One of our favorite holiday family traditions is the baking, decorating, and consuming of cookies. The season simply would not be complete without the special time we spend together in the kitchen, either mixing up dough or whipping up icing. And even though I’m often tempted to do most of the work when the house is empty and relatively quiet, I force myself to leave some of it for the kids and grandchild to share.
I’ve composed a list of some of my favorite staples to get us through the holidays. Some of these are not necessarily holiday fare, but I reserve them for this time of year so that they will remain just a little bit special in the memories my children will hopefully pass down after I’m gone.
Decorated Sugar Cookies – I used to absolutely hate making sugar cookies. I just couldn’t ever make them come out right. I would either roll the dough out too thin, or else the kitchen would be too hot, or I would bake them too long. Something always interfered, and the finished product never quite measured up to my expectations.
Then I found a recipe I really like, and I became a little more skilled with my Mammy’s old rolling pin, and now I look forward to making these. I also found a recipe for a very simple filler icing, so all I have to do is pipe on the decorator icing outline, and let the kids fill with all their favorite colors and designs.
Another great find were some large cookie cutters. I have a tree, a snowman, an angel, and a candy cane that are about four to five inches long. They make huge cookies, but it also simplifies things for little hands to decorate and have fun.
French Lace Cookies – These aren’t specifically holiday, but they are so rich and so special that I only bake them on rare occasions. I especially like to roll them into a tube after they cool just the slightest, and then if you want to make them even more decadent, you can add a whipped filling of some type.
Shortbread Cookies – I like shortbread cookies because they aren’t so sweet, and are a nice break from all the other rich offerings of the holidays. Many years ago I found a cast iron mold at a garage sale – it was $2.00, so I couldn’t pass it up. It’s a beautiful mold of the alphabet, and each letter has a toy or animal incorporated into its shape. The mold makes 26 cookies at once, each about an inch square, so it’s a quick and time-saving method of baking my favorite shortbread recipe. The little ones love these, and they practice spelling ‘words’ with the letters.
Holiday Spritz – The spritz cookie dough I use is fairly similar to the shortbread recipe, so this is another very simple and quick cookie. My sister bought me a battery-powered cookie press years ago, and this works great for these colorful little jewels. I like to use greens and reds for the dough, but you can customize your colors to match your decorations.
Zucker Hutchen – little sugar hats – These are a little more time-consuming, but well worth the effort. They are simply bite-sized bliss. Sometimes I don’t add the little ribbon of decorating icing, because I’m not a huge fan of its overpowering sweetness. It does add to the festiveness, though, and the kids love it, so I guess you should experiment on your own and see what works best for you.
Butter Horn Cookies – These are one of my all-time favorite cookies. But I can’t say they’re my favorite to make, although none of these are what I would classify as difficult. Butter horns are basically petite crescent rolls, but the dough is very flaky and they are filled with a meringue and nut mixture that melts in your mouth. They are just so yummy!
Chocolate-Coconut Candies – Another of my favorites and should probably be noted as number one on my list. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with coconut in any recipe. My younger daughter calls these my coconut bon-bon cookies. They are made with mashed potatoes, and a few other ingredients, and are a colossal mess to construct, but the outcome is divine. I dip them in the dark chocolate, but they are very pretty if you choose to use the colored melts. I just don’t care for the taste of the melts or the almond bark as much as I do the melted chocolate, so I always use the real thing.
Coconut Chocolate Meringue Bites – Did I mention that I’m a huge fan of coconut? These little bar cookies will melt in your mouth. They’re full of chocolate, coconut, pecans and brown sugar. I would definitely recommend you save these for the adults in your house, so make lots of sugar cookies for the little ones to decorate and eat while you indulge in a few of these.
Cranberry Drops – My husband has many fond memories of the cookies his grandmother made for him, so I always have to add a couple of her recipes to my Christmas baking list. Besides, cranberries are an integral part of my earliest holiday memories, so I have to include them. Add that they are a healthy addition, and it makes perfect sense to bake a few dozen of these for a bedtime snack with a glass of milk.
Applesauce-Raisin Cookies – Another choice from my hubby. But I have to admit, these are always a great addition to any gathering. These simple drop cookies are filled with raisins, nuts, brown sugar and applesauce. Not too sweet, but quite substantial.
So now you know how I spend part of my days during the holidays. I know some of these probably freeze well enough to make them ahead, but part of the fun is messing up the kitchen and listening to the kids laugh and bicker while they steal cookies and ask me when the next ones will be ready.
I imagine most of these recipes would be available on-line, but if anyone has trouble finding one they’d like to try, just shoot me a note. I’ll gladly share.
Happy Reading (and Baking)!