My Mother-In-Law's Cookies

I seldom bake. Germany has the greatest bread on the planet[1]. France may have baguettes and croissants, but for sheer choice and variety nothing beats German baked goods.Why make something mediocre when there’s a bakery on every street corner?

As long as Uwe can recall, every week his mother made two cakes. It’s a German tradition, and women of a certain time period created great desserts that were works of art.

Before we visited, Mama always called to ask what kind of cake Uwe wanted. Sometimes I got to choose and I’d request Black Forest chocolate cake or a Bienenstich, a honey and slivered almonds cake that’s one of my favorites.

When it got to be late November, after each visit Mama Hartmann sent us home with tins full of Christmas cookies. She baked at least ten different kinds. Those cookies became cult. Friends would casually ask, “Have you gotten Christmas cookies from Uwe’s mom yet?” The idea was that I’d bring out a plate filled with said cookies for visitors to sample. “You tell your mother-in-law that these are damned fine cookies!” someone ordered happily.

Whether they had a thumb print of jam in the middle, or were layered with chocolate and ground nuts, or were perfect little crescents tasting of vanilla with a dusting of sugar, each cookie was delicious.

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We came home with three tins of cookies that year.

The supply ran low really fast because our friends consumed all of them, rather than politely taking one or two. Uwe finally told me it had to stop. No more offering cookies to guests!

Mama’s days of baking are behind her. We’ve brought her to a nursing home in our village so we can see her more often. But in the last winter before she had to move, I wrote down the recipes and helped her make cookies. I imitated her steps for each one.

Well, what I baked bore little resemblance to the miniature works of confectionary art that my mother-in-law took out of the oven.

I discovered something. To bake like a professional takes years of making cakes. Preferably two a week, plus cookies every Christmastime. This last Christmas I knew Uwe would be missing his mother’s cookie tins. I was way too intimidated to try to bake Mama’s cookie recipes, so I came up with an acceptable alternative.

I baked one of the few cookies she didn’t: peanut butter with chocolate chips. They’re quintessentially American in their peanut butteriness and chocolate chips, and one cookie I can make and actually have turn out right. While it’s not a Mama Hartmann traditional recipe, it tastes like the holidays.

I like to think that maybe someday I’ll set out Christmas cookies for friends. But really you should try making Mama Hartmann’s Walnut Squares. With practice they’ll be perfect when the holidays roll around.

The Cookie Dough:

250 grams Butter

200 grams Sugar

1 teaspoon Vanilla

4 Eggs

300 grams broken Walnut Meats

250 grams Flour

3 teaspoons Baking Powder

The Frosting:

250 grams Powdered Sugar

2 teaspoons Instant Coffee

3 tablespoons Brandy

2-3 tablespoons hot Water

The Decoration:

100 grams Walnuts

Pour batter into a flat pan and bake at 200° (Celsius) or 390° (Fahrenheit) for 15-20 minutes. Frost the cake, cut into small cookies, and place a walnut meat atop each one.

NOTES: [1] For variety and yumminess, bread from India is a very close second.

Photo Copyright © 2015 Pamela J. Campbell.

27 thoughts on “My Mother-In-Law's Cookies”

  1. Lovely story Jadi — thank you for sharing the link! My father used to send me a box of Christmas baking too — and all my friends would ‘drop by’ just in case it had arrived. 🙂

    I shall most definitely have to try her recipe — I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. Ah, I remember those Christmas cookies so well. Mama started baking at least a month before Christmas and made a dozen different kinds. And each Sunday morning, there were at least two or three cakes or pies for breakfast. When I got married the second time, my sister-in-law visited from Germany and brought all the ingredients to make us a genuine Schwarwaelder Kirschtorte. I was in heaven! 🙂 And now my daughter, born and bred in the US, decided she wants to learn pastry making…

    1. Ach ja, eine Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Heaven! You come from a family of master bakers. I content myself with the wonderful bakeries on every corner here (with occasional attempts at German recipes).

