overseas when my husband and son were deployed and, most recently, added them to the mix of goodies at the Southern Living Office Cookie Swap. My baking assistants have transformed through the years from toddlers to teenagers to grown adults, fabulous cooks in their own right.

If all that makes a holiday tradition, then I guess I succeeded in making one for my family. I am anticipating baking my next batch of gingersnaps even now as I type this. Because every time you bake a family favorite recipe, you aren't just sifting flour or measuring butter. You are adding one more chapter to the story of your family's tradition.