Every year my Grandmother would bake the same cookies. They weren’t just any cookies though. My Grandmother called them Kinder Kekse.
See my Grandmother came here straight from Germany when she was in her late 30’s. She was a baker, just like her mother and Grandmother before her. When the war broke out, her mother sent her out of the country. She never saw her mother or grandmother again. She did bring all of her families recipes though. She opened her own bakery and put herself into that. She put her soul into the bakery. All her children grew up in that bakery. All the grandchildren grew up there. I, being one of those grandchildren grew up there. I’m the only one that wanted to take over the bakery when she passed a few months ago. Now the holidays are here and I have to bake all the Christmas cookies she used to bake. There are a lot of them. I’m just glad she wrote all the recipes down though. Except for her Kinder Kekse.
I watched her bake them every year. I know the recipe by heart, but every time I bake them, they don’t look or taste right. I have to be missing something, but I don’t know what. I’m on the forth batch today and they all come out looking like mush. They don’t have the perfect shapes of the children they are supposed to look like. They come out of the oven, spread out, like a fat man. They are still uncooked when you bite into them. They aren’t the golden brown that they should be. They come out white and greasy looking. I’ve cleaned the oven, I’ve checked the ingredients. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.
“Mom, I need your help.” I finally have given up and called my mom. She’s the oldest of the five children my Grandmother had. She would know the ingredient I’m missing.
“Yes, dear. What is it?” She answer on the phone in that sweet tone of hers. I never know if its because she’s sincere or just wants me to hurry up. I know I can annoy her sometimes when it comes to Grandmothers bakery.
“Is there another ingredient to Grandmothers Kinder Keske? Like one I wouldn’t know about? I am following it to a tee from my memory, but they are not turning out right. Can you come down and help me, please?” I plead to her.
“Honey, I don’t really have time to come down there.”
“Mom, please. I need to make these right. Everyone is looking forward to these cookies.” I’d be down on my knees if I was in front of her right now.
“I’m sure no one will mind if you don’t bake them. You already have so much on your plate.” She just doesn’t want to help. I hate when she does this.
“Your kidding, right? You don’t even want your mothers cookies. I know they were your favorite too.” I try and guilt her. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“Well yes, I do. It’s just grandma had her way of making them. You don’t have to try and achieve that. We already know you are a good baker and will love whatever you make.”
“I know I can make them just like Grandmother. I know I can. I’ll call Aunt Sophie then. Maybe she will help me.” And I hung up.
Mom does this all the time to me. It’s like she can’t stand to be around me anymore or the bakery. I understand it’s her mothers bakery, but help would be nice. Grandmother died unexpectedly. She was in her seventy’s, but she was as healthy as a horse. She was constantly busy and always working hard in her bakery. Then one day My mom and I come in and there she is dead on the floor. Her morning loafs burning in the oven. I’m surprised the fire department didn’t get called from all the smoke filling the kitchen. Grandmother was laying on the floor, her face down and blooding coming from her forehead. Mom screamed. It was loud enough to cause someone that was walking past to run in and see the commotion. The person then called 911. I was on the floor trying to get her back. I learned CPR in high school. But we were too late. She was already gone.
“Aunt Sophie?” I hear someone pick up the other end of the phone.
“Jesse? What’s wrong dear? You sound perplexed?” She says with a worried tone.
“I’m trying to make grandmothers cookies and they just aren’t turning out right. Can you please come down and help me. Just to make sure I’m doing the recipe right. Please?” I speak in the sweetest voice I can manage. I haven’t been one to beg to anyone.
“Which ones? You know she had all her recipes written down in her big book in the back. I know I’ve seen you look in it many times growing up.”
“No the Kinder Kaske.”
I’m answered with silence. Aunt Sophie doesn’t even take a breath. Why will no one help me with these.
“Aunt Sophie?” I say cautiously.
“You don’t have to worry about baking those. I’m sure we will be fine without them.”
“But everyone loves them. I already have some family asking for them. Please help me. I’m missing something and they aren’t turning out right.”
“Oh dear. I’m afraid you will never get then to turn out right. Grandmother had a secret ingredient in those cookies that she never told any of us.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me?” I say sadly.
“I don’t think she wanted anyone to know. I don’t even know where to look to find it out.”
“She had to have told me at one point. She knew I was going to take over after she passed. Not that we thought she was going to pass so soon.”
“I asked her at one point and she told me to never ask again.” You could hear the defense in her tone.
“Why would she say that?” I wonder. It sounds so unlike Grandmother. I think to myself for a moment. “She had to have written it down somewhere. I’m going to go look again.”
“I wouldn’t worry to much about it dear.” My Aunt said before hanging up.
There has to be a reason why no one knows the full recipe. Grandmother must have put in a secret ingredient when I wasn’t looking to make them turn out so good. I just need to think hard on when she would have done it. I never left her side during the holidays. I was always helping. Maybe it was when I left to fetch her something or grabbing cookies out of the oven.
I decide to attempt to make them again. I get out all the ingredients that I know of and set them all up. I have my mixing bowl, my whisk, I have everything. I start adding the butter, eggs, sugar. I mix and mix until evenly together. In my head I think about all the memories I have with my Grandmother, baking these cookies. I try and think of every little detail. Nothing comes to mind. I’m getting no where. I stop whisking and step back. My Grandmother had a compartment under her desk. One I don’t think she knew that I knew about. I’ve forgotten about it until now. I found out when I was younger, but knew that I wasn’t allowed in it. I let myself forget about it. I rush back to the office in the back of the bakery and straight to the desk. I look for the little notch that opened the compartment on the inside of the desk.
Joy spread threw me as the small door opened. I knew it. I reach in and grab everything that is in there. I set it on top of the already messy desk and start searching. She had to have put the recipe in here somewhere. Though there are many things in here that I didn’t know about and I doubt my mother new about. Things that must remain a secret. I don’t dig deeper, I need to see if she wrote down the recipe. Most of this I can come back to at a different time. Like the letter from her mother, who stayed in Germany. Like the pictures of children I’ve never seen before.
My heart leaps when I see the name of the cookies on what looks like a worn sheet of notebook paper. The ink is even fading some. I have to squint my eyes to read it. I read it as well as I can. Seeing all the ingredients that I’ve been using on it. Until it gets to one. I have to reread it a few times to understand what it is. There is a smudge on the last word, but I know what it is and at that moment, I decide to never make these cookies again.