When I was a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s much of my life revolved around traditions. There were several traditions that signaled Christmas was approaching in The Coal Region,
Town workers started putting up lighted decorations on street lamp poles and hanging strands of multi-colored lights across main streets in towns that dotted the landscape in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Community Christmas trees sprouted up in both big and small towns (some proudly took their place in the middle of intersections which caused traffic to be re-routed ( I am thinking Minersville’s tree blocking part of Third Street) …or worse. In Mahanoy City, (PA), the town’s annual “intersection” tree and several drivers became intimately acquainted throughout the years…
Stores in “the city” (the city for me being the county seat of Pottsville) decorated their windows in elaborate displays, the “toyland” display sprung up at Sears and Roebuck, and across Centre Street from Sears, Pomeroy’s Department Store played Christmas music while kids bundled up in snowsuits eagerly awaited their turn in what seemed to be a never-ending line to sit on Santa’s lap (while mom got a coveted photograph).
In my house, one sure sign of Christmas coming was cookie-baking time. For a couple weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, Mom started collecting ingredients for our favorites every Friday night when she got the store order (did the grocery shopping) at the local A & P.
Pecan tassies, snickerdoodles, kolacky, and Michigan Rocks were always on the list, but my favorite ones were AP Cookies. Not that I liked the taste more than the others — they were ALL “my favorite” — but because AP Cookies were the most fun to make. Mom and I could spend hours rolling the dough, cutting it into shapes with our collection of cookie cutters, and decorating them.
We would have one of the best “girls’ days” together of the entire year the day we baked AP Cookies.
Plenty for everyone
AP Cookies are thin and crispy Pennsylvania Dutch butter cookies. Most recipes make a big batch, and my Mom’s was no different. Easy to down-size, my Mom’s recipe is suitable for both large and small families and the cookies travel well. You will often find them in cookie-swap offerings or sent in care packages to loved ones who cannot be “home” for Christmas.
Mom had a collection of cookie cutters that we seemed to have forever. I remember using them year after year, but have no recollection of us buying any of them, so I suspect they made their appearance in the family around the same time I did — or sometime before.
The three I remember vividly are the horse (I just loved horses), the Scottie dog, and the chicken. The memory of the others has faded, but I do clearly recall the old covered cookie tin she kept them in. Once retired again after holiday baking, they resided in the bottom rear of the cabinet next to our kitchen door until the next Christmas rolled around.
After my Mom passed away, the cookie cutters remained in hibernation. They brought tears rather than joy, especially because of their connection to the holidays. Alas, as we prepared to leave The Coal Region for a foray into living in New Hampshire, the cookie cutters found themselves as contents in a box that got donated to charity. I often regretted parting with them, but what is done is done.
Now back “home” in Pennsylvania, I decided to revive the tradition of adding AP cookies to the cookie platter here in my coalcracker kitchen. I found a nice new set of cutters and plan to make memories around them. First batch with the new cutters came out nice and…they are husband approved!
Update! Through the magic of the internet
It never fails to amaze me what a little research on the internet can turn up. I found a listing for the cookie cutters of my childhood memories and yes, I bought them! Even seeing the photo of them did not jog my memory of any other cutters in the set, but the horse, chicken, and doggie are right there and will now have a new home!
A little about AP cookies
First, there’s the name which comes in many versions: AP, apea, apie, even apee. Originally, the cookie took the form of a spiced butter cookie or type of gingerbread and are of German origin.
The origin of the name, however, is somewhat murky. Essentially, the cookies were a form of Anis Platchen (anise cookies) and stamped “AP” to distinguish them from cookies with caraway, which were known as “seed cakes.”
How the spices got dropped from today’s recipes, I don’t know. An educated guess might be that spices were not easy to come by for immigrants to their new homes in the US, so the cookie evolved into ones highlighting butter.
The legend of Ann Page
Sold on the streets to children by a plethora of Philadelphia bakers, one of the most associated with the cookies was a baker by the name of Ann Page. The “AP’ eventually became associated with her name, if only because Anis Platchen were extremely popular. The name is not associated with AP flour (All-Purpose) or the A & P cjain of grocery stores!
The secret to AP cookies is to roll them thin. The cookie dough should be well chilled, overnight works best. To prevent the cookie dough from getting tough, I roll small portions of the dough on parchment paper, lightly dusting the dough and rolling pin with powdered sugar rather than flour. Simply pile the scraps back on top of themselves rather than try to form a ball again and roll and cut; repeat as needed.
So, how thin is “thin”? Thin. The best way I have found to judge is to slip the edge of a thin metal spatula inder the rolled out dough at a corner. If I can see through the dough and make out the edge of the spatula, it’s rolled to where I want it.
The dough is delicate in this thin state, so I use the spatula to transfer each cookie to the cookie sheet. You can decorate the cookies with colored sugar as desired, or place a nut half on each, pressing it into the dough lightly.
I find the first tray is often a “sacrificial” one during which I get to hone the baking time. That said, different sizes and shapes of cutouts bake at different times, so don’t walk away or assume all will bake evenly.
The way I roll and cut mine require a baking time between 5 and 7 minutes. I always rotate the baking sheets (bring the cookies in back to the front by spinning the sheet 180 degrees) to get a more even bake because my oven browns more to the rear. Only you know the characteristics of your own oven.
Rolling the cookies thin helps them get crispy all the way through before becoming too brown. Left too thick, the middle remains soft or the edges burn by the time the middle is cooked.
The cookies should be a light golden brown around the edges. Leave them on the cookie sheet for several minutes to firm up before removing them to a rack to cook completely.
AP Cookies (Apea, Apeas, Apie) – Pennsylvania Dutch Butter CookiesCourse: DessertCuisine: PA Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
This makes a lot! The recipe is easy to cut in half or quarters.
1 pound butter, room temperature
2 pounds powdered sugar
4 whole large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
8 cups all-purpose flour
- In a large bowl, place the butter and powdered sugar; cream them together.
- Add the eggs and beat well. Beat in the vanilla.
- Add the baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar plus half the flour. Mix lightly to moisten flour, then add in the remaining flour. Mix together well, the dough will be stiff.
- Divide dough into 4 sections, flatten into disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat oven to 375 F degrees. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or non-stick silicone liner.
- Remove dough one disk at a time from refrigerator, keeping unused portions refrigerated. Sprinkle board lightly with powdered sugar. Roll dough thinly, 1/8 inch or less. (I run the edge of a thin metal spatula under the corner of the dough; if the spatula can be seen through it, the dough’s the thickness I want. Leave the dough out at room temperature for several minutes if you are having difficulty rolling cold dough.
- Cut out using cookie cutters in chosen shapes and decorate, if desired, by sprinkling with colored sugar or press a walnut or pecan half in the center. These cookies do not really spread, so you can place them somewhat close together on the sheet. Use a thin metal spatula to transfer the fragile dough from the board to the baking sheet.
- Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of your cookies. Let cool several minutes on the baking sheet to firm up before removing to a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.