My grandmother, Hanna, launched a generation of young Richmonders by baking birthday cookies for them at the nursery school she directed. She topped each birthday boy or girl’s cookie with a Hershey’s chocolate kiss, making a special treat for a four or five year old. All the other cookies had just one chocolate chip on top. Before serving, she sat at the piano and played “Happy Birthday,” swiveling her neck around and smiling brightly to lead everyone in the sing-along.
The original recipe for the cookies comes from the Top Knot Nursery School, where she began her career in the 1930s. She never intended to teach, but she needed a job during the Great Depression. Since she could play the piano, she became the school’s music teacher. Eventually, she bought the business, renamed it Tuckahoe Nursery School, and ran it until she retired in 1970. For my daughter’s birthday this week, I pulled out this recipe – the only cookies I remember my grandmother ever baking. I cut the quantities in half from the school’s original (which made nearly 100), and added baking instructions. My daughter and her friends devoured them, proving that this recipe has withstood the test of time.
Top Knot Nursery School Cookies (circa 1935)
Makes 48 cookies
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 level teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water and set aside to cool
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg, mace and cinnamon (I just used nutmeg and cinnamon)
1 or more Hershey’s chocolate kisses
Approximately 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
- Add the egg and baking soda mixture, mixing well to combine.
- Sift in the flour and spices. Stir to make a thick dough.
- Place the dough by the rounded tablespoon onto the cookie sheet, leaving space between each spoonful. Top each cookie with a chocolate chip or a Hershey’s kiss. (I made 16 cookies per baking sheet).
- Bake approximately 10 minutes until the edges are brown and the cookies are golden. Remove with a spatula. Serve warm while you sing happy birthday!
Variation: For chocolate cookies, omit the nutmeg, mace and cinnamon and add 1 ounce semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted, to the butter-sugar mixture.