Dad the Baker

It’s no accident that the cold, dark time of year finds us thinking of warmth and family—either enjoying it, or missing it. And nothing represents family quite so much as holiday foods. Which generally means cooking.

Growing up, my mother was the cook, but certain things my father claimed as his. Preparing Sunday brunch gave him a noble reason not to accompany us to church: if we wanted to eat when we got back, he was going to be just too busy stirring up crepe batter or making (Bisquick-based) cinnamon rolls or baking a breakfast cake. Or, in his later, more experimental years, trying his hand at Danish  pastries (which, to be honest, were only occasionally  a success, since his impatience and lack of attention to detail often rendered them nearly raw except for the edges.)

But he came into his own with Christmas baking. For some reason, he loved to produce the kind of cookies that are aged for weeks with a slice of apple, regularly changed. Little cupcake-sized fruitcakes—all those cheerful artificial dyes!—that very occasionally were permitted a dribble of nice cheap brandy, kept on hand to flame the Christmas steamed pudding.


(Come to think of it, the  brandy-soused ones might have been deemed adults-only.)









His other specialties tended to be dull in appearance but rich in flavor. He always made Pfeffernusse, little brownish-grey balls that were nice if he’d made the dough sticky, though they could be kind of hard if he’d put in enough flour to easily shape them.  And hard or soft, they were much better if he didn’t decide to dip them into a glaze.

Springerle are the one thing I actually miss having, particularly because I’ve never come across a commercial variety. These are pale, barely-sweet, anise-flavored little squares, so good dipped in sweet wine or hot coffee. Though again, some of Dad’s were hard and others soft, so you new that if you could see the imprinted pattern from the roller clearly enough, you were going to need a hot drink for the dipping.

So what about your family? Who was the cook, and what goodies evoke the season to you?

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  1. Mary on December 17, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    My mom did most of the cooking for us six kids, but on Saturday mornings dad stepped up so she could sleep in. That was our morning for smiley-faced pancakes. Mom said we called the egg beater “the daddy” because of those mornings together. I can still see the blue can of crisco near the heavy frying pan. We would all watch anxiously to see whose pancake’s smile turned out the best. My favorite part was watching my baby brother snatch the pat of butter off his stack and stick it in his mouth. He’d then claim he had been skipped so he’d get another one. Dad laughed so hard when he figured it out!

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:05 pm

      Ah, smiley-cakes!

  2. Mary Garrett on December 17, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    I don’t think my father ever cooked, but he did tell us stories, and he built things and gardened. heart
    Sucrose in St. Charles, MO makes Springerle. I wonder if they’d ship you some. 😉

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:05 pm

      Ooh–next year!


  3. carolyn fetsko on December 17, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    I always remember my grandmother making pies. I carried on the baking but with lots of different cookies, gingerbread, sugar cookies in different shapes and whatever others we were in the mood for. English toffee was a favorite.Now days I only make anise biscottii because we have been so isolated from friends who used to visit and I would make cookies as gifts. The smell of baking is a strong holiday memory. I too have stained badly written cards with instructions of how and what to mix for holiday favorites. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:07 pm

      I’ve never made English toffee, though I did try the pulled softer kind one year when the kids were small. Not entirely successful…

  4. Heide on December 18, 2022 at 2:28 am

    My mom used to bake Stollen. I am currently living, short term, in a place with no oven. Maybe next year I will make them again.

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:07 pm

      Stollen is fun to make, and wow the house smells good!

  5. Kate Dearborn on December 18, 2022 at 7:41 am

    I have the same springerle rolling pin. Takes a good plan and time to make these, but yum!

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:08 pm

      Yes–the pans of cookies sitting all over to dry!

  6. Sandy Weaver on December 18, 2022 at 8:24 am

    My mother did all the baking, which was her best skill in the kitchen. I still use her Butter Cookie recipe that she inherited from her mother, which calls for a few pinches of hartshorn. Only with Google was I able to figure out that this was baker’s ammonia used by many bakers in Europe. After 45+ years of having left it out of my recipe, it’s now included. – and what a difference! The taste and texture takes me back to my childhood. My mother never made springeles. Instead, she bought them from the German bakery nearby. I’ve tried making them without much success. But this year, they seem to be aging just right. I’m excited to share them this Christmas!

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:09 pm

      Hartshorn, never heard of that. I’ll have to see if I can find a German bakery nearby. (In my part of California, Mexican bakeries are a bit more common.)

  7. Diane Weber on December 18, 2022 at 2:34 pm

    My grandmother was the baker. Her dinner rolls were so good I would cheerfully burn my fingers to eat them hot out of the oven. When we renovated my parent’s house, I wanted a real stove so I could use the ambient heat of the oven to get the dough to rise properly. Totally worth it for the Wolf, I can recreate those rolls now.

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:10 pm

      Sounds heavenly!

  8. Evelyn Thompson on December 19, 2022 at 6:36 pm

    Next time you’re in the Bay Area, head over to Crixa Cakes in Berkeley. They have springerle! (And piles of other delicious things too!)

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:10 pm

      Good to know!

  9. Betsy on December 23, 2022 at 10:42 am

    I’m loved this. Dad never cooked. Mum made chicken pot pie, her traditional Christmas morning meal.

    • Laurie King on December 23, 2022 at 1:11 pm

      What an interesting choice–ours is pumpkin pie! (And stollen or Pumpkin muffins, if I’ve made them.)

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