The whole cookie extravaganza began in 1993 when two sisters shared an apartment.
“We were both working in Chicago,” Aurora resident Erika Flynn says. “We thought it would be fun to make cookies at Christmas.”
They started with a few varieties and then added more each Christmas. Flynn and her sister, Karen Brandt, have made up to 28 varieties some years, but their average is 25.
“We would have the tape player playing Christmas music, and we would bake all different kinds of cookies,” says Brandt, who now lives in Naperville.
The sisters shared the cookies with friends and family.
“I took cookies to the publishing company where I worked,” Flynn says. “I freelance for them now, but I still send them cookies every year. They really look forward to them.”
She enjoys telling the story about the year when the executive editor announced over the intercom system: “the cookies are here,” and the CEO of the company walked out of a meeting he was in to get his share of the cookies.
Although Flynn, 43, and Brandt, 45, are now both busy moms with families, the sisters still find time each year to bake cookies together.
Their mother, Sally Mathison, 77, comes in from her home in Oshkosh, Wis., to join in the annual effort. She brings in a supply of Ambrosia confectionary coating to use for dipping cookies.
“We are very particular about our chocolate coatings, and this is the only brand we use,” Flynn says. “The others just are not as good. We have only been able to find it in Wisconsin though.”
The one cookie that is always in the mix each year is Sand Tarts.
“It is a Scandinavian recipe,” Mathison says. “They are sort of like a crunchy almond shortbread. I’ve been making them since 1965, and they are everyone’s favorite. And they store forever. You can have them around for weeks, and they will still taste fresh.”
The sand tarts require unblanched almonds that need to be ground.
“We put them into a food processor to get them just right,” Brandt says. “If the pieces are too big, the cookies will fall apart. But you don’t want the pieces too small either or the cookie won’t have a crunch.”
Getting the right grind might take a little practice, Brandt says.
The sisters prefer using regular cookie sheets over insulated ones because the cookies brown better. They also prefer using parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheets.
“We always use good-quality butter, never margarine. The butter has to be at room temperature when we are mixing,” Brandt says. “And we also use only pure cane sugar, not beet sugar.”
Making cookies together is just one of the many perks of having a close family, the two sisters say. They share holiday meals, vacation at a family cottage, make jams in the summer, belong to the same church and go to the same sporting events.
“Our kids treat their cousins like siblings,” Brandt says. “I remember my dad always saying that no matter what happens, it doesn’t matter because it’s family. My parents welcome all 15 of us to come stay with them, and we enjoy being together.”
The two sisters share two of their favorite Christmas recipes, so that others might be able to start their own family baking tradition.