You Love Christmas Cookies: Om Nom Nom Nom
I love Christmas. I especially love it when we can get together with my twin brother, Keith, and his family. His wife is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and is such a blessing to our family! His boys are only a little older than mine, and getting the 4 of them together is fantastically chaotic. Is there anything more Christmassy? Ok, so that’s my favorite part of Christmas, but baking cookies is a close second. And I’ve never seen anyone devour the cookies I make quite like my brother. Perhaps it’s because he really likes cookies, but I think it’s mostly because he thinks they’re hard to make and so enjoys homemade cookies while he can because he won’t get more until someone makes them for him again. Now, to be totally fair, if I went into his kitchen and tried to make cookies right now it would be hard, but only because the man doesn’t own a measuring cup! It’s EASY to make cookies from scratch. They are so much better than store bought, and there’s nothing like them to get your kids into the kitchen!! So, no excuses… get in there! Here are my 4 favorite Christmas confection recipes — Gingerbread, White-Chocolate Candy Cane Drops, Florentines and Sugar Cookies (the best sugar cookie recipe you’ll ever find):
Toddler friendly Gingerbread Houses:
I’ve always loved gingerbread houses, but there’s a fine line between structural gingerbread and tasty gingerbread, and it’s hard to find exactly the right recipe if you want to eat your house. Between the cardboard they call gingerbread and the royal icing which is widely accepted as the mortar of all icings (not a ringing endorsement of taste), most gingerbread houses simply aren’t made to be eaten. If you’ve ever tried to eat a store bought, some assembly required, house, you’ve certainly experienced this. Eatable doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea to actually put it in your mouth. I haven’t ended my search for the perfect recipe, but here’s a pretty good one out of the “Betty Crocker’s best Christmas Cookbook.” If you have the cookbook, it actually provides plans for very beautiful, and very adult, gingerbread house fronts. I loved the theme of doing a house front, rather than the whole house, because it’s so much easier for little kids to stick candy to a large cookie laying flat than an already assembled house. So, I adapted the theme for toddlers by making a stencil of a cottage front. The dimensions of the cottage front are roughly 6 inches wide at the base by 8 inches high. See the pictures for more details. I made the cookies and drew a door and a window and some snow details on the roof just to get the kids started. The next day I made a big bowl of butter icing. It tastes SO much better than royal icing and because you’re working with a flat surface you can afford the time it takes to dry. I put a bunch of different candy in dishes and let the kids go at it. After they dry you can prop them up on the mantel (or anywhere out of a pet’s reach) to display. This year we’re planning to do this the night before Christmas so that Santa (he missed out on the display the last couple of years) can see our creations and we’ll eat them amidst the chaos the next morning.
½ c. packed brown sugar
¼ c. shortening
¾ c. full flavor molasses
1/3 c. cold water
3 ½ c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix brown sugar, shortening and molasses in large bowl. Stir in cold water. Stir in remaining ingredients except candy. Divide in half and wrap in wax paper. Let cool in the fridge for at least two hours. Roll out on a flat surface using powdered sugar to avoid sticking. (powdered sugar doesn’t leave white residue on your cookies like flour does.) Bake one pan at a time, until no indentation remains in cookie when touched in the middle, about 14 minutes. Cool completely before icing. Makes 5 to 6 large cottage front cookies.
Butter icing: (I make a lot because kids use a lot. If you’re not doing this with kids, you probably don’t need all this frosting.)
1/3 c. soft butter
3 c. sifted powdered sugar
3 tbsp. cream
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
Blend butter and sugar together. Stir in cream and vanilla until smooth.
Imagination +frosting + candy = beautiful toddler, big kid, and kid at heart creations!
White-Chocolate Candy Cane Drops:
This next one is a new recipe for us this year, but it will be a perennial one from now on! It’s packed with white chocolate and crushed candy canes and they are so much better than I can tell you! I found it in the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies addition from December 2005.
8 ounces white chocolate baking squares with cocoa butter
½ c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 c. finely crushed peppermint candy canes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Chop 4 ounces of the white chocolate, set aside. In a small saucepan, cook and stir the remaining 4 ounces white chocolate over low heat until melted. Set saucepan aside to cool chocolate slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in melted white chocolate. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Stir in the chopped white chocolate and crushed candy canes.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned around edges. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Makes about 50 cookies.
My personal favorite cookie of all time is the Florentine. It’s a little more difficult to make than the standard spoon and drop cookie, but so worth it. Thank you Italy for mixing fresh orange zest with dark chocolate! I tend to put in a little more zest than the recipe calls for because fresh orange tastes so fabulous and just screams Christmas for me. I’m not entirely sure why oranges ring in the holiday spirit for me, perhaps it’s that fresh orange in the bottom of my stocking each Christmas morning growing up. This recipe is courtesy of Giada De Lourentiis, star of Everyday Italian on the Food Network.
2 cups sliced almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir the almonds, flour and zest in a medium bowl. Stir the sugar, butter, cream, and honey in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the almond mixture. Cool the batter for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using 2 teaspoons of batter for each cookie, spoon 8 mounds of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing evenly apart (the cookies will spread). Flatten the batter slightly with your finger.
Bake the cookies until they are lacy and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Gently slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto a rack and cool completely. Transfer the cookies to paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter, lining the baking sheets with clean parchment for each batch. (The cookies can be made up to this point 2 months ahead. Cool completely, then store airtight in the freezer. Defrost before continuing.)
Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Spread the melted chocolate over the bottom of 1 cookie. Top with a second cookie, bottom side down, pressing lightly to adhere. Repeat with the remaining cookies and chocolate.
Everyone who makes Christmas cookies has made sugar cookies. There are about a billion recipes for them out there, so sifting through to find the best one is a hugely daunting task. Look no further!!! I have found the best that there is, I promise you! This recipe is courtesy of Alton Brown, star of “Good Eats” on Food Network. Hint: The trick with all rolled sugar cookies is to really stick to rolling it out no thinner than ¼ inch. That way you’ll be sure of the baking time and your cookies won’t be too crisp!
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.
Merry Christmas and full bellies!