More than decorating the tree, singing carols, or exchanging gifts, the holiday season, to my brothers and me, meant the best cookies in the world. When a bottle of Rhine wine appeared in our kitchen, and my mother’s vast assortment of cookie cutters were pulled from the drawer where they spent the other 50 weeks of the year, we knew it was time for butter Geback—known in our family as The Christmas Cookies. Early each December, we made dozens and dozens, some of which we hand-delivered (in old wax-paper-lined fruitcake tins) to special friends and neighbors—who got rather testy if their annual batch did not arrive on time.
I can’t speak for all my relatives, but as far as I’m concerned, the making and baking of the cookies was almost as good as the cookies themselves. The ur-recipe came from an in-law whose family also has German roots, but it was absorbed into the fabric of our clan without so much as an arched eyebrow. The cookies took two days to make—the dough had to sit overnight, and to little hands, it was more fun to play with than Silly Putty.
The amazing thing is that everyone in the family who made these cookies would turn out something completely different. Line them up on a table, and I could tell you instantly whose were whose by sight alone.
I liked these cookies so much that I once even tried to convince my mother that we should start an Easter Geback tradition as well. No dice. She insisted on Christmas only. She also insisted that they’d taste better if we let them age a week or two. I wouldn’t know. They never lasted that long.