The Really Very Old Pumpkin Cookie Recipe

food, recipes

When I asked my mom to send me her pumpkin cookie recipe she sent me a recipe card with my own handwriting on it. I likely copied this out of another handwritten recipe book, or based on verbal instructions. The recipe, according to a younger me, is from my grandma and, as is tradition with these old family recipes, there are no step by step instructions. Just an ingredient list, an oven temperature, and a cooking time. However, I’ve watched my mom make these for most of my life that I remember the technique that achieves the cake-like texture.

May I draw your attention to “cinnomon?” How about “pumpkin peree?” I think I wrote this when I was 8.

I called my mom to confirm some of the quantities on the recipe and she clarified that this recipe is probably HER great grandma’s recipe and it’s been fool-proof as written for all these years. That makes these my great great grandma’s cookies. The cake-like consistency comes from creaming together the butter and sugar, combining the sugar into the softened butter until light and homogenous. The baking powder gives them some extra oomf. And oomf is right! I certainly dream of the day when I turn a couple of these cookies into an ice cream sandwich or a whoopie pie, abandoning all self-restraint in the name of fleeting festive whimsy. I admitted to my mom that I bought my first can of pumpkin puree and she assured me that despite growing up making these cookies with her fresh pumpkin puree, it’s perfectly fine to crack open a can and make the most of it. And what else can I expect from myself and others right now? Just crack open the can and enjoy the damn cookies.

Just one day after asking my mom for this recipe, my best friend said she had also asked my mom for it. My friend Sara is practically a sibling; we used to spend basically every day together when we were kids. She has spent more holidays with my family than any other friend or relative, including my mom’s boyfriend to whom Sara said “you gotta step up your game” when she hit the 10 year mark before he did. We know each other’s family traditions like they’re our own. These cookies are just as comforting to her as they are to me; they’re part of our own silly tradition that we’ve maintained for a miraculous chunk of our lives.

Honestly, it’s hardly the holiday season without Sara. That will likely be the greatest loss for me this year in terms of beloved traditions, but completely worth it to preserve our health and wellness. These cookies can be one of many connections we have to one another this year as we continue to limit our interactions. Next year I’ll tell Sara’s boyfriend that she’s already busy for the holidays and we’ll pick up where we left off.


Really Very Old Family Pumpkin Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. You will need at least 2 baking sheets and, depending on cookie size, may need to use them more than once.
  3. Cream together the softened butter and sugar. This can be done in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand with a rubber spatula. You’ll want the butter to be really soft, but not melted to achieve the ideal creamy texture.
  4. Beat the 2 eggs into the butter-sugar mixture.
  5. Add ingredients as listed, mixing after each addition. You want a homogenous looking cookie batter, but if some butter and sugar does not mix you will have some crispy sugary bits and that’s nothing to be mad at.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, meatball scoop, or tablespoon scoop the cookies onto the parchment lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart. The cookies will spread a little and rise, forming muffin-top-looking cookies.
  7. Bake cookies for 15 minutes. This is the minimum. Check at 15 minutes and see if cookie bottoms are slightly browned. I find that 18 minutes is usually my sweet spot, but that’s based on the size cookie I scoop.
  8. Allow to cool before breaking open a soft, fluffy cookie. These cookies freeze well in zip top bags or airtight containers.

This Kabocha, Date, Nut Bread Kept Me Occupied While Social Distancing

food, recipes

Cut it out. Yes, I’m talking to you, regular person who feels the need to criticize anyone baking during this time. It’s a great time to bake anything – whether you’re using up overripe bananas or making a focaccia and pretending you’re in Italy. Let people enjoy THINGS. Let baking be the escapism folks flock to for comfort during a scary and anxiety-inducing time.

So apologies to anyone who wants to force professional productivity on others. No, I will not be writing my magnum opus or conducting vital research. I will be baking because that will keep my body and soul fed and at peace. Stay mad about it.

NOW – why am I using squash for a springtime recipe? Well, because it’s important to use what you have on hand right now. As we all take stock (and make stock – AYYY) and assess what constitutes a necessary trip to the grocery store, we should see what we can use from our home inventory first, and that means checking the freezer.

For as long as I can remember, we never wasted pumpkins or squash. After Halloween and Thanksgiving my mom would take decorative, but edible gourds and kill them. This means roasting and steaming pumpkins and acorn squash and pureeing the flesh into smooth, orangey-yellow sustenance, roasting the seeds too for a salty savory snack. We would be pumpkin’d out with soups, pies, cookies and cakes before running out of puree, so into the freezer went pints and quarts of creamy orange goo for months. Since the apple doesn’t fall far in my case, that’s exactly the chain of events that lead me to unearthing pureed kabocha from my freezer. I also had pecans I used to make a Basically Baking recipe and dates that I found on sale at my shopping sanctuary, Ocean State Job Lot. It was a perfect storm.

