BAKING BONDS: Christmas stories flow from woman’s treasured recipe collection

(Left to right): Karen Huelsman's mother, Arlene, sister Shelly, (Karen) and sister Sandy in the kitchen.

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(Left to right): Karen Huelsman's mother, Arlene, sister Shelly, (Karen) and sister Sandy in the kitchen.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Between the messes of powdered sugar, smudges of dough on the floor and stolen chocolate chips are where some families’ sweetest and timeless memories are created.

Our annual holiday cookie contest has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bakers from across the region have submitted thousands of recipes since the contest was first held in 1990. Each year we publish the top recipes so readers can replicate the winning desserts at home.

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To fill the sugary void in our hearts this year, we asked readers to tell us about their most cherished bonds they’ve made through holiday baking and to share a favorite recipe.

“My favorite Christmas stories aren’t from a Dickens novel, or Night before Christmas but the stories that flow from my recipe collection. These real-life characters, hearty women that loved their families and the Christmas holiday season, come to life every year through their recipes,” says Fairborn resident Karen Huelsman.

For every recipe in her baking wheelhouse, downtown Fairborn resident, Karen Huelsman, has a story she holds close to her heart. Now that she has granddaughters, Huelsman said it’s become clear that she needs to begin assembling the recipes and documenting the traditions that go along with them.

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When Huelsman thinks of Aunt Martha’s famous ginger molasses cookies, she thinks of the 13 children her aunt raised in North Star, Ohio.

“What kid could ever forget being handed a cookie almost as big as their small head?” Huelsman said while thinking of the molasses cookies that were “perfectly suited for cut-outs of literally any size.”

Huelsman’s mom’s Buckeye candies were made ahead of the holiday rush, then “hidden” in the garage freezer with decoy labels.

“We prided ourselves on breaking the code every year,” Huelsman said. “I never asked her, but I’m confident she was in on our secret freezer raids. She placed a bucket of Buckeyes in the garage refrigerator for the grandkids, specifically for ‘sneaking,’”

Once Huelsman had a family of her own, Grandma Lavonna began sending Huelsman letters containing some of her favorite recipes.

“Through her letters, generations to come will know more about her love of baking before Alzhiemer’s stole it,” Huelsman said.

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Karen Huelsman's grandmother, Grandma Lavonna, with her cookbook.

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Karen Huelsman's grandmother, Grandma Lavonna, with her cookbook.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Karen Huelsman's grandmother, Grandma Lavonna, with her cookbook.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Handwritten recipe cards, “stained and worn,” Huelsman considers each one a treasure.

“Longtime neighbor, Rosemary Bachey, blessed our family with many of her families Hungarian recipes. When I made Kifli cookies for the first time, I remember how skillfully and fast she rolled up the pecan filled dough into crescents. I hoped my hands would one day be large, strong and worn like Rosemary’s.”

-Aunt Martha Rindler’s Molasses Ginger Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350

Cream:

1/3 cup shortening 1 cup light brown sugar, packed ¾ cup dark brown sugar

Add:

1 egg ½ cup molasses

Mix well and add:

2/3 cup cold water and stir just until incorporated

Sift dry ingredients:

6 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Gently mix dry ingredients into wet 1 cup at a time. Cover and chill for at least one hour.

Lightly flour surface, place dough in center and lightly flour top. Roll out to appx ½ " thick. To keep from getting too much flour in the dough, rub flour on the rolling pin if it starts to stick to dough. Cut out into desired shapes. When using larger cookie cutters (over 3-4″) lower oven temp to 325 and extend baking time a couple minutes. Bake 14-18 minutes depending on size.

Cookies can be cake-tested done or look for them to be lightly browned on the edges and will lightly indent when touched softly in the center. Adjust baking time and temp based on size of cutout cookie: smaller the cookie the quicker the bake

Decorate as desired. Glaze or Royal icing, or full-on decorator icing and all the trimmings.

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Karen Huelsman's daughter Erika on Grandma Arlene's lap.

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Karen Huelsman's daughter Erika on Grandma Arlene's lap.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Karen Huelsman's daughter Erika on Grandma Arlene's lap.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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