A tradition made of dough Baker: Maria Kilduff makes visions of sugar cookies dance in their heads.


Young, newly married, with a baby on the way, Maria Kilduff wanted to start a Christmas tradition. She had an old family recipe that made hundreds of sugar cookies and a new, hungry husband who could eat at least that many. Though money was tight, she splurged on three cookie cutters, then invited Paul, who she called Duff, to join her in the kitchen. It was the Sunday before Christmas, 1948.

And so it began, in a Baltimore apartment, the Kilduffs' Christmas cookie-baking tradition. Maria made the batter and rolled the dough, thin as paper; Duff greased the baking sheets and put them in the oven. The cookies turned out perfect -- or as perfect as possible, considering that the oven had a broken gauge and they had to guess at the temperature. Upon tasting his first, all Duff could say was "Wow."

Maria hadn't known that sugar cookies, crisp and sweet, were his favorite.

The second Christmas, with a new baby, Duff and Maria made cookies. The third Christmas, after his promotion, Duff and Maria made cookies. They made cookies every Christmas for 47 years, during which they raised three children, welcomed five grandchildren and collected 63 cookie cutters. They also moved to homes with better ovens.

Though the world around them changed, the Christmas cookies never did. They were always made on the Sunday before Christmas. They were always rolled and cut by Maria; baked and counted by Duff. They were always crisp and sweet, and Duff always ate more than anyone.

Last year, their 48th together, Duff was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At Christmas, confined to a wheelchair and struggling to speak, he sat in the doorway of their kitchen in Bel Air and watched Maria, for the first time, make the cookies without him. She expected the final product to reflect the year's sorrow. But when it came time for her husband to sample the batch, he told her the cookies were the best he'd ever tasted.

If it surprises you to hear that last week, for the 49th year in a row, Maria Kilduff mixed batter and rolled out dough, you underestimate the power of the cookie tradition. Maria misses her husband, who died in February, terribly. But she also believes his spirit is with her -- and in every cookie made with the following recipe.

Maria and Duff Kilduff's Christmas sugar cookies

1 pound butter, softened (no substitutes)

2 pounds of confectioners' sugar

10 eggs

7 cups of flour

1 tablespoon of vanilla

(Recipe may be halved)

Mix ingredients and chill batter overnight. Separate dough in small pieces and roll out on a floured surface, the thinner the better. Cut into Christmas shapes. Bake at 325 degrees about 10 minutes on greased cookie sheets. Makes about 400 very thin cookies.

Pub Date: 12/25/97

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