This past Saturday would have been my Grandma Fay’s birthday. I was very close to my grandma growing up, especially during my teenage years. During that time she lived just a few blocks from my house, so I was able to ride my bike there any time I wanted to see her. This was heaven sent for me as my middle school years were often difficult, and my grandma was a wonderful source of comfort and companionship.
I have so many fond memories of time spent with my grandma – she was smart, kind and soft-spoken. She was full of sound advice and great wisdom and always treated me – regardless of my age – with the utmost respect. She was a wonderful listener and being with her made me feel loved, protected and understood. Just sitting in her bedroom, going through her boxes of costume jewelry (much of which I own and treasure today) made all of the pains and stresses of adolescence disappear – at least for a little while.
My grandma was also incredibly talented. There was literally nothing that involved using one’s hands that she did not excel at. Knitting. Sewing. Crochet. But for me, the greatest magic she performed was in the kitchen – especially her baking. She was a masterful baker at a time when there was no Martha, Ina or Magnolia. It was just something she did – seemingly effortlessly – and was well-known for amongst our family and friends.
When I moved into my first apartment (with my very own KitchenAid mixer!) I asked my grandma to teach me how to bake. I was as much in awe of her process as I was of the goodies she produced. She was meticulous in the kitchen, orderly, organized and methodical. I wanted to be just like her and was thrilled that she was going to share all of her secrets with me.
The very first thing I wanted to make were her butter cookies. This may sound a little boring, but until you’ve had one, you couldn’t possibly know that they literally put all other dry, crumbly, tasteless bakery versions to shame. Made with just 4 ingredients (5 if you count the chocolate chips used here), they are indescribably delicious. They practically evaporate in your mouth, leaving behind the most wonderful sensation of crunch, butter and a touch of sweetness.
The beauty of these cookies lies in their simplicity – no eggs, salt or leavening agents are used, yet they are lighter and more delicate than their shortbread cousins. I own all of my grandma’s baking pans and tools and my most prized possession is the cookie press she used to make these cookies. It is very old and more than a little battered. The handle fell off years ago so I need to wrap the tube in plastic wrap so that the dough doesn’t seep out of the holes where the handle was once attached. But I will never part with it as I always feel her presence when I hold it in my hands.
Like most cookie presses, this one comes with various discs – I use the flower shape, since that’s what my grandma always used. It is perfect for holding a chocolate chip in the middle, which looks so pretty and gives a hint of richness without overwhelming the delicacy of the cookie itself. This is not a fancy, complex cookie, and looks pretty unassuming when displayed in an assortment on a dessert buffet. In fact, it is often the last to get picked. Until someone eventually tries one and – each and every time – closes her eyes, savors what she’s just eaten and says, “WHAT is in these cookies?”
And that is the beauty of Fay. I can only aspire to be half as accomplished she was, but I am grateful that I had so many years with her, as she is the person who set me on the path to being the baker I am today. Baking is my greatest joy and Fay is with me whenever I’m in the kitchen. Which is the most lovely, warm and special feeling.
I am proud to share this cherished recipe with you, and hope that it becomes a beloved favorite in your family too.
chocolate chips or other decorations (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 375.
Cream butter and sugar – beat in vanilla, then flour. Using a cookie press, press shapes onto ungreased baking sheets, about 1″ apart. Top each with a chocolate chip.*
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Carefully transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Makes 6-7 dozen, depending on the size of the disc you use.
Note: feel free to double the recipe, as these cookies freeze beautifully. If you want to go all out “Fay-style”, store the cookies, in layers separated by waxed paper, in a shoe box. Make sure you re-use the waxed paper multiple times as it’s perfectly good and why would you throw it away just because it has a few crumbs on it?
* there is almost always a double chip on at least 1 cookie (see photo, above) – you always felt like you won a prize when you found it, and my kids still look for the “double” when I make these today.