Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grandma Jean's Cookies

You know when you hear something, and you're positive that you'll remember all the details so you simply jot down a few words, certain that you'll  be able recall everything when you need to? That's what happened when my Grandma Jean, shortly before her death, told me how to make her famous "deck of cards" sugar cookies.  How else can I explain these confusing, cryptic notes that pass as a recipe?  (I remember sitting at her kitchen table and taking these notes as she was talking.)

I made these cookies last week, after FINALLY receiving the vintage cookie cutters I ordered on eBay, which took more than six weeks to arrive from Canada.  It turns out that U.S. Customs caused the delay, not Colton Harris-Moore.

It took a leap of faith and a lot of guessing (how much orange juice? how hot an oven?) but they tasted pretty good.  However, I wasn't transported back to my childhood and my grandmother's kitchen where her cookie jar was almost always filled with hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.
Even DH thought I didn't quite get it right, though my co-workers thought the cookies were divine and devoured them in a matter of minutes.  Hmmm....maybe this IS worth revisiting.

Grandma Jean was a prolific cook and baker, whipping up breads and chicken fricassee and holiday meals for 20 at the drop of a hat.  If she wasn't in her home kitchen, she could be found in the commercial kitchen of her temple, preparing luncheons and dinners for events.  She baked well into her 90s, even making the challah bread for both my children's Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when she was nearly 100.

Grandma Jean and her five grandchildren.
She was also resourceful. As I was copying down the recipe, she told me that a while back my brother had asked her to make a pie.  Being an immigrant from Eastern Europe, she really had no experience with American pie crusts, but figured that a cookie dough would be a fine substitute.  I don't know if it was; my brother doesn't remember asking for or receiving a pie, nor does he remember giving DH some unsolicited "advice" at our engagement party, some um, "concerns" about marrying me.  Luckily DH didn't listen, and my brother swears he never said it.  And no one took any notes.


  1. These do look delicious..what was sprinkled on top? I need to make these!

  2. No comment on your brother's memory :)

  3. My grandmother was also from Eastern Europe -- and strictly, strictly kosher. While most of her food was delicious, her attempts at American-style cookies were dismal because she made them with some kind of vegetable shortening instead of butter. Her sugar cookies were hard, salty lumps, and her brownies (which she pronounced something like brah-ness), I swear contained no chocolate. She compounded all those sins by storing her baked "goodies" in an area of her bedroom (behind the kitchen door) that seemed to be liberally sprinkled with mothballs, thus ensuring that even the moths wouldn't touch them! RIP Lena: Your chicken soup and your meatballs were the best, but you were no Sara Lee.

  4. @Sarah: On top are finely chopped walnuts and white sugar, "glued" to the cookie with egg white. I believe my grandmother put the sugar and nuts on top and then washed over the whole thing with egg white.
    @Margaret: Agreed!
    @Madeline: Great story, especially the "storage" near moth balls!

  5. Susan - I love how you often have a story or two to accompany your recipes. Like being in someone's kitchen chatting while baking. Good storytelling and recipes. Thank you!

  6. Thanks so much, Randal. I appreciate your kind words and love the idea that readers are "in my kitchen!" Now,if you'd all only help me clean up!!!

  7. Hi there! I've been searching for recipes to reproduce MY grandma's sugar/butter/playing card cookies, too! I did find one that uses orange juice, and until I read the above, I didn't think it was the right recipe. BUT now I'm wondering. The recipe book we xeroxed back in 1978 had cryptic notes as well in Grandma's handwriting and mispellings. And the page with what I am assuming are the cookies, original written in pencil, so the first few ingredients and amounts are missing. Also, no temperature and cook times.

    I'm going to keep searching. Meanwhile, I'll play with your recipe above and this one I just found on Joy of Kosher website:
    It was called Safta's cookies: Go to this website:

    And thanks!