When my parents bought their first food processor, they asked me to share my salsa recipe. I directed them to the little recipe booklet that came with their Cuisinart. A few weeks later I got a call:
"Our salsa didn't taste like yours. Do you use that much raw onion?"
"Oh, right. I substitute green onions and a little garlic."
"And the texture of the tomato paste was all off."
"There's tomato paste in the recipe?"
My dad said I was just like Grandma, who always left out a crucial ingredient or two when sharing recipes long-ago committed to memory.
So it was bittersweet when, after her passing, I opened her recipe box to find three recipes for Crisp Pastel Cookies, all with different ingredients in different proportions. "Green Cookies," as my family has called them for as long as I can remember, earned their nickname from the lime Jell-O that Grandma always used, though the recipes in her box indicate that any Jell-O will do. When we came to visit, the cookies were nestled between layers of plastic wrap and wax paper, all inside an old ice cream tub toward the back of the kitchen counter.
Nearly a year ago, I bought a rainbow of Jell-O boxes to make this Jell-O-based dough at Modern Parents Messy Kids. D chose "boo!" (blue) for our first ball and he was thrilled. I was, too: it was simple to make, and really, the most wonderful smelling dough (of any kind! edible or other!) I've ever worked with. But my visions of being a homemade-play-dough-making mom haven't quite been borne out in reality, as there are a lot of boxes of Jell-O crowding my cabinets. When D found a "geen!" (green) one last week, I decided to skip the play dough and make Green Cookies instead.
D often helps me bake, whether it's dumping the contents of measuring cups and spoons or decorating the finished products. He's enjoyed the baking well enough, but often wanders off somewhere mid-recipe. Given his recent obsession with letters and numbers, baking has suddenly become much more interesting. There are letters and numbers everywhere! Recipes, ingredients, measuring spoons, parchment paper boxes, the oven, and even the stand mixer have new appeal.
The afternoon was equal parts nostalgia and new joy. My stand mixer was a wedding gift from my grandmother, who was right that it was the best kitchen tool I didn't know I needed. Half of my cookie press discs come from the rotary Swedish press she gave me years ago to make Spritz. It was wonderful watching D turn these beloved items into new toys.
It was even more exciting to come back from the sink to find that D had emptied my bag of cookie discs and started squashing them onto the rolled balls. I had planned to use Grandma's traditional eight-petaled flower, but who was I to argue with fish, clovers, stars, butterflies, pumpkins, and snowmen?
The hardest part of the day was waiting for our cookies to be done. But we found plenty to keep us busy:
I had been hesitant to actually say the word "cookie," as D's patience gets tested by an hour of baking. When I opened the oven, D squealed at what his play dough had become: "Green Cookies!" I realized Grandma had probably rolled with the name her little eaters had given her cookies.
Recipe: Green Cookies (adapted from three of Grandma's versions of the classic Jell-O cookie)
Because D was having so much fun squashing the dough and eating the cookies, I pulled out a decidedly un-play-dough-worthy box of Pistachio Jell-O with nuts for a second batch. That, plus almond extract, made for a nice twist on this family favorite recipe. And most importantly, they're still green.
3/4 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar, plus extra for rolling
1 pkg. lime Jell-O
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 375. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, and Jell-O on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add vanilla and eggs to stand mixer and mix until just incorporated.
With mixer running, slowly add dry ingredients.
Put extra sugar on a small plate. Roll the dough into 3/4" balls, then roll the balls in the sugar. Place the balls 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
If your cookie press discs are metal, you can simply press them down on each cookie to make patterns. If your discs are plastic, you may find it helpful to rub them with a paper towel coated in canola or vegetable oil to prevent sticking. If you don't have a cookie press, just let your little helpers press their fingers into the balls to make cool shapes.
Bake for 6-8 minutes, watching carefully so you remove the cookies before they brown on the edges. Yield: 6-8 dozen.