I know so many people with holiday traditions of cookies by the hundreds, cookies of all shapes and sizes and flavors. My mother-in-law makes so many cookies in December that she could feed a small nation.
My holiday cookie traditions are more limited. The main one — often the only one — was chrusciki, a Polish cookie also known as “angel wings”. The dough is rolled out and cut into strips, and if you are making them properly, you cut a slit in the strip and twist the dough in on itself to make, well, angel wings. Mom never bothered, and neither would you if you were frying enough chrusciki to fill a whisky barrel. So her chrusciki were always a rough and tumble kind of cookie, browned at the edges, irregular sizes, broken where they jostled each other in the tins and baskets she kept them in.
It didn’t matter. They tasted like heaven, and no one else around us had them. They were special to us, like the homemade kielbasa hung in the cold porch, so different from the store-bought item. As teenagers, my brothers could eat a large roasting pan full of chrusciki and come back for more; the first few years living away from home, I hoarded my little tin until the few remaining cookies were too stale to eat.
I’ve still never made them myself, alone. It’s still something I want from Mom.
Tonight, I tweaked some recipes around and made chocolate thumbprint cookies with candied cherry centers. They’re gorgeous: sleek and uniform, soft brown and gleaming red. They’re delicious and cheery and look like a million other cookies on a million other tables, not like those tumbled chrusciki of memory, the only chrusciki in the neighborhood, rare and precious as angel wings fallen to earth.