Mixing Traditions – Old and New

By: Jane Weinke, curator of collections/registrar

As the holidays approach, many of us likely are busy with traditional activities. Over the years, I’ve found that some of those once-exciting tasks, including Christmas shopping and decorating the house and a tree, have become less important. There remains one holiday custom – cookie baking – that I still hold dear. I have vivid memories of watching and eventually helping my grandmother and mother make dozens of cookies. As I was able to choose recipes, mix, and bake them on my own, I developed a passion that continues today.

Not everyone likes to bake. Admittedly, I go a bit overboard which makes my relatives shake their heads. But, there are others like me. Over twenty-five years ago, I met Pat Corbin Conn; she’s as at home in the kitchen as I am. While I collect hundreds of cookie recipes each year from which I choose fifteen, she bakes family favorites each year. We are the perfect combination. In recent years, Pat’s daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson have joined the fun.

Traditionally in December, I’ve shared a recipe in a Woodson Wanderings blog post. Our three-day cookie marathon was December 8-10, just in time to share this newly tried recipe. It’s been declared a “keeper,” easy for all baking skill levels, as well as very tasty, too.

Surprise Cookies

Makes 2 dozen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 large marshmallows, cut in half horizontally


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until combined.
  3. Using a tablespoon or 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies begin to spread and become firm, 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. Remove baking sheets from oven, and place a marshmallow, cut-side down, in the center of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Return to oven, and continue baking until marshmallows begin to melt, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  5. Spread about 1 tablespoon of frosting over each marshmallow, starting in the center and continuing outward until marshmallow is covered.

Chocolate Frosting


2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Place confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter with the cocoa, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the milk and vanilla to the heated mixture, and whisk smooth.

Our hearty band of bakers has started a tradition, too. Saturday evening, after a long day of baking, we drive to Marshfield for dinner and then visit the Rotary Winter Wonderland at Wildwood Zoo. The beautiful displays evoke memories of walking through my childhood neighborhood looking at the houses decked out in lights, ribbons, and boughs. It’s a bit different now with all the mechanical, musical, and animated decorations, but I’m still in awe of the glow and ambiance created by tiny lights strung high and low. It’s a magical experience at any age.

The old mixed with the new. I’m smiling at the many meanings of those few words.

Happy holidays.

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