Holiday baking is probably the primary baking season, and the undisputed King of holiday foods is the Christmas cookie. All sizes, shapes, and types make their appearance, some are traditional, some are modern, and some are entirely whimsical. We even bake the standard cookies during the season, just because. After all, what cookie platter would be complete without a few peanut butter, snickerdoodle, oatmeal raisin, and chocolate chip cookies?
Baking them is undeniably work. It can be messy. It’s often time consuming. It’s a real pain in the neck. We may hate the process, but boy oh boy, do we love to eat them, to share them, to give them and most of all…to enjoy the smiles of pleasure that they bring. That’s the whole reason to bake them, that smile of pleasure.
Part of the whole Christmas cookie thing is to have a lot of different kinds of cookies. Whether you are making up platters of cookies to serve or to give as gifts, they need to hae plenty of variety. They don’t have to be elaborately decorated in order to be treasured and tasty gifts, however.
Here’s some ideas, along with the original source where the recipe is found.
Candy cane cookies-these come from the 1961 edition of the Betty Crocker Cooky book. They are a molded cookie formed from two long rolls of cookie dough, one dyed red, the other left natural. The two ropes are twisted together, cut into 6″ lengths, rolled until smooth and then rolled through crushed peppermint candies, shaped into the “cane” shape, and baked . For me, these are classic Christmas cookies, suitable for decorating trees, serving or giving. They are not complicated to make, but have real bang for the effort (and taste good too!)
Fruit Slice cookies (Betty Crocker Cooky Book, 1961 edition again)
These are another molded cookie, this time the rope is a bit fatter, and wrapped in a thin layer of white undyed dough, then tinted on the outside once again. The cookies are sliced, then cut in half. Sometimes, we’d sprinkle them with coarse sugar. They would be flavored in lemon, lime, and orange, depending on which fruit they were mimicking.
Peppermint sugar cookies–these use any drop sugar cookie recipe, then are sprinkled with crushed peppermint candy and baked. Easy, delicious, and simple enough for an after-school snack.
I used to also make a cookie with a refrigerator dough, basically a slice-and-bake sugar cookie, but it had finely chopped candied fruit in it. This too is a classic holiday cookie that isn’t super elaborate in decorating.
decorated sugar cookies-these are widely available recipes, and are essentially 3 different choices. One is a sour cream recipe (my personal favorite), a recipe using regular granulated sugar, and a recipe using confectioner’s sugar. All of them, once mixed up, are dealt with the same. These are the pain-in-the-butt classics. You roll them out, cut them out, and then bake them. Then, they are frosted and decorated. Kids love to help, but it is undeniably the messiest and most time consuming of the Christmas cookie baking.
The ultimate is the Gingerbread Men & Women. Like the sugar cookies, they are messy and time consuming, but the frosting process is often easier. If you like soft, puffy cookies, leave the dough thicker and remove them from the oven sooner. If you like a hard gingerbread that is best dunked in coffee or tea…roll it thin, and bake it a hair longer. Hard gingerbread is definitely something that lasts a long time in a tightly sealed tin or jar.
There are some cookies that are well suited to producing in large quantities, and my favorites are the refrigerator cookies. The entire roll is molded into shape, and they are sliced and baked. Typically, they require little for decorating beyond what is done to the entire roll. We used to typically have bells that were tinted either green or red, surrounded in a thin layer of untinted dough. The bell shape is very easy to create in the entire roll, and the cookies slice easily. A small ball of untinted dough would be placed for the clapper at the center of the base of the bell. Christmas “balls” are done the same way, with a squarish protrusion at the “top” that represents the hanger on the top of the ornaments.
To make cookies ready to hang, the holes must be put into place before the cookies are baked. Make them plenty large to put your thread or cord through–they will sometimes “shrink” in size during baking. When frosting or decorating these pierced cookies, don’t close the holes up–it’s easy to do. Tender, delicate cookies do not make good hanging cookies–they are just too fragile to support their own weight being dangled on a cord. Smaller cookies are also better than larger in terms of hanging cookies–it’s that weight on the cord that will get them!
For those who truly despise baking cookies, but yet want to decorate with cookies…try salt dough, but after they are baked, painted, and decorated…dip them in polyurethane varnish and hang them to dry. (Use hooks for hanging then while drying, not cords.) These will last for years of use. Using a spray form does not get a heavy and consistent enough coating to actually protect these faux cookies for years of storage from insects and moisture damage, and dipping is essential to achieve that level of protection.
So dig out those old Christmas cookie cutters, find some decorating gear, and get ready to wow everyone with your amazing creativity as you approach the biggest baking season of the year.