This recipe can be catered to whatever winter squash you have, though I’d steer clear of the heartier butternut squash or stringy spaghetti squash. Acorn squash and pumpkin, sharing similar flavors and consistencies with kabocha, would be welcome replacements. This bread will also work with walnuts instead of pecans. You can also omit the dates or nuts and substitute with a full cup of one filling if that’s your jam. You can also omit the dates and nuts altogether! It’s your world, I’m just living in it.

Don’t skip the parchment paper lining if possible; this will make the cake easy to lift from the pan and reduce unwanted crispiness. This kabocha date nut bread should come out moist but not dense and wet – the end product will be delightful enough to eat sliced, and hearty enough to toast and spread with peanut butter.

Baking with a limited kitchen gives you, dear baker, the ability to riff as you please. So riff on people. And take lots of pictures and gloat to your heart’s content online – hell, tag me and I’ll gloat for you.

Kabocha, Date, Nut Bread

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup pureed kabocha squash

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

  1. Place oven rack on the middle to upper racks of your oven (we’re baking the cake up there, but we want space so it doesn’t touch the heating element). Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the inside of a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until light yellow and a little bit bubbly. Once combined, add squash puree, vanilla and cinnamon and whisk until incorporated.
  3. Slowly stream the vegetable oil into the batter.
  4. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into the wet ingredients. If you don’t have a sifter or you just hate sifting, whisk flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a separate bowl and whisk into wet ingredients until combined, without lumps.
  5. Coat dates in a pinch of flour. This will prevent them from clumping together.
  6. Fold in pecans and dates until they feel evenly dispersed throughout the batter.
  7. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  8. Bake for 1 hour, or until golden on the outside, and a cake tester inserted in the thickest part comes out dry.

These Anisette Cookies and a Pot of Coffee are a Match Made in Heaven

food, recipes

Everyone is getting engaged and married and truly I feel sorry. Because no one will have a stronger, more solid union than my great grandma’s anisette cookies and an entire pot of black coffee. Honestly, where’s that love comparison? I just want someone to compliment me the way anise biscotti compliments hot coffee. Where’s that romance?

“Ninety nine cents would get you a pound of these cookies.” Thinking about the light-weight of each crispy baked wedge made me realize the sheer volume that equates. “We would bring them home and drink a whole pot of coffee,” says my mom. It’s true, these cookies practically beg for a dunk before each bite, after which the harmonious union of coffee and anisette simply transports you to an old-fashioned Italian-American bakery of yore. So good you almost don’t feel bad about eating a few for breakfast. Oops.

This recipe, another mysterious find from my great grandma’s recipe box, was entirely written in English which could mean one of two things: it is once again not hers, or she had serious help writing it. In a comparison between this and her snippets of attempting English in other recipes, it appears that this is her handwriting. Impressive if so, but also curious. Someone definitely helped her, perhaps speaking the translation and showing her how to spell each word with some corrections on the way.

This recipe is also one of the rare recipes from the box that includes all measurements, oven temperature and a procedure. Truly miraculous when all others are written in at least two languages and have little clues pertaining to how the flour and baking powder eventually become a sponge cake. That being said, this recipe was also easy by most baking standards: add ingredients to the bowl, beating after each addition, then pouring the batter into a greased cake pan, baking until golden brown, slicing and baking again for maximum crispiness. This technically makes them biscotti.

Biscotti, though typically what Italians call a cookie, literally translates to baked twice. Most traditional biscotti have nuts or candied fruit in them and turn out just a touch drier, denser and tougher. Still absolutely delicious, but this recipe is unlike those cookies. These cookies are lighter and more tender. Still crispy, but you won’t have to clamp down on the cookie with your molars in order to take a bite. The coffee isn’t necessary to soften the cookie, it just tastes good.

I prefer espresso in general over coffee, but, as Ina Garten would probably say, if you can’t make espresso then regular coffee is just fine. Just try to resist eating them all.

My Great Grandma’s Anisette Cookies

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

3 tsp anise extract

3/4 cup cooking oil (canola oil)

1-1/2 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add all ingredients in order given beating well after each addition. Pour into greased 9×13 pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan and slice into 1 inch strips.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for another 10 minutes to toast.