Food plays a significant role at Christmas, an unfortunate fact for my waistline. But you can’t help all the good feelings that come from each different cookie that makes up the holiday baking repertoire. You have the chocolate dipped half-n-half cookies that never seem to come out exactly half-dipped like the perfect magazine pictures. You have the easy toffee crumble that turns cardboard consistency, bland soda crackers into a sweet obsession. You have the frosting assembly line to turn sugar cookie cutouts into works of art…and yes, angels are blue, a least in my world.
But of all the cookies, one stands out not only for its sweet simplicity, but because each time I make it, I remember my grandparent’s farm. Called Honey Haystacks, they were my grandpa’s favorite cookie, and best of all, he helped to make them. Grandma would do all the important work, like mix the right amount of the right ingredients to the right consistency. But once complete, she’d set the mixing bowl full of dough in the middle of the table along with the honey-coconut “hay” and let me, Mom, and Grandpa do the rest.
You see, it was the family-time which mattered in those hours spent rolling teaspoon sized dough-globs into balls, setting them onto cookie sheets and after baking them for a bit, using the end of a wooden spoon to make a deep indent for housing the sweet “hay.” Dad would join us just to sip coffee and join the conversation, and the adults talked about anything and everything. Eventually, they’d begin to reminisce, and that’s how I learned about my family’s history: how Grandpa’s ship in World War Two took a hit from a Kamakazi plane during the battle for Iwo Jima, how Grandma worked in an aircraft factory as a Rosie the Riveter during the war, how Grandpa won enough money in a back-alley craps game to buy his first car…a Model A, how Grandma worked for a Sherriff’s Office, and how they both lived in American Samoa for a while.
Every time I bite into a haystack, I hear them and am a kid again.
Here’s the recipe. May it build memories for your family, too.
1 c butter
½ c sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2c all-purpose flour
3 ½ oz flaked coconut
½ c honey
¾ t cinnamon
Dough: Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg + egg yolk. Stir in flour.
Topping: Combine coconut, honey, and cinnamon. (Sometimes you have to make more because you figure out you’ve been putting too much on top.)
Directions: Shape dough into balls, about one-heaping teaspoon each (an old-fashioned teaspoon, not the larger modern ones…meaning, these are balls no more than an inch wide). Bake at 375-degrees for 5-minutes. Remove from oven and make a depression in each one with a thimble or your thumb or the rounded end of anything you can find. Fill the depression with the coconut mixture. Return cookies to the oven and bake 5-9 minutes more or until the cookie is firm and golden (we like ours a bit more on the brown side).
Makes 5-dozen cookies.