Sugar and spice and everything nice: That’s how little girls — and big ones — like to bake
Cookies cool on the counter in Donna Miscavige’s Weatherly kitchen Saturday.
ABOVE: Caitlin Walborn, far left, watches her mother, Donna Miscavige, standing rear, give instructions on rolling snickerdoodles to her niece, Riley, and her daughter, Athena, Saturday.
LEFT: Brynn Falise slides gingerbread cookies from a baking sheet.
Athena Walborn, 3, front, and her cousin, Riley, 5, roll dough into balls and dip them into sugar and cinnamon to make snickerdoodles. KAREN CIMMS/TIMES NEWS
The aroma of ginger, sugar and spices wafts from Donna Miscavige’s Weatherly kitchen. The oven is fired up, the counters are dusted with flour and the kitchen table is covered with sprinkles. She and her two granddaughters, 5-year-old Riley and 3-year-old Athena, are outfitted in colorful Christmas aprons as she bustles about the kitchen, while daughter Brynn Falise mans the oven and daughter Caitlin Walborn makes sure more sprinkles make their way onto the cookies than into the tummies.
For Miscavige, baking Christmas cookies surrounded by family is a generations-long tradition.
“When they were growing up, I made cookies with my three (triplets Brynn, Caitlin and Justin), and my mother did it with me when I was growing up,” said Miscavige.
“It was always a special time and made the holidays extra-special. So naturally after I married and had my children I wanted to pass along this special tradition that I experienced and enjoyed,” said Miscavige.
“When my children were 2, I had them help making our Christmas cookies. We would share them with our family, grandparents and friends that we knew would not receive home made Christmas cookies.”
Miscavige said back then, with three “helpers,” she was always in for a surprise or two.
“My girls would help cut and decorate the cookies while my son would run the mixer and sample the cookies. I learned very quickly that my son loved to see how fast the mixer could go and at the same time keeping the batter in the bowl. Never a dull moment for sure.”
Each year they would make gingerbread, spritz, molasses, sugar, chocolate chip and Russian tea balls, and then choose a new cookie to make from a recipe book.
“My father made cookies with Brynn and Caitlin when my mother couldn’t do it anymore. He would make his favorites and ask the girls to help.”
Miscavige said the tradition continued every Christmas until college took up so much of her kids’ time.
“They still looked forward to coming home and enjoying the cookies or me sending them to their colleges to share with their friends,” she said.
With her kids now grown and married with families of their own, Miscavige sets aside a Saturday in December for them to get together and bake three of their favorites: sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and snickerdoodles.
“They like sugar cookies,” Miscavige said of her granddaughters. “Riley’s dad likes the snickerdoodles, and we all like the gingerbread.”
This is Riley’s third year helping Nana, while Athena logged her second year.
Miscavige is hoping next year, her newest granddaughter, Elliot, who is 12 months old, will be able to join them in the kitchen.
Athena said her favorite part of making cookies is adding the sprinkles, “especially the rainbow ones.” Her favorite cookie to eat is the gingerbread men.
“My favorite is cutting out the cookies,” said Riley.
And what’s her favorite to eat?
“Snickerdoodles and the gingerbread men.”
Holiday baking is also still special to their moms.
“Just having everybody together,” said Brynn, who plans to do more baking before Christmas with her little helper, Riley. “For work, we have a cookie bake-off. We’ll do some more baking this week.”
Caitlin and Athena bake regularly.
“They make cookies once a week,” said Donna.
Donna says the annual cookie baking is an important tradition she’s happy to pass on.
“It’s time with my daughters and grandchildren, and these are memories they can have with their grandmother.”
Family recipe from Donna Miscavige
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 tablespoon vinegar (Donna prefers apple cider vinegar)
4½ to 5 cups flour (Donna usually uses the whole 5 cups)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
Beat butter and sugar. Heat molasses to boiling; pour into butter and sugar mixture. Add vinegar. Stir until mixed. Allow to cool a little. Add egg. Sift dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients and mix. Chill overnight.
Roll out dough to ½-inch thick. Cut into shapes. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.