      1. German bakeries are amazing. I remember the variety of breads and rolls, and the cakes…oh my. Maybe it’s good I’m not there anymore. I don’t care for American pastries too much and I certainly don’t need the extra calories…:-)

  3. I am glad I checked out your blog, as suggested by Brigid Hagan. I enjoyed your musings as well as the recipe. I do have a request, though. I do not use coffee or alcohol, so cannot make use of this particular recipe, although it looks fantastic. I can share the recipe with friends, but am selfish enough to want one for moi! Please share another favorite of your mother-in-law’s cookies. In fact, I would love to have as many of them as possible. I lived in Frankfurt as a teenager and fell in love with Germany. I am pleased to have found someone blogging from there. I supplied my email address to leave this comment. Will I automatically receive your new blog posts, or do I need to sign up for them, separate from supplying my email address?

    1. Hi Cynthia! I’ll get some recipes sent to you in the next day or so. You just need to click on ‘follow’ and provide your email address in order to get my posts. I post every 2 weeks. Another option is to friend me on Facebook. I look forward to having you as a regular reader! Cheers, Jadi

  4. What a sweet post. Cakes twice a week is amazing. If I bake one from scratch, for a birthday for example, it takes ages! We do have a tradition of making Christmas cookies but some years are more successful than others – I’m definite not consistent with the quality!

  5. I used to bake a lot of cookies, especially over the holidays. I was young and poor and they made lovely gifts for those who came to call. When I first married, my kids and I set out to baking, and they loved it as much as I did. These last few Christmases have them less interested. I continue, although not at the pace I did 20 years ago. I hope one day they’ll look back fondly on traditions and customs as you did here.

    1. Trust me: your kids will beg you to bake them again. And then they’ll follow you around your kitchen insisting on copies of your recipes. My sisters and I liked to perch on the kitchen counters and watch Mom cook. We could have conversations and a glass of wine or a beer and supposedly absorb some of her cooking brilliance just being in her presence as she made our favorite meals.

  6. The cookies and cakes sound delicious. I will have to try the recipe!
    I do bake a lot–not as much as when our girls were home when I baked cookies a couple times a week and also for school events.

    1. A couple times a week? Wow. I’d love to have you as my neighbor. I used to massage an older woman who lived nearby. One morning I opened the door to our apartment and found a basket of donuts she’d just made. They were still warm.

  7. I agree about the German bakings, I love them too!

    My mother-in-law bakes traditional thin bread (which we call rieska in Finnish) and also rye bread in baking oven. Those breads are even better than the German ones. She is over 80 but she still does it. My husband bakes rieska-breads before Christmas in our baking oven. It’s always a big mess – lots of flour needed, and you have to be very fast since the oven is really hot… But I love them!

  8. Wonderful story. My friend who is German expat bakes all the time. She has a wonderful array of great desserts which she learned form her Mother and sister. My favorite Christmas cookie is the Lebkuchen. Hope all is well

    1. Do you know the German tradition of giving Lebkuchen cookies with their own tins? Once the cookies are gone – which happens fast – people keep the tins. They’re often decorated with maps of medieval city castles, etc.

  9. Mmm, they do sound delicious! For me, it was the Norwegian cookies of my grandmother and great-grandmother, full of butter and light as a breeze. Mine are like roofing shingles by comparison. But…we have to try, right?

  10. My mother was also a German baker who make wonderful stuff. My problem with commercial desserts in the US is that they are too sweet. Europeans do not make their pastries overly sweet and I love it like that. Miss my Mom’s baking too.

    1. So you know how awesome desserts are here! We used to go to family gatherings where all the women brought home made desserts. At some point during the event each one would make her way over to wherever I was sitting. Then she’d pat me on the shoulder and inform me she’d tried what I’d baked. “It was good!” each one would reassure me. Nice of them, but I was never convinced.

      1. Miss those days. My mother had 3 sisters and 3 sister-in-laws. OMG! The food was fabulous. Now when you go to events, the hostess bought them at the grocery store — all sugar! Yuk! I can bake some of them but I don’t bake enough to keep the knack of having it perfect.

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