Cream Cheese Christmas Cookies

Mom was the Queen of Christmas cookie baking. She really was. One of the hardest things about losing my parents (both passed away at holiday time) was the lack of Christmas cookies to cheer everyone up. One little bite of the cream cheese cookies, and it was enough to make anyone feel better.

For a time in my life we lived on the road, and didn’t have a real kitchen; as soon as we moved into a place with an oven, I begged recipes from her and she would give them to me over the phone, calling from Snohomish to Harrington, a three-hour time difference. Sometimes we didn’t get the math quite right (two instances of that involving these cookies as you will see) and it would be very late for me, so I’d grab a pen and find a blank side of a piece of paper to copy the recipe down.

The cream cheese cookies were one of those late night copy jobs. That’s why on the side, there is some typing – it is a piece of a very old draw sheet, a mimeographed copy of the racetrack “draw”. This was a procedure where a trainer “dropped” (filled out a slip of paper and put it in a slot in the racing office) a horse in to race and the official racing secretary would sort the entries into the classes to pull together horses of similar ability to create competitive races. That’s the objective, any way. Once the deadline for the draw was set, then the entry “box” (really, just a tray) was opened, the secretary took a look and they would “draw” the starting gate spaces for the horses. As the numbers were pulled from a drawing container, the horses’ names would also be drawn from the pile, and thus they would have their starting positions set. The draw was set up to be completely random and thus, under the rules of pari-mutuel betting, technically fair as any horse entered had the chance to draw a favored starting position – or not.

Once all the horses were drawn and the races set, the secretary would type up all the races and horses and put them in order, and make copies of the sheet and provide them in the office for horsemen to see if their horses got in and where they “drew”. A racing office went through stacks and stacks of paper in a season, as there was a draw for every race day, and they had to make enough copies for all the trainers.


cookie draw sheet
Cream cheese cookie recipe on the left, and part of the old draw sheet from the races on the right.

That was the way it used to be done. Today it’s done digitally – the horses can be entered by the phone, and draw sheets are posted online. Nearly every trainer does it all by phone today. The old days of mimeographed sheets, stacked in wall trays in the office, are almost gone.  But the history behind the draw is a long one; when horse racing the most popular sport in America, the draws for big races were attended by the media, and results published in all the major newspapers in the country. (Think “Seabiscuit“).


Now here’s the second math error. The cream cheese cookie recipe has always been wrong. I’m not sure why, but we have always doubled it and I also frost them with buttercream frosting, which I either didn’t copy down or didn’t have room to list. The “3 oz.” of cream cheese isn’t correct – half an 8-oz. bar would be 4 oz. – but as these are so delicious, and we always doubled them, we never paid attention to the math error!

Christmas Cream Cheese Cookies

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Crisco shortening (don’t substitute)
  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (sifted)
  • Food coloring: red, green, yellow

Buttercream Frosting

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk

Cookies: mix the first five ingredients thoroughly, then gradually add the flour til dough is mixed in. Divide the dough mixture into two or three parts and place in separate bowls with separate scrapers ready. One bowl at a time, add several drops of food coloring and mix well, so that you will have a bowl of green colored dough, a bowl of red colored dough, and a bowl of gold colored dough. Clean the beaters well after each dough has been colored and use separate scrapers so you don’t mix colors. Drop by spoonful on cookie sheets leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes until edges just look golden brown. Remove from sheets and cool completely on wire racks.

Frosting: mix the butter, vanilla, and sugar, adding milk a tablespoon at a time until mixture is spreadable – not too stiff but not too soft to stick to the cookies. Separate frosting as with cookie dough and mix in food coloring if desired. Frost the cookies with buttercream frosting colored to match the cookies, and decorate with Christmas sprinkles. You can mix and match the colored frosting with cookies! Return to wire racks until frosting sets, about 30 minutes. Once set, you can stack these cookies in tins or containers with tight-fitting lids and they will keep several weeks…but trust me, they won’t last that long! Makes about 4 dozen.